Bicycle Network: Skill Up
A beginner's guide to touring
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- Abby Lewtas
Stop being daunted by touring - get out there and try it! A bicycle touring holiday can seem like an exciting but daunting idea. Lisa Dempster tells what you should know before setting off
The first time I went on an overnighter I had no equipment, save for a set of very cheap back-wheel panniers, which by the end of the trip were tenuously attached to my bike with guy ropes and gaffer tape. I also had absolutely no bicycle-repair skills - I couldn't even change a tyre.
Now, while I don't advocate this kind of preparation (that is, none) before your first touring holiday, I do believe that if you're interested in cycle touring, your best bet is to stop thinking about it and just get out there and try it.
1. Give it a test run
When I say jump on your bike and go for it, I don't mean set out on a three-week cross-country adventure with nothing but a change of undies and a gleam in your eye. Your best bet is to set aside a weekend to try it out. An overnight trip with cycling on both days will give you a good idea about whether you would enjoy a longer trip - and also give you an indication of what things you might need to buy and/or learn to make touring more pleasurable.
2. Choosing a route
Choosing a route is very important to your enjoyment of the ride. Your best bet, at first anyway, is to choose a well-used cycle path or route.
When you're just starting out, try and choose routes that won't leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere if you run into difficulty. Try and stay in well-populated areas, such as the outer suburbs of large cities or major tourist destinations, where there are sure to be lots of people around if you find yourself needing assistance.
It may seem obvious, but make sure you have a map before you set off, even if you intend to ride a marked bike route. You'll be thankful if you detour off the path and then can't find your way back, or if the trail markers are missing in one section.
4. How far?
Make sure your planned route is a manageable distance. If you've never ridden 50km before, then don't aim to do so for the first time on your touring holiday.
Touring is all about stopping to take in the sights, enjoying the sunshine, tasting local delicacies, and exploring all the things that you might miss if you were zooming past in a car. Your enjoyment of the ride will be greatly diminished if you are pedalling furiously to get to your next destination before dark. Don't forget you'll also have to ride the next day, too - so don't tire yourself out on day one!
5. What to wear
The golden rules when it comes to outfit are comfort and layering. Make sure you've ridden at least once in the clothes you plan on wearing so you know you'll be comfortable. Wear several light layers that are easy to peel off as you warm up.
Always take wet-weather gear - if I don't have enough room to squeeze in a waterproof jacket, I tie it around my seat or to my bike frame.
Although cycling clothes are great, it's not necessary to buy any if you don't already own some. If you are going to invest in one thing, my advice would be to buy riding gloves. The padding in cycling gloves gives comfort and helps you to have a better grip on the handlebars, which adds to safety. They also protect your hands in the event of an accident, and ensure that you don't finish the day with unsightly calluses!
The most important thing to take is a water bottle, easily reachable while you are riding.
A spare tube and a pump is also mandatory, even if you're not 100% sure what to do with them - after all, someone else might!
A bike lock is vital for when you want to nip into the pub for a swift one or walk up to a scenic look-out point.
You will also need something to carry things - sunscreen, spare clothes (not too many!), money, map and camera. There are a variety of options here, from a backpack (can become uncomfortable - consider a large bum-bag instead, as this will lessen the strain on your shoulders), to a handlebar bag or basket (can make steering difficult if you pack too much weight in), to back- or front-wheel panniers (can be expensive).
7. Where to stay
You can stay anywhere, depending on your budget - a hotel, hostel, B&B or even campsite. Don't forget that where you stay will influence what you pack - if you stay at a campsite you will need to take a tent and sleeping bag, and if you stay in a hostel you might need to take a towel.
8. Type of bike
The first bike I went touring on was a cheap getaround with few gears, so I definitely don't recommend waiting until you have 'just the right bike'. Get going on the bike you have now - just make sure the terrain and distance you choose is appropriate for the kind of bike that you have.
Make sure your bike is comfortable, correctly fitted to your height and, above all, mechanically sound. It's vital that your bike is in good working order before you set off. Take it to a bike shop for a service if you are unsure.
9. Flat tyres
If you are unused to changing tyres, there are now special 'puncture-free' tyres that you can buy. Of course, this is no guarantee that you won't get caught - so print out some info on how to change punctures(tell me more) and pop it into your bag as a reference in case you get caught on the road
Most people find that they eat more when they are on holidays, but when you're touring you really have to! Because of the energy you are expending on your bike, it's important to keep your strength up by eating often.
A big breakfast followed by many small snacks throughout the day is ideal - try and sample local fare where you can and keep a small stock of snacks and goodies (muesli bars, trail mix, jelly lollies etc.) for when you need a pick-me-up out on the road.
Water is also important - taking a few sips of water every 10 minutes or so can stave off dehydration and tiredness.
Lisa Dempster is a communications professional who enjoys getting about town on her mountain bike and dreams of a two-wheeled, around-the-world adventure.