Planning your very first bicycle touring adventure. What an exciting endeavor indeed! At this point you’ve probably read through websites, magazine articles, and maybe even a bicycle touring book or three documenting, in beautifully colored photographs, how cyclists have traveled to far-flung places and exotic locales that truly whet the adventure appetite in us all.
And now that your excitement has grown with every piece of advice and bit of information you have collected it is time to finally put the rubber to the road and earn the title of touring cyclist. Only one little problem remains, planning your first tour…
Participating in a fully supported tour
When planning your first tour one easy option is to find a local company that offers fully supported tours. This option would supply you with full support during your first tour while providing you with an opportunity to see how well bicycle touring works for you. These tours will often include other riders as well so you will definitely get a chance to meet others. Other advantages include not having to carry your gear, some meals are prepared for you and accommodations are setup in advance. Depending on the length of trip it might be cost effective to try touring this way first rather then setting off on your own.
Planning your own self-supported tour
Many people have asked me how to plan their first bicycle tour. I tell them to pick a guesthouse or hotel within a comfortable riding distance from their home and plan a two day tour on a weekend they have free. I tell people that the riding distance on the first day of their tour should be slightly less than the longest distance they have ever ridden. The goal of this advice is to ensure a new touring cyclist has a margin for error with regards to the distance they will cover on their first day of riding due to their own inexperienced decisions about the amount of weight they intend to carry, the frequency and time of their stops along their route to find meals and bathrooms, and any other unforeseen elements that may arise during their first tour. I then tell them to ride from their home to the accommodation they have chosen while carrying all of the gear they think they will need, stay one night, and return home the following day. And just like that they have experienced their very first bicycle tour.
When they return from their two day tour they have already learned valuable lessons about their own capabilities, weight and how it changes their bike’s handling, the pleasure of a good meal and a good night’s sleep after a long day in the saddle, distance and speed expectations, and the joys of sightseeing and getting sidetracked that are inherent in cycle touring. And they’ve had the pleasure of these experiences within a safe distance from their own home, where friends or family could have easily come to their rescue if needed.
Here are 6 easy steps to help you plan your first bicycle touring adventure
#1 – Don’t go too far from home
It sounds kind of counter intuitive for me to say that going far from your home on your first bicycle tour is not a good idea. After all, traveling far away from home is the adventure part of bicycle touring, right? Yes and no. I have found that the biggest adventure involved in bicycle touring comes from the self-assured feeling of being able to handle any and all traveling situations as they arise. This confidence is built over time and through experiences. By limiting your first tour to a distance that can easily be covered by alternative modes of transportation (car, bus, taxi, etc.,) you will be able to build your confidence while simultaneously not creating any long distance complications for yourself, and possibly others, should you need a lift home because of unforeseen problems on your first tour.
#2 – Leave and return in good weather
For a fun and memorable first tour aim for good weather riding. Cycling in nothing more than a pair of shorts and a t-shirt with sunshine beaming down on you from above is a very enjoyable experience indeed. I’ve started tours in rain. I’ve cycled on roads that had ice and snow on them. And I’ve been pushed from one side of the road to the other by gale-force winds. All of this I have endured because I absolutely love cycling, but I must admit that my love of touring would have never taken root if I had experienced these extremely bad weather conditions on my FIRST ever bicycle tour.
#3 – Set reasonable and flexible goals
Telling yourself that you’re going to ride 100 Kilometers on your first day of touring with a fully loaded bike in order to reach a destination that you’ve never been to before is perfectly fine IF you normally ride your unburdened bicycle 200 Kilometers to destinations that you do know how to get to. Do you get my point? If the furthest you have ever ridden your bike is 50 kilometers then it’s quite unreasonable to pick a location on a map that is 75 kilometers away and set off to find it. Also, remain flexible in your pre-ride planning and especially while you are on the bike. Meal and restroom opportunities are often the most unpredictable. Remain flexible enough to take opportunities when they arise rather than simply setting a distance in your head only to later find out that you’ve ridden straight past all of the good stuff and are now in the middle of nowhere.
#4 – Be comfortable and confident with your bike
Your bicycle is your mode of transportation. Taking extra steps to ensure it is properly serviced and ready for the trip ahead is essential. Take it to your local bike shop for an overall check and tune-up at least a week before your tour. Make sure you tell the mechanic at the bike shop about your upcoming touring trip. This information may prompt the mechanic to make part replacement recommendations (brake pads, tires, and cables, etc.,) that they may have otherwise not suggested. The cost of this service will usually be minimal when compared to the peace of mind you’ll gain from having someone look over your bike before your first tour.
#5 – Bring your friends/family along or at least include them in your plans
Involving your friends and family in your bicycle touring plans doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to accompany you on the ride. Sometimes just sharing your planned route and intentions with your friends and family will give them, and you, extra peace of mind about the trip. Also, an extra pair of eyes may be able to lend advice about your route choice, meal planning, or destination details, especially if your friends and family are more familiar than you are yourself with the area you will be riding in.
Including friends and family could also mean that they meet you at the destination of your first day’s ride. Whether it be a campground, hotel, or restaurant, having a group of people looking forward to your arrival can add an encouraging aspect to your first bicycle touring adventure; just make sure that this meeting doesn’t restrict you from being able to enjoy your ride. Setting a solid meeting time of when you should be arriving may seem like a good idea at first, but it could cause you to become anxious to make that time requirement – Remember #3 – Set reasonable and flexible goals
#6 – Make sure to have fun!
I’ve purposely left this one to the end even though it’s the most important point in my opinion. For me a bicycle tour should be about having fun and enjoying yourself. I find on tour that if I’m not having a good time then something needs to change so that I am once again having fun. Sometimes this means stopping for lunch early, doing a bit of unscheduled sightseeing or simply putting my feet up and enjoying an ice cream or a coffee when my body doesn’t really need it (but my schedule and my mind does).
Think of touring not as a distance race but rather a race towards new experiences; experiences that sometimes require you to stop and smell the roses, literally and figuratively. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said that you need the best bike, latest gear or anything special in order to have your first successful and fun bicycle tour. All of that will come with time provided that you have an enjoyable first experience.
Planning a cycling trip in Thailand? Want to remove some of the guesswork when it comes to routes and information? BicycleThailand.com offers GPS route data for touring cyclists that can be used on a GPS device, smartphone, or tablet. These routes can be viewed on your device regardless of internet access during your Thailand cycling adventure. Learn more about our Thailand GPS cycle touring routes.