Cycle Touring Guide: Deciding on cycle touring

Over the past year, I have often been asked many questions about my previous cycling trips and seemed to have become a resource to help some students who are or have been interested in a cycling trip or tour. I thought I would share my experience that may assist or inspire individuals to take on the best way of seeing the world by Two Wheels.

A little intro about my trips…

I started cycle touring four years ago with my unforgettable trip touring around Sicily. Having wanted to cycle Spain after finishing my A-levels I was reluctantly persuaded to inter-rail around Europe which had its merits for offering convenience of sight-seeing but at the obvious expense of feeling trapped as a tourist. It set the benchmark for future trips, from a final family holiday in Portugal and a hitch-hike to Morocco during the Easter vacation.

London 2 Morocco by Bike

Without hesitation, my cycle trip to Sicily was unforgettable, even more so with the numerous flaws. Having no help or guidance, I had to discover for myself the trivialities and difficulties of cycle touring.

With each cycle trip and adventure, I keep learning and discovering better ways to go around a cycling – and I hope over the next three months I can share some of these with you.

Deciding on a trip:

Think about what you hope to gain or achieve?

A trip depends on many different requirements; principally determined by what you hope to gain by yourself. This is an endless list, it could be for a challenge in aid of a charity, isolation from the world or building bonds with friends or even new acquaintances abroad. Cycling isn’t for everyone, and for it to be successful it has to be relevant and appropriate to you.

Every trip, to me has been an experience of learning and contemplating, regardless if the trip went better or worse than planned. My last trip from London to Morocco was just a form of escapism, a relief from University and I honestly struggled to get excited about it till about four days in.

When you can start get excited about it, especially months in advance you know you are on right wave length.

Inspire yourself!

Before restricting yourself, build up some ideas. Having more avenues to explore are useful when you have stumbling points. It helps if you have travelled alot or have someone to pick ideas from. This sometimes isn’t available and other sources of inspiration are needed, some I have found useful starting points (later will build a resource)

  • Cycling blogs
  • Adventure / travel magazines
  • Cycling / Motorcycling Films (Mark Beamont’s World Cycle and Cycling the Americas, Janapur, The Long Way Around)
  • Following twitter profiles
  • Look for events / festivals
  • Pick destinations on the map

Obviously tune your ideas in case you are travelling as a group or as a pair.

Thoughts on recommendations from friends, relatives and travellers

My personal thoughts are to be careful of recommendations from other travellers atleast without conducting research and questioning if it’s something you would like. The main thing I consider is if they really visited the place instead of a day trip from the hotel.

It would be nice to think they are honest, but usually stories can be exaggerated and the worst thing to find when you visit a place is that it doesn’t  match your expectations – this has happened to me on a few occasions.

Starting somewhere familiar or comfortable:

I often recommend somewhere well within your comfort zone for your first trip. Nothing goes right the first time and I can vouch in that. Being somewhere where you are confident such as speaking the language or accustomed with the culture to some degree is good to think about.

A small trip or adventure close home is really necessary whether you are planning a trip for your first time or before you depart. This only needs to be a weekend or even a few days.

You can familiarise yourself with your equipment, routine, and if something goes wrong you can guarantee you can get help speaking the same language or postpone the trip. If something breaks on your bike, you won’t be stranded. Queue anecdote: if I did a quick trip before cycling London 2 Istanbul, I would have not suffered broken spokes on countless occasions.

Replacing a wheel

After an absolute disaster with broken-spokes, I was very fortunate to find the only bike-store whilst in Holland open on Sunday to get a replacement wheel. DON’T TAKE RISKS!

Also you can be more realistic about your targets or distance cover each day. It’s going to be difficult the first time, but it’s an opportunity to revise your plans.

Fleshing out the ideas:

Ideas are only a starting point. Like most ambitions they need to be borderline sensible and achievable given the resources you have available.

Fundamentally I believe a trips viability is determined from the following in order

  • Time
  • Physical ability
  • Money

There is an interplay of these and to emphasise this I will draw a triangle.

Time Money Ability Triangle

To save money you may avoid public transport and want to cover a greater distance cycling. This requires more time and being able to cycle a greater distance is more taxing on the body. Conversely the opposite if you have little time or money.

Money does have an impact and can limit but not necessarily restrict a cycling tour and I will discuss this in a later article.

There is a wild card that some cycle tour advocates promise: I.e. quit your job, buy a cheap bike and get touring. Such spontaneous ideas are indeed possible and have been successfully done on many accounts – Alastar Humphreys to name one. These require a non finite amount of time, which for most people aren’t usually available or practical.

Making the decision:

Time and money are quantifiable and are usually known from the beginning.

Depending whether you can use public transport, route and your ability, I recommend usually to everyone 50-70 miles average to be comfortable and give you time to stop to absorb destinations without feeling pressured for time or bored from lack of anything to do. This is will vary for many different reasons, if for example you are travelling through a populated region this will be far less but obviously greater through a wilderness where there isn’t much to see.

From here you have a rough estimate set out on the distance your route can take, which will lead to the next article on picking a route.