How to prepare for bike touring

May 3, 2023 Planet X

Want to go on a bike tour this summer? Learn some tricks and techniques to help you prepare for the journey below, from choosing the right bike to packing wisely. But first, let’s make it clear what exactly we mean when we talk about bike touring. 

What is cycle touring?

Sometimes the terms bikepacking and cycle touring are used interchangeably, and this is understandable due to the fact that their definitions are similar enough for there to be a bit of a grey area. However, there are subtle differences that it pays to be aware of when you’re looking for information about one or the other. 
Generally speaking, a trip is known as a bike tour if the route centres around roads for the most part. Your trip might be more focused on the destination or destinations - e.g. touring the cities of Belgium - than on getting off the beaten track. Bike tours might cover a longer distance than bikepacking, and therefore more planning is usually required.  
Meanwhile, bikepacking is typically more rough and ready, involving shorter trips that take you away from the hustle and bustle of densely populated areas. Bikepacking often, but not always, involves camping and other activities to help you step away from modern life and get back to nature.
Of course, there is plenty of room for overlap between the two categories, and many people use bikepacking as an umbrella term for any kind of long distance cycling trip that involves overnighting away from home. So what are some of the most important considerations for anyone looking to get started with bikepacking or cycle touring?

How to choose a touring bike

Choosing the right bike for you is always important, but it’s a particularly vital consideration if you’re going to be in the saddle for several hours, day after day. Using sizing charts and guidelines to help you get the best fit, as well as knowing how to set up your bike properly, can make a big difference when it comes to your comfort during those long distance rides. It’s also a good idea to opt for drop bars on your touring bike, as these give you more options when it comes to positioning your hands. This can help to reduce cramps, aches and fatigue.
As well as considerations relating to your physical riding experience, you’ll also want to think about how you’re going to get your belongings from A to B. Remember, this isn’t just a longer than usual ride. You’ll be staying overnight either in accommodation or perhaps under the stars, so there are certain items you’ll need to bring with you to facilitate that. Luggage needs to be stowed somewhere while you ride, so look for a bike with a variety of places to mount or attach bags to the bike. While you’re at it, it’s also worthwhile to check for places where you can mount water bottle cages to the frame to help you stay hydrated in the saddle. 

How to pack a touring bike

On the subject of luggage, one thing you should definitely plan in advance is what you’re going to bring with you. Space is at a premium when it comes to bike touring, so you’ll want to think carefully about what you really need. Remember, the more items you bring, the heavier your bike will be and the harder you’ll have to work to tackle hill climbs. 
Here are some of the most important things you’ll likely need to bring:
-Clothing - pack more or less depending on whether you’ll have access to clothes washing facilities. Don’t forget to wear padded cycling shorts to stay comfortable for longer.
-Tent and sleeping bag - obviously leave these out if you’re going to be staying in a hotel or bed and breakfast. Wherever you’re spending the night, it’s also worth having a bike lock on hand so you can be sure your ride will be safe overnight.
-Cooking equipment - leave this out if you intend to eat out or stay in self-catered accommodation. If you are going to cook while camping, for example, don’t forget to bring ingredients that travel well such as cured meats, pasta or rice - you won’t have a fridge freezer on your bike!
-Food and drinks - even if you won’t need cooking equipment, you’ll still need snacks and hydration for at least the first leg of your journey. In this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so pack more than you think you’ll need.
-Maintenance kit - you don’t want to get caught out in the middle of nowhere with a puncture you can’t repair, so bring the essentials with you just in case. 
-First aid kit - including a good quality anti-chafing cream.
Your personal essentials - by which we mean your phone, wallet, keys and any other vital things you wouldn’t normally leave the house without. Bring cash as well as a card - you never know when you’re going to stumble across a cash-only store.

How much weight can a touring bike carry?

Not all touring bikes are built the same, and some will be able to carry heavier loads than others. Before you set off, check to make sure that you and your luggage don’t exceed the load restrictions for your particular model. Within those limits, it’s also a good idea to have a cycle around the block with all your luggage on so you can make sure it’s not too cumbersome. You don’t want to realise this when you’re already halfway there. 
To stay within the limits of not carrying too much luggage, try to stick to the space available on your bike rather than adding in extra bags on your person. In other words, try to fit everything you need in pannier bags, frame bags and handlebar bags without having to bring rucksacks or other bags too. If you find you’re running out of room, changing your plans so you don’t need sleeping or cooking gear can help. You can also carry less and plan to restock at strategic points along your journey.
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