The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Touring

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Touring

Having your personal mode of transport and route to exploring the world without needing to pay through the roof or be constricted by cars can only be one thing: bicycle touring.

While we’d love to sit and type away about experiencing the cool breeze through your hair as you carelessly glide around the silent mountaintops, we’re a little more safety conscious. A helmet on your head and eyes wide open for the road ahead, please!

But it really is a treat to behold; you get to choose your own path, live the nomad lifestyle, experience the sun rise and appreciate nature while doing what you love (cycling).

Whether you plan on riding centuries in a day (100 miles) or simply building on 35 miles each day to enjoy what’s around you and keep the pace. Finding that one trail and heading down with wheels turning is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. Now it’s your turn.

Here are the top seven things you need to choose when you’re heading out on a bikepacking adventure with this ultimate beginner’s guide to bicycle touring:

  1. Choose to Start Cycle Touring
  2. Choose Who You’ll be Pedalling Alongside
  3. Choose Your Bike Touring Routes
  4. Choose the Types of Bicycle Touring
  5. Choose Your Touring Bike
  6. Choose the Adventure Cycling Packing List
  7. Choose the Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Touring Top Tips

Before we get going, there’s a couple of things we want to address.

First, yes, we used the word ‘bikepacking’. This is because bike touring routes with the adventure cycling packing list has become so similar and intertwined to backpacking; especially as it’s more and more easy to grab your bike and country-hop to explore the world.

Secondly, this is the ultimate beginner’s guide to bicycle touring. We’ve got tips, tricks, lists and know-how as well as a lot of considerations to put into place when you start cycle touring. But the best piece of information we can give to you is to just go.

Ignore the nitty-gritty, ignore the intricacies of everything and anything that could cause stress and take away from the enjoyment of things.

Here at The Hobby Kraze, we have a kraze for letting go and entering the wild with an open mind for exploration, trying new things and taking a break from the everyday. And that is exactly what you should do (just don’t forget your helmet on your adventure cycling packing list).

Choose to Start Cycle Touring

Choose to Start Cycle Touring

Typically speaking, bicycle touring is just self-contained cycling that can last for hours, days, weeks or even months. You can be alone, with friends, with family or on a tour with other cycling enthusiasts looking to explore a new world off-road.

Of course, it can be off-road, but it can also follow the beaten path into the cities and popular destinations to make the ultimate culture trip without having to board a tour bus, pay for a taxi or hike your way around to lose time.

It’s a hobby and pleasure adventure that can also go by the names of bikepacking, cycle touring, bike travel and more. The only classification is that you’re travelling for a long distance for the sake of traveling, you’re on two wheels and all the power comes from you (i.e., hopping onto a motorbike or vespa would be the epitome of cheating).

It’s been around for a couple of hundred years, even. The history takes us right to our little island here in the UK where John Foster Fraser and two of his friends set out on their hobby horses (that’s what they were called!) to tour Britain and Europe on a sunny (probably not) 1896 morning.

Over two years and two months travelling across seventeen countries for 19,237 miles, the yearn for long-distance bike touring routes began. Since then, they have only wheeled in popularity.

When you choose to start cycle touring, you know you’ll gain such a variety of health benefits because heading out on bike touring routes is such a healthy way to escape the 9 to 5.

It builds muscle, it builds stamina, it builds strength, it builds psychological resilience and so much more.

In fact, here are the biggest benefits to heading out on some bike touring routes for your escape:

  • It creates a unique experience
  • There is an unfiltered approach to adventure
  • It holds psychological benefits
  • It provides your body with physical benefits
  • You can strengthen your connections
  • It gives the opportunity to take a step back and relax
  • You’ll be burning more calories than you’re taking in
  • It saves time and money in comparison to other holidays
  • Cycling protects our environment

Choose Who You’ll be Pedalling Alongside

Choose Who You’ll be Pedalling Alongside

Bike touring can be enjoyed by anyone. As long as they know how to pedal, of course.

There’s such a wide variety of individuals who love to hop onto the saddle and pedal into the distance to see where two wheels will lead. Big people, small people, rich people, poor people, old people, young people, fit people and people who could do with a bike tour under their belt.

Even if you’re not that familiar with bike touring, it’s simply a case of trying to practice before hand and planning the trip accordingly (i.e., don’t expect to be getting from one side of Europe to the next in the space of a week, or maybe even two).

