How to Plan the Perfect Cycle Tour
Cycle touring can offer a brilliant sense of freedom, but you will also need to carefully consider what kit to take.
So whilst you’re off enjoying yourself you will probably also have a tent, sleeping bag, bicycle tools, cooking equipment, food, water, clothes, camera and a few handy extras like navigation equipment in your panniers at any time.
For some, carrying lots of kit and additional weight may seem a little daunting and it’s true that planning a successful cycle tour does require some careful consideration. But the following information is designed to get you thinking and will hopefully help you enjoy your cycle touring holiday.
People can and do cycle tour on all kinds of different bicycles, anything from a shopping bike through to an old racing bike. That said, some bicycles are more suited to the purpose than others and a bicycle for touring needs to be tough with a rear carrying rack capable of holding panniers.
So which bicycle will suit you?
TOURING / TREKKING BIKES
Touring bikes generally come with a rear rack fitted as standard, dropped handlebars (like those seen on racing bikes), strong wheels, a broad range of gears, mudguards and tyres between 28 – 35mm in width.
These bikes tend to offer the rider a more upright position, have flat handlebars, a broad range of gears and sometimes have lockable suspension on the front forks. Some will come with a rear rack fitted, mudguards and will generally have a similar tyre size range to a touring bike.
If exploring hidden tracks and trails is more to your liking, then a mountain bike might be just the thing for you. Be careful though as only a few mountain bikes come with fitted mounting points for a rear rack.
The most important thing for anyone considering cycle touring as a new pastime is your riding position, so firstly it’s worth getting measured up to ensure you know your frame size. As a golden rule you should try and select 3 or 4 cycles that are within your budget, and test them!
When cycle touring many use panniers and perhaps an additional bar bag that fits across the handlebars. It is of course possible to make use of a back pack, and you’ll often see cyclists doing so. However, for those considering long cycle tours, this isn’t really the best option as carrying a large amount of weight in a seated position, for long distances can put excessive strain on the lower spine.
When cycle touring it’s important that your sleeping arrangement is comfortable and leaves you feeling refreshed each morning. However, you will also want to make it as lightweight and packable as possible. Thankfully, modern lightweight tent designs mean we’re pretty much spoilt for choice. Other than size and weight, another thing worth considering is where you will store your panniers overnight. If it’s in your tent, having a little extra storage space is worth your while.
With sleeping bags it’s important to consider the weather conditions you’re likely to be using it in. If the majority of your cycle touring is to be done in the summer months, then you will probably be fine making use of a 2 or 3 season bag. If however you’ll be touring in cooler months or at altitude, then a 3 or 4 season bag is better. Another thing to consider is the likelihood of kit getting wet and your ability to dry it. Down is lighter and warmer than synthetic materials, but is very poor at insulating when wet. Synthetics however retain more insulative properties when wet.
FOOD & WATER
A car won’t run without fuel, nor will you. Pre-prepared expedition meals are high in energy and some are very lightweight, so a few of these are good for emergencies. A light stove is great but make sure you check which fuel is commonly used in the area. Many modern gas stoves have a universal fitting, but research before you go. You will also need to think about how you will access water. If you can stop off in towns every few hours then it will be relatively simple, if you will be out of towns for a few days, then a safe means of water purification may be necessary.
Do you need to be covered in Lycra from head to toe…? No, not really, although padded shorts are certainly a good idea for comfort when riding longer distances! Other essential items are namely breathable waterproofs, a jacket, trousers and over shoes. Cycling gloves should be fingerless in summer and fully insulated and waterproof in winter. Whichever gloves you consider, remember that dexterity is vital for reaching brake and gear levers.
MAPS & GPS
Planning your first cycle tour can be great fun and with modern technology there’s a whole new world of gadgets that can assist you. Some people use a smart phone to confirm location and even plot routes, whilst others want the reliability of a GPS unit. Specific GPS units have the advantage of allowing you to upload mapping with a worldwide coverage.
Traditional paper maps are still favoured by many, the trick here is to ensure you obtain maps of an appropriate scale and detail given your proposed tour. If you’re touring over a large distance, perhaps Lands’ End to John o’Groats then maps of approx. 1:200,000 will cover a sufficient area. What you wouldn’t want for such a trip would be maps of 1:50,000 as this means you’ll be carrying mostly maps in one of your panniers!
Whilst touring carry a good mini pump, preferably a pump with a pressure gauge and one that will act as a track pump as this type of pump is best at delivering high pressures. Remember if your tyre pressure is low, you’ll have to pedal that much harder! A multi tool, spare inner tubes and puncture repair kit are all essential items.
Once you’ve got all of the components together in preparation for your tour, it’s highly recommended to go on a mini ‘test’ tour for a few nights, ideally within or around your home area. This way you can make adjustments before the grand depart, and you’ll be able to go on that first tour in confidence!
Tips and advice brought to you by our partners at The National Cycle Touring Charity. For more information, visit our dedicated CTC page.