Don’t Ever Tell Someone That Bike Touring Is Easy

I don’t think you should ever tell someone that bike touring is easy. It’s not only bad advice, but it’s potentially dangerous and does nothing to make the newcomer feel better about his or her bicycle touring plans.

Pushing a loaded touring bicycle uphill in Wales

If you’ve ever perused the online forums about bicycle touring, you’re bound to have run into someone telling you to “Just go for it! Get a bike and start riding.” Or possibly, “Don’t worry about the equipment you use. Bicycle touring is easy. Just get on your bike and pedal.”

I’ve seen hundreds of comments like this on the Internet and I cringe every time I see them.

I cringe because this is not only bad advice (although I do recognize that it is often times coming from a good place), but it’s also dangerous and potentially damaging to the individual looking for help with planning or preparing for his or her first bike tour.

There are five main reason why I believe you should be hesitant when listening to anyone who says that bicycle touring is easy:

They Don’t Know What They’re Talking About

Many of the people giving advice in online forums (and even at major bicycle touring organizations, magazines and websites) are inexperienced bicycle tourists or (believe it or not) people who have never even been on a bicycle tour themselves. These people are quick to give advice to others, but have little to no real-world experience when it comes to the various types of bicycle touring.

Another major mistake amongst people both asking for and giving advice on the Internet is failing to understand that there are three main types of bicycle tours with several different sub-types under that. While an individual may be asking for advice about a particular kind of bicycle touring, he or she may receive advice from someone who is familiar with a completely different kind of bicycle travel. Obviously, this is where a lot of confusion can occur… and mistakes can be made.

For example: a 2-day credit card tour on paved roads near your home in a big city is a very different experience than a 3-month-long self-supported camping tour through the Australian Outback or an off-road mountain bike tour in South Africa. If the newcomer doesn’t clearly define the type of bicycle tour he or she is wishing to conduct, the advice he or she gets is likely to be from people with experience in a completely different form of bicycle travel.

They’re Lazy And Don’t Actually Want To Help You

What is the laziest way to give advice to a bicycle touring newcomer? Just tell them that bike touring is easy and that there’s nothing to worry about.

Telling someone that bicycle touring is easy doesn’t help them solve whatever questions they might be having. Instead, it only makes the person giving the advice feel better about themselves and their supposed experience. Rather than take the time to properly answer the newcomer’s question, experienced bicycle tourists will frequently avoid answering the question because they either don’t know the answer or don’t care enough to take the time to answer the newcomer’s question.

They Want To Demonstrate How Experienced They Are

Some people will tell you that bike touring is easy, only to demonstrate that it was easy for them. And it probably was easy for them, only AFTER they completed their bike tour and made a bunch of mistakes along the way. But at the beginning of their tour, I bet they felt just the same way the newcomer is feeling now – scared, worried, anxious and wondering what he or she should expect one they hit the road.

If you were to interview a successful businessman and ask him how he became a success, he might tell you that “It was easy.” But for someone looking from the outside, the actions needed to become a successful businessman are not easy. They are only easy to the person who has already accomplished the intended goal. To everyone else, the steps to success are not so straightforward… and the same is true with bicycle touring.

Yes, there are aspects of bicycle touring that are easy after you have done them one, two or a hundred times. But for someone who is just starting out, the steps that need to be taken for a first-time bicycle tour are not as easy as they might seem to an experienced bicycle traveler.

They Want To Diminish What You Are Doing

The other reason to be cautious when soliciting advice from bicycle tourists on the Internet is that many of these people will tell you that bike touring is easy in an attempt to diminish the newcomer’s experience.

By telling the newcomer that what they are about to do is easy, they are essentially telling the newcomer that if they succeed, they succeeded at something that was easy in the first place. And if they fail (which is something quite common with first-time bicycle tourists), they failed at something others said was simple to do. Neither situation makes the newcomer feel good about themselves. It’s a lose-lose situation as soon as you tell the newcomer that bike touring is easy.

They Secretly Want You To Fail

Finally, there are those individuals who either failed on their own bicycle tours (or had a very hard time completing their intended bike tour) and rather than help you succeed on your own bicycle travels, they secretly want you to fail (or to suffer in the same way they did on their early bicycle tours).