And, if they can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, it means that you can choose who to travel with. If it’s in pairs, as a family, with a group of friends or for a solitary ride into the horizon.

That said, while travelling with someone for the company might be nice, don’t just travel with someone for the company because it might be nice. Unless you’re choosing someone because you couldn’t enjoy the trip if they weren’t there or you know they’d love and appreciate the journey, simply push down on the pedal and don’t look back.

There’s the chance you could start to wait for someone before venturing out with the beginner’s guide to bicycle touring. There’s also the chance you could start cycle touring and quickly realise your cycling agendas don’t align; whether it’s to do with routes or capabilities, you have to choose the right person.

Instead, you can think about changing it up a little. Maybe beginning your journey with a friend, before saying your goodbyes and joining an organised bike tour and then ending the trip by being free.

Choose Your Bike Touring Routes

Choose Your Bike Touring Routes

Abroad or at home, there are plenty of stunning routes with distances to suit you.

Deciding on the right bike touring routes for you is just the same as planning that road trip except you have a lot less room for things to bring and you’re the one pedalling from A to B instead of an engine.

But the bonus is that you don’t have to stick to the roads, you can head off the beaten path, discover somewhere new and tent-up for the night with nobody around instead of thinking about parking and motels.

Here are some things you should take into consideration when you gather your adventure cycling packing list and set off on some bike touring routes:

Avoid Traffic Routes

As a cyclist heading out with the adventure cycling packing list, you’ll surely want to make a true adventure of it by being able to relax here and there while running off the beaten path.

With this, you shouldn’t ever feel compelled to stick to the roads, especially the busy ones where you’re on high alert in the case of an accident.

So, to stay safe and let the adventurer inside you loose, plan a route that doesn’t involve busy streets, main cities (unless you’re on a city-hopping tour) and main roads.

Think About Setting Up Camp

Even if you’ve packed the kitchen sink in your bag and you’re ready for some wild camping around the world, it can be a sigh of relief to divert and stop at a campsite. Or even a small B&B that involves plumbing, electricity and other friendly faces.

We suggest allowing yourself the opportunity and choice to stop at a designated campsite when choosing your bike touring routes.

This is especially important if your cycling roadshow takes place anywhere in the UK. A strange – yet important – fact is that wild camping is largely illegal in the UK. You may be asked to pack-up camp and move on or even be prosecuted for trespassing on owned land (this includes the National Trust sites). However, if you end up travelling around Scotland, you’re golden!

Generally speaking, the National Trust is somewhat relaxed as long as you follow wild camping guidelines of being kind to the environment, leaving no trace and sticking to the more unfrequented areas such as the peaks of the Lake District.

Gravitate to Natural Beauty

When gathering your bike touring gear and getting ready to set off, make sure you check all the stunning landmarks and beautiful sights that you simply couldn’t if you were driving, in a bus, flying or on the train.

Taking the beginner’s guide to bicycle touring gets you one step closer to secret nature such as a waterfall far away from towns and cities.

To find out more about the various waterfalls you could be cycling to on you tour, have a read of our other article, “Wandering Through Earth’s 18 Different Types of Waterfalls”.

Head Through Towns to Resupply

While we may have said stay off the beaten path, away from the busy roads and maybe only think about a campsite here and there, we’re about to contradict that.

Make sure your culture trip takes your two wheels into a town every now and again. This gives you the time to relax in a chair, refill the water supply, have a coffee in a café and wander round civilization before heading back onto the bridal path for new sights.

One of the most important things to consider when planning a town into your bike touring routes is to make sure the town has a bike shop. You never know when something might happen which your repair kit doesn’t fix or you forgot to pack a vital piece of equipment.

However, don’t worry too much, we’ll take you through the ultimate checklist in this ultimate beginner’s guide to bicycle touring.

Consider Pre-Established Routes

There are so many different routes that are famous around the world for one reason or another such as the European tour taken by the trend setting cyclists John Foster Fraser and his pals.

Here is a small collection of routes you should probably feast your eyes on before faffing to make your own:

  • The Pilgrim’s Route from Canterbury to Rome
  • Scotland’s Route 66 on the North Coast 500
  • The Danube Cycle Path through Europe
  • The C2C (the Irish Sea to the North Sea) of England
  • Land’s End to John O’Groats in the UK
  • The Silk Road from Europe to Asia and beyond
  • Glaubenberg Pass in Switzerland

Choose the Types of Bicycle Touring

Choose the Types of Bicycle Touring

When it comes to choosing the type of bike touring routes from earlier, you should probably know the three core types of bicycle touring you can do. And there’s no limit to which you want to do or even create a combination of all three just to mix things up a little.

