To Bicycle Tour Or Not To Bicycle Tour: Questions Shouldn’t Stop Your Momentum

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By Joe Kurmaskie — With 200,000 miles of bicycle travel and counting permeating my legs and soaked into my soul, (on road, off road, no road) the question I get asked more than any other is this; how much should I plan for MY adventure? First off, if you want a true adventure in the Homer Odyssey sense of the word; wild, untethered, unpredictable, unfathomable – then my short answer is none, nada, zip. Grab a bike and go. You will come back with stories that will astound, or you might not come back at all, but that my friends, is the shortest route to a true adventure. But for the majority of those asking my advise I spell it out a bit more. It boils down to what you are looking for and being honest about your needs, limitations and goals.

To bicycle tour or not to bicycle tour? The Kurmaskie family embarks on a Trans-Canada epic tour. Photo courtesy Joe Kurmaskie
  1. Decide when you want to go. It matter in that we live on a planet with seasons and weather and what you bring will depend on when you go.
  2. What part of the world is the road calling you to explore? If it's domestic then no need for passports and travel shots and visas but if you want to really get away you must spend some time before for the fun parts getting all the paperwork done (unless paperwork is fun to you).
  3. Solo or with friends, group? This is a personal choice but a consideration. If you want to be free to roam without having to consult with others about the day s plans, the likely a solo trip is for you. If you are looking for fellowship in the saddle, someone to share costs and gear and the like then think about recruiting other to your dream or teaming up with theirs.
  4. Getting In Shape? Sure you should know how to ride a bike and ride it before the tour, but honestly, riding a bike on tour is what gets you in shape to ride a bike. If you start out in less than fighting shape it just means you ll go a bit slower. So the first week or so will be some level of suffering then your body adjusts and by the end of the trip you ll be like a Red Bull commercial and feel like the pedaling gives you wings.
  5. Should I be concerned about getting the right bike? A touring bicycle for road trips is my first choice but whatever bike you have make sure it's in good condition. For off road tours – same advice. That said, I've seen every level of bicycle rolling cross country. Don't let the idea that you must wait until you can afford a $2500 Rivendell before hitting the road.
  6. Where to I go? Again up to you. But there are some people who have done this before you and left a trail of touring breadcrumbs if you want to follow: Resources for finding bicycle-specific routes that emphasize safe roads and rideable trails can be found on Adventure Cycling's website, adventurecycling.org. These include: Adventure Cycling's 46,846 miles National Bicycle Route Network and touring maps and more. Or discard all of that advice and pick a direction and go. But a good rule of thumb is to travel on low density, low volume roads.
  7. Camping or Hotels or Friends and Family? All of the above. You have options. I did more camping than most but it s great to line up certain friends and factor in a hotel now and again just to recharge from the road grime.
  8. Panniers and trailers or bike packs? Panniers attach to your bicycle on racks that sit over or next to the wheels. Ortlieb and Arkel are the market leaders for touring. Quality racks are available to fit nearly every bicycle. Trailers come in many varieties, usually with one or two wheels. Most are easy to attach and fit on almost any bicycle.
  9. Cost? That depends on how you travel – I once stretched $1,000 out for nearly a year. But generally people send about $30 a day for camping and family and friends style travel by bike.

In the end, don't over plan or over think it. Do as much planning as you need to feel slightly uncomfortable. Because if you have every detail sorted out down to the minute it doesn't leave room for the unexpected moments and magic. Tailwinds.

Joe Kurmaskie is a journalist, syndicated columnist, and contributor to numerous magazines including Outside, Bicycling Magazine, Men's Journal and Parenting. He's a bike advocate, activist, found of Cadence Press, and a Random House author of seven books including Metal Cowboy, Mud, Sweat and Gears and A Guide To Falling Down In Public.

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