Starting Out

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What sort of bike is needed?

You can cycle tour on just about any bike. A purpose-built touring bike is nice to have but people have toured on mountain bikes, racing bikes, commuting bikes, penny farthings and just about any other type of bike you can name. If a bike is capable of getting you from one place to another you can cycle tour with it and the best one is the one that’s right for your own riding style and type of touring. However, if you are going to be riding long distances it is essential that the bike fits you well and is properly adjusted for your body and riding style. If you try to cycle long distances on an ill-fitting bike you will experience extreme discomfort and could even cause serious long-term injury.

Should I buy a new or second-hand bike?

If a second-hand bike is roadworthy then of course you can tour on it. However, there is an element of risk in buying a second-hand bike and if you don’t know what to look out for you could end up with something that’s a liability. If you don’t know much about bikes it’s probably best to let someone knowledgeable have a look over a second-hand bike (preferably before purchasing) to spot any potential problems. An alternative is to hire a bike at your destination.

What is the best touring bike?

There are many opinions on this and no definite answers. Some well respected touring bike manufacturers include Thorn, Koga, Dawes, Tout Terrain, Hewitt, Bruce Gordon, Surly, Trek, Bob Jackson, Ridgeback and Fahrrad. Depending on where you live touring bikes from some or all of these manufacturers may be hard to get hold of. Most will do mail order but it’s better to try before you buy. Getting a bike that fits and is comfortable to ride is at least as important as choosing one of good quality. In addition, you want one that is right for the type of touring you want to do. For instance, if you’re carrying very little gear and cycling on good roads a lightweight road bike may be more suitable than a heavy-duty tourer.

How much does a good touring bike cost?

For a quality, new, purpose-designed touring bike with decent components, you will probably need to spend at least £500. A bike at this price range should be fine for short-medium length tours on good roads, e.g. in Europe and North America. For longer tours and rougher roads you will probably want something a bit sturdier and £1000 is a more realistic price. High-end touring bikes will cost more like £2000 but you really don’t need to spend this much for a solid, reliable tourer. Second-hand touring bikes can be obtained for considerably less but, considering the cost of replacing the components, may not work out cheaper in the end.

What equipment is needed?

This all depends on what sort of touring you want to do. If you’re planning on sleeping under a roof you could get away with little more than a repair kit and a waterproof jacket (in hot countries even the latter may not be needed) and some method of navigation, which could just be a smartphone. This type of touring is known as ‘credit card’ touring. Other people like to be self sufficient and take full camping kit and cooking equipment. While this style of touring is generally cheaper over long tours, and may be essential in remote areas, it does mean a higher initial cost as well as carrying a lot more weight.

How much does cycle touring cost?

This depends on where you go, how long you want to tour for, and the level of comfort you want. If you’re willing (and able) to camp wild and live on spaghetti you can tour on just a few pounds a day. Alternately you could find free accommodation through networks like Couchsurfing and Warm Showers. Accommodation is likely to be your biggest cost. Be aware, that unless you’re exceptionally thrion-trainfty you will probably end up spending more than you intend. You should also keep some money by for emergencies.

How safe is cycle touring?

Cycling long distances is obviously not without risks, indeed, if there were no risks it wouldn’t be an adventure. Remember though, that most accidents happen in the home, that everything in life has some level of risk and that you’re certain to die at some point. Some countries will obviously be more dangerous than others.

Do I need insurance?

You really should be insured when cycle touring, particularly if travelling outside Europe. Within Europe an EHIC will cover some medical expenses for EU citizens but there are other risks you ought to be insured against. Many European countries are amongst the most cycle friendly and safe places to cycle in the world. For this reason the cost of insurance for cycle touring in Europe is generally much lower than for other continents. If you’re planning on cycling outside Europe the cost of insurance could be a considerable part of your budget.

Will normal travel insurance cover cycle touring?

Generally no. You can check specific policies but cycle touring is generally covered as a specific activity and will carry an additional premium. Contact your insurance company to see if you will be covered.

Do I need to be very fit?

