Tips for cycle trips

No matter where you are in the world, given enough time, no land destination is too far.

Cycling has many advantages as a form of travel, as it is the fastest way to travel by human power, and slow enough to allow the type of local immersion that is impossible with powered travel. Cycle travel is also a cheap form of transportation.

Multi-continental trips are relatively common, such as from tip to tip of the Americas, but cycling can also be enjoyed in month-, week-, or even weekend-long trips. Some routes, such as the Karakoram Highway, are extremely challenging, but an infinite number of safer and easier routes are also available.

Itinerary

See also:

Distance

On level terrain, without a headwind, a cyclist of average fitness on a touring bike can comfortably cover 60–120 km a day, depending on the number and length of stops. Distances of up to 250 km a day are feasible, but anything much beyond 120 km will require considerable physical strain and not allow many stops to enjoy the places you visit. For many, 80–100 km a day will be the optimal distance to aim for, as it will give a sense of achievement and also leave plenty of time for meals and activities.

Be aware that a full load will slow you down. You may average 25 km/h on your unladen bike, but being loaded up with panniers can reduce that to 15 km/h or less.

For a seven day itinerary, aim to cover about 400–500 km. It is a good idea to ease into a longer trip, do short days to start with, and take a break on the third or fourth day, to allow sore muscles to recover, perhaps stopping in a city or engaging in a different outdoor activity, such as kayaking or swimming.

Geography

It's worth the climb

The gradient of the trip will reduce your range, in exceptional circumstances with uphill gradients to as little as 20 km a day. Watch the altitude lines on your map closely, both for individual gradients and total altitude differences.

Gradients of more than about 5% are difficult to overcome on a laden touring bike. A rule of thumb is that for every 100 metres of altitude you climb, you should add an extra 15 minutes to your journey time.

In hilly or mountainous regions, the easiest routes for cycling are downstream along major rivers, as overall they will be downhill. A long, roundabout route along a river will usually be easier than a short, direct route over a hill or mountain pass. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the most scenic routes often come from hilly terrain. If you are feeling up for a challenge, try some hillier routes. Start small, your legs will get used to it and the views will be worth the effort.

Motor traffic is often worth avoiding as much as possible, for example by planning your cycle trip in less densely populated regions (unless it is in a country that offers exceptionally good cycling facilities, such as The Netherlands or Denmark), by choosing minor roads over trunk roads, and staying away from larger cities unless they offer good cycle paths. Not only can it be dangerous to share the road with large numbers of cars and trucks, it will also be less fun.

Maps

Ideally you will have maps showing the contours of the region you are visiting, along with tourist attractions, accommodation, campsites and other useful places. However, these maps tend to be quite detailed and only cover small regions, and if you are covering any kind of distance you will find yourself buying rather a lot of them, which can prove expensive and heavy.

One good compromise is to buy a road atlas of the country or countries you are planning to visit, tear out (copy) the necessary pages and only take those. You'll often find you can get a good 1:100000 map fairly cheaply, but still showing minor roads, campsites and marking out any steep hills.

Many conventional maps won't give you good information about cycle routes or bike lanes. However, you can find this online for many countries, via Open Cycle Maps and similar websites based on Open Street Maps. Information is less good in countries where the project is less active, such as parts of South America, Africa and Asia.

Another alternative is a GPS with topographic maps loaded, or a PDA (possibly one that has GPS) which you can load topographic maps into. Even a scanned atlas map onto a PDA is better than nothing. There are several GPS devices available with bicycle mountings which can include Open Street Maps data, for free (see #GPS maps below).

Smartphones also have GPS and can run map apps, most of which can show bike routes.

Other Information

It's best not to take advice from non-cyclists too seriously, whether given in person, on-line or in print. Often they will overestimate the difficulties, and underestimate the pleasures. This is particularly true in the case of distance, traffic situations (especially in developing countries) and road conditions.

Equipment

Cycling for extended periods requires somewhat more than a basic set of wheels, and both comfort and convenience can be improved with a few standard add-ons, however every piece of extra weight you pack is going to require extra energy to move around.

