Cycle Touring | A Beginner's Guide
The basics of cycle touring, including advice on touring bikes, touring gear and where to go
Cycling has become hugely popular in recent years and more people than ever are seeing the benefits of regular riding in everyday life.
Whilst you will commonly see carbon fibre roadies, or fixed gear hipsters darting about the city streets, there is a breed of cyclists taking things at a slower pace that you might not be familiar with.
If you’ve ever encountered somebody cycle touring, it is probably a sight you won’t quickly forget. Most commonly seen with four heavily laden bags (or ‘panniers’) on a tank-like bicycle, grinding away at a slow pace on a remote country lane, the cycle tourist is a resilient, patient, and sometimes mad looking creature.
But what is cycle touring, and why do people do it?
Cycle Touring: The Basics
The philosophy of cycle touring is about the journey, not the destination. Yes you can get where you’re going quicker by trains, planes and automobiles, but think of all the experiences you miss when viewing the world through a window at 60+ miles per hour.
Making a bicycle your mode of transport opens up endless possibilities. You move much more slowly through the landscape, and can choose how easy or hard you would like the journey to be. You can stop when and where you like to take in the local culture and sights - the perfect way to explore a new location, or country.
Cycle touring can be anything from a couple of days riding through the English countryside, or a mammoth multi-month round-the-world expedition. Touring usually involves camping in a tent, but staying in hotels and B&Bs is also common.
You carry all of your spare clothes, camping equipment, and provisions on the bicycle, making you completely self sufficient!
Cycle Touring Gear: What You Need
Needless to say, the first thing you require is a bicycle. Most bikes can be adapted for touring in some way, but the best touring bikes are specifically designed for the job of carrying heavy loads. They feature a more relaxed frame geometry, stronger wheels, and comfortable saddles. Higher end touring bikes feature more specialised components like the legendary Rohloff hub.
Next you will need some ‘panniers’ (from Old French meaning ‘bread basket’) to carry your gear. These are the bags which will carry the majority of your equipment. They are available in a range of styles, and are attached to your bicycle by a pannier rack. The most touring bikes will already have pannier racks installed.
Once you have your touring bicycle and storage system sorted, you can start packing your equipment. How much gear you require depends on how long your tour is, and what kind of accommodation you plan to use. If you are camping, then a tent, sleeping bag, camping mat, and a some spare clothes are the basics you will need.
Most importantly a first-aid kit, puncture repair kit, pump, small multi-tool, are all essential pieces of kit that will cover the basic problems you will encounter.
Cycle Touring: Planning Your Route
Are you a confident cyclist able to tackle more challenging terrain, or are you a complete cycling novice? Do you have a couple of days, or a couple of weeks? Do you want to travel close to home, or venture further afield? Do you like climbing, or do you prefer a flatter route?
These are all the different factors that go into choosing a cycle touring route. There are many cycle routes in the UK that are easily achievable for beginners but If you’re feeling more ambitious then perhaps trying some cycles routes in Europe would give you a bit more of a challenge.
Most importantly make sure any route you take is of interest to you and matches what kind of riding style you want.
Cycle Touring: Tips for Getting Started
Once you have your gear and route planned, then it’s time to get pedalling! Make sure you have sufficient food and water supplies, or factor in a place to source these on your route. Being low on food will spoil a ride, but dehydration on a hot summer’s day can be deadly. So plan accordingly.
Get those first few miles under your belt and let all the pre-tour worries fade away as you take in the sights and smells of the countryside.
It’s often best to not go too far on your first day (even if you feel great) and instead ease your body into the routine. Arrive at your camp or hotel, put your feet up, crack a beer, and have a big celebratory meal. Congratulations, you have successfully completed your first day of cycle touring.