Tackling your first bike trip
Travelling by bicycle is probably one of the best ways of getting to know a region, experience nature and discover places which are usually not accesible by car. It is simple, moves you out of the comfort zone, improves your fitness and it's fun!
We have compiled a simple guide in which we answer some of the most common questions bicycle travelers often ask.
Why do it? You will get engaged with each mile in a very special, conscious way, not comparable with any other motorised way of travel.
How to start? You should enjoy riding a bike! The rest is up to the challenge you choose. Time, resources and imagination are the only limits. We recommend that you start with day tours of 25 to 60 km and keep on increasing the distance and time. If you are not feeling comfortable in travelling alone for the first time, go for a pre-arranged tour and have peace of mind regarding logistics.
Physical intensity: very demanding! Bicycle touring is 70% mental and 30% physical. You need to be fit and prepare your body for the demands of long-distance cycling, but traveling long distances on a bicycle is above all mentally challenging.
Risk level: low. (Take care of riding in bikeways or roads with no car traffic. Do not forget front and rear cat eyes and flashing bike lights.)
What to buy: Even though you can rent bikes, we strongly advise that you invest in your own touring bike. Go for a bike with front suspension only, and a light structure. Before buying, ask for bikes that best fit your size. Bellow more information about bike touring gear.
“I see it as idealism, as an unstoppable desire to live adventures and as a source of motivation to return to nature in this crazy and modern world of today."
Mariano Lorefice (2000) Extreme solo bicycle traveler, cycled more than 100,000+ km around the world.
Bike touring gear
Bikes for the long haul, touring bikes are stable when loaded up so you can pack gear for a weekend or more of independent back-roads riding. Bikes should be equipped with powerful brakes, have an upright riding position and tough wheels and frames.
If you head to regions far away from civilisation, we definitely recommend having a bike with simple mechanics and all the tools to fix it on your own. Always carry a spare tyre and practise how to fix your bike at home. When it comes to frame materials, steel is still real for touring bikes. Frames are resilient and can be repaired by any village mechanic with a welding torch. On the other hand, aluminium frames are much lighter and from experience, frames from respected brands should be OK for most bike trips.
Regarding gears, triple chainsets give 27 and 30 gears, though it's not the number that matters but the range. A 28/36 low gear is not unusual, and the latest super-wide mountain bike sprocket cassettes offer the possibility of even lower gears.
Cantilever brakes are traditional, but discs are becoming more and more common for all the same reasons they took over on mountain bikes: greater stopping power and all-weather reliability. An extra advantage of discs for long-distance tourers is that they don't wear the rims, and a minor ding leaves the brake still working and the wheel turning.
Finally, we advise that before buying a bike, you think of the terrain ahead. If you will travel to more uncivilised regions far away from everything with bad dirty roads, we recommend that you go for a lighter mountain-bike style with wider tyres. If you will tour on paved roads, then the more rigid long haul traditional tour bike with thiner road tyres will perform better.
"His horse, he eats nothing, drinks nothing, never gets tired, and goes like the very devil."
From Thomas Stevens' book "Around the World on a Bicycle", when described by Turks when travelling through European Turkey. Stevens is the first person to circle the globe by bicycle, completing around 13,500 miles between 1884 and 1886.
10 tips to prepare for a bike packing trip
Plan the right route for you
Wherever you’re planning to cycle, consider ditching main roads as they’re busy and often uninspiring. Plan your trip by looking for interesting regions with natural beauties, back roads or bike ways. Europe has the most developed network of bike ways. Get maps, visualise the itinerary with Google Earth and research other travellers experiences.
Set your own personal progression goals
Once you have defined the itinerary, set a realistic goal for daily progression. Take into account hills, wind, road conditions. For easy roads, riding between 60 - 90 km per day is normal. For tough, dirty roads, with hills and bad weather conditions, even 50 km could be a lot. Research and establish a daily goal. This will help you with the planning.
Buy the right kit
Invest in the essentials: a good free-standing tent, a decent touring bike, waterproof panniers (bike bags) and a cooking stove. Your bags should be hard-wearing as they'll carry everything you need such as the tent, stove, sleeping bag, mat, and clothing. We recommend a good water proof jacket and pants, if you expect bad weather. Every gram and inch counts. Opt for lightweight gear and use dry bags to compress your clothes. If your panniers are not waterproof, you can put everything in big an resistant rubbish bags. Do not forget to carry a good bike lock.
Get to know your bike and how to fix it
Before travelling, get to know the essentials of your bike. Practise on how to fix a disc, change a flat tyre, fix the gears. Apart from carrying necessary tools, have some silver tape with you!
Food and water planning
Depending on where you are going take have a general idea of your daily nutrition and liquids supply. If you will travel to a place with no water or no shops, take into account storage space for food and water. Writing down an itinerary with daily menus will help.
Exploring regions by bike will take you away from the crowds, into untouched areas you have never imagined!
Our editor riding on the Alps to Ocean cycle trail in New Zealand from Lake Tekapo to Twizel with Mt Aoraki on the right.
Create a budget and start saving
Bike tours can cost very little, if you plan to camp and eat own cooked food. Visas, hotel stays and restaurant visits add up, but if you’re hoping for a happy medium (a lean food budget and plenty of low-cost or free accommodation with occasional splurges) then expect to spend about 15 - 20 USD a day depending on the country. Factor in travel insurance and emergency money for bike repairs and kit replacements.
Start training at least four months before the planned departure date. One month of riding four to six days a week, either inside on a trainer or outside on the bike, is sufficient. Also, take time to work into a stretching routine. This will get your muscles, tendons, and ligaments ready for the next stage of training.
The goal for the next month is to build up riding strength in your body, once you have a good base of training. This is the stage where you gradually start mixing in more difficult training, including intervals and sprint training. Hill climbing and strength training should be continued once or twice a week into the next stage of training.
This stage is meant to build up endurance for longer rides. Start by taking longer rides once or twice a week. By the end of this third month, you should be riding at least twice a week for 30 to 60 km. a day, two days a week.
Ride with weight
About six weeks before your departure date, begin to carry weight on the bike as you ride. You need this time to build strength in your ligaments, muscles, and tendons. This will help to avoid injuries.