There are a lot of people out there like this. For many of them, suffering is part of what makes the bicycle touring experience a unique and enjoyable act. But there are also plenty of people out there who come to bicycle touring, not because they want to suffer and fail, but because they want to partake in a an enjoyable experience and don’t want to have to struggle along the way or make the same mistakes that those who came before them made. If someone tells you that bike touring is easy, they may be setting you up and secretly hoping that you have a hard time or fail, in an attempt to make them feel better about themselves.

What’s The Answer Then? What Should You Say Instead?

Rather than tell someone that “Bike touring is easy,” I suggest the following:

  • Listen to the newcomer’s concerns and do your best to answer his or her questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, either say that you don’t know or find out the answer.
  • Understand that there are several different types of bicycle touring and that each individual is going to have needs that are specific to the type of bicycle tour that they have planned. The gear they use, the clothes they wear, the bike they ride, and a whole host of other factors will depend on where they plan to go in the world, what time of year they wish to travel, whether they will be traveling alone or with a partner/group, how many miles/kilometers they wish to travel, what type of roads or trails they wish to cycle on, and a whole lot more.
  • No two people are alike. Just because a certain aspect of bicycle touring was easy for you, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy for someone else. Keep that in mind!

I’ve been helping people from all around the world plan, prepare for, and execute their own bicycle tours since 2007. In that time, I’ve seen people both succeed and fail at short and long-distance bike tours in various locations all across the planet. Bicycle touring is indeed a relatively simple act (a working bicycle and a nearby horizon are all you need to get started), but as your bicycle tours become longer, the needs become greater. The further you go, the less easy it becomes.

While there are people who have conducted bicycle tours on five-dollar bicycles and pedaled for days on end without spending any money, this is not the type of bike touring most people will enjoy. If you want to have a successful bicycle tour, but don’t want to go through all the pain and struggles that so many before you have already endured, then it’s best to do your research, learn from the world’s most experienced bicycle travelers, set some goals for yourself, and only then, after you’ve done all that, should you set out on your own bicycle touring adventures.

Bike touring is not always easy. If you do it long enough, there will be moments when you will be tired, hungry and sore. There may even be a time or two when you want to pack it all in, call it quits and go home. But if you continue forward, push past the pain, and cycle through any barriers that stand in your way, you might just reach your destination and feel like you’ve accomplished something truly incredible.

Only then, after you are standing at the top of the mountain, will you be able to look down at the road you’ve just climbed and say to yourself, “That wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. In fact, this whole bicycle touring thing is actually kind of easy.” 😉

What about you? Have you ever heard, read or seen an experienced bicycle tourist telling a newbie that “bike touring is easy?” If so, how did it make you feel? What do you think is the best way to help a bicycle touring newcomer? Leave a comment below and let me know what you have to say.


16 thoughts on “Don’t Ever Tell Someone That Bike Touring Is Easy

  1. Pete Harrison says:

    I think there’s a lot of difference between saying ‘Bike Touring is easy’ and ‘Don’t worry about equipment’ and ‘Get a bike and start riding’. I was inspired to go on my first bike tour by Tom Allen, who runs

    Tom’s site encourages readers not to get too hung up on concerns over equipment, but to get out there and do some touring, knowing that they’ll learn from the experience. Darren, you know that apart from time constraints, the biggest barrier for people going touring is thinking that they’ll be without the right equipment (which raises a financial barrier) and this prevents many people from ever setting off.

    I had a three-speed, 26 year old, $70 bike, and thought ‘I’m never going to be able to tour on this’. After reading Tom’s articles, I bought cheap panniers for $16 and completed a three-day 170 mile tour through the Yorkshire Dales (covering some sections of this year’s Tour de France route). It was just the success I wanted it to be. That experience inspired me to complete two other similar tours, and to plan a longer one from Barcelona to Istanbul.

    I have the common sense to realise that such a tour would be safer and smoother with better equipment, so have since purchased a ‘proper’ tourer (Dawes Galaxy) and a pair of Ortlieb panniers, and have thought about other aspects of my shelter/clothing etc.

    I realise I’m firmly in your ‘inexperienced bicycle tourist’ category, but surely how you prepare for a tour should be commensurate with what you want from that tour? If you have little money and are relatively unfit, but are happy to go slowly and deal with problems (even forced failure) as they come, isn’t it fine to go touring on a cheap bike? Equally, if you’re planning a month’s break from your high-powered job and want to get as far as possible, isn’t it fine to do some fitness, and get a more expensive bike and equipment?

