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Bicycle Touring: Lessons Learned from 20,000 Miles in 10 Years

Bicycle touring in Spain (photo: Ingi Finnsson, Pixabay)

Bicycle touring in Spain (photo: Ingi Finnsson)

Bicycle touring is one of the most fascinating ways to travel and explore the world.

When riding a bike, you’re going fast enough to cover meaningful distances, but slow enough to be able to observe and experience things. 

My first bicycle tour happened when I was 20 years old, and I got hooked immediately. At first, I thought I hated it, but the pieces of the puzzle soon started coming together.

After ten years of regular bike travels through several different countries and continents, I feel like I have a couple of things to share. 

If you’re thinking about doing a bicycle tour, but you’re not sure whether it’s the right type of traveling for you, this article will give you a better idea of what to expect.

If you’ve already done a bike tour, but you’re not sure whether you did everything right, you might recognize yourself in the notes below.

Bicycle Touring is Hard

Imagine riding your bike for 50-60 miles over flats and hills. Sounds hard, right? 

Now imagine doing that day in and day out, sometimes for months, with 50 to 100 lbs of gear strapped onto your bike.

Moreover, imagine having to do that on hot and cold days, as well as on rainy and windy days. You get the point, bicycle touring is hard. 

However, it depends on you how difficult you want to make it.

There are different types of bike touring – guided, self-guided, supported, unsupported, credit card bike tours, and many others.

None of them come without challenges, but some offer more comfort than others. 

Yet, even though traveling by bike is more difficult than traveling by car/bus/airplane, it’s the most rewarding thing you can do. 

Bicycle touring in Germany (photo: MissVip, Pixabay)

Bike tour in Germany (photo: MissVip)

Traveling by Bike Buys You Time

Some of the most popular bike facts tell us that cycling will make us healthier, fitter, and happier.

However, you don’t often hear that cycling and traveling by bike will buy you time.

On top of prolonging your life by being active, you will experience time passing by more slowly when you’re on a bike tour. 

Think about something that happened to you a week ago. If you spent your entire week in an office and at home, you’ll feel that a week ago was yesterday.

When you’re on a cycling trip, a week ago seems like a month ago. That’s because your days are jam-packed with new experiences.

Something new and exciting happens all the time—you meet new people, see new landscapes, learn new things, etc.

Therefore, I can confidently say that a month on a bike is like living a year off your bike.

You Might Not Enjoy Every Moment, and That’s OK

A lot of people idealize bicycle touring before they make their first trip.

They expect a life-changing experience, imagining that they will enjoy every moment of the trip.

That’s not exactly how things go when you’re on the road, turning the pedals all day long, exposed to the elements. 

At times, your bicycle trip will suck big time. It’s important to realize that that’s normal and completely OK. Everyone has a bad day from time to time.

What matters is that you are likely to have more good than bad days than if you didn’t make the trip. 

Mountain biking in the Italian Dolomites (photo: Simon Steinberger, Pixabay)

Mountain biking in the Italian Dolomites (photo: Simon Steinberger)

Learn How to Repair Your Bike

One of the most important things I want to stress about bicycle touring is that you should learn how to repair your bike.

Ideally, you should understand how different parts work and what they do.

Of course, nobody expects you to get better at it than the servicemen at your local bike shop, but you should learn the basics. 

This is especially important if you travel off-road and visit places away from inhabited areas. Even the best gravel bikes out there are not invincible.

You will have to do regular maintenance on them, change some parts, and do minor repairs from time to time. 

Experience can teach you a lot, as well as the trial and error approach.

However, I recommend watching YouTube videos and reading how-to posts before hitting the road.

Bring Only the Necessary Items

One reason why bicycle touring is challenging is that you are carrying a lot of stuff on your bike.

If you go on an unguided, self-supported trip and choose to camp, you will have to carry your bedroom, kitchen, living room, and your closet all on your bike. 

Therefore, make sure not to make your trip more complicated than you need to by carrying only the essentials.

My go-to strategy is to pack everything I think I will need, unpack it, and then remove everything that I think I can live without. If necessary, do this a couple of times. 

After a couple of bike tours, you will already know which items you use a lot, which rarely, and which never at all.

Make sure to bring some “pleasure items” as well; there’s no point in going “full Spartan.”

A cyclist touring Spain (photo: knordback)

A cyclist touring Spain (photo: knordback)

Bike Touring Can Be Cheap or Expensive—It’s up to You

Bike touring is one of the cheapest ways to travel. Bike touring is one of the most expensive ways to travel.

Both of these statements are 100% true. It depends on you how cheap or expensive you want to make your bicycle trip. 

You can have the time of your life riding a 20-year-old mountain bike that had been gathering dust in your garage, relying on cheap used gear, and sleeping in a tent from Walmart.

On the other hand, you can also ride a bike that costs $2,000, sleep in a tent that costs $600, and use additional gear that costs up to $1,000 in total. 

My first bike tour was much like the first scenario, and I absolutely loved it.

Over time, I learned about gear, figured out what my priorities are, and upgraded things one by one.

See also: How to Save Money for Your Next Trip

Even If It Goes Bad—You’ll Want More

Last but not least, one of the most important notes from my ten years of traveling by bicycle is that you’ll always be craving for more.

Even if your whole trip goes bad, at the end of it, when the impressions settle down, you’ll only remember the good things. 

So, if you plan to start bicycle touring, prepare to get hooked from the first trip you complete.

The sense of accomplishment when you get home and realize that you have covered hundreds or thousands of miles only with the power of your body and mind is something nothing else can replace.


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