Not at all. If you are capable of pedalling fast enough not to fall over you can tour by bike. The main thing is not to over-exert yourself as this is what leads to pain and injury. There is no minimum or expected distance for cycle touring and no reason it should be an endurance test. The distance cycled should not be a goal in itself. In fact, the more I tour the less distance per day I try to do! If you intend to cycle day after day it’s more important that your bike fits and is well adjusted than that you are in top condition. However, most people when cycle touring do see the distance as a goal and often push themselves to cover great distances each day. Of course fitness then becomes an issue and it’s important that riders know their own limits and take into account the difference that factors like weight, ascent, headwinds and general attrition can make.

What is a realistic daily distance?

As noted above, there is no expected or minimum distance for cycle touring. Cycle as much or as little as you are comfortable with. I’m more impressed these days by riders who go very short distances each day and really take in and enjoy the places they are cycling through. Often when cycle touring it can seem like more effort to stop than to keep going! In addition, it’s very hard to say what is a feasible distance to cycle each day as this depends on many factors, e.g. rider fitness, the type of bike, road quality, wind, ascent, weight carried and more. The amount and steepness of ascent can make a huge difference as can strong headwinds, which can really make cycle touring miserable. Typically, average touring speeds will be in the range of 6-15mph with most riders averaging somewhere around 10mph.

How do I prepare?

Spending too much time on preparation, to the point where it becomes more important than the tour, can be just as deadly as spending too little. So what is the right amount? Try and keep things as simple as possible. First decide where you want to go and how long for. Look at your budget and decide what type of touring you want to do. For a first touring trip it’s advisable to stick to a fairly short tour and use overnight accommodation such as hostels or b&bs rather than carry camping equipment. Take the minimum amount of stuff you can get away with, e.g. a repair kit, maps or GPS, any necessary documents, waterproofs and perhaps a change of clothes. Roughly plan your route, book accommodation in advance if you think it necessary, then do it! You will usually find a certain amount of flexibility is important so don’t spend too long deliberating over route details or what to take.

What roads am I allowed to cycle on?

In nearly all countries there are roads where cyclists aren’t allowed. Find out any general rules in advance and remember there are sometimes specific places where cycling is forbidden that aren’t covered by general rules. It’s best to do some research on the route you’re thinking of taking and always allow yourself some leeway in terms of the route and time.

How long does it take to cycle round the world?

The world record is currently 126 days. So it will likely take much longer than that.

Can I take a bike on a plane?

Yes, but not on all airlines – though you may be able to pack your bike in a way that allows it to pass as normal oversized luggage. Airlines that do take bikes generally charge extra and require you to book ahead. You will probably also need to box or bag the bike, let down the tyre pressure, remove the pedals and rotate the handlebars.

Can I take a bike on a train or bus?

This is very much down to the specific operator. In the UK most train companies will take bikes but you may need to book in advance.

How do I keep a blog of my cycle tour?

If you want to publish your cycling exploits to the world it has never been easier. There are websites dedicated to travel blogs or you could just publish a standard blog, build your own website or just post the trip on Facebook or Twitter.

What is the best blogging platform for cycle touring?

Probably WordPress. You can host on WordPress servers or your own. You can customize your blog as much as you like and there are apps which make it very easy to post blogs from a phone. Blogger is also good and easier to set up in my opinion. Crazy Guy on a Bike is more of a journal than a blogging platform. It looks a bit dated now but is dedicated to cycle touring and still popular. While there may be better and certainly more sophisticated blogging platforms it’s a sad fact that on the Internet popularity becomes an attraction in itself.

Which is best, GPS or paper maps?

Both GPS and paper maps have their advantages and disadvantages. Paper maps aren’t much use in large cities whereas GPS devices aren’t so good for route planning and aren’t any use at all if the battery goes flat or there is no signal. Ideally you want both types but bear in mind that people have been touring the world long before GPS. A good compromise is to take high-scale maps (e.g. 1:500 000) for high-level route planning and a GPS device, e.g. a Garmin or smartphone preferably with offline maps, for navigating urban areas and other complex routes. If it comes down to one or the other I would take paper maps but the cost and weight can really add up on long tours. The best paper maps for cycle touring are ones with contours (which unfortunately most road maps don’t have), campsites and other features. The ideal scale for cycle touring depends on how remote the area is and what detail you require, and how long your tour is. A good compromise is 1:100,000 or 1:250,000 but in areas with few roads you might get away with 1:1,000,000 or even lower. However, for navigating urban areas you really need street map level – 1:25,000 will show pretty much all roads and tracks but probably not street names. This is where GPS comes into its own.

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