Introduction: Long Distance Bicycle Touring

Are you bogged down with life? Do you need some adventure? Want to do an amazing feat with your body? Try a bicycle tour!
Simply pack up some gear and hit the road and see where it takes you! That is exactly what I did last summer. I was bored with life and decided to quit my job and hit the road. I didn't make it as far as I would have liked to, but I have no regrets. I will be back out there again soon but hopefully my experience may help somebody else to have a great time too!

This instructable will document some of the things that I learned from my first bicycle tour (RI to SC in one month).
Oh, and please vote for this Instructable on the Bicycle Challenge! Thank you!

Step 1: Your Bicycle

As you could probably guess, your bicycle will be one of the most important pieces of gear you will need for your trip. I'm not saying you need the most expensive top of the line bike though. With how easy it is to find information on the internet nowadays, it is very easy to get stuck in the trap of over thinking what you need. If you venture to any web site where enthusiasts hang out you'll quickly start to think you need top of the line everything to survive. This is nowhere near true though. People have been riding long distances by bicycle for ages now and used whatever they had on hand. I know of one guy out there on the road recently who was crossing the country on a department store bicycle and was making good headway. If you can afford a brand new Surly Long Haul Trucker, Trek 520, Fuji Touring, etc. I highly recommend investing in one. A bike set up for touring will make your journey so much easier on your body. If you can't afford a brand new bike, it's time to hit up garage sales and craigslist or make do with what you have.

Here are some simple guidelines for what will make your life easier:
  1. Good fit. Having a bike that fits you properly is probably the most crucial thing to look for in a bike. A bike that is not the right fit for you will start to give you pain in your hands, back, shoulders, etc. in no time, especially when you are doing 50+ miles a day. You can search online for the guidelines on what is a good fit (REI has a pretty good short video on it here) You can also have your local bicycle shop do some measurements on you to find what you need. Bicycle shops run on very low margin though, so if you don't buy a bicycle from them please go back to them for service or buying accessories so we can help support local business.
  2. Gearing. If you will be riding up any hills at all you will want a bike with a triple chain ring (The sprockets up front). I myself did not heed this advice and climbing hills was gruesome at times. I could just imagine if I were riding in mountainous terrain.
  3. Braze-ons for accessories. If your bike did not come outfitted with fenders and racks you're going to need them. The fenders will help to keep you dry in the wet and the racks will give you a place to strap your panniers and other stuff to. To add these accessories though, your bike is going to need to have the bolt holes (braze-ons) to attach them with. 
  4. Multiple hand positions. When riding long distance you're going to want a bike that has handlebars with multiple places to put your hands. This will allow you to switch up your stance as you are riding for different comfort levels
  5. Wide Tires:This is something I wish I had thought about more. I took off on my first trip on standard road bike 700x23 skinny tires. Although they may roll a lot quicker, you have to be super careful with every pothole, rock, storm drain etc. Also you can not ride over bridges with metal grating. Get yourself some wide tires.
For more information on buying a bicycle please check out this other great Instructable

Step 2: Luggage

For quick jaunts around town or weekend trips you may be fine with just a backpack. For a long haul trip of weeks at a time you're going to need a more permanent way to haul your stuff.

The different ways to carry your gear:

Panniers: These are what will carry most of your supplies. They are essentially saddlebags that attach to your racks. There are a lot of different types of panniers out there and it is up to your personal preference in what you use. One main difference is whether they are made from nylon or PVC coated polyester for waterproofing (such as the ever popular Ortliebs). Some people swear by Ortliebs or similar panniers but, personally, I feel that waterproofing is over rated. In my opinion, if you're taking off on a trip like this you just have to deal with the fact that your stuff is going to get wet. Plus, if your panniers are waterproof that means that when you get water into them they will not dry out and may start to mold.
Another difference you may want to think about are pockets. Some panniers have completely smooth sides while others have compartments on the sides where you can organize items you want to reach quickly.
Once again, your panniers will come down to personal preference and budget. Mine ended up being a pair of nylon ones I picked up on Craigslist for $30 . I really liked the fact that both panniers had 3 pockets (2 of which I found out were the perfect size for water bottles!) so I could organize those pockets to have tools, charging cords, etc that I use everyday or want to find quickly.

Handlebar Bag: This is something that I did not bring on my first tour that I wish I did. Having a handlebar bag means you can organize stuff that you want to reach while riding. One of the biggest things would be the fact that you can put your snacks for the day in it and be able to reach your food with out getting off the bike. Heck! You can even eat while riding! Who'd a thunk it? Also, most have a clear compartment up on top for putting your map in so you can read it while riding. Lastly, one of the other guys I was riding with would store a very compact windbreaker jacket in his. Great for when it suddenly gets cold or starts to rain and you don't want to be digging through your panniers.

Trailer: I have no experience with trailers but I know there are a lot of guys out there who use them. Simply hitch them behind your bike and it will tag along carrying your gear. I even know a guy who carried his dog cross country in one. Personal incite: Sometimes you need to be able to lift your bike over a wall, up stairs, etc a trailer may make these tasks more complicated. 

Step 3: Basic Supplies

I'm not going to go over everything you need for this trip. Just remember to pack light. A good rule of thumb is to choose everything you need, divide that in half, and then divide it in half again. You'll still probably have too much.

You don't really need much

Some basic supplies you will need:
The brighter the better and probably best to stick with a AA/AAA battery powered one
Tail light: Ditto to the head light
Sleeping Bag
You don't really need much. Flat head screwdriver, multi tool, metric allen wrench set, adjustable wrench and tire levers and you should be good to go.
Tire Patch kit and extra tube(s)
Water Bottles
A Spoon: 
Great for eating but can also be used to dig a hole when you have to cover up your "waste" when you have to resort to pooping somewhere where you shouldn't be pooping.

Step 4: Food/Cooking

You can choose to flex that wallet and eat out or make your own food. If you opt to make your own food you can go as extravagant as you want or as spartan as you need. Myself, I love cooking at home but when I'm out there on the road I don't want to deal with dishes or complex meals. Therefore I do not do anything that takes more than boiling water. For all my boiling needs I would use a simple burner that would screw onto a propane cylinder. There were a lot more compact and lighter ways of boiling water through hiking stores, but I prefer the idea that if I need fuel I can find it in most grocery stores, walmart, and could even use one of the thinner bottles meant for plumbing torches that I could find in a hardware store.

This is not the healthiest diet, but some of the food I ate while on the road:
Snack-pac puddings
Tuna packets
Spam packets
LOTS of peanut butter
cous cous
protein bars
dry soup mixes
Idahoan mashed potato packets
Stove top stuffing (mix in a can of chicken and some gravy powder and just imagine it's Thanksgiving) 

Step 5: Shelter

This is another choice you will have to make depending on your budget. 

The main types of shelter are:

Motels: Warm room, hot showers, wifi, cable. What's there to complain about? $$$$
Campgrounds: Safe, probably showers on site, maybe electricity. $$-$$$
Warmshowers: By this I mean staying with somebody from I've heard lots of good things and a couple bad stories. It's not on me if you meet Buffalo Bob though. 
Stealth Camping: This is a free way of camping and what I did most. Simply ride until it's dark, pull into the woods/behind a building/ in the bushes at the park/wherever, pop up your tent, sleep, be out before someone sees you and complains. Just don't leave a mess and give us a bad name. I never did, but you may end up talking to the law.

Step 6: The Most Important Step

Just go out there and have fun! Don't let others make you think this has to be super complicated. Just gather up whatever you have and can afford and just start riding. Just remember to ride safe!

Oh, and please vote for this Instructable on the Bicycle Challenge! Thank you!

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