The bicycle

A conventional touring bicycle, a Soma Double Cross, with drop bars, front and rear panniers, and a handlebar bag.

Hotly debated among cycle tourists is what makes a good touring bicycle. Much of the choice depends on what style of touring you plan to do. Someone doing a short supported tour in a developed country will have vastly different needs from someone doing a long distance self-supported tour in a developing country. While the former will do very well with a light weight road bike, the latter will be better with a dedicated touring bike.

Almost any bicycle can be used for a tour, but some will enable you to travel farther and more comfortably, with fewer mechanical problems.

Here we assume you will be carrying at least a moderate amount of baggage.

Recumbents make excellent touring machines. Especially the tadpole trike configuration with over 3 square feet of seat means a great degree of comfort and comfortable seat while in camp. You can gear a trike very low for easy hill climbing to crawl up hills as slow as you want. With the recumbent trike if you want to stop and look at something, take a picture, look at a map, or take an on bike nap, you just pull over and stop. No getting off the bike and no tipping over. The face forward head position makes watching the world go by very comfortable. Safety wise, trikes offer handlebar mirrors with a 180 degree rear view and having your hands free makes it very easy to acknowledge motorists you may be holding up (a motorist who has been acknowledged with a friendly wave is much more patient.) The wider stance and car-likeness of the trike means motorists treat you like a car and will pass with a wide margin. Another safety feature is riding feet first and low to the ground making head injury less likely in a crash. Trikes are typically harder to crash, don't easily tip over and handle emergency off road ditching quite well. A final note on safety is having two front braking wheels which usually feature disk brakes providing lots of stopping power and no flipping. On the downhill trikes are known to exceed 50 mph while remaining stable and fun. On the flat they can be a bit faster than other bikes. Up hill they tend to be slower.

Comfort

Folding bicycles in Holland, loaded for touring.

When spending long hours in the saddle it's important that the bicycle is comfortable for you. Some things that make it more comfortable are tire choice, handlebar choice, and saddle choice. Tires should be smooth, for lower rolling resistance, wider than road (racing) tires, and narrower than most mountain bike tires. Something in the rage of 32 to 40mm if using 700C, or 1.25" to 1.75" if using 26" is ideal. The important thing with handlebars is for them to offer a variety of hand positions, this can be achieved in a variety of ways. One option is the "drop" bars as found on road racing bicycles, these are normally mounted higher on a touring bike, to put less pressure on the hands, they provide the most numerous hand positions. Ideally wider drop bars would be chosen for touring than racing, 44 cm for example. The other common way to get multiple hand positions is to put bar ends (horn-style handlebar extensions) on "flat bars" (mountain bike style bars). This is cheap and easy, but only provides one or two additional positions. Other, less common, but excellent options are moustache bars or butterfly bars. A good saddle can really help reduce saddle-soreness, and is worth spending a little extra money on. Don't go for the biggest, squishiest gel saddle you can find - often the soft seats can rub a lot more against your delicate parts. It's best to go for the "sculpted" saddles that are designed to support your sit-bones. It's a very personal choice, and hard to know what you'll find comfortable until trying it out, so find a saddle you're happy with well before you leave.

Strength

Overall the bicycle should be stronger than a bike not designed to carry loads for long distances. When carrying 10–20 kg it's worth having a bike that's a few kg heavier and much stronger. One very important part of this is the choice of wheels. Wheels with 36 or 32 spokes are stronger, and double walled wheels are mandatory for any touring. Light weight wheels popular with road sports cyclists are to be avoided.

Carrying Capacity

The most basic part of being able to carry lots of stuff on your bike is simply being able to bolt a rack (or two) on. It's important to have bolt holes near the rear axle to for the rack, and it's nice to have them near the saddle too. A front rack lets you balance the weight out more evenly over both wheels, and the bicycle handles better as a result. Ability to bolt on water bottle cages is also good. A longer wheel base will make the bicycle more stable and give a more comfortable ride when loaded. Of course having a bike that's strong enough to handle the weight is also important.

