Your First Multi-Day Bicycle Tour: Answers to Commonly Asked Questions
Riding a multi-day bicycle tour can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it can also raise a lot of questions for those who are doing it for the first time. Whether you're riding solo or with a group, here are some answers to commonly asked questions about multi-day tours on a bicycle:
How do I pack for a multi-day bicycle tour?
Packing for a multi-day tour requires a bit of planning and strategy. You'll want to pack lightweight, durable, and versatile clothing that can be layered for changing weather conditions. Bring along essential tools, bike repair supplies, and extra tubes in case of flat tires. Don't forget to pack toiletries, sunscreen, and insect repellent. I make a list days before the tour and I have a place to lay everything out and check it off the list. I am not going to give you my list because everyone has different needs but I will tell you this, the weight you are going to be carrying on your bike will be more than you probably are used to. You will really feel it on climbs or windy days. You want to keep your stuff as light as you can.
In 2020, I decided that since hotels were so cheap that I would stay in hotels along the way. That meant I did not have to pack my tent, sleeping bag, and all of the stuff associated with camping. It cut down the weight that I carried and made for a pleasant tour. Also, I put everything that I can in water tight plastic bags. You will be glad you did this if you get caught in a torrential downpour or in a flood like I did when camping out during another tour I did.
Panniers or Trailer?
As you can see by the photo above, I do not use panniers. I use a BOB trailer. Read more about it at my post about BOB Trailers. The trailer fully packed with a tent and everything else weighs about 50 pounds. It does not take long to not really notice it back there until I hit a steep hill or ride into stiff winds, but that is the weight I try to stay at. You will figure that out quickly. Make sure to go on a long training ride packed before taking off for your tour. You can see a BOB Trailer at REI.
How far should I ride each day?
The distance you ride each day will depend on your fitness level, experience, and goals. You should start with a conservative distance and increase gradually as you gain confidence and endurance. Most riders aim for 40-60 miles per day, but this can vary based on terrain, weather, and other factors. My best advice is to ride the longer distances early in the tour if you can and ride shorter later in the tour when the grind is staring to take its toll on you. I had a tour once where my first 3 days were rides over 100 miles each and the last 3 days on the tour were under 60 miles. I am not completely sure the tour would have been as successful if I had those days flipped.
Most of my tours average about 80 miles a day. I have had days as high as 113 miles and others as short as 45. Those 45 mile days are body savers. You need them mixed in and you also need to add a few days off. I try to place my off days after a long or grueling ride so that I can rest and be refreshed when I start back up.
For instance, on my ride across Texas, I knew that my day from menard to Kerrville was going to be my biggest hill climbing day. It was also around 80 miles and the temperature was over 100 degrees that day. I chose the next day to be a rest day. It was also after riding 5 straight days so I was exhausted. That rest day gave my body the chance to be refreshed and the last 5 days of the ride went off pretty good.
How do I plan my route?
There are many resources available to help you plan your route, including online maps, cycling guides, and local tourism offices. You'll want to consider factors such as traffic volume, road conditions, and available services like food, water, and lodging. Be sure to research any potential hazards or detours along the way. I will mention this a few times in this post and you really need to listen to this advice. Before you decide on your route, go to the street view on Google Maps and scroll along and see if there will be danger areas, if there are alternative routes you can take, and where you can find stores to buy food and fill up your water bottles. You will be glad you did this on your ride.
What should I eat while riding?
Eating a balanced diet is crucial for maintaining energy and endurance on a multi-day tour. You should consume a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats throughout the day, along with plenty of water and electrolytes. High-energy snacks like energy bars, nuts, and dried fruit are convenient and easy to pack. Convenience stores will be your best friends. I stop about every 10 to 20 miles when there are convenience stores along the route to fill up my water bottles, get something nutritious to eat, and to cool down in the air conditioned store. I always try to map out where the convenience stores are before I ride. That way I know if there will be a long stretch without a store.
For instance, on my ride across texas I realized early on in the ride that my next to the last day was going to be an 80 mile ride in over 110 degree weather and there would be a stretch of 60 miles of nothing but highway and no stores. I was able to load up extra water and extra foods for that stretch. Although my water was hot by the end of the ride, just pouring it over my head gave me relief.
Where should I stay overnight?
There are many options for overnight accommodations on a multi-day tour, including hotels, hostels, campgrounds, and even private homes through services like Warmshowers. Plan your accommodations in advance to ensure availability, especially during peak travel seasons. I stay in a mix of places.
On my tour from Lubbock, Texas to Pensacola, Florida, I camped out 2 of my first 3 days. The second day I rented a camper to stay in. I was thrilled I did as it rained all night long. The 3rd day I camped out and was caught in a monster lightning storm. I barely escaped it. You can read about it here. I tried camping out at least one of every three days on that ride and always enjoyed my days in the hotel. On my bicycle tour across Texas, I stayed in hotels the whole way. It was the summer of the pandemic and hotels were dirt cheap and I decided to take advantage of that.
How do I stay safe while riding?
Safety is a top priority when riding a multi-day tour. Always wear a helmet and use proper safety gear like lights and reflectors. Be aware of traffic laws and road conditions, and follow proper signaling and hand gestures when riding in groups. Stay alert and avoid distractions like using your phone while riding. One of the things I try to do is pick routes that have decent shoulders. I had one day that was dangerous as I started getting into the hills and the road narrowed down. That is why I wear a rear view mirror on my eyeglasses. I can keep an eye on all of the traffic behind me and be more defensive that way. You need to think about these things. Go onto Google Maps and follow use street view and look at your entire route. You will glad you did that.
How do I maintain my bike during a multi-day bicycle tour?
Proper bike maintenance is essential for a safe and successful multi-day tour. You should check your bike and equipment regularly for any signs of wear or damage. Carry essential tools and repair supplies, such as a tire pump, spare tubes, and a multi-tool. Plan for regular bike tune-ups and maintenance stops along the way.
I take the tools I need to fix a broken spoke too. Ultimately, a broken spoke can end your tour if you are not prepared. Of course, that means to take extra spokes. I broke 2 spokes on one tour I had. After repairing the first one, I made sure to take it to a bike shop when i got to a town that had one. I had them check out that I did a good job, which I did not, and had them replace it. The second spoke broke on the last day of the tour. I just fixed it well enough to get me to the finish line. Remember, emergency fixes are just designed to get you down the road to someone who can help. They can also get you to a safe place where you can take more time to work on it.
A multi-day bicycle tour can be a wonderful adventure.With some planning and preparation, it can also be a safe and enjoyable experience. By addressing these frequently asked questions and taking the necessary precautions, you can have a memorable and successful multi-day bicycle tour on your bicycle. Have fun! That's why we ride.
Here is my next blog post: Effects of Cycling on the Libido