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Is a bike tour right for me?


Lots of time I'll find myself on websites, reading about people going on these long distance bike tours. They'll take off from work and the other mundane responsibilities of daily life and leave it all behind to ride for weeks at a time across the country. Nothing but them, their bike, maybe a couple friends and the open road.

It's easy to dream about doing something like that, but a bike tour -- even one that just lasts a couple days -- is a big undertaking and a person has to be realistic about if it's both something you physically can do and will also enjoy. So is a bike tour right for you? Answer these questions and find out if you could handle both the physical and mental aspects of long distance bicycle touring.

1. Can I handle riding multiple days back-to-back?

bike sm tour pedal
David Epperson, Photographer's Choice RF / Getty

When people look at a bike tour, they'll see the mileage of the segments and whether it is forty or sixty or eighty miles and they'll look at it and say, "No problem, I can handle that." It's a distance that they've ridden comfortably before - so why would this be any different? And yeah, the first day goes well with that mileage, but then there is the second day with that same distance (or more) and the third day and the fourth and so on, for the duration of the tour. And that's when problems appear.

See, generally a single day's ride is no problem. But the continuous grind over multiple days makes it harder. That's when blisters develop that you haven't had before, aches appear in your joints that don't go away and minor problems with a sore backside suddenly become more significant.

Preparation tip: to make sure you are prepared for a multi-day bike tour, at least once or twice you should ride long mileage (same as your trip) back to back before you make the real trip. Even better if you can do it three successive days.

Related article: Be kind to your backside: tips for avoiding chafing and rash in your bike shorts.

2. Can I handle riding in all types of weather?

Rain Cape
(c) J&G Cyclewear

Ever had this happen? You're at home, scheduled to go riding with a friend some Sunday morning. But when you wake up, it's raining. So you turn off the alarm, roll over and go back to bed - you can ride again another day.

When you are on a bike tour, you don't have that luxury. Typically there isn't going to be enough cushion for you to take extra days off due to weather. You've got a destination and a deadline. So whether it's heat, rain or cold, you still need to be on the bike.

Preparation tip: to make sure you are prepared for a bike tour, you need to make sure you have the gear (and the temperment!) for riding in bad weather. You should carry a rain jacket or cape, and have a bike that is equipped with fenders. Those simple things will make your riding a lot more comfortable.

Related articles: Stay cool in hot weather riding and Why layering is key to dressing right for cycling.

3. Can I handle long days in the saddle?

CLIF bar chocolate brownie
Of course, a bike tour is going to mean some long days of riding. You need to know how to eat, drink and rest properly in order to survive and thrive on a long distance ride. Again, the best way to do this is through experience on the bike - by riding enough that you truly know yourself and your body, when you can push on a little more and when it's time for a break.

Related article: Best foods for post-ride refuelling

4. Can I handle riding new roads and sometimes challenging circumstances?

Bike Path in Autumn
(c) Alfons Hoogervorst
So it almost goes without saying that on a bike tour, you're going to be on unfamiliar roads, and at times almost certain to hit spots on your route that you're not necessarily in love with, a sheer fact of travel that takes you from point A to point B.

If you're the type of person who freaks out with a bit of traffic or gets uneasy if you don't quite know for sure where you're headed, a bike tour may not be for you. Uncertainty (and that's not the same as danger) is a frequent part of bike touring.

Related articles: What makes a great bike path? and Ride safe in traffic?

5. Can I handle living with just the basics?

David Fiedler

One of the challenges of a bike tour is packing just enough to get by. You want to be comfortable and have the necessities, but not be loaded down with extra junk that you just don't 100% absolutely need. So there are some trade-offs to be made. Are you okay with a minimal rotation of bike clothes, perhaps two or three shirts and two or three pairs of bike shorts that you wear back-to-back? And how about just one set of "casual" clothes that you wear off the bike? Remember, every extra thing you pack is extra weight to haul up that last long hill after an 80-mile ride.

Related article:

6. Can I handle riding with a load?

arkel pannier

Finally, you should remember that on a bike tour, you're going to be riding with a loaded-down bike, and you need to be comfortable with this, since it's going to feel a good bit different than your normal ride. Plus the question is not just whether you can ride 40 or 60 or 80 miles or whatever, but if you can do it with a bike that has 50-75 pounds of gear, especially if you add the extra challenges of wind or hills, or other challenging terrain.

Practice is important here too, not only to develop your stamina, but so that you are accustomed to how a loaded touring bike feels. Because of the extra weight, which is typically carried on either side of your front and back wheels, they certainly handle differently than a normal bike not burdened with panniers or racks.

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