Planning your first bike tour can be intimidating. Before deciding on gear, food, how you’re going to carry everything on your bike, or even how you’re going to sleep at night; you need to plan your route. Ideally, you base how much and what you bring on the temperature, terrain, and other climate and geographic factors.
For you fist overnight bike tour, you don’t need to go very far or be gone for very long. We read about the Race Across America (RAAM), and we think that “wow, that’s pretty awesome. Maybe I’ll do that someday”. And indeed, maybe we will. But just because you set your mind on running a marathon doesn’t mean that you should start your running career with one. In the same way, the Race Across America is an achievable and admirable goal, but shouldn’t be your first priority. Instead, I recommend a three day ride, with the following (flexible) criteria in mind:
- Never ride more than 75 miles away from home:You do this because should something happen to you or your equipment, it’s not too difficult for you to call a friend or family member and have them drive to where you are and pick you up.
- Remember the rule of threes: Even though you’re only going to be gone for three days, it’s always smart to bring three of every replacement part, whenever possible. This doesn’t necessarily apply to things like tires, but extra nuts, washers, patch kits, and tubes should be easy enough to pack extra. Remember: 2 is 1, and 1 is none. When you’re on the road, plan for the worst case scenario, and you won’t have a problem. Plan for the best case scenario, and Murphy’s Law will hit you like a ton of bricks.
- Avoid excessively difficult terrain: Try to plan your route to follow roads and topography that are similar to where you train. Because you’re only planning a three day ride you don’t need to worry about a drastic change in climate and temperature (for example, going from the mountains to the flat desert, or the other way around). However, If there’s an area near you that’s much hillier or more technical than what you’re used to, you won’t have as much fun as if you had planned less difficult riding conditions.
- Don’t skimp on the tires: This is the one gear specific point on the list. If you’re riding on a road bike that has 23mm or 25mm slicks, you’ll want to invest in a pair of at least 28mm or 32mm touring style tires. These can also be found on websites like Nashbar under the heading “City Bike Tires”. These tires might be found on a hybrid style bike, and their compromise between mountain bike knobs and road bike slicks make them ideal for touring, where you can encounter a variety of different kinds of paving, or even lack thereof. Investing in a spare folding bead tire to carry along with your three extra tubes will give you some peace of mind and the ability to get yourself back home if anything happens to one of your primary tires.
Finally, remember that it’s not a race. Many times, people start out on a tour planning to ride 10 hours and 130 miles per day. I promise you that in all likelyhood that if you had to you could do that, but you won’t want to. Touring isn’t about speed, but about being able to ride all day, enjoy the country side, and commune with yourself, the machine, and the road. Racing around at 35 km/hr stopped being an option when you added a rack and 40 pounds of gear to the back of your bike.