Information about the world of cycling, including bicycle touring

Roger Kramer rides a Cannondale R500 racing bike with a triple chainring in front.

Roger Kramer rides a Cannondale R500
racing bike with a triple chainring in front. I
chose that because many of the states I
ride are hilly. I installed a rear rack and
trunk to carry my camera equipment and
rain gear. (I needed both on this particular
day on MOOSA 1999.)

The MOOSA 1999 rider in the foreground is using a pannier to carry equipment. The rider in the background is using a hydration system to carry water.

The MOOSA 1999 rider in the foreground is
using a pannier to carry equipment.
The rider in the background is using
a hydration system to carry water.

Rows of duffel bags and tents are common on rides like DALMAC.

Rows of duffel bags and tents are common
on rides like DALMAC. Be sure to mark
your bags clearly so you can find them!

SUMMARY: It's easier than you think to complete a weeklong bicycle tour. Getting the right equipment, getting in shape and getting a positive attitude will increase your chances of having a successful bicycle tour.

Getting Ready
for a Bicycle Tour

There are three things you must do to have a successful bicycle tour: You must have the right equipment, you must be in shape, and you must have the right attitude. If you're strong in all three areas, you will have a great time! You'll decrease the chances of mechanical or physical breakdowns, and you'll be able to cope with them when they do happen.

If you're lacking in any of those areas, you need to take a close look at whether you should be taking a multiday tour.

The Right Equipment

First and foremost, you must have a bicycle that will withstand a long trip. A department store bicycle just won't cut it. Its weight will bog you down, the cheaper components will break down, and you aren't going to have a comfortable ride.

Mountain bikes currently are the most popular bikes in America. They're a great choice if you plan to do lots of off-road touring, but they're not the best choice for a road tour. They're heavier than racing or touring bikes, and even with tires with a smooth tread down the middle, they're not as efficient. Without handlebar attachments, you have fewer grip options, which can cause lots of discomfort to your hands and arms over the course of 60 or more miles.

Racing and touring bikes are by far the best choices for a multiday road ride. Racing bikes are the lightest, and they are built with efficiency and speed in mind. Touring bikes are a bit heavier, but they are the best choice if you plan to haul your tent, sleeping bag, clothes and other items with you. Hybrids, which are a mix of mountain and road bikes, may also be a good choice for you, but that will depend what kind of riding you plan to do.

To find the bike that's right for you, go to several professional bike shops and take a look at what they offer. Most bike shops will make sure that the bike fits you before they let you buy it, and they should be able to tell you whether a road, touring, hybrid or mountain bike will be best for you. They often will let you test ride it. If they can't answer your questions or approach the answers with a snobbish or disinterested attitude, don't buy your bike there. Buy your bike from someone who is genuinely concerned about what's right for you and someone who has a good reputation for bicycle repair.

Once you get your bike, you also need the following items:

If you plan to do fully loaded touring, you need to get yourself panniers and a rear rack to carry your equipment. You also need to get yourself a tent and a sleeping bag that will easily fit on your bike. If you plan to do your own cooking, you also need to get a good camping stove and good camping utensils. Those are made to be reasonably light for the needs of backpackers, and they're good for cyclists as well. I've yet to do that type of ride, so I would recommend checking with the folks at Adventure Cycling for more advice.

If you plan to do the typical organized tour, a truck will haul one or two of your duffel bags stuffed with your tent, sleeping bag, clothes and other items. Most of the time, the bags are placed outside the trucks at each campsite. Despite the best efforts of the staff, they can get wet from rain or wet grounds. That's why the plastic bags come in handy.

The Right Training

It's simple. To be able to ride a long trip, you've got to put in quite a few miles beforehand. Many tours recommend that you have ridden at least 500 miles in a season before going on a multiday ride.

If you think you're going to do a multiday tour, you need to get outside as soon as the weather allows. You probably can start with routine rides of 10-20 miles three to five days a week early in the season and increase those rides to 15-30 miles later in the season. As the season progresses, you need to do at least one ride per week of 20-30 miles and increase that to 30-40 miles. If time allows, try to increase that to one ride per week of 40-70 miles, but you should be OK as long as you are doing a 40-mile ride each week. If you can ride 100 miles in one day, often called a century, that will help a lot. About two or three weeks before your tour, many tours recommend you do back-to-back rides of 60-70 miles. This helps your body, especially your posterior, get used to the demands of long-distance cycling.

You also have to do some research on the route. If your tour is in Arizona or Colorado, you need to include big hills in much of your training. If you're a Midwesterner and don't have access to big hills, then do a lot of riding into the wind. It will help you develop a steady cadence that can help you on the long grades. If your route hits major cities, you should probably do some riding in a city to get you used to riding with lots of traffic.

The Right Attitude

If you have bought the correct equipment and done enough training, the odds are that you will have a great attitude about the trip. But what if you have a lot of flats and you just can't climb that steep hill? A great attitude can help you deal with those disappointments and still have a great ride.

The most important thing to remember is that you are out to have fun. When taking a tour, you want to be the best cyclist you can be, but it's far from the only thing. You probably want to see some of the attractions along the way. You probably want to make new friends from other parts of the country. You probably want to eat at some of the local restaurants along to way to get a real ideal what small-town life is like. If riding as fast as you can is your idea of fun, that's fine. If riding slow is better for you, then do it.

Flexibility will help you deal with the problems that might come up during the course of the tour. On a solo loaded tour, you may find you might have to change your destination because of technical or weather problems. On the other hand, you might get a great tailwind behind you and go farther than you planned. On an organized trip, you can't change your evening's destination, but you usually have enough time to stay a bit longer in a quaint downtown or enough time to take a side trip to a covered bridge that you saw along the way. If the roads are poor during the course of the day, maybe later that night a bunch of you can go into town, have a few drinks, blow off a little steam and talk about much more pleasant things.

In other words, soak in the whole experience and roll with it!