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An introduction to bike touring

bike touringIf you’re an everyday cyclist, maybe commuting or casual rides with friends, chances are you’ve grown pretty attached to your ride and the way it gets you exactly where you need to be.

Why not take your cycling a step further and try your hand at bike touring?

A tour generally encompasses any form of travel by bike, whether it’s a weekend or month-long getaway. People traverse entire countries and even the globe on two wheels, but if you want to start small, there are plenty of ways to plan an overnight bike trip in your area, especially if you are in a major city.

For those used to biking to work or the grocery store, the idea of pedaling all day can seem downright impossible, but the truth is that willpower is your greatest asset. Training definitely helps, but the best way to begin is to simply jump in. With that said, it never hurts to be prepared; below are a few pointers to help you plan with confidence.

Be sure to pace yourself on your first trip and be aware of what you’re capable of. Practice riding ten miles a day, gradually advancing to twenty, thirty, and even fifty. This will give you an idea of how many miles you want to average each day of your trip. Knowing your limits will make sure your tour is about enjoyment, not endurance.

Where to go on your first bike tour?

cycle touring travelIf you’re just starting out, it’s best to rely on established routes to plan your itinerary. Bike touring often requires sharing roads with vehicles, taking detours to avoid heavy traffic, and making sure the roads you use are open to cycling.

Trying to design your own long distance route can bring unnecessary risks; you don’t want to find yourself squeezing by highway railings or hopping potholes for miles.

Luckily, there are organizations that focus on improving and connecting bike route systems to make long distance journeys safe and feasible.

Adventure Cycling Association- United States

The U.S. based Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) is your go-to touring resource, no matter where in the country you start. The ACA’s goal is to make touring accessible to all levels of cyclists and is continually working to improve national biking conditions and keep people out on the road. 

The organization is recommended by beginners and pros alike; with twenty-eight cross- country and local routes to choose from, carefully designed ACA map sets contain all the information you need to embark (and more!). Many people ride a section of a larger route for a taste of the challenge. Along with indicating the safest roads to bike on, the maps include campgrounds, hotels, grocery stores, and bike shops along the way. There’s a reason seasoned cyclo-tourists swear by these nifty (and waterproof!) packets of navigational gold. 

Featured beginner/intermediate friendly routes include the following:

Texas Hill Country Loop (311 miles)

Starting and ending in Austin, Texas, this is a springtime favorite thanks to wildflower season! The route includes a cutoff in case you want to shorten the loop to just over 200 miles.

The Florida Connector (519 miles)

This connector joins St. Augustine and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, giving you an equal taste of tourist meccas and rural roads. 

The Adirondack Park Loop (431 miles)

For those looking to challenge themselves on their first tour, the Adirondack experience is unforgettable. Boasting remarkable fall foliage, this route introduces you to northern woods, mountain lakes, and rewarding climbs. 

Rails to Trails- USA

Another great resource to consider, America’s Rails to Trails system re-purposes railroad corridors as recreational trails. Blanketing the entire country, the system allows cyclists to ride paved, dirt and gravel roads free of motorized vehicles. Below are a few long distance rail trails to tackle:

Katy Trail- As America’s longest rail-trail, the 240-mile Katy Trail is a must-see nestled in the heart of the Midwest along the banks of the Missouri River. 

Great Allegheny Passage- Totaling 150 miles, this trail enters two states. Expect changing surfaces, historic towns, railroad artifacts, and scenic seclusion.

Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail- This trail runs through Washington State, and is best attempted from Cle Elum to North Bend, a 54 mile ride one way. It’s all gravel, and mostly flat going from east to west. The trail promises spooky tunnels, shady groves, glimpses of the Cascades, and easy access from Seattle. Camping areas right off the path make for a convenient weekend escape. 

Most states also have a designated bicycle route system that you can use to plan your overnight. Examples include New York State’s Bicycle Route 9 out of New York City, Arizona’s Route 90 out of Phoenix, and California’s Bike Route 66 out of Los Angeles.