On-Road Bike Touring Routes

As the name might suggest, these types of cycling tours tend to stick to the road with a few bridal paths here and there. You’ll typically follow the quieter roads alone while venturing into towns for overnight stays. The benefit to this type of cycle touring is simply the ability to decompress in a warm bed at night while knowing you’re always close to a bike shop if anything goes wrong from spoke to gear switch.

Bikepacking Adventures

These types of trails take the on-road bike touring routes to the next level, adding a little spice by going deeper into the wood, higher up the mountain and further away from life as you take the nomad lifestyle with you. Of course, in these scenarios, you’ll typically camp at campsites or legal wild camping areas like Scotland while carrying all your worldly belongings and necessities on the rack of your bike.

Organised Group Start Cycle Touring

Finally, the last type of bike touring is with an organised group of like-minded pedallers. With these tours you get to experience new sights, be taken on a culture trip, meet new people, discover new facts and pretty much have all the hard mental work done for you. We’d say all the hard work is already done but you still have to be the one pedalling.

Choose Your Touring Bike

Choose Your Touring Bike

Considering this is the ultimate beginner’s guide to bicycle touring, we’d hazard a guess at the fact that you’re not entirely sure of what a touring bike is, what makes it so special and where to go looking when your closest bike shop only features the classic mountain bike or road bike.

Luckily, here at The Hobby Kraze, we’re the pros at answering these kinds of questions while wearing a T-shirt reading “been there, done that” so your experiences can be more seamless and stress free.

First thing you should know is that you don’t have to buy all your gear. Especially as you’re a beginner, you don’t want to have to invest in a ton of bike touring gear only to use it once and store it in the garage for the rest of eternity.

Instead, you can rent your gear from bike touring companies who tend provide everything from just the accessories through to the bike and all the way over to specific group tours, too.

Now that’s out of the way, we can get to know a little more about the bike you’ll be spending a lot of time with on your travels. These types of bike are designed favouring comfort, stability and utility over speed.

This is because they feature:

  • The ability to carry two to four panniers (I.e., the special types of storage bags) on one or two racks placed on either wheel.
  • A long wheelbase meaning the wheels are further apart to make the ride more comfortable and ensure your legs and feet won’t constantly hit your panniers.
  • Heavy duty forks and wheels on the bike to support extra weight from the adventure cycling packing list.
  • Plenty of mounting points for the various panniers, racks, mudguards, water bottles, bells, whistles, GPS devices and so on.
  • Standard metal body parts that make your bike easier to repair on the road or when in a different country with access to basic repair kits.
  • Specially designed handlebars to allow for multiple hand positions that avoid the hands falling asleep or suffering nerve damage when left too long.
  • An extra comfortable saddle that supports the base of the spine, the pelvis and the thighs to allow for continued cycling.
  • A wide range of gears (especially low gears) that can help you adapt to harsh inclines or terrains depending on your bike touring routes.

While we’ve mentioned how unique, tailored and specially designed the touring bike is, there’s nothing stopping you from heading out into the wilderness with a different type of bike that is more suited to you, your bike touring routes, your travel duration, your experience and your pocket.

For example, just as a touring bike is designed for touring, a mountain bike is designed to tackle tough terrains and steep inclines. And, if you start cycle touring with the intention of a (relatively) short-distance commuter trip that heads through rough off-road tracks, you might actually have a better experience with a mountain bike than a touring bike.

Other types of bike include the road bike, the hybrid bike, the touring bike, the mountain bike, the electric bike, the folding bike, the cyclocross bike and the ‘someone nicked my front tyre’ bike.

Choose the Adventure Cycling Packing List

Choose the Adventure Cycling Packing List

Now we’ve gotten through the basics, we can get to the fun part in this ultimate beginner’s guide to bicycle touring: the shopping list.

When it comes to bikepacking, there is so much you need to consider that you wouldn’t typically if you were simply going cycling, hiking, camping or back packing. In fact, you’ll need a mixture of all four of these hobby adventures and some in order to make sure you’re ready for the road ahead.

This includes specially designed sleeping arrangements, food packages, bike storage racks, water supplies, fixing kits and even toilet tools.

