By: Lesley Suppes
Maybe you're like Mike Finkel, who thoroughly understands that bike tours are multi-day excursions covering hundreds of miles. Or maybe you're more like me: fascinated that people can actually ride for 60 consecutive days. No matter what your experience, we have some touring tips to keep your wheels spinning.
Once you finally take the leap to tour, pick a route. First-timers often order maps of pre-established routes through organizations like Adventure Cycling, a non-profit resource that offers nine routes, complete or in sections. More experienced cyclists often plan their own routes. Larry Diskin, Adventure Cycling Association's Events Coordinator, recommends making an initial call to your state Bureau of Recreation. Many states offer maps color-coded with traffic levels and shoulder sizes --- integral factors for choosing roads.
Hooked's contributing adventure writer Mike Finkel heads for the more rural, quiet routes, adding that major roads just outside of large towns attract truckers that "sandpaper you with road grit." The scenic routes make beautiful tours but, Diskin adds, you'll encounter increased tourism traffic and sightseeing RV drivers. He also reminds us that most uncooperative drivers act more out of ignorance than mean spirit. So instead of flipping them off, Diskin suggests you give them something they don't expect . . . and wave.
Ignorant drivers aside, the most common inconveniences are mechanical breakdowns. Finkel and Diskin agree that cyclists should know how to repair flat tires before they hit the pavement. Tire spokes break habitually, Finkel says, so throwing a nipple wrench in your tool kit is a good idea. Diskin includes duct tape and a long metal bolt for splinting touring equipment. Flat tire repair kits, spare tubes, chain lube, spokes, brake pads and spare chain links are also useful tools.
Rainwear is another essential piece of equipment for every bike tour. You can't anticipate a sudden hailstorm or a pummeling wall of rain; but you'll be ready for whatever falls from the sky with a jacket, pants, gloves, dry socks and an earband.
As for cooking equipment, Finkel says, "Ditch it -- save the weight and space." He suggests checking out restaurants instead, and eating local cuisine. Vegetarians, however, might find road food hard to stomach and should pack their favorite veggie delights. And since spandex doesn't always blend in, Finkel recommends carrying some "casuals" for these sojourns.
Food, on the other hand, is not something to ditch. "Eat, eat, eat. Constantly," says Finkel. And indulge those weird expedition cravings. His favorite cyclo-snacking treats are bananas and chocolate: "It's no time to be on a diet."
So now that you have your equipment, where do you stash this stuff? There's a growing controversy over panniers (bags carried on the bike) versus trailers (tow-behind carriers). Diskin shares his insight into the pros and cons of each: "More people are still using panniers," he explains. "They are easier for organizing, and customizing to your bike." As for trailers, Diskin explains, "They are simple to attach, especially on mountain bikes with suspension." For off-road riding, trailers are growing in popularity. Since the trailer is lower to the ground and takes weight off of the wheels, the bike is more maneuverable. He adds that on pavement, however, trailers tend to push you around, making it difficult to get set into a rhythm on the uphills.
When it comes down to it, bike touring is one of those things where, all too often, you decide to go, make some plans, and suddenly find yourself biking 80 miles a day, training on the fly. This includes acclimating your rear. "Just expect to have a sore ass, because you will," says Finkel. Planning a route, knowing (and bringing!) your repair kit, and consuming large amounts of food and water will get you rolling. But also plan for headwinds, broken spokes and tourist attractions -- allow yourself plenty of time for the unexpected. "Bike touring is not made for rushing," explains Finkel with a knowing grin.