    Really, I think there are two things at stake here:
    First, the type of bicycle touring you do (and like to do) involves very expensive kit, to ensure that things go smoothly. That’s understandable, it is your job afterall, but it’s not representative of most bike tourers, especially first-timers.
    Second, the more people (sometimes justifiably) fear aspects of cycle touring, the more opportunities there are for someone to sell them something. ‘Oh no, my bike will break down!’ …buy this flashy bike and it’s less likely to, ‘What if it rains on my kit?’ …buy these shiny waterproof panniers, ‘What if I get lost?’ …buy a GPS and plan every minute of every day, ‘Help, I think I’ll get an injury!’ …create a training regime and buy this book on stretching for cyclists.

    I’m sorry to be so critical – it’s because I’m saddened that this article, in my view, takes away from the accessibility of cycle touring by highlighting fears rather than joys, urging people to spend more time/money planning/preparing instead of trusting that they can make decisions (and ‘mistakes’) for themselves, and subconsciously aspires to your trouble-free idea of what a cycle tour should be.

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      Hi Pete,

      I agree with all your comments… so thank you for taking the time to say what you were thinking.

      The reason I wrote this article is because I was reading an online forum where some of the experienced bicycle tourists were encouraging a newcomer who wanted to conduct a 3-month-long bicycle tour on a busted up bicycle and with less than $250 USD in his bank account. They were telling him to just go for it and that he would figure out the rest along the way. But I think that is a recipe for disaster. I would have told the guy to save up a little more money, do some shorter test rides near his home to get some experience first, and then do the 3-month-long bike tour only after he had a bit more money and a bit more experience under his belt. Telling someone to try and ride for 3-months on a K-Mart bike and with so little money is just bad advice… but it is the type of advice I read in online forums all the time. I realize it comes from a good place most of the time, but it isn’t the best way of helping someone who is new to bicycle touring. Thanks again for your comments. I really appreciate it.

  2. william says:

    I have been told the same thing and honestly sometimes it can be the hardest thing in the world to do and sometimes you might get lucky and squeeze through without to many bumps and brusies Like that song says if youre going through hell go on through before the devil even knows youre there. In other words keep on keeping on and it will get better just takes patients and a thirst to want to accomplish your goals.

  3. Colleen Welch says:

    Darren, it is refreshing to hear you say, “Don’t tell someone bike touring is easy.” I agree that, although it is possible to get down the road on any bike, most people don’t want to tour on inferior equipment. No one would recommend someone take an old beater car and drive it across the country! When you boil it down, money buys comfort and peace of mind–everything from a quality touring bike to a comfortable sleeping pad (if camping).

    When people ask me about bike touring, or when they say they could never do it, the first thing I tell them is they have to really enjoy riding a bike. If they do, then they will be more able to handle the inevitable hard days. I also recommend starting small. Although we’ve all read stories of people who hop on a bike for the first time and ride around the world, and it does make for a darn good story, it’s not something I would ever recommend! Do an overnight someplace close. Then try a few nights. Work up to that long tour!

    I would somewhat disagree with you that some people’s motivation is wanting someone to fail. In my experience, people who have had a bad time touring are not shy about letting people know just how awful it was! I’ve encountered far more people with what I’ve come to call the “Doom and Gloom” attitude. Non-cyclists in particular, but occasionally cyclists as well, when giving advice, seem to feel the need to tack on some bit of “danger”. For example, I had a Warmshowers host, after telling me how beautiful the area was, say, “You know the rattlesnakes are bad this year!”

    I think the main reason touring cyclists tell newbies a bike tour is easy is simply because, as cyclists, we want more cyclists out on the road. We love it so much, we think everyone else should love it too! However, telling someone it’s easy is not the way to get more people to do what we do. Pointing them in the direction of resources such as your website, and encouraging careful preparation is the way to go!

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      I agree with you Colleen. I do think the “bike touring is easy” advice comes from people who have good intentions and want to get more people out there riding their bikes. But there is a fine line between that and telling people to go out unprepared and just learn along the way. That’s all I was trying to say with this article… because I hear from people all the time who just try and do it all on their own the first time around… and end up failing because they didn’t learn about some of the most very basic stuff. You don’t need an expensive bicycle or a lot of money… but you do need to know a few of the most fundamental parts of bicycle touring (and more specifically – the type of bicycle touring that you can to do).

