Planning your very first bicycle touring adventure!
I used this road as my exit route out of my home city during my first tour as well as several others. It remains a favourite!
Click to enlarge.
At this point you've read through a number of pages that explained what touring is and some information related to getting started touring. As you've turned each page your excitement has grown as you've realized that bicycle touring really is something that sounds like it's made to order for you.
After all what's not to like about seeing beautiful scenery, visiting new places and meeting interesting people?
Only one little problem remains, planning that first tour!
Taking a fully supported/SAG tour first
When planning your first tour one easy option is to find a local company that offers fully supported tours. This option would supply you with full support during your first tour while providing you with an opportunity to see how well bicycle touring works for you. These tours will often include other riders as well so you will definately get a chance to meet others. Other advantages include not having to carry your gear, some meals are prepared for you and accomodations are setup in advance. Depending on the length of trip it might be cost effective to try touring this way first rather then splurge on bicycle equipment to allow you to carry your gear.
Planning your own self-supported tour
On tour I will often receive questions from others about how to plan their first tour. My answer is usually to pick a motel, hotel or bed and breakfast within a comfortable bicycle ride from home. The distance should be slightly further then you've gone before if you are new to long distance cycling. Most new touring cyclists seem to find 20 t0 25 km a longish distance so I usually suggest finding a place about 30 km from home.
Ride from home to the accomodation carrying mimimal gear. Park the bike when you arrive and go out for a nice dinner, play, movie or visit something like a museum. Enjoy a comfortable sleep. The next day ride back home.
Just like that you've experienced your first tour. You were close enough to home to feel like you have bail-out options while being far enough away to experience an adventure. Costs are minimal since limited gear was carried (really just a change of clothing) and you managed to pack the bicycle touring experience into a small package during your tour. How? Well you experienced the bicycling, the good food, the comfortable sleep and the cultural experience all in one trip. It's very likely that you spoke with at least one other person about cycling during your tour too.
My first formal tour was a self-supported, fully loaded solo tour. I planned the ride so that at no point was I more then about 90 minutes from home by car. This gave me plenty of back-out options if the tour didn't work out for me. Since then I have helped others go on their first tours.
Here is a list of ideas that seem to work out well when planning your first tour.
- Furthest point within 90 minute car ride from home
By staying within a 90 minute car ride from home on your first tour you won't feel as bad about inconveniencing others should you need a lift home. You also won't feel as uncomfortable when you reach the farthest point and realize that you've only made it half-way.
- Leave with a tail or cross wind
During my first tour I lucked out and experienced a tail wind during my first day. I also set a new distance record for me at the time of 93 km in just over 3 hours. Having a tail wind on day one makes the ride easier and it will help with the other days when you get to face a head wind. Be careful through not to let the tail wind carry you far beyond the distance you want to travel back in the next day or two.
During my Riding the Tailwind Triangle tour my friend and I experienced two days of amazing tailwinds before turning into a headwind on the last day headed for home. This was his first successfully completed tour and he had a blast (literally and figuratively). He regularily talks about his plans for his next tour now.
- Try to leave and return on a sunny weather day
I have started tours in rain. In fact during my Round Lake Erie tour I outran the same rain storm four times during my first day as I zig zagged down country roads.
For a first tour aim for good weather. Riding a country road in shorts and a t-shirt with sunshine beaming down (on to your sunscreen of course) is a very enjoyable experience. The same goes for the last day if possible. The last day of any tour is very memorable but even more so when you return home with the sun shining and a smile on your face.
- Consider doing a circle tour where you leave from home and return to your home by bicycle
Few things are nicer then knowing that you left from home by your bicycle, travelled some distance and then returned again all while riding your bicycle. Setting up your first tour this way also eliminates the need to worry about parking a car etc. (To be honest it also makes for an even more impressive story to tell your friends and family. You went how far on your bike?).
- Have flexible and reasonable goals
During my first tour I aimed for Port Burwell Provincial park in Ontario as the ending point of my first day. In reality I also had another campsite picked out that was about half-way to Port Burwell. When I reached the first campground I had the option of stopping or continuing. I continued but I easily could have stopped instead.
- Be comfortable with your bike
Whenever you leave town on a bicycle a natural concern is whether or not the bike will get you home safely. Why not take the bike in for a quick tune-up a couple of weeks before your tour? Make sure you tell the bike shop about your touring intentions. The cost of a tune-up will usually be minimal and the peace of mind from having someone look over your bike will certainly make you feel better.
- Bring your friends or family along
This one could be a double-edged sword. I like the flexibility of riding a solo tour and I actually rode my first tour completely solo (although I did meet another touring cyclist on that tour too).
Other people really want someone else along so that if problems occur there is someone else there to assist. A second reason that's often mentioned is the desire to have companionship.
Bringing your family along could involve them riding their bikes too, just like the Feldmann and Gagnon family's or it could involve you riding your bike and meeting your vehicle driven family at the campground at the end of the day.
- Make sure that you have fun!
I've purposely left this one to the end even through it's the most important point in my opinion! For me a bicycle tour should be about having fun and enjoying yourself. I find on tour that if I'm not having a good time then something needs to change so that I am once again having fun. Sometimes this means stopping for lunch, visiting a museum or just plain stopping for the day early.
For me a bicycle tour is about the experience. It's much more important that the experience be an enjoyable one filled with fun times then it is that I cover 4 zillion miles although if I need to cover 4 zillion miles to return home then I certainly have to do that too. (grin)
Hopefully you've noticed that on this page about planning your first tour I haven't said that you need the best bike, latest gear or any thing special. All of that will come with time provided that you have an enjoyable experience and you feel that your current gear needs an upgrade.
Bicycle touring is an enjoyable activity that is well within everyone's reach provided that you have a bicycle and an interest in trying something different.
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