Tom’s bicycle touring hacks

My pal Chuck and I completing my 1st bicycle tour.

I recently posted a photo on Facebook of my first bicycle tour. I looked at my fully loaded bike in that post. It looked like one of those third world cargo cyclist photos where the cyclist is dwarfed by their cargo larger than Santa’s sack of toys.

I am not an expert bicycle tourist by any means. I am probably a typical casual bicycle tourist. Bicycle tourists have their own unique styles. I love following blogs and journals of people with a wide variety of styles.

Here are a few bicycle touring hacks I learned over eight years. These come to mind when speaking to people wanting to begin touring or become a more adventurous tourist. This list is constantly evolving.

Packing

  1. You don’t need as much as you think. That pretty much sums it up for everything.
  2. Weight and space, that’s what it is about.
  3. You only need two cycling outfits for a 2-day or weeklong tour. Launder them in the sink or shower.
  4. Pack for the season but keep an eye for unusual weather.
  5. A seasonal waterproof jacket is a must, but I often prefer not to wear it. Cursing ensues.

Food and beverage

  1. Eat local. Chose a local diner for local flavor and conversation.
  2. Start the day with breakfast. I may start with an energy bar and stop at a diner an hour out.
  3. Carry energy bars, granola, and packable snacks for food emergencies.
  4. McDonald’s are good for cheap $1 menu, free water, and clean restrooms.
  5. Fill water bottles at all stops. Pack at least one, ideally 2 extra bottles.

Camping and lodging

  1. Camping is cheaper and a nice experience. It means you are going to carry more on the bike.
  2. Choose camping equipment for space, weight, and suitability.
  3. You don’t need a $200 tent. My self-supported touring tent is a $30 Amazon purchase.
  4. Check Airbnb for affordable housing. At my age, a comfy bed is most welcome.
  5. You don’t need a Hilton or Hyatt. It’s only for one night and a cheaper option is OK.

Planning

  1. Plan to the extent that makes you comfortable. I am a planner and pretty much lay out the tour in detail.
  2. I plan 50-60 mile days. It gives me more time to experience people and places.
  3. Travel at your speed and level of comfort. It’s about enjoying your time on the bike.
  4. Remember that it is not about the miles but about the experiences.
  5. Reviewing the next day on the evening before alerts you to problems, especially weather, food, water, and lodging.

Challenges

  1. Accept that anything can go wrong in the best-laid plan. Be flexible to adapt.
  2. Things always work out. It may not be what you planned but it’s OK.
  3. It’s OK to walk your bike.
  4. Accept challenges but know your limits. Challenge yourself but don’t put yourself in a miserable place.
  5. Laugh and learn from your mistakes. I learned most from the things I did wrong.

Touring with others

  1. Understand everyone is unique. Be flexible in adapting to different personalities.
  2. The day is not cast in stone. I don’t care if my partner wants to do something unplanned.
  3. Know when to leverage others strengths and when to rely on your strengths.
  4. It’s Ok to tour together and cycle apart at times. Everyone needs their personal space and time.
  5. Embrace teamwork. You depend on each other to get to the destination.
  6. It’s good to travel with people who are somewhat similar but also somewhat different.
  7. You will know your touring partner very well at the end of the tour.

Things I hate

  1. Mofo hills. I can handle them, not the best, but I do them. It’s a love-hate relationship.
  2. Mud, mud, mud. Enough said.
  3. Rain, cold, sleet. I am happier in fair weather.
  4. Rear tire flats. Ugh! Removing the panniers, chain, cursing, and lost time.
  5. Falling off my bike. I have been known to do that, always with an audience nearby.

Things you learn

  1. People are generally good in this world.
  2. You have the most interesting discussions with random people.
  3. The world looks completely different from behind your handlebars.
  4. How to embrace and look forward to the unknown.
  5. How to be a better person by knowing and expanding your limits.
  6. How to deal with and solve problems.
  7. Conversations on the bike with your touring partner have no limits.
  8. Where is a good place to pee.
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