Eurovelo- Europe

Eurovelo is Europe’s top bicycle route planning organization, having established a cross- continent network of nineteen main routes, with more proposed. Eurovelo’s route maps include established, planned, and in progress routes, and are a good basis for planning your tour. These routes work well for riders hoping to do a small section of a larger route, and they are interconnected, making it easier to do a loop ride. 

Running through Ireland, the UK, Germany and beyond, Eurovelo’s 2 Trail is an especially popular and largely flat choice. If you’d like to make your first tour international, choose a section that sparks your interest, book train tickets to get you and your bike to your starting point, and go at it! History buffs should consider the stretch between Berlin and Warsaw, while nature lovers will find Wales’ Snowdonia National Park thrilling. 

If you’re located in the UK, the National Cycle Network is your best friend. The organization’s interactive map covers a huge swath of the country, marking paved, off road, and traffic free routes. Use this handy tool to create your own itinerary, however long or short. The network has you covered whether you’re riding out of London, Bristol, Sheffield, or anywhere in between. Try a jaunt from the capital to the seaside, or venture from Manchester to Peak District National Park, where you can camp before heading back. Thanks to its size, The United Kingdom makes cross country touring easy, and after a few overnight rides, cycling from coast to coast won’t seem so daunting. 

What touring bike to ride

touring bikeHaving the right touring bike is hands down the most important detail of any long distance tour. You’ll have enough on your mind as it is; comfort and a well-oiled machine shouldn’t be compromised. 

A touring bike is usually the best investment you can make, especially if you plan on doing more traveling in the future. Touring bikes are exactly what they sound like; solid bikes built to carry both front and back weight. A wide range of gears will help you haul your load up the steepest hills and cruise back down at a safe pace. Thick, versatile tires will carry you over unpredictable road surfaces, and a leather seat will mold perfectly to your shape once broken in. Getting a full tune-up and bike fitting from a bike shop you trust is never a bad idea; this can help avoid issues like knee pain and surprise technical failures down the road. 

Buying used will definitely be lighter on your pockets, but make sure you are choosing a reputable touring model. 

Consider these brands and models during your search:

Salsa: Vaya, Marrakesh

Fuji: Touring Disc

Surly: Bridge Club, Disc Trucker, Long Haul Trucker

All City: Space Horse


What to Take

Packing light is the secret to touring, especially if you’re only taking an overnighter. Cramming your belongings into a backpack is a mistake; let your bike do its job. Invest in sizable, waterproof panniers that hook onto your rack. If you have a front and rear rack, you can go up to four panniers, but two will suffice for shorter trips. Consider a seat post bag for tools, a handlebar bag for valuables, and/or a frame bag for extra space. 

Most cyclists prefer to take along quick dry and sweat-wicking essentials that can be washed daily and worn the next day. Start with two quick dry t-shirts or jerseys, one waterproof jacket, rain pants, and a few pairs of sweat wicking socks and undergarments. Depending on your climate, consider base layers, gloves, and a gaiter as well. Fingerless gel gloves can alleviate nerve aches that might happen from constantly leaning on your handlebars, and chamois padded shorts will help prevent those infamous saddle sores. 

If you’re not a clip-in rider, look for flat pedal cycling shoes designed to fit the natural shape of your foot. 

A repair kit is absolutely essential when touring. Brush up on minor fixes; if you don’t have mechanical experience, at least know how to change a flat tire and adjust your brakes. Bike service is not always a given, and you don’t want to be left stranded. Practice on and get to know your bike before taking it out for a spin. Don’t forget a small first aid kit for bumps and bruises, and plenty of water. Have at least two bottle cages, and know where to fill up along your route. 

Your repair kit should include (at least) the following:

  • Spare inner tubes
  • Tire levers
  • Hand-pump
  • Puncture repair/Patch kit
  • Allen keys
  • Oil/Lubricant


Adventure Cycling Association

Rails to Trails

East Coast Greenway