Bicycle touring is one of the most rewarding forms of travel. But planning a bike trip isn’t the easiest thing to do. You have to choose a bike friendly destination and design an itinerary. If this is the first time you’re planning such a tour, things can easily become overwhelming.
But there is good news. Both in the USA and in Europe, there are dozens of cycling routes developed specifically for bicycle touring. And for the most famous and beaten tracks, it is easy to find route information and travel reports that give you a sort of in-depth view on what to expect.
Yet, if you’re thinking to start with an alternative route, you’ll have to study the maps and come up with an itinerary of your own. Here’s how to plan your bicycle touring trip.
1. Choose A Destination
The first thing to do when planning a bike tour is to choose a destination. While the final stop of your journey should be a place that attracts you, before deciding to go there, take into account the route and your level of preparation.
Are you used to staying in the saddle for long periods, tackle gradients and ride on dirt roads while carrying a 25lbs burden on the bike? If your answer is yes to all these questions, plan a trip to the end of the world if you want to.
But if you’ve answered no to any of these questions, start with a shorter trip to a nearby place.
2. Plan The Itinerary
You’ve got a destination, but now you have to plan how to get there. Just grab a map (yes, Google Maps works just fine), and see what villages or cities stand between point A and point B. Then, accounting that the average speed of a trained cyclist is about 10mph, just see where you need to stop on the route.
When planning the milestones of your journey, also consider that bike touring is about enjoying the places; you’ll want to stop and admire the landscape or stroll through the cities, so make sure you’re planning for that.
In broad terms, milestones of 75-80 miles require about 8 hours of cycling, but the characteristics of the trail will also have an impact on your speed and performance.
3. Book Accommodations
Even if you’re a camping lover, I wouldn’t recommend sleeping in a tent during your bike tour. Not because it’s unsafe or uncomfortable, but because a tent and all related accessories represent extra-weight you have to carry on the bike. Moreover, you’ll also save assembling and dismantle time.
When it comes to accommodation, there are endless options to choose from. If you’re on a tight budget, a hostel could be your best bet. There are all sorts of them, from beautiful to ugly, from cheap to expensive, with shared dorms or private rooms.
If you’re traveling alone, a hostel is also a fun option, as you’ll get the chance to meet all sorts of people and make new friends.
Some hostels and hotels even offer specific accommodation to bikers and riders, and these places are packed with other touring cyclists, motorcyclists, and people with similar passions with whom you can share stories and maybe even a few miles of road the next day.
If you’re more reserved and hostels are not your thing, there are many B&Bs or cheap hotels to consider.
4. Consider Transportation
If your journey from A to B involves traits traveled by plane, bus or train, make sure you can take the bike with you. Airlines usually ask you to disassemble the bike and more often than not, it’s more convenient to rent a bike at your destination than transporting your own.
This solution is popular if, for example, you’re planning a bicycle touring trip through Europe or at the opposite end of the United States.
Bus lines could also require you to disassemble the bike, while trains may be equipped with bike racks.
If you’d still like to transport your bike regardless of where you go, make sure you have all necessary tools to put the vehicle together and dismantle it as needed.
Also, make sure all buses, shuttles, trains, or ferries are able to accommodate your bike aboard, to avoid unpleasant surprises.
5. Analyze The Route
Before embarking on the journey, you’ll need to know everything about the route. This includes effective mileage, altitude, type of road, the location of accommodation facilities, and more. At this stage, if you’ve decided to follow a famous route, it’s easy to find all data online.
Online or offline maps of famous trails also include indications of campsites, hostels, places of interest, and other useful tips about the route.
If you decided to opt for an off-the-beaten-track route, you’ll have to build the map yourself. Google Maps could be insufficient for this purpose because it doesn’t give information such as trail altitude and details of the cycling route. Yet, there are many apps and dedicated online tools to use. Some online sites dedicated to bicycle touring even give users the possibility to register their own trips for further inspiration, in addition to offering reliable tour-building tools.
An awesome thing about some dedicated websites, such as Strava, is that you can save the maps on your own page and download the whole tour in GPX format. Then, just upload the itinerary to your device to avoid getting lost when roaming through new places.
6. On The Trail
Once you’ve hopped on the saddle and started your journey, make sure you follow all good practice rules to avoid nasty surprises. Here’s how to make sure you don’t get lost.
Most famous cycling routes and beaten paths are marked with signals positioned at predetermined distances and that are easy to see on the side of the road or trail. These signs can be either road signs showing the name of a municipality or the distance to a city, but also hiking and cycling signs applied on poles that only let you know that you’re on the right track.
My advice is to follow these signs but not to rely solely on them, because it can happen to miss them and get off the track.
You’ve probably built a customized map when designing the route. Before embarking on the journey, make sure you print it in at least one copy and have it in your backpack or luggage at all times. Yes, we all rely on technology nowadays, but a battery can drain or there could be no coverage in the area.
Sometimes, it’s just better to rely on the old-fashioned printed paper.
A bike computer with GPS can help you a lot, but if you don’t want to invest in such a device, just use your smartphone. Most apps just let you set the start and end points, then will calculate your itinerary. If you want to follow the determined route, just create a GPS map with an online tool, then load it in a compatible app.
A GPS app will let you know exactly where you are at a given moment, and that’s especially useful in case you get injured and need to call for help.
The best thing about using a GPS track app is that most of them work even in airplane mode or when there is no coverage, as long as the Position feature of your cell is on.
Check Operator Compatibility
If you’re not going to leave the country, there is nothing to worry about. But if you want to tour a different country, make sure you can use the Roaming service of your operator while you’re abroad. Also beware of bandwidths between different parts of the world, as you might not be able to use a USA cell phone in Europe or vice versa.
However, since 2017, most countries – including the USA, Canada, and almost all countries in Europe – can remain connected and use the same data traffic as provided by their operator in the home country.
Another thing to consider is safety. Make sure you check the local cycling regulations on public roads in the state or country you’re visiting. Also, wear protective equipment at all times, and make sure you have a first aid kit in your backpack.
If possible, take more than one device with you. In case the battery drains on one device and you need to call for help, at least you’ll have an alternative.
Avoid leaving your bike unattended in places you don’t know unless there is a way to secure it. Most cities have bike parking or similar facilities or leave the bike at the accommodation. Also, pay attention to the information you share with people you don’t know. While most strangers are just friendly and helpful, it always pays off being careful about not sharing too much of your private life.
All in all, just hop on the saddle and have fun. Bicycle touring is a rewarding experience that will certainly take you out of your comfort zone. You’ll get a chance to meet new people, make new friends, and broaden your horizons.
And if you’re not sure about touring a state or country on your own, just join a bicycle touring club where you can share your passion and trips with other cyclists!