Fundamentals of a Great Bike Trip
By picking up the Insurgent, we’ve already established that you are pretty rad. So you just might be interested in this ‘radical’ activity; riding a bike. But I’m not talking about going for a ride on a nice day or commuting to school or work, I’m talking about multi-day long distance riding; touring.
So you find out that you will be having some free time coming up, it could be just a couple of days or a couple of years, doesn’t matter, and you decide that you need to get out of town and do something different. Funds are limited, but you still want to have a great trip. When a car is not an option and the cost of a train or airplane ticket is out of reach, it can seem like there are not that many opportunities to pursue. Your bicycle, that trusty friend of yours that is with you on your errands and that takes you along the river path on one of those first days of spring, can be your ticket out of this little corner of the Willamette Valley and give you an experience unlike any other.
For some bike touring is all about being free from the use of fossil fuels while taking in the landscape, for others it is represents a challenging and rewarding physical activity, and for numerous people, it is about an inexpensive vacation. A bicycle trip is all three of those and more. There is a feeling of accomplishment when realizing that distance between you and your starting point was made entirely by bicycle. Biking through the landscape allows for time to observe all of your surroundings, as well as reflect upon your personal thoughts. Living off of a bicycle is also a minimal impact activity that allows for a great degree of mobilization without the direct consumption of precious oil. The great freedom of long distance bike riding allows for unlimited avenues to explore. Be it a trip to the coast and back or a six month venture through Central America, any multi-day bike trip can prove to be a great adventure.
So you’ve now decided you need to go on a bike trip (perhaps for spring break?), but have questions about what all it takes for a successful adventure. Here are the major important elements of bike touring that you may want to consider.
Almost any bike will do, really. A big thing to keep in mind is that what ever the subject, someone has done more with less, you don’t need to worry about having a nice brand new touring bike for your trip. Riding a bike all day with a backpack is no fun, and can cause discomfort and damage to your back and shoulders. It is important to choose a bike that has the necessary holes in the frame to support a rack. For longer trips, a rack with three supports on either side is optimal but not necessary.
The bike should fit you. That is to say that you should be comfortable riding the bike for a long duration of time. A general rule of thumb is that the top tube of the bike (bar between seat and handlebars) should be about an inch below your groin when standing over the bike. From there, adjust seat, handle bars, brake hoods, ect to positions that are comfortable for long rides.
Ensuring that the bike is in good mechanical shape (brakes and gears function properly, seat and other adjustable components are tightened securely, ect) will leave less of a chance for trouble in the future. It’s up to the individual bikers discretion as to how much mechanical work or new parts someone wants to put into their bike. Just keep thinking, someone has done more with less.
While spontaneous routes that take you weaving through the country side can provide more of a sense of adventure, it is always essential to have a map of the areas you are planning on going through. Departments of Transportation and many tourism bureaus will provide you with free maps upon inquiring on their websites. Many states even employ a bicycle coordinator position that can provide you with traffic data and grade of highways throughout the entire state on a map.
A good average day of riding for many bicycle tourists starting out is 50 miles in a day, but once on the road, you will know what your preferences or capabilities are.
When there are no camping sites or motels abound it’s time to consider asking a home or business for permission to stay on their property for the night, or find a good place to ‘stealth camp’. Many locals are accepting that you are a decent-hearted traveler just needing a place to pitch a tent.
Once you establish that you have a rack, bags are necessary. This can mean bungeeing plastic bags to the rack finding used bags, or buying bags new. For DIY enthusiasts, panniers can be made from plastic buckets, crates, or sewn from cloth, but that will have to be a different article. Beyond sufficient storage capacity on your bicycle and the recommended tools, the rest of the gear reflects the personality of your trip. To bring a stove or not to bring a stove? Stay in motels or camp every night? These questions are left to the individual and gear lists should reflect personal comforts.
Of course there will always be variability with location, season, and climate, but there are two things important things to consider when packing clothing for a bike trip: layers and synthetic fibers. You may have experienced this riding through town; you wake up and have to ride your bike to school but it’s a cold January morning in Eugene and raining; you put on a heavy sweater, then a rain jacket, and start riding. Two minutes into the ride your sweating, but disrobing now would be a hassle due to traffic or being late to class. The result: you get to class sweaty with your cotton t-shirt just as wet as it would have been if you were riding with it in the rain. Solution? proper layering and never including cotton in your bike touring wardrobe.
Having a spare tube and patch kit are a must, as well as a few tools, however you don’t need to worry about packing a whole repair shop on your rack. In addition to the tube and patch kit, it is smart to have the tools necessary to make adjustments to the different components of your bike. Usually you can get by with just one Allen wrench set, but be sure that you can adjust your seat, handlebars, and stem to get a comfortable fit. After riding for the first long day you can begin to feel where minor adjustments might be helpful. Spare spokes and a chain tool can be useful to have with you, but importance can vary depending on the type of trip you plan to embark on. Be aware of your proximity to bike shops on your route and plan accordingly.
Food is another topic in which there is great variability between personal preferences. Be prepared to eat more than you usually do if you are not accustomed to all day physical activity. Be aware of the services offered on your map, and stock up to ensure that there will be no hungry stretches of your trip.
So there you have it. The basic elements of a bike trip to think about before setting off on a trip of your own. Once on the road you may think of more things would work a little better for you, or you may be too enthralled with your surroundings to be picky about what you brought with you or the maintenance of your bike. Bicycle touring can be a weekend getaway, summer vacation, or a post-graduation life plan. By combining the adventurous self propelled spirit of backpacking and the vast infrastructure of all kinds of roads across the globe, touring can prove to be an activity of limitless opportunities. Bearing these elements in mind will help facilitate a positive experience that can add more richness to you life.