Bike Touring




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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!

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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!

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    25 Discussions

    cmac cormac

    3 years ago

    Well done, great to see this. Yep, ride what is comfortable in distance for you. Don't mind the people trying to get max distances and best times. We all could do with slowing down a tad and enjoying the ride. It is amazing what you can do, in your own clothes, on your own day-to-day bike, in your own time. Thanks for the post. Maybe some people will just try a simple trip at first with what they have rather than buying kit and clothing that they might not even need.


    3 years ago

    Wow this makes me want to go on a bike ride right now! Here's some other awesome accessories that would help make your touring ride a great one!


    9 years ago on Step 3

    hey i noticed that the pack is on the one side of your bike. wouldnt that put you off balance and you would have to fight the weight of the pack on one side to keep you balanced

    6 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Well I think you will have to, but how much weight could it be? you need like half your weight on the side of the bike to actually make you difficult, just think like this, If there is more weight on one side, you just need to slightly put your body weight to the opposite direction. have you ever ride the bike back home with a grocery bag on the handle, I think it is the same.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 3

    oh ya. thats what i was thinking you were doing. but i would just balance it out so i can sit comfortably on the seat. but thats me though


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    A grocery bag on the handlebars is not only higher up, but farther from the bike's centerline, both of which make it affect handling much more than a pannier/side basket does. The fact is that having the pannier weight low makes the load an issue only when you're not moving at all. Then the bike can get unwieldy no matter where the weight on it is. However, now I'm trying to figure out what the most extra weight I've ridden with is. ;)


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Agreed. Also, having bags on the front wheel affect steering and have more of an effect on balance because 60-70% of your weight is centered over the seat. I dislike large handlebar bags very much. However, my parents did a round-trip tour from Virginia to Prince Edward Island and they used small panniers which hung low on the front wheels. My dad said that front wheel gear can work alright if you need to carry that much stuff and if you balance the panniers well. I still would prefer any another option-you don't mess with steering!-including a trailer or even a tent designed to fit into the center of the frame.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    You would think so, but for some reason (probably has to do with the physics of spinning wheels) it doesn't.

    I (and many people) commute with a bag on one side, and you really don't feel any unbalance at all. If you compensate at all, its too subtle to be conscious of.

    However, for touring, you usually want the extra capacity of having two anyway.

    Both the bikes in the picture have two bags, one on each side (the brand they have, PanPack, can't be put on only one side)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    How hilly is the ride from SF to SC? Are there a ton of big ones or is it not that bad?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I always bring a jar of petroleum jelly and talcum powder. If you can keep dry use powder. If you are getting wet, slap on the jelly. Keeps things from getting too chaphy


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Too many variables to answer that question.

    Road or off road?
    Camping or hotels?
    What kind of weather conditions?
    Cook or restaurants?
    Two days or a year?
    With a group or solo?
    Can you do your own repair work, or will you relay on taxis and bike shops?

    It is possible to tour with nothing but a credit card, if you stick to major cities and have the money.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You should take whatever you would take if you were going camping; Tent, non-disposable water bottles, food for at least two days, and money to buy more if you need it. IT all depends how far you are going. When I ride it only takes me a day to ride 400 km, but a less experienced or less in shape rider would do about a third of that. So you should always pack for an extra day. Also, a good bike can help things go faster. Riding a worn down computer bike long distances is NOT a good idea. If you are going to, at least have it well tuned and put on a new pair of tires.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    No disrespect man, but 400km a day? That means an average (!) of 40km/h for 10 hours constantly. That might be in extreme racing conditions, but that has not the slightest relevance for traveling with a bike. I' am a well experienced "touring"- biker, I've done Sweden, UK and Scotland, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, up to three weeks continuously traveling with full camping gear on a b.o.b. trailer and a cross-bike. the maximum distance i would suggest for one day is about 60 to 100 km, always calculate pauses for lunch and sightseeing, path-finding, bad weather (wind!) or dense traffic-conditions in cities. a complete day pause might be sense-full on the third day of travel, to give the body some time to get used to the extra weight of luggage.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You are absolutely right, the distances I stated are purely under race conditions and should not be attempted by amateurs. I should not have posted the distance, as it would encourage others to go hurt themselves. The period of time it took me to ride that was actually 11 hours, so it was at a decent pace but it obviously shouldn't be attempted by someone carrying luggage.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    lol - I can't believe you did your mini-tour on that setup.
    It also amuses me that after one 2 day tour, you are ready to teach others how to do it.

    A couple specific things: You don't need an expensive or fancy bike, but it does make a difference what bike you choose. You need it to be strong enough to carry your extra gear, and have low enough gears to get up hills with the extra weight.
    Do not tour on a carbon bike.
    Unless you are very experienced, or are masochistic, you should not try a long tour on a single speed.
    While a touring bike is best, any hardtail mountain bike or steel framed road bike should do fine.

    A decent rule of thumb is to look for two sets of eyelets (holes) where you can bolt a rack and fenders to, just above the rear axle.

    Pick a handlebar height which is comfortable, but not fully upright. Too low and you will be uncomfortable after riding for hours. Too high and you will be much slower due to wind resistance (Frenzy happened to be traveling in the direction of a very strong and consistent tailwind, but you won't always be so lucky)

    Make sure your seat is high enough to get full leg extension on each pedal stroke, so you don't hurt your knees. Things which are minor annoyances for a 2 mile commute become potential injuries over hundreds or thousands of miles.

    I agree about panpack - best bag for touring I've ever seen (or used)
    Before investing in a trailer, try a real sturdy set of front and rear racks, and big front panniers. Put most weight in front (the bike will handle better and be more stable). Put stuff in both sets of bags, a handlebar bag, and tie on top of the rack. I've carried 2 months worth of clothes, tools, camping gear, etc for 2000 miles this way. Trailers are great for hauling stuff around town, but for long-distance are rarely worth the extra weight and complexity.

    A well tuned rider can do at least 80-100 miles in a day. A total novice can do 50-60. I have ridden with many first timers, and without exception, they are surprised at how much they can do - and still feel good the next day!

    2 replies

    the whole point of doing a 2 day tour and telling people how to do it is more of a get out there and do it kinda thing. telling people not to worry so much about having all the expensive crap. the author didnt say they were experts... at least thats what i took from it.

    I agree completely.

    I actually know the author personally - we worked in the same bike shop.
    We also both happen to have connections to instructables, as it happens, but that is neither here nor there.

    You really don't need any expensive crap at all. I just hope anyone reading my comments who happens to want to jump straight into a long tour will come away with one or two things that will spare them some pain on the road.