By Penny Johnson.
You like cycling, and you have been on day trips, but now you want to go further and spend several days on a cycle tour. How do you prepare yourself to make sure you enjoy the trip?
Obviously you need to be fit enough to ride the distances you plan on covering each day in your trip. However just because you can ride 40 or 50 miles in a day, doesn’t necessarily mean you can do 40 miles a day for several days together. If you haven’t already done so, try going for a long ride on both days of a weekend. Stretching exercises before and after each ride will help to reduce stiffness.
Something that seems to afflict women far more than men is getting saddle-sore. If you have only ever done day rides this may not have been a problem, but you will notice that soreness in your rear sets in earlier and earlier on successive days when you do a tour. The trick here is to have the right saddle and clothing (see below), but also to ‘train’ that part of your anatomy as well! Cycling for both days of a weekend will help with this as well as with leg muscles.
If it is your first trip, don’t be over-ambitious! Remember that a 50 mile trip on a nice day is a very different proposition to the same trip when it is wet and windy. If you can, try to find a route that has a few possible short-cuts that you can use if the weather is against you. And don’t forget to look at the hills you might encounter – reduce the mileage on a day when you will encounter lots of ups and downs.
Find out about the weather in the area you are visiting. In some places the wind often comes from the same direction – so plan to ride with the wind behind you if you can.
Think about where you are going to stay overnight. In some ways camping whilst cycle touring is more satisfying – you feel self-sufficient and you often have more choice of where to stay as campsites do not always have to be booked ahead. However carrying a tent, sleeping bag and mat, and probably a stove as well will add considerably to the weight you are carrying.
If you stay in Bed and Breakfast accommodation or similar, you will have a comfortable night’s sleep and a good breakfast to set you on your way the next day, and you will be carrying far less weight. Depending on the place and time of year, you may need to book ahead. On the minus side, once you have booked accommodation along your route you are committed to that route. On the plus side, once you have booked accommodation along your route you are committed to that route! This isn’t as daft as it might sound – once you are a couple of days into a cycle tour you may find your enthusiasm flagging a little as leg muscles and the saddle make themselves felt, particularly if the weather is bad, and having a booked room with a guaranteed hot shower at the end of the day should reduce the temptation to give up or cut things short.
You probably already know the things you feel comfortable wearing when cycling, but if you haven’t already got padded cycling shorts it is well worth investing in a pair. In cold weather you can wear these over or under your normal leg wear.
If your cycle tour is for more than a couple of days, you won’t be able to carry enough clean clothes for the whole trip. Take things that dry quickly – normal wicking underwear is usually very quick to dry.
Make sure you have suitable waterproofs layers, not just a shower-proof jacket. A thin, breathable jacket will keep you comfortable if you have to wear it, and won’t take up too much space in your luggage if you don’t need it.
And don’t forget things like sunglasses. On a day trip, you have a pretty good idea of what the weather will be like when you set off. On a longer cycle tour the weather could change after you have set off, so you need to pack for all the weather you could encounter – while still remembering to keep the weight down!
To state the obvious – make sure your bike is well maintained, and the tyres are a good condition. Carry a pump, a puncture repair kit, and a spare inner tube as well. If you get a puncture it is easier to just change the tube than to try to find the puncture and repair it by the side of the road. You can repair the damaged tube later.
Make sure you are also carrying a multi-tool to adjust anything on your bike that can need adjusting – it is uncanny how a bike that was perfectly comfortable for a day ride suddenly needs a little tweak here and there when you are using it for multi day cycle touring.
If you’re already riding regularly you’ll know what you need in a saddle. If you’re unsure do your research and get familiar to your chosen saddle asap. Brooks B17 saddle has been the cycle touring standard forever but it does take some breaking in so decide what saddle best suits you and get used to it. The right saddle together with padded shorts, can make a huge difference to your comfort during your trip.
If you are going to be cycling in hot weather, see if you can fit a second bottle-cage to the bike – keeping hydrated will be important.
Keep weight as low as you can, while still taking enough stuff to enjoy the trip. Unless you are camping, you should be able to fit everything you need for a week or more into two panniers. Make sure the things in your panniers are waterproofed. Even if your panniers have a waterproof outer cover, it is still wise to pack everything in plastic bags. This helps organise your stuff, and also means that it does not get wet if you need to get something out of the pannier in the middle of a rain shower.
Consider getting a bar bag if you haven’t already got one. This is a small bag that fastens to the handlebars, and is handy for holding the map, your wallet and maybe things like binoculars if you are keen to spot wildlife.
If you are going with a friend, or in a group, think about any things that you can share. For example, you should all carry a spare inner tube, but only one of you needs to carry a puncture repair kit, spanners etc. If you are going to watch birds, can you share the binoculars between you? If you want to take a book to read in the evenings, can you take ones that you both like so you can swap when you have finished them?
And last but not least – ENJOY IT!