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for Bike Tours
for Cross-Country Cycling
There is nothing like seeing the world from a bicycle
-- peacefully, slowly, and with your own power. The
sense of accomplishment when finishing a long ride is also
rewarding -- in some cases it can be a life-changing
experience. And touring with a partner you like can bring
you closer together. This page offers some tips and
resources for bicycle touring. -- Michael Bluejay,
Everyone's different, so advice about how long or hard
you should train is useless. Instead, practice riding
with a full load of gear until you can ride at least 75% of
the distance you'd like to cover on a typical touring
day, and not feel completely destroyed the next day.
It's not uncommon to feel exhausted at the end of the
ride and to feel that you'll be unable to ride tomorrow. The
key is to ignore that and pay attention to how you actually
feel the next day. A good night's sleep can do
wonders not only for your physical ability but also your
The first time I wanted to do a century (a 100-mile ride)
I picked up a bicycling magazine that had something like a
six-week training schedule to get you ready for a century. I
blew off the magazine, and here's how I trained: One day I
went out and rode 60 miles. Two days later I did the
century. And when I biked from El Paso to Austin (about 70
miles a day for two weeks), I did no training at all
beforehand. I'm not saying this to suggest that everyone can
start touring with minimal training, just to suggest that
you might have more ability than you realize. Also, I've
been a pure vegetarian my whole adult life and I attribute
much of my endurance ability to how I eat.
What to Bring
There are three ways to tour:
- Self-Supported, Camping. With this style of
touring you bring everything you need and camp out along
the way. It's the most challenging because you have to
bring more stuff (tent, sleeping bag, food preparation
items, etc.) -- but in my mind it's also the most
- Self-Supported, Motels. If you can afford it,
you can stay in motels along the way. That dramatically
cuts down on the amount of stuff you have to haul with
you. Note that even if you camp only 10% of the time
you'll still have to haul everything you need for camping
100% of the time. (Of course you could get
creative/extravagant and mail your camping gear from one
motel to one you'll be hitting a few days down the road,
so you can camp in the future without having to haul all
the camping gear.)
- Sag Supported. With this style you have a
support vehicle (usually a van) going along for the trip.
The van hauls all the heavy stuff and you meet up with it
at the end of the day. Personally I think there's little
point in touring by bike if you're ultimately going to be
relying on an automobile, but this is a popular style of
touring, and to each his/her own. Many of the commercial
tours run this way. Anyway, if you go this route,
deciding what to take and what to leave behind is
generally not a problem.
If you're on a self-supported tour, the less you bring,
the better. For a multi-day or multi-week trip you will be
tempted to bring as many comforts as possible, but after
your first day of trudging up hills and feeling every ounce,
you'll wish you'd left some things at home. Here's a typical
packing list for a self-supported tour. Think long and hard
before adding anything extra to it:
Tools & Parts
Patch Kit + 2 Tire Levers
Extra tubes (one tube for about every 500
Bisexual Screwdriver (both slotted &
Chain tool, plus a small section of chain
Brake and derailleur cable
Swiss Army Knife
Spare nuts & bolts
Bike Accessories & Safety Equipment
Detachable LED Headlight (or headlamp)
Red blinky rear lights
Reflective vest or triangle
Camelback-style water pouch
GPS (mountable or wristwatch)
Food & Shelter
1 gallon of water
Food for 2 days
Mess kit (pot, plate, utensils)
Tiny tent (3 lbs.)
Sleeping pad, such as ThermaRest
Lightweight PVC rainsuit
Two credit cards
Photocopy of ID
Emergency Contact info
Mobile phone + charger
Phone cards (for when the mobile is out of
First Aid Kit
Digital Camera (Sony Cybershot is tiny)
Stamps, Envelopes, Paper
1 extra pair socks, underwear, shorts, pants
1 t-shirt and 1 dress shirt
Here's what you don't need:
- Flashlight. Just make sure your headlight is
easily detachable from your bike (or that it's a
headlamp), and you won't need a separate flashlight.
