Your bike tour plans depend on a variety of factors:
There are several types of touring. Each has its pros and cons.
On "credit card tours," cyclists carry basic cycling gear and clothing, then pay for things like meals, supplies and overnight accommodations as they travel.
You carry all of the gear and clothing you need with you on your bicycle. While you may make occasional stops for food and basic supplies, you're prepared to handle everything from foul weather to sleeping outdoors.
These tours let you store most of your equipment and supplies in a support vehicle that travels with you as you ride.
These are planned, organized and run by commercial outfitters such as REI Adventures. Some outfitters offer full-service affairs where every detail is addressed. Others are basic services that provide route planning and accommodation assistance only.
Small cycling groups (2 to 6 people) are easier to plan, organize and manage than large groups, especially if you're a novice. They are also safer than touring alone, since your fellow riders are around to help with breakdowns, injuries and route-finding.
Larger touring groups (more than 6 people) can also be a lot of fun, but they are more challenging to organize. Beginners should spend some time touring with experienced cyclists or with organized tours before planning a large tour on your own.
Half- or full-day rides can be a great way for novice touring cyclists to practice basic touring skills and get accustomed to self-sufficiency on the road. With this experience, you can then try an overnight solo tour to help you better decide what style of bike tourist you want to become.
If you choose to go with a group, keep these points in mind:
Group size and the type of tour you're planning are just the beginning of your decision-making process. Keep the following in mind when planning your route and shopping for gear:
The closer your route is to towns (and bike shops), the easier it is to get help if needed. Plan your first tour close to home or other developed area.
Your expected daily mileage greatly affects the kind of tour you have. More mileage means less time to check out the scenery or go sightseeing, especially if you have designated a stopover point to reach that day.
Bike touring can be enjoyed on most any type of terrain. Novices, however, should stick to relatively level routes at first.
Car and truck traffic can make some routes uncomfortable or dangerous. To reduce potential problems, plan routes on secondary roads. On unpaved trails, make sure beforehand that bicycles are allowed access. Check also if such trails are heavily used by hikers, pack animals or off-road vehicles.
When route planning, do your best to avoid narrow tunnels and bridges, busy stretches of road, construction zones and similar hazards.
For a multiday tour, you may want a route that includes a variety of overnight options. Consider your group's expectations, their camping experience, their gear and their budget. Should you be looking for a campground or a bed and breakfast?
Timing can be everything. Certain times of year (e.g., holidays, summer months) are busier than others for securing accommodations, just as certain times of the day (e.g., rush hour) are for traffic.
Sunny, cool weather is usually ideal for bike touring. Headwinds, however, can turn and enjoyable ride into a long slog, as can rain or extreme heat or cold. Research in advance the typical weather patterns for your destinations.
By Steve Tischler
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Last updated: 02/18/2014
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