I was once sent a card that read ‘He knows not where he’s going, for the oceans will decide, it is not the destination, but the glory of the ride’.
Back in the day, riding a bike was primarily aimed at getting people mobile, allowing them to be free and to access places that were previously out of bounds for them. Riders would rack up extraordinary distances, in groups or alone, and cycle touring was born. The abundance of motor cars has seen the popularity of cycle touring decrease, but it seems that things are changing and the bike tour is very much back in vogue.
Traditional bike tours would see riders setting out on a multi-day adventure, carrying most, if not all, of the equipment they need with them. These days, kit is light, bike bags are waterproof and multi-purpose so touring is a fantastic way to take in some serious rides and visit some amazing destinations, all with the idea, as the card suggests, that it’s not just about where you go, but how you get there that is important.
We are partial to a bit of bike touring ourselves and many of our friends and ambassadors have taken part in some epic cycle tours, including some amazing races like the Trans Continental (a race across Europe taking around 2 weeks to complete if riding around 250 miles a day).
So where do you start?
Like everything, start small and build up as you get more confident. Do you know someone who lives a few hours ride away? Could you ride there, pitch your tent in their garden and ride back the next day (even taking advantage of their shower, kitchen and hospitality if they’re keen to indulge you).
Once you’ve got a few of these under your belt, what about traversing your county, or even the whole country? There are a few well marked routes across the country, depending on where you live and most of these are well signposted and handily pass through towns and villages on the way so you’ll never be too far from a shop (Or pub, or hotel depending on your commitment).
Once you’ve done that, what’s next? In the Uk the traditional bike tour is the Lands End to John O’Groats ride from South to North, (known as a LEJOG) or done in reverse (known as a JOGLE) and if done leisurely should take around 10 days to complete, again with plenty of shops and amenities on the way depending on how hard core you are feeling (or how much your riding partner insists you have a shower!)
Then you can head into Europe, plenty of cycle routes there (usually called ‘Velo Routes’ or ‘Routes Vert’) that can be easily accessed as a foot passenger on the ferry. You can visit some amazing places and soak up some wonderful culture and see it all at a leisurely pace, rather than zooming through in your car or on a plane.
There are even some people who have dared to dream, chucked it all in and cycled all the way around the world on their bikes, taking a multitude of wild and wonderful routes and linking it all together with the odd choice plane or ferry journey. There are some incredible books out there written by people who have cycled the world and their tales are all completely different, and all completely inspiring.
For those with slightly less time and with a competitive streak, you could look at some of the many cycle touring events out there. The previously mentioned Trans Continental has a waiting list for one of the 200 places on offer each year, as do the Trans Pyrenees, Trans Alba, Paris-Brest-Paris and other events that are growing in popularity.
You could try looking up Audax UK and look at joining one of their clubs, or if solo riding is your escape from organised groups then you could simply look up their events directory to find long distance routes here in the UK. Although not strictly touring, the distances on offer give you an insight into what you need to carry for multi day adventures.
What about buying a one way ticket to somewhere and riding back? Get your map and pin out, find the nearest railway station to the mark you’ve made and buy yourself a single.
Here are our top tips for cycle touring
Don’t forget, with all events like this, hydration and fuelling yourself is key. Make sure you take on enough food and water and ensure that there is somewhere on your route that you can re-stock, otherwise make sure you carry it with you. Make sure you can pay for it, credit card, even emergency money (remember that stuff?) don’t rely on your phone…it might run out!
Think about a GPS device. Lots of companies out there using Sat Nav style devices to help you navigate your way around. You can create routes before you leave and follow them turn by turn or use them as a back-up if you can’t find where you’re going on the map. Think about the battery though, you can charge it on the move with a dynamo hub or look for places to plug in while you refuel.
Make sure that someone knows where you’re headed and make sure they have a timeline of when you should be back. If you do struggle with mechanicals and can’t get back it’ll help people to find you if they know where you should be at that time.
Wear comfy clothes and invest in chamois cream. We cannot stress enough how important it is to look after your contact points, your bottom, your feet and your hands are all going to be in touch with the bike for miles and miles, so keep them clean, dry and comfortable.
Practice first. Everyone has that mate who just buys everything online and then heads off on a crazy adventure with an ‘it’ll all be Ok’ attitude, and we’re all up for a bit of adventure. But if you’re serious about cycle touring and want to do it safely and enjoy it, you’ll need to try all your kit out before you go. If you’re sleeping out you’ll need to have practiced your sleeping routine, pitching your tent or bivvy bag, it’s no good trying to pitch a tent in the dark in a storm if you’ve never done it before and don’t know which way is up. It’s no good having the worlds lightest bike if you’ve never ridden it and the seat is too low, or if you have a fancy new bike computer that you don’t know how to programme. All of these things will just add to the stress and take away from the enjoyment, especially when you’re tired and hungry…and you will get tired and hungry!