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How to Cycle Tour

Touring Cyclist

Break free from the cubicle, get fit and see a bit of the world - there really are no negatives to cycle touring. Of course, an enterprise like this requires a tonne of planning. Our How To will help you go from dreaming about your own tour to a state of souplesse (that lethargic effortless form shown by Tour de France riders almost as if they're gliding above the road).

  • Do

    1. Choose a destination that suits your aptitude and tastes. First time tourers may want to start off with an easier route to get acclimatised to life on a bike. Fancy Cape to Cairo tours can wait until you've mastered gentler gradients and the more forgiving roads of Europe. Companies like Tour d'Afrique offer organised tours that take the drudge work out of touring so you can just focus on keeping the pedals moving.

      See our Top 10 International Cycling Routes for some ideas. These cycling designated routes offer good roads and lovely views for beginners.

    2. Build up your endurance beforehand. Although you will get fitter on the road, it's best to begin with a base level of fitness. Cycling weekly or commuting by bike are good ways of building up the endurance that will serve you well on your tour.

    3. Intensively research your route. Unlike more superficial travellers, the cyclist must know the lie of the land he travels. Bad roads can mean a fruitless day on foot. Online tools like Google Maps and Google Earth make research a bit easier. If you plan on cycling locally CycleStreets.net is a great initiative to provide crowd-sourced "cycling intelligence" on roads throughout the UK.

      Other cyclists are an invaluable source of information. Forums like the Cyclist Touring Clubs are a great place to get advice from more experienced cyclists. There are also plenty of blogs by experienced cycle tourist that may give you motivation and unique insights of life on the road. The most famous being Heinz Stucke's amazing adventures and the more recent travellingtwo.com

    4. Make an extensive equipment list and pack lightly. Packing for a cycle tour requires a Spartan mindset; if you can do without it, rather leave it behind. If you're cycling with support (i.e an accompanying car) then weight is less of a concern, but the self supporting cyclist needs to be ruthless. The best way to lessen weight is to pack as many multi-purpose items as possible - like a GPS-enabled smartphone instead of a GPS unit and a phone.

      If you find that you have too many panniers, there's always the option of an extra trailer wheel. Extrawheel makes light useful extra wheels that also serve as backup tyres. To see what a good equipment list looks like read here.

    5. Make sure you have the right type of bike. The demands of touring are different from those of the weekend bike tour, and as such your average bike won't cut it - touring bikes are specifically built to be ridden into the ground. There are different types of touring bikes for different types of tours: road tourers give a comfortable ride with easy handling when loaded up with gear, sports tourers marry speed and functionality in a lightweight frame (especially good for brevets: really long-distance cycle races) and expedition tourers are built to be durable for rough terrain.

      Your bike will be your closest companion on your trip so it is imperative that you know her inside out. Roadside repairs are a part of touring and if you don't know your derailleur from your cotterless crank then you'll be stranded on the road. BicycleTutor.com is an excellent resource to learn all about your bike. The paid video tutorials (about £4 for a month's viewing) will give you enough knowledge to be confident enough to perform repairs on your own.

    6. Make contingency plans. As with all outdoor activities mother nature is the ultimate arbitrator. Prepare for her whimsical moods by always having a backup plan if conditions should make riding dangerous. Give yourself plenty of leeway in planning, because something will go wrong.

    7. Try camping a few nights. Most official cycle routes have towns with accommodation along the way, but rugged cyclists swear by outdoor living. Yes, the extra weight of a tent and sleeping bag is a drag but you never really know the place you visit until you're sleeping on the ground. Credit card touring (finding accommodation and paying for supplies by credit card) through a country is easy and convenient, but there's just something about doing it old school.

    8. Stay visible on the road, follow the law and wear a helmet. Cyclists and motorists have an uncomfortable relationship on the road that has motorists stereotyped as having no concern for the life of a cyclist and cyclists as having no respect for rules of the road. There's no reason to take shortcuts and chances that inconvenience others and put your life at risk.

      The greatest danger on the road is not being visible to other road users. Wearing reflective gear and helmets may not be fashionable, but it may just save your life. Make sure your helmet meets quality standards - the current UK standard is BS EN 1078:1997.

    9. Enjoy the experience. This is not Tour de France, so there is no reason to be so focused on making time that you forget your surroundings. When planning, make sure that you plan to see some of the sights to break up the sometimes monotonous miles on the road. The free monthly magazine Bicycle Travelling is a good read for those dreaming of their first tour. Download it and get some motivation to conquer the road.

  • Don't

    1. Forget to keep hydrated and energised on the road. It goes without saying that staying hydrated is very important, but we'll say it anyway. When you exert yourself for lengthy periods, like on a cycle tour, the body loses a lot of fluid which needs to be replaced (remember that roads retain heat so the road will likely be much hotter that the surroundings, which means more sweating for you). Beyond that, your diet needs to provide you with the energy you'll need to keep going. Carbohydrates - found in pasta, grains and bread - are essential to any serious cardiovascular activity. If you find yourself flagging then review your diet to see if you're getting enough carbohydrates.

      It is also imperative that you replace nutrients and electrolytes while you are riding, which is where a sport's drink comes in handy. Keep your water and sports drink within arms reach so that you can easily have a drink while riding.

Last Updated: November 2011

Clayton Truscott

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.