Packing for a bicycle tour is one thing. Preparing your body and mind for life on the road is another. In this article I address how you can 1) get in shape and 2) mentally prepare for a long-distance bike tour.
Get In Shape — Ride Your Bike
Bicycle touring can be a workout…and you need to be physically prepared. Before you even step on your bike, you need to assess your personal level of fitness. Some people have never ridden a bicycle before. Others are experienced cyclists with thousands of miles under their belts. Most of us are somewhere in between. If you are an experienced rider in good physical shape, you can likely skip this step. But if you are new to cycling or know that you are not in as good a shape as you should be, then please keep reading.
It is important that you see a doctor before heading out on a bike tour, and before beginning a training regiment. Once you’ve been given the go-ahead to start training for your trip, jump on your bike and start riding. It’s important to ride your bike as much as you possibly can! The goal to 1) get in shape and 2) feel comfortable, safe, and in control of your bicycle. Working out at the gym, improving your cardiovascular workouts, and eating healthy foods can also play a part in preparing for a long-distance bike tour. But while working out at the gym is good, riding a bike for long distances is even better. You know you’re ready to depart on your bike tour when you can ride at least 20-30 miles without feeling any extreme discomfort.
Become A Strongman — Add Some Weight
Once you’ve become comfortable riding your bike, start adding some weight. Add a couple panniers to your bicycle or start pulling a trailer. As your departure date nears, start riding your bike with more and more weight added.
Riding a bicycle with no weight on it is completely different than riding a bike weighted down with 30-60 pounds of additional gear, especially if you plan to ride with front panniers, which drastically affects the way your bike handles.
Riding with a weighted bike while close to home will help to ensure your safety on the road once you start your tour and it will get your body in shape — as carrying that weight on your bike does require some extra muscles.
Understand Your Gear — Practice Packing Your Panniers/Trailer
Experienced bicycle travelers will pack and unpack their bikes several times before they leave on tour… and I recommend you do the same. This packing and unpacking process will help you understand what items you REALLY need for your trip. It will also allow you to practice distributing the weight of your gear evenly across your bike and placing your personal items back in the same place each and every time you pack your bike.
Know What It’s Like — Live Off Your Bike
As your tour grows closer, start living your life as though you are already on your bike tour. Pack up your bike completely and start living off of it. Start sleeping in your sleeping bag; bathe with the same toiletry kit you’ll be using on your tour; wear the same clothes you’ll be traveling in; and go on bike rides on a daily basis — even if it means riding to and from work. Do this for a few days (or even a few weeks) and you’ll get a taste of what it’s really like to be on tour.
Toughen Up — Sleep On The Ground
If you are really into the preparation process and you plan on camping while on your tour, try sleeping on the ground (or even outside) for several nights before you leave on your trip. Camping is a very hard thing for some people to adjust to. But if you can get used to the camping process before you leave on your tour, you will be that much more comfortable once you hit the road.
So, there it is! Five things you can do right now to start preparing for your upcoming bike tour.
What else would you add to the list? How are you preparing for your next bike tour? What questions do you have about preparing your body and mind for life on the road?
DARREN ALFF conducted his first long-distance bicycle tour in 2001 at the age of 17. He’s been traveling by bike ever since and just recently returned from a 9-month tour of central and eastern Europe. Darren now runs the website at www.BicycleTouringPro.com and is working to inspire a new generation of bicycle travelers to get out and explore the world.