There is no better feeling than that of getting yourself across long distances by only the propulsion of your own self. Bike touring gives you that feeling for not much money. In this instructable i will tell you how you can go on your first bike trip using my 2 day trip from San Francisco to Santa Cruz totalling 80 miles!
Step 1: What You Need
For a bike touring trip you don't need much gear. Of course you'll need a bicycle, but you don't need the best bicycle ever. If you already have a good everyday bicycle you use for most trips that would be sufficient. Make sure your brakes and gears work and take that thing to a shop for a tune up before you get on the road. Many cyclists would have you believe that you need fancy gear or clothing to do long distance rides, this is just not true!
Essentials for any road trip by bike are a few tools, patch kit, pump and tubes.
Next you need a way to haul your gear, the best way to do this is a bike rack and panniers. I have tried many types of panniers (and have even built my own) and the brand that i like the best are called panpack. The great thing about panpack is that they turn into a camping backpack when not in pannier form very useful. Any panniers that can carry the gear you need will work. If you get into having more gear a good bike trailer is a worthwhile investment.
The final consideration is based on how long your trip is. A well tuned rider can average about 60 miles a day no sweat. if you want to do longer rides or take it slower, you will need to plan for overnight. Bringing a small tent and sleeping bag is ideal. Food is also important, i find that i do better with high density foods like nut butters and rice dishes for those rides but if your ride is along civilization, pack lightly and fill up when need be.
I bring at least a day worth of clothes, a sweater, a bar of soap and changes of socks so i can feel a bit fresh.
Step 2: Planning Your Route
Once you decide you actually want to go somewhere long distance by bike, you need to find out how to get there.
I have lots of friends who go on bike rides so i find asking people you know for route suggestions, camping spots and cool sights to see is good. People who have experiences with these rides can also point out hazards maps might miss. If you don't know anyone, ask your LBS or post on some cycling forums in your area. Our trip essentially was down Hwy 1 along the California coast so it was pretty straight forward, the most scary hazard was "Devil's Slide" but luckily it was not that bad.
Google maps bike there option is pretty good so far and can act as a skeleton. In California, there are "Bike Route" signs posted everywhere. Other states might have similar sign-age to keep cyclists on the right path.
Step 3: Riding the Ride
Once you are set, it's time to ride. Its important when doing long trips to allow time for you muscles to warm up. When starting, i felt very weak and slow but after the first hour i was cruising down the road at about 15 mph. Try to stretch whenever you stop and keep your hydration up.
I had to watch out about getting sunburnt, which was solved with a light longsleeved shirt. I did however for the first time in my life get the backs of my hands sunburnt.
Plan each day of your ride with your destination in mind so you know when you are done for the day. When you do reach your destination for the night set up camp, find some food and relax! You worked hard!
Step 4: Camping
When you reach where you want to be for the night it's time to either camp or find a hotel. The cheaper option is for sure camping. In the state parks you can get whats called a "Hiker-Biker" rate that was about 7 dollars per person for camping (versus 50 bucks!).
If you aren't into camping, try traveling to areas where you have friends and crash at their places. Hostels are also a good idea for cheap stays. Make sure to get lots of rest if you plan to be riding the next day.
Step 5: Going Home
Going home once your done is sometimes the hardest. You biked all this way just to go back? To make the ride more interesting, plan a trip that makes you take a circle. If you feel you will be too exhausted, plan to take public transit back.
I hope all of you try to go on a long bike trip this summer, the feeling is so rewarding and so wonderful!
If you have any of your own bike touring tips, please add them in the comments below!