Serviceability

Nothing lasts forever. Check, or have a professional check, your bike before you leave. Let them know that you plan to do a tour on it and you don't want mechanical problems messing it up—don't let them try to save you money at the cost of a problem on your tour. When choosing a bike (or adapting a bike) look for parts that are as mechanically simple as possible, as they will be more reliable and easier to service when something eventually wears out. Avoid proprietary parts entirely (like the Cannondale "Headshock") as they can only be serviced by authorized dealers. Other details depend on where you are travelling, but as a rule of thumb don't use the latest technology, stick to tried and trusted systems. If traveling in the developing world a good rule of thumb is to try to keep your bike as compatible as possible with department store mountain bikes. Bikes like these have penetrated many developing markets, and replacement parts are more commonly available in many countries. It would be unwise to try for compatibility with the Chinese/Indian roadster that is even more common in many developing countries. The parts would be hard to find in the developed world, and would not be high quality anywhere.

Component Choices

Frame

Steel is a good choice for the frame. It comes in a number of forms for bike use: quality Cromoly steel is a bit heavier than aluminum, and Hi-Ten steel significantly so, but both more than make up by being more durable, safer to ride with crash damage, and may be possible so improvise some sort of repair if damaged. Lugged frames may be stronger than welded because of the additional material at the joints, but only if well made. Titanium is the strongest, and lightest, most weather resistant, but impossible to repair (without very very very specialized equipment) and out of most peoples budgets.

Dedicated touring bikes, like the Surly Long Haul Trucker, Trek 520, Thorn Sherpa, or similar, are ideal; but not the only option.

Many older (90's) mountain bikes fit the characteristics of a good touring bike, with some modifications made, most importantly removing suspension forks if present, putting slick tires on, and adding bar ends (or putting drop bars on).

Other Equipment

Repair kit

The choice of tools depends on where you are going, how self-sufficient you need to be, and what repairs you are capable of. Don't bother taking anything you don't know how to use; it will just be dead weight.

A Basic kit would include:

An Advanced kit is good if you need (or want) to be more self-reliant,

Clothing

There is a variety of cycling-specific clothing that can make your trip much more comfortable and/or safe:

Camping gear

GPS maps

There are a few models of GPS devices specifically designed for bikes, but note that most of them do not come with bike trails in the actual maps. That is, the hardware is designed for bikes, but the software is largely the same as what you'd use in a car but with some reduction in features (e.g. no voice navigation). Some simpler cycling GPS units only record your track and statistics, and do not offer on-the-go route planning. Many hiking-oriented units can also be mounted on handlebars with an adapter. Finally, smartphone applications can be used, so long as one is mindful of battery life, rainfall, and other pitfalls of the long-distance tourist.

Open Cycle Maps and GPS devices

Open Street Map's volunteers have compiled very good cycle route information, better than commercial rivals in most countries, available on websites:

OSM / OCM maps can be downloaded and imported into Garmin maps formats for their Bike GPS units.

It can take a bit of a while to get used to the map formats, plus creating routes and importing them for daily use.

Stay safe

There are some simple and important precautions you should take when planning a bicycle trip:

Eat

Food choice depends largely where you are in the world, so see the respective sections for more info about foods. As you will be working hard, it's important to get enough energy in your food. Consuming foods high in carbohydrates and fats is a good idea, and on longer trips protein is also essential. On long trips away from major towns there may be stretches with little quality food available, so be prepared to subsist on candy bars, prepared meat products and the like if the need arises. Special outdoor food may be a good idea for long trips through remote areas

Sleep

While you can take a tent or something similar with you (in a trailer if need be), many hotels and especially campsites can accommodate cyclists and some, especially those along popular routes, aggressively market that fact. Cyclist associations like the German ADFC publish guidebooks on cycle friendly accommodation and hotels that earn such a designation usually display it prominently on their website. In other places, hotels may be less used to and thus less accommodating of cyclists. If you are exploring uncharted territory for cyclists inquiring with your place of accommodation in advance spares you the search for a new place to stay after a long exhausting day of travel.

Taking your bike on public transport

Getting your bicycle to the start of your intended cycle route can be an adventure in itself. You will need to do some research in advance about which carriers let you take your bicycle on board.

Bus with bike trailer in Germany


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 03, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.