By Megan Reynolds.
Cycle touring is a fantastic way to discover new places, see new sights, meet new people and simply slow down the pace of life for a while. A cycle tour can be anything from a couple of days to a few months in duration and as basic or luxurious as you wish.
Cycle touring allows you to experience a place in a totally different way to motorised transport. On a bike you really are amongst it, not isolated sealed inside your metal box. You can smell a place, see it, feel the heat, the cold, hear the noise, or enjoy the silence. You can pull up whenever you like, pause to look at a stunning view, visit a shop, eat lunch, and then get on your way again quickly; no parking worries, no looking for gas stations, no long days at the wheel feeling the fatigue, just the wind in your hair and the freedom to go wherever you like.
Spend a couple of days exploring a new area or a few months touring the country; once you’ve tried cycle touring, you’ll be hooked.
So how do you go about planning your cycle tour? Clearly you’re going to need a bike. You’re also going to need some method of carrying your gear. A purpose built touring bike makes fitting racks, panniers and touring luggage easy. But a touring bicycle isn’t essential. A lot of regular bikes can be used for a cycle tour. Plenty of spontaneous travellers have set off on a bike that they’ve dug out from the back of the garage. There are pannier racks available that will fit bikes that don’t have touring rack eyelets. There are some exceptions, an uber-light carbon fibre racing bike frame won’t be strong enough to take the weight of a full camping tour set-up. Most other bikes should be ok, if in doubt, ask for advice at your local bike shop.
The amount and type of luggage you require will depend on the length and nature of your tour. If you’re only going to be away a couple of days and will stay overnight in a hotel or guest house, then you won’t need much gear, so a saddle bag or even a rucksack might be enough. For very long tours you might consider a trailer. If you’re going to camp, you’ll need more gear than if you stay in hotels.
Cycle touring is a really good way to pare down to life’s bare essentials. Everything that you will need on your tour you must carry in some way, so pack judiciously and take only the things you absolutely need; for a short trip, versatile, comfortable clothes and a toothbrush should be sufficient!
In addition to your personal gear, you’ll need to carry basic tools in order to mend punctures and perform routine bike maintenance to keep you on the road.
If you have a limited amount of time, you might want to plan your route in some detail, to make sure you get to the end point on time. If you’re touring for a few weeks, or even months, you might take a more relaxed approach, having a vague plan in mind but seeing where the road takes you and perhaps lingering longer in places you like. There are a number of published and well sign-posted long distance cycle routes, and one of these would be a good idea if you’re new to cycle touring or not 100% confident in your route planning abilities. Whatever your approach, it’s a good idea to build in some contingency time to allow for additional stops and running repairs, and just to give yourself time to take it all at a leisurely pace.
If you are in any doubt about whether cycle touring is for you, give it a go – you’ve got nothing to lose and lots to gain.