  4. Gary Hooper says:

    I agree!
    Made my longest tour this summer,from northern Wisconsin to my home in Tennessee, 1459 unsupported miles, 21 days. I had completed shorter (700 mile) tours, but only after 3 weeks on the road did I really understand how hard and rewarding such a trip could be. There are ALWAYS discouraging situations, but nothing is more rewarding than those last few miles and to know what you have accomplished….and that feeling is reserved for those who actually do it!

  5. Max Choy says:

    I totally agree with you. I am a daily commuter on bikes, but my wife is once in a weekender biker. I always forget that she does not have the same ability and spirit on bike as I am. Last weekend, when we were riding, just off the biking trail, we took a short route off the trail to the town, the terrain is a bit hilly,
    Suddenly, I heard a crash noise behind. She was on the ground, luckily she didn’t hurt herself, when asking her what happened, she totally had no idea.
    She didn’t even know she is too tired already to the point that she just lost control. As you said, bike touring is just not easy, unless you are well equipped both your body and your bike. Thanks for all your good advice.

  6. Donald says:

    I wish I had read your advice a long time ago. I tried to go bicycle touring on my own without consulting with anyone who had done it before. I was riding an old, broken down bicycle, using gear I found at a thrift store, and when I got on the road, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was able to complete my first day of cycling, but I quit the next morning because I was so tired, out of food and water, and I couldn’t imagine another day like that first day. It was horrible. I felt so bad for such a very long time about quitting. But then I came across your website and I read some of your articles and saw all your pictures from your travels and it made me want to give bicycle touring another try. So I took your advice and learned so very much. I’m happy to say that my seocnd bicycle tour was a very big success. I cycled 534 miles all on my own and returned home (unlike my first bike tour attempt) with a massive smile on my face. Bike touring is easy… if you know what you’re doing before you get out there. There will be difficult moments and you learn to push through them. But there’s no reason to make yourself suffer for no good reason. Learn the basics and then give it a try. Start small and then go big! Have fun out there. I know I did.

  7. Rick says:

    The thing to remember is; if somebody is asking you about bicycle touring, what he is actually seeking are three things: Information, inspiration, and “permission.”
    It is foolish and irresponsible to attack something like a bike tour without some kind of training and forethought, no matter how miniscule. I still carry the scars from a woman who decided to learn how to use her stove her first night on the trail. She was badly burned, as was I, and I had to leave her and try to bike for help with one badly burned hand and arm. When you endanger yourself, you also endanger those who come to your aid. So telling a potential first-timer to “just do it” is irresponsible as well as just plain stupid.
    Bike touring is not necessarily difficult, but the undertaking is substantial.
    In addition, one thing often overlooked is just how much fun it is to plan for and to save up for a tour. It would be a shame to miss it; you learn an awful lot about yourself when you go through the exercise of planning for what you might need when you are all alone miles from home.
    One more thing. Bike touring is doable. You should relate to any prospective newbie that he has more to fear from the things inside his head than he has from most of what he might encounter out on the road.

  8. Rich says:

    Lets put things in perspective. If you’re going to go on a long, isolated route then by all means, you should be experienced and well equipped. But 90 percent of touring is not too far from civilization, a cell tower or food and water. If you can tour, you can walk LONG distances folks. People need to stop with bubble wrapping themselves and fire up that spirit of risk and adventure. Notice I said “Risk” not recklessness. I tour on a 96 Trek 800 with racks and low end 27 speed drive train. Over 3000 miles and it’s comfortable, true and reliable. I’ve ridden up to 105 miles a day. But then again, I’m 51 years old and I didn’t grow up with a cell phone, I never had GPS (Thomas Guide anyone?) and as long as I was home by dark, my parents never doted on me or stalked my whereabouts wondering if I’d been kidnapped by a child killer. I like to measure any situation with common sense and ask myself, are my concerns real or just imagined. GET OUT AND RIDE!

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      You’re right Rich. It does depend on the “type” of bicycle tour you are planning to conduct. If you’re doing something small and close to come… then not much is needed to get started. But the longer your bicycle tour and the further away from home that it is, the more you need to prepare and know what you are getting yourself into.

  9. Dale Walker says:

    He