01 Mar Ten Top Touring Tips
Bike touring is a learning experience – once you’re on the road, you’ll soon realise if you’ve got the right gear or not. And hey, even if you make a total pig’s ear of it, at least you’ll be able to refine your process for the next tour! Here are a few valuable lessons our content editor Ben has learned over the years:
Less is still more
Always try to take the minimum of stuff. Do you really need 4 t-shirts and 3 pairs of shorts? Can you get away with not bringing 2 spare inner tubes? Are you going to read that paperback? Do you need shampoo, shower gel and conditioner? Think about where you’re going and how important it is to bring loads of stuff. In my opinion, part of being a competent bike tourist is about knowing what to leave behind. Of course, if you’re riding somewhere very remote, you’ll need more stuff, but for anywhere with a modern infrastructure you can probably get away with much less than you thought. Go on, embrace minimalism!
Split it in half
There’s a lot of talk these days about the differences between touring and bikepacking and what gear to use for each. While a traditional rear pannier set up is great for some people, recently I’ve been splitting the weight over both wheels, using a 23L saddle bag and two panniers at the front wheel, with the camping stuff over the front rack. It’s great to have less weight on the back wheel, although the steering is somewhat affected by the front panniers. Overall, I feel the bike is better balanced than putting all the weight on the back wheel and the setup looks really cool! Generally speaking, I think the bike rides better with the weight equally split over the front and back wheels.
Burn more rubber
Run the widest, best-quality tyres you can when touring. You may average one kilometre per hour more with thinner tyres, but what you gain in speed you will most definitely lose in comfort. Also, part of the fun of touring is getting lost and taking whatever road google maps throws at you. As any of you with touring experience know, that can often be something that isn’t much of a road at all! Wider tyres also make riding gravel and forest roads much more pleasant.
You’re during a tour, not Le Tour: dress appropriately!
This may be controversial, but I recommend wearing the most utilitarian clothing you can when touring. Sure, there are people who tour in lycra, but consider if you’d be happy wearing lycra in the evenings, walking around town, off the bike. If not, that means you’ll need to bring even more clothing to wear when not cycling. Touring isn’t just doing big loops on the bike; you need be dressed right for doing things other than cycling.
Happy bum = happy cyclist
You may think to yourself “if I don’t wear cycling shorts, won’t my bum get really sore?”. Well, if you have the wrong saddle, possibly. There are, however, saddles (Brooks, basically) which are comfortable enough to be ridden without padded shorts. Get one. Otherwise, bring your padded shorts (and wash them).
Cooking gear, but only if you really need it
You might think that bringing cooking equipment is the right thing to do, and for many tours, it is. However, if you’re not riding in a super remote place and are not on a super tight budget, maybe think about leaving the stove and pots at home. This way, you get to try more local food and save significant weight and space in your luggage. However, if you love cooking in the wilderness, ignore this and do whatever you like.
Know when to give it a rest
Bike touring isn’t a competition, so don’t feel under pressure to ride 100km every day for 4 weeks. Give yourself some time off the bike: go swimming, go hiking, explore the city and give your body some time to recuperate – touring can be really tiring, especially if it’s hilly or when the weather is warm.
A problem shared is a problem halved
If you’re not the sort to tour alone, touring in a group of two or more gives you a great opportunity to share some of the load. Sure, you probably don’t fancy carrying all the useless souvenirs your friends have picked up on tour but if you’re both using the same equipment (cooking stuff, camping stuff), split it. This is one of the best things about touring in a group.
Learn the lingo
A friend from university taught me a very valuable lesson on the first tour I did: always learn a few words of the local language when you’re on tour. Sure, if you’re border hopping every other day this can be challenging, but even if it’s hello, goodbye, please and thank you, it’ll go a long way to endearing you to the local people. You’ll likely spend a few days (or much longer) in each country – more than enough time to learn some basics. Besides, in some countries, using English will be of no help at all.
You need lights and a waterproof jacket
It’s rained heavily on at least one day of every tour I’ve ever done. Like a true rookie, on the first tour I had no rain jacket at all. On the second I brought the cheapest rain jacket I could find: as good as nothing at all. By the third I finally had something adequate and wasn’t shivering and miserable after each downpour. Having a good waterproof jacket is essential. Don’t think otherwise.
The same applies to lights. You may only tour in the summer, believing that you can get away with not having lights, but you’re wrong. Tours rarely go totally to plan, and you’ll almost certainly have to ride in the dark – or at least dusk – at some point. Having dynamo lights on your bike is a fantastic facility, but having a detachable LED light can be great too – super handy for when setting up camp in the dark.