5 bits of advice on bicycle touring

My 2018 bicycle touring season has drawn to a close. Retirement freed my calendar for things that make me happy. Exploring the world on my bike makes me happy.

I am a learner, a person who seeks to learn more. My learning experiences are typically about things that intrigue me. There are times when these experiences lead me to learn more about myself.  Here are five things that I learned this year about my style of bicycle touring.

  1. Forget the clock. My alarm clock started my day for 63 years. This clock sits on my nightstand but needs to be banished to Goodwill. Early in retirement, I realized that the clock has no place in my cycling. On a spring day, I learned that being on my bike should have no schedule or time constraints. My cycling has always been about the experience and not miles. This philosophy has been reinforced in my post-retirement tours. The bike is the method of transport, but the touring is about the people and places.Lesson learned: Let what you encounter along the way and not the miles or clock define the tour.
  2. Care for yourself. I sat at Point of Rocks, Marland severely dehydrated and downing liters of Gatorade and water. I knew the scarcity of food and water on the 60 miles cycled that day but found myself in this avoidable predicament. I neglected to pay attention to my body’s needs. That taught me a lesson in nutrition. Being adequately fueled before and during the ride is high on my priority list today. My friend Greg, who I cycled tours with this year, always factors in regular stops for food, water, and breaks. He is a much more skilled solo bike tourist that knows the importance of this habit. Lesson learned: Pay attention to your personal needs to assure your ride is a good one.
  3. Be a tourist. Talk to anyone who has cycled or toured with me. They will say that I am about being a tourist and stopping to smell the roses. I am an avid amateur photographer and stop when that perfect shot is in front of my handlebars. My solo tour from Washington DC to Pittsburgh gave me new insight into what this means. It was a familiar route. I am a creature of habit and find comfort in following the path I have worn before. I allowed myself to venture off that path and find myself in newly discovered places. Lesson learned: Don’t let your itinerary guide you but let the moment in time take you off course.
  4. Pack light. Seven years ago, I found myself mailing 30 pounds of gear home from my first self-supported tour. It took me several years and many tours to develop a habit of packing lean. Hard to do for the person who over plans and tries to account for any unexpected. I cycled three self-supported tours in 2018. I did well in packing lean. There’s value in doing laundry on the tour, whether it be a sink, shower or laundromat. My wardrobe is wrinkle resistant, worn many times, and organized in my panniers. Lesson learned: You need 50% of what you think you need to carry on your bike.
  5. Talk to strangers. My mother told me to not talk to strangers. My Hungarian grandmother warned me that the gypsies would kidnap me. I never encountered a gypsy in Alliance, Ohio. I am an extrovert and talk a lot. Not talking to strangers does not mash up with my personality. Personal interaction makes a bike tour much more enjoyable. I made a special effort to talk to strangers this year. It’s interesting how much you can learn about a person in a brief encounter. Lesson learned: Striking up a conversion with a random person makes for good memories.
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  1. Angelo L. Coletta November 18, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    I have learned much the same. The packing thing is relative. It depends on whether one is able to stay at accomodations or one is out in a remote area. There are minimalists who do well cowboy camping and cold dry food. One may need to carry more water or food, depending on the region and climate. I took less this year than last. Next year, it may be just tarp and bivy for shelter. Putting up a tent or hammock tent is a bother for just one night and moving on.

    1. Tom Bilcze November 18, 2018 at 4:23 pm

      I way overpacked when I cycled Hungary. I packed much less this time in the Czech Republic. I still found I could pack less.

  2. Clayton Morris November 18, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Very interesting Tom I am really happy for you and all the new adventure you are under taking

    1. Tom Bilcze November 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm

      Thanks Clay! I figure now is the time since I am able.

  3. Greg Veal November 19, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Another great blog! And an honor to get a mention! ☺

    As you know, I pack very light on clothing – that saves space!
    But I pack EVERYTHING that I could possibly need in the other categories – some of which (e,g, tools, battery packs, etc) adds weight.
    For whatever reason, extra weight has never bothered me. I’m sure it slows me down (except on the downhills), but it has never impacted a day’s ride. I eventually get where I’m going.

    Also as you know, I am, like you, a naturally early riser, so I seldom use an alarm. (Even when I was working, I didn’t use an alarm.) But I do like to be on the road early to avoid some sun if the days are hot. Conversely, if mornings are especially cold, I may wait until the sun starts heating things up! But generally, an early start gets me to the end-of-ride early enough to explore the next location, meet some people, or just relax. Of course, timing a day’s ride to avoid rush hour in a big city is sometimes a consideration!

    1. Tom Bilcze November 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm

      I have found that I am more concerned about the bulk of the items and not the weight. After many tours, I pretty much have my packing lists firmed up. I just need to fit the stuff in the panniers. Going to look for some better front panniers this winter.

  4. Clay Morris December 3, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    Hi Tom really enjoy your blogs. Slowly getting over knee surgery and building up my legs at the rec center to start riding my bicycle come spring. Enjoy riding the tow path.Give me a call when you are in the area and we can do breakfast, lunch or diner. My only bad day is Monday. Have a great day and keep up the good work.


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