- Extra Batteries. If you use LED lights (and
you should), the batteries will last for weeks. And
batteries are easy to get on the road. Just make sure
your rear red blinky uses the same size batteries as your
headlight, so if your headlight/flashlight goes out you
can use the blinky batteries in it in a pinch.
- Lots of extra clothes. You rarely need more
than the item you're wearing plus an extra one of them.
When one gets dirty, put on the clean one and wash the
dirty one. And for shoes, I chose clipless shoes that
were comfortable enough to walk in, and dark enough that
they were still appropriate to use in a decent
- Pillow. Stuff a shirt or two into your cloth
hat. Works great. If you really need a separate pillow,
get a special camping pillow, which is tiny.
What you might not think that you need, but which you
- Bike Lights. You might not plan on riding at
night, but you might have to. What if your bike breaks
down and it takes so long to fix it that can't get to the
next town without some evening riding? Plus, you'll need
a headlight to use as a flaghtlight anyway. Bring the
lights. Make sure they're LED, so that the batteries last
forever and so the bulb doesn't burn out. I prefer a headlamp
light so that it can easily double as a hands-free flashlight.
- Reflective Triangle or Vest. You might think
you don't need these because you're not riding at night,
but the thing is they make you extra visible even in the
day. On my first tour when I'd stop to take a
picture and then catch up with my partner a quarter mile
up the road, I noticed that before I could see her at
all, or even her bike, I could see that reflective
triangle. It jumped out of the landscape.
- Lightweight PVC rainsuits. You might decide to
stop riding when it's raining, but what if there's no
shelter around? It's nice to stay dry, especially if it's
night time or cold.
- Cycle Computer or GPS. You might not care to
calculate your average speed or see how far you've
traveled in a given day or for the whole trip, but having
a reliable odometer is crucial for finding out where the
next turn is. (If your map says the next turn is five
miles, you want to have an idea where that is.) It's also
handy for estimating when you'll get to the next town or
- Camelback-style water pouch. You might be
tempted to go minimal and just use water bottles. I've
tried it both ways, and no way would I tour without a
water pouch again. It's just too convenient to have an
easy, safe supply of water. (It's also easy to crash
while fiddling with a water bottle or cage.)
Adventure Cycling has a good article about what
to bring and how to pack.
Trailers, Panniers, and
You have three main options for how to haul your stuff:
Use racks and panniers (bags that hang off the racks), use a
trailer, or use a new invention called the XtraCycle. An
XtraCycle is a frame extender. You remove your rear wheel of
the bike, attach the XtraCycle frame extender (which makes
your bike longer), and then reattach your rear wheel to the
XtraCycle. It's easier to understand when you see a picture,
so check out XtraCycle's
Racks & Panniers
Adds significant extra weight
Adds rolling resistance
Makes the bike harder to handle
Makes the spokes more likely to break
Works only with 26" wheels
The main advantage is that you don't add much
extra weight. It's also the cheapest solution.
No worries about ruining your wheels by putting
too much weight on the bike. But the extra weight
and extra wheel makes it a little harder to
Gives you lots more storage space without the
rolling resistance that a trailer would add. Plus,
the longer wheelbase makes the bike easier to
handle than with panniers.
Bike Styles &
I don't think you need the latest, most expensive bike
around. Any bike that fits well, is in good working
condition, and has at least 15 gears can serve you well.
Here are some tips on bikes and components:
Bike Fit. Make sure your
bike fits you. A bike that doesn't fit is uncomfortable
and hard to ride, and can even injure you. Decide whether
you'll want to be hunched over the handlebars or whether you
want to sit more upright. You can usually go faster the
farther forward you lean, but that can also be rather
uncomfortable. I prefer to trade some speed for comfort (and
a better view) by fitting my bike so that I'm more upright.
