Bicycle Touring: Is it for you? Part I
by Fred Meredith
Mix a spirit of adventure with the simplicity of a bicycle and touring
will happen. Sometimes it's the desire to get away from a sedentary
lifestyle, sometimes it's the dread of another overcrowded vacation
destination, but for those with some form of mid-life crisis or wanderlust,
the resurgent interest exists for "going out long" on a bicycle. It
even captures the imagination of non-cyclists, drawing them into the
world of the two-wheeled traveler/adventurer.
With increasing awareness of health issues and the environment, a generation
of empty-nest "boomers" is finding that bicycle touring builds a sense
of accomplishment and self-worth, produces a more up-close and thought-provoking
view of the world, and strengthens the cardiovascular system. When compared
with the usual auto road-trip, it also conserves the world's natural
resources and reduces the number of pollutants released into the environment.
So, what should you do when the urge strikes? How should you deal
with it? Should you plunk down your life savings on the latest ultimate
escape vehicle and set out for Katmandu?
Well, probably not. There are different kinds of touring and each has
its own attraction and particular needs. A little research wouldn't
Tours of the "offered" variety (they plan/you pay) come as one-day
tours, weekend tours, and longer "vacation" tours. They can be domestic
or foreign and the route may be a closed-loop (begin and end at the
same location) or point-to-point (with bus, plane or train return travel).
Do-it-yourself touring routes, on the other hand, can be planned as
well, but offer the additional adventure of occasionally (or frequently)
unfamiliar roads of whimsy.
Basically, touring is traveling by bicycle, and questions of "how far"
or "for how long" are limited only by imagination and resources. But,
for someone who has never toured, where is a good place to begin?
Probably the easiest jumping on point is a recreational bicycle club.
Most clubs offer rides on the weekends, at no charge, with distances
of 20 to 50 or more miles. These are like mini-tours. Add at least one
outing during the week and conditioning will happen. In no time the
urge will strike to do a "century" ride.
Century Rides: The One Day Tour.
While Tour de France isn't touring (it's racing), the Tour de Possum,
Tour de Fireant, Tour de well lots of bike rides that begin with "Tour,"
are all actually one-day fundraising events century rides designed to
raise money for a cause. One day does not a tour make, but if the ride
is well supported it can be a good gauge of your physical readiness
Century rides usually offer several distances in addition to the 100-mile
route. Pick the one that isn't too easy or too out of reach for you.
Just about any good-fitting road bike will do for a fully-supported
(sometimes called 'sagged' folklore indicates that "sag" stands for
Support And Gear) century ride. Some hardy souls even ride mountain
bikes, though the upright riding position, fat tires and greater weight
of these bikes result in up to four times the effort to cover the same
distance, and usually a much slower pace.
But, if a mountain bike or hybrid is your steed of choice (or by default),
don't despair. Think of it as better training for future rides. Just
be careful about which distance you select, knowing that you're doing
up to four times the work of a road biker on the same route.
Tool and accessory needs are minimal on century rides. Ride sponsors
ask only that participants repair their own flat tires (always carry
one or two inner tubes, tire tools, frame pump and maybe a patch kit).
Roving support vehicles are usually equipped to assist with more complicated
malfunctions. Sag vehicles will generally stop any time they encounter
a cyclist with a problem and they have been known to fix flats for the
more helpless looking (and cuter) riders.
About everything you will need during one of these rides will fit
in jersey pockets, a fanny pack or an under-saddle bag. That usually
includes sunscreen, emergency calories (energy bar) and some cash in
case of an unexpected store stop. Cameras are optional, depending on
how often you like to stop and take pictures. Don't put your camera
where you will sweat on it or bang it if your bike falls over. Two water
bottles or a CamelBak should provide enough fluids to cover the 10 to
15 miles between rest stops. Drink a lot. "Hydrate or Die," is more
than just a slogan.
Building up to the 100-mile or even the 100-kilometer (62.5 -mile)
distance should be the budding tourist's first goal. Any cyclist who
can ride 60 miles in an eight-hour day and get on the bike for another
60 miles the next day, is ready for multi-day touring.
Go to Part II