Have a look at the ultimate adventure cycling packing list for you to fit into your panniers, duffels and backpack:

  • Backpack
  • Bicycle Gloves
  • Bike Lights
  • Bike Lock
  • Bike Maintenance Kit
  • Bike Maintenance Kit
  • Binoculars
  • Bio Cleaning Wipes
  • Bivvy Bag
  • Bluetooth Speaker
  • Bug Spray
  • Camera
  • Cap
  • Compact Camping Stove
  • Compass
  • Cutlery Set
  • Energy Bars
  • Energy Gels
  • Extra Clothing
  • Extra Tyre
  • Fire Starter Tablet
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Flashlight/Headlight
  • GPS Device
  • Hand Sanitiser
  • Helmet
  • Hiking Boots
  • Inner Tubes
  • Lightweight Food-to-Go
  • Lip Balm
  • Map
  • Map
  • Matches
  • Mountain Biker Shoes
  • Multi-Tool
  • Orthopaedic Pillow
  • Painkillers
  • Panniers
  • Patch Kit
  • Pencil and Paper
  • Phone
  • Pocket Waterproof
  • Portable Pump
  • Racks
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Solar Power Bank
  • Storm-Proof Matches
  • Sun Protection Factor 50
  • Sunglasses
  • Thermal Layer
  • Tissues
  • Toilet Scoop
  • Toilet Tissue
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Tyre Pressure Gauge
  • Vacuum Pack Bags
  • Watch
  • Water Bottles

Choose the Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Touring Top Tips

Choose the Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Touring Top Tips

You’ve got the bug to start cycle touring, you’ve got the know-how, you’ve got the bike, you’ve got the gear and now it’s time to go through some top tips before you get into the saddle and pedal off into the distance.

Practice First on Distance and Strength

Unless you’re a seasoned rider who’s only reading this ultimate beginner’s guide to bicycle training for the tips on gear and routes, it’s highly likely you’ll need to start practicing. Bike touring is mentally and physically draining (yet still, somehow, one of the most fun hobbies). Here’s a list of things you should practice before truly stepping out of the threshold:

  • Train the miles
  • Train the distance
  • Train the weight
  • Train the endurance
  • Train the terrain
  • Train the etiquette
  • Train the breathing

For more information on how to train your breathing techniques to be more slow-paced, maintainable and mindful, have a look at our other article, “The Pranayama Yoga and Learning Breath Control”.

Carry an Extra Tyre

We mention this in the ultimate adventure cycling packing list, but we didn’t get into why. The reason you’ll want to pack an extra tyre is in case the inner tube and glueless patch kit simply don’t do the trick. You never know what sharp objects you’ll come across on your patch or if anyone else is having a bad day when they walk past your locked-up bike.

Make Sure You’ve Got Theft-Proofing

We can’t stress this enough, ensuring your bike is safely stored is one of the most paramount aspects of planning your bike touring routes. You don’t know who you’ll encounter or where you’ll be when you encounter them. As well as having heavy duty bike locks, you should also consider registering the bike and adding tamper-proof stickers.

Read the Fine-Print on Your Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is great for repairing or replacing lost or damaged goods while away; getting you in to see a doctor abroad or helping out with lost luggage. However, when it comes time to start cycle touring, you’ll need to ensure your insurance covers you correctly. The fine print of your yearly travel insurance may state it doesn’t cover off-road riding or the theft of cycling accessories. So, sometimes, it can be worth the investment to go for bike touring-specific insurance cover.

Get Familiar with Your Gears and Maintenance

It helps to be very familiar with your touring bike when you set off on your adventure. So, whether you’re buying your bike from new or you’re renting the bike for a one-off two-wheeled escape, you should ask about the ins and outs of your bike. For example, special gear change requirements, tool kit requirements, parts likely to go first, most expensive parts, how to notice change and so on.

And, with that, we’re firmly pulling the brakes on this ultimate beginner’s guide to bicycle touring.

Here at The Hobby Kraze it’s our aim to get you up and exploring the world in a way that speaks to you. So, let us know if you’ve found this article helpful for getting you on the road with your bike touring routes or if there is any more information you’d like to hear about hopping into the saddle before being let loose into the wild.

If you did like this article, why not share with your friends and family so they can join you for a leg on your culture trip featuring two wheels and a whole house of other things, too. You might even be able to share the weight!

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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