So you’ve made the decision to do a biking trip – congratulations. This is a fantastic way to see a country, with opportunities to create your own routes, stop as you please along the way and make friends with locals along your journey.
Your planning for this trip should begin well before your departure date, as there are many factors to consider. From getting in shape before you hit the road, to assembling your toolkit, to choosing the right backpack, there’s a lot to think about and plan for. Read on for tips on the kinds of prep you’ll need to do for a safe and fun bike tour.
1. Getting Fit
A long-distance bike trip is a physically demanding endeavor, and not something you can jump into unprepared. Once you’ve decided you want to do a bike tour, it’s time to start getting in shape. It’s a good idea to see a doctor and advise them of your plans, and ask them for any advice regarding maintaining your health on the journey or any concerns you should be aware of. Get a physical, and then begin training to get your body ready for this trip.
BicycleTouringTales.com recommends designing a program that allows you to level up your program in intensity as your body is ready for it. They also recommend monitoring your heart rate and keeping a training diary to track progress and make notes of any issues or special occurrences.
2. Planning Your Route
Once you’ve got a suitable training regimen underway, it’s time to plan your route. If you haven’t yet selected your destination, you can begin by looking at countries that are particularly cyclist-friendly. Denmark and the Netherlands are notorious for being fantastic countries to see by bike, as there are thousands of miles of marked trails that run through both countries. In Asia, countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are great to travel by bicycle or motorbike. Perhaps you’ve already got a country or countries you’d like to see in mind, in which case you can move on to the next step.
Find out if there are already marked cycling routes where you’re headed, which can make planning your trip that much easier. Even if you’re the type of person who likes to break away from the beaten path, starting out on a tried and true route gives you the opportunity to safely get a feel for the country, and connect with other travelers who can give you tips on interesting, off-beat places to ride.
Other considerations to make while choosing a route include availability of hotels and hostels along the way, as well as towns where you can do major bike repairs or access emergency medical services. It’s likely that there will be rural stretches along any route, so you’ll want to pack a first aid kit with items such as bandages, disinfectant and Neosporin for accidents along the way. Check out forums such as those on Lonely Planet for specific recommendations for whichever country you’re heading to.
You’re going to want to think long and hard about what comes with you on this trip, since it’s going to be on your back the entire time you’re riding. The website Quality Cycling Gear has an extensive list of tested packing essentials. In addition to clothes and toiletries, you’ll also want to bring some small tools for bike repair on the road. These include a Swiss army knife, spare brake and shift cables, a pump and extra spokes, among other items.
As for clothes, go for versatile pieces that fold up easily and don’t take up too much space. Choose weather-appropriate gear, and make sure you’re prepared for different eventualities. Clothing made of Merino wool is particularly good for bike trips, thanks to its durability. As Patagonia describes it, Merino wool is “exceptionally soft, naturally breathable and warm even when wet … regulates body temperature, has a great warmth-to-weight ratio, naturally controls odor and stretches as you move.”
When choosing a backpack, you should factor in its versatility and how much it can hold while still being comfortable and efficient. It should have good weight distribution and allow you to ride in comfort without being weighed down or causing much back strain.
4. Getting There
Unless you’re cycling across borders with no need for a flight, you’ll need to plan for transporting your bike. This includes purchasing a packing case or padded bag, and you will likely have to remove the saddle and/or handlebars before packing. USA Today recommends calling the airline you plan to fly with and asking for their guidelines on checking a bike. Be sure to also ask about fees, as these can vary dramatically between airlines from $50 to several hundred dollars. Bicycling Magazine notes that some airlines will waive at least some fees if you are flying business class or internationally.
Reaching out to people who have done long-distance bike journeys is a good way to find out the most important elements you’ll need to plan for, and what gear they consider essential. Biking and travel forums are a good way to find people to ask for recommendations. Before you get caught up in the excitement of a trip, be sure to pay careful attention to each of the areas mentioned above, to give yourself the best chance for a safe and fun cycling journey.