For long tours I use a recliner
Recliners. Reclining bikes (also called
recumbents) are super-comfortable, but entry-level models
(<$600) are also slower and don't climb hills as easily as
upright bikes. If you're thinking about a recliner but don't
have a lot of money to spend then you'll have to decide
whether speed or comfort is more important to you. The more
expensive recliners rival regular bikes for speed and
hill-climbing ability, so if you have a large budget then
you could have the best of both worlds.
Gears. Make sure your bike has a really low gear.
You'll need a lower gear than normal on a self-supported tour, because you'll be
hauling more weight, and because you'll be more worn out towards
the end of the day, and because you may encounter steeper
hills than what you have at home.
Tires. If your bike is a hybrid or mountain bike,
get slick tires. Knobby tires slow you down, a lot.
Tire Liners. Kevlar tire liners can help prevent
flats. Fixing a flat on a bike loaded for bear is no
How to Choose a Touring Bike. There's a good
article on this subject at Adventure
Routes & Maps
Cycling has maps for cross-country bicycling in the
United States. And we have our own route between Austin
and San Antonio.
Get your bike tuned up by a competent mechanic.
Tell the bike shop that you're going to be taking the
bike on an XXX-mile tour and that you don't want to have any
problems with it. Repeat yourself. Say, "I sure wouldn't
want to break down out in West Texas, 400 miles from the
nearest bike shop. Can you make extra sure that everything
looks okay so I don't run into problems?"
Learn basic bike repair skills. Learn how to
fix flat tires, adjust
brakes, adjust derailleurs, replace brake and derailleur
cables, and true wheels. There's more to bike mechanics but
those five things will cover 90% of the problems you're
likely to have. Practice doing these things until you can do
them by yourself without supervision. One day you may have
Go with a partner. People certainly tour by
themselves, but I don't advise it. Besides the safety
aspect, bike touring is too great an experience not to share
it with someone.
Copy your ID. Make a photocopy of your ID and put
it in a separate place from your regular ID. It's no good
having a backup if you lose both.
Bring a second credit card. Keep your second
credit card in a separate place from your main credit card.
If you lose a credit card and have to call in to cancel it,
then you'll be glad that you have a backup card.
Carry emergency contact info. We all hope and
expect that nothing bad will happen to us, but if something
does happen then we'll want the medical folks to be able to
contact our families or friends.
Take a mobile phone. If you get lost or you or
your partner get injured, you'll be glad you have this. Make
sure you have the kind of service plan that has access in
the areas you'll be traveling -- not all wireless phone
plans work everywhere..
Spin. Make sure you're in a low enough gear so
that it's easy to pedal. If you're always pushing against a
gear that's too high then you could blow out your knees.
Eat Well. It can be a challenge to eat healthy
when you're on the road, but when you're touring is when you
most need to do so. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole
grains, and beans as much as you can. Meat and dairy slow
you down and increase your recovery time. (I'm not kidding,
and this isn't just unsubstantiated opinion.) I tend to eat
fruits for breakfast. To make sure I'm getting enough
vegetables there are always frozen vegetables -- very easy
to prepare, and if you buy them in the morning they'll thaw
nicely for lunch or dinner. Canned beans are cheap and can
be really satisfying. Oats cook easily and make you happy.
Look for whole-grain cereals like Cheerios and Grape
I'm not sure whether my trips were typical, but here are
I kept of my bike trips from El Paso to Austin and
Austin to Baton Rouge.
I'll add more stores to this section when I have time,
but for now here's one that sells camping gear online:
This page has just scratched the surface. For more
information about bicycle touring see:
Cycling. Maps, commercial tours, and tips.
Touring. Email Discussion List
Showers List. Directory of regional cyclists who
offer lodging to traveling cyclists.
Bike Messenger. Journal of two Dutch cyclists who
cycled all over the world, over 50,000 km! Also contains
useful articles about the equipment they use.
Companies that Lead Group
Huge worldwide list. Biciklo publishes a huge list of tours all over the world. Search by country, length of tour, or type of riding.
Cycling. Maps, commercial tours, and tips.
Last update: January 2011
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