Touring: Loaded for extended trips and road exploring. Ideal bicycles are designed around traditional touring bike specifications but hardtail mountain bikes with smooth tires can also work. Riders carry equipment in panniers for extended trips camping in road accessible areas with amenities.
Newcomers to touring can use short local shakedown rides to get their bikes and equipment dialed. Doug Shidell, QBP Business Analyst, shares tips on how to get started. He is the author of Bikeverywhere.com, an invaluable repository of cycling routes in the Upper Midwest built from his extensive touring background.
“Don’t wait to go cross country. Go overnight.”
That simple piece of advice from Adventure Cycling Association could get you on your first bicycle tour this weekend. An overnight bike tour is just that. You leave today, spend the night and come home tomorrow. If you start from your front door, you’ll probably camp somewhere within an hour’s drive from home. That’s reassuring. Did you pack too much gear, or too little? Did the weather change unexpectedly? Mechanical failure? Can’t make it to the campsite before dark? Relax. Call a friend or family member. They can bring you the gear you need, or carry you home where you can make a few adjustments and try again next weekend. No matter the outcome, those short overnight trips will build confidence as you learn the finer points of bike touring.
Here are a few tips for getting started:
Pick a destination: State and county parks are obvious destinations, but don’t limit yourself. “Credit card touring” is a popular option, so check out B&Bs, motels, and resorts. Another option is to camp in a friend’s backyard, or crash on their couch.
Route Planning: You probably already know good routes near home. Use these “escape” routes to get out of town, then start researching your options. MapMyRide, Strava, Garmin, and other crowd sourced websites offer a variety of options. Local bicycle advocacy groups and bike clubs are also good sources of route information.
No matter what your information source, verify that the route will work for you. Many crowd-sourced sites appeal to hardcore riders. They may be more comfortable in traffic or riding steep hills than you.
For a short overnight trip, you could drive the route to get a feel for it. Check for wide shoulders or awkwardly placed rumble strips. Bring your bike along so you can test ride a few miles of the route. You can also research the route from home. Follow the route on Google Maps and use Google Earth to zoom down to street level. The combination of satellite and ground-level photos will give you a feel for the condition of the road, traffic levels, whether the road has a lot of truck traffic and if it has a shoulder. Anything that makes you feel more comfortable about the route will make you feel more confident and excited about the tour.
Just Do It: You can’t go too wrong with an ultra-short overnight tour, so don’t go overboard with the planning. You can spend hours reading conflicting advice about how to pack your bike, for example, or you can load it up and ride for a couple of hours. You can spend weeks planning the perfect trip, or you can do one this weekend, make a few adjustments, and go out again in two weeks. Nothing beats experience, and experience creates enthusiasm. That first cross-country tour could be just a couple of overnight trips away.