Tips To Get Started Touring


Transitioning from avid riders to touring
We are not touring "experts" by any means!    We've got friends who have made multiple Trans-America trips.  We would most definitely yield to their expertise!

We can share about how to get started right.  Before touring, normal rides for us had grown to around the 50 - 60 mile range.  We had also participated in several organized rides (one was a century).  But loading all your traveling gear on the bike and taking off on a trip is quite another matter!  We did lots of research, attended seminars, read first-hand accounts, and talked to touring veterans.  What we share below is the BEST of all the wisdom we gleaned in our studies, and then tested in our own experience.
Change Gears  (mentally)  
I had the opportunity to attend an "Introduction to Touring" workshop taught by someone who has traveled several thousand miles by bike.  In his mind this was the most important thing.  You have to make a mental shift away from the way you normally ride, or you will not enjoy yourself.  In fact you will spend the entire time frustrated.

Whatever speed you are used to traveling, forget it!  You will be going several miles per hour slower, and be several gears lower than you are use to.  Deal with it!  If you can't, you will hate touring.  This can be an especially hard adjustment for the more competitive riders who are always focused on speed and time.

Touring is not about "making time," it's about "having a good time."  It's about enjoying the journey, not rushing to a destination.  (Check out our Route 66 Philosophy)
Evaluate Your Equipment  
You may love your bike.  It may be the perfect bike for the type of riding you enjoy.  But is it right for touring?  You might need to either make a few minor modifications, or maybe use a different bike altogether.

There are lots of differences between an SUV and a sports car.  The SUV is build heaver to handle larger loads.  It has bigger tires for better stability on any surface.  Also, the transmission is geared lower to efficiently move the weight up hills. The cycling equivalent of the SUV is the touring bike.  Now let's apply those principles.  Your bike needs to be sufficiently strong to handle the weight of the rider plus cargo.  Tires should be wider and rugged enough to be sure footed on less than ideal surfaces (you will encounter sections of poor quality pavement).  It is also very helpful to have low gear ratios to get all the weight up the steep hills. One more thing, you will be riding lots of miles, day after day.  Give special thought to your riding comfort.
Train Loaded  
We're not referring to riding while intoxicated, but rather being heavy with cargo. Most bike tourists haul somewhere around 40-50 pounds of gear per person while traveling.  No matter how much riding you do, you're probably not used to that kind of weight. 

The point of training is to prepare yourself for the main event.  If you don't train "loaded" you will be in for a nasty surprise on day one of your trip!  Training should replicate the real thing as closely as possible.  Your bike will handle differently, balance differently, and oh my, climb differently!  You need to get used to all those things.  However you choose to carry your cargo (trailer and/or panniers), train with that same gear.  (We share our choices on our Touring Equipment page)  Prior to our first trip, we rode all of our local rides pulling our trailer loaded with 8 two-liter bottles of water (plus other gear).  When we left home on the first morning of our trip, everything felt perfectly normal.  It felt the same as it had for the last couple hundred miles of training!
Weight A Minute  
When choosing equipment, there's usually a careful debate.  "This tent is 12 ounces lighter than that one, and the red sleeping bag is 8 ounces less than the blue one."  The weight of equipment is important.  You will likely make your selection from backpacking type equipment at an "outdoor store" since your goal is the same as a backpacker:  gear that is as light as possible, and packs as small as possible.

Now let's get personal.  The most important weight issue for most of us, is us!  Step on the bathroom scale.  How much extra weight are you packing?  Let's be honest, it's kind of silly to worry about a few more ounces for a sleeping bag if you have an extra 25 pounds around your waste!  I am not just pointing fingers.  I'm speaking from personal experience.  Since we got our bike, we have lost 90 pounds between us!  Why carry all that extra weight up the hills?  If this is true for you, consider a diet as part of your training regimen.  You will be grateful on every hill you encounter!
Take A Trial Run
There is always a difference between theory and reality. No matter how carefully you plan, things may not actually work as you expect.  You want to discover those things on your test run, not on day one of your vacation!  You will see what works and what doesn't and then make adjustments when you get home.  You may also find that you didn't really need some things, but could have used others.

As it turned out, we chose wisely for our test run. There is a very nice State Park about 50 miles from our house.  We rode out there one day, spent the night, and rode home the next day.   The journey was a nice cross-section of riding:  some on a bike path, some on city streets, some on a busy highway, and most on country roads.  From a terrain standpoint a lot of it was flat but there were some average hills, one pretty decent long hill, and even a ridiculously steep hill.  Overall it was pretty representative of what we encountered when we made our first actual trip.
Fantastic Resource
One more thing.  If you are interested in touring or even just thinking about it, check out:  Adventure Cycling. The history of their organization goes back to the creation of the Trans-American bike route in 1976 to help celebrate the country's bi-centennial.  Among other things, they produce great bike maps, and a monthly magazine with very helpful and motivating stories!
Touring accessories on the Touring Equipment page, and pictures here.

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