PLanning your own Bicycle Tour – Part 1 – First Thoughts and Tips
I am starting my planning for a bicycle tour with my wife in June or July and thought writing about the process might be interesting. I am going to aim this discussion at less experienced Bicycle Tourist, the experienced tourist have their own system already.
The first and hardest thing to find is inspiration, a ride concept that grabs your imagination. Is there someplace you have always wanted to ride or explore? However, if this is your first self planned multi-day ride pick someplace you know and close to home in car terms. You will have some leaning to do and an easy way out of problems may be very valuable. Things happen on tours and I believe when it stops being fun pull the plug.
For example, a few years ago on the 5th day of a 7 day ride I called my In-laws and asked them to give me a ride home. Here’s why: It was a warm and muggy August day. My ride to the campground had been a great ride and a bit quicker than I expected, so I called my in-laws mid-afternoon and invited them out to dinner. They lived near to the campground in car terms and always enjoyed a good fish dinner and if they drove I could have a much better dinner than what I had in my pack. While waiting for them I fell asleep in the tent, it was warm. When they arrived at the campground I was asleep and they startled me. I jumped up and quickly got ready for dinner. During dinner just as the fish arrived it started to pour, a typical heavy summer thunderstorm in Maine. The storm didn’t last long but I remembered that I had been sleeping with the fly off my tent because of the heat. When I got back to the campground, I found my tend had several inches of water in it and that everything was soaked. I could have survived the night, instead I closed up the tent and my in-laws gave me a ride home. I spent a comfortable night at home and a friend gave me a ride to the campground the next morning. He also took my wet camping gear home in his car. I had a beautiful ride home, flying along without any camping gear on my bike. I was very embarrassed that I had done something that stupid but otherwise had a great trip.
Another example of the kind of thing that can happen: I was on a ride from Skowhegan, Maine to Quebec City and discovered in Jackman, Maine that I had forgotten my tent poles. I had decided to take the poles out of the tent bag so everything would fit better on my rack. Unfortunately the poles rolled behind a chair and I didn’t see them when I gathered my gear to pack the bike. Since I wasn’t too far from home, I was able to call my son and he brought the poles to me. That saved my trip but cost me the price of his stay in Quebec City for the night. I was pretty happy with that trade off.
By the time I got to Croatia, I had worked out those kinds of problems the hard way and you will find your own way also.
Usually the things that turn a trip sour are:
1. Too much traffic along the route – checking out the roads and knowing when to be off of them is a part of tour planning. If this is your first multi-day ride drive as much of the route as you can in your car to check it out. Look carefully at roads with no shoulders, they are fine if there is little traffic but if this is the only road and you have to share it with a line of lumber trucks you are in for a long unpleasant day. Lumber trucks unlike semis are not very aerodynamic and on my Ryan Vanguard loaded with 60 pounds of camping gear, they routinely blow me off of the road. In Quebec, I have been blown off the road and had my rear deraileur bent so badly that I could only change rear gears by stopping the bike and moving the chain.
2. Time pressure – this is the biggest enemy on most trips, the fun disappears when you feel time pressure. Avoid this by giving yourself spare days and not planning for unreasonable bicycle speed or distance. Find out what your average speed for a day is and what is a comfortable distance for you with your bike and gear, then adjust your plan for 80% of that.
3. Equipment failure or forgotten equipment – this can almost always be solved but costs time and leads to time pressure
4. Too ambitious a route for your capabilities – yes, you can ride into shape on a tour but most people don’t and it is no fun if you have to
5. Not fully anticipating the effect of loading the bike down on bike speed, stability, and riding effort. Until you have ridden your bike fully loaded for a few days you won’t have reconciled your self to the realities of loaded touring, slow speed and poor bike handling. You will learn to deal with this by bringing less and adjusting to riding at slower speeds. Many touring riders have a 3rd or 4th day energy drop, the work of riding loaded catches up with you and you need an easy day. So take it easy that day and remember most riders feel recharged the next day if they listen to their bodies. The easy day won’t be a problem and create time pressure if you planned for that easy day.
6. Not planning walking time at the end of the day into your trip. Getting to the campground early and spending a few hours walking around will make you feel much better by taking the kinks out of your body. Walk to dinner and don’t bicyle at night if you can avoid it.
7. Not listening to your body – you body will tell you what you need. It knows when you can push and when you should back off. If you encounter pain deal with it right away, don’t try to ride though it. Pain is a warning sign for you to take action now. You aren’t a Tour de France rider who deals with pain every day, you are doing this fun and want to do it for fun again soon.
8. Not eating well and drinking too much. I love a beer at the end of a hot ride. My Italian is limited to “Birra Grande”, if that tells you anything. But drinking at lunch when you are going to ride for the afternoon leads to a not very pleasant ride. Eating too much or the wrong things at lunch also has the same effect. One of things I enjoy while touring is a great dinner with a nice glass of wine or beer but I try to watch what I eat for breakfast and Lunch.
9. Not following Rolle’s Rule – Bob Rolle says start slow to finish fast. Start you day with a good breakfast and riding slowly until your body warms up. Save the speed for the afternoon when are heading for the campground. I’m not a coffee drinker except while Touring, but find a cup of coffee in the Morning and mid-afternoon helps me a lot.
10. Not having fun – if you aren’t having fun something needs to changes. Don’t stick to a plan that isn’t fun.
In trip planning we are trying to take away those things that will keep this bike ride from being one of the great experiences of your life. A great bike tour is a joy, a meditation, a pleasure to be savored for years. I hope your next tour and my next tour live up to that expectation. We can increase the odds greatly in our favor with up front planning.
Remember Roland’s Rule – If we are having fun we are following the Plan
In Part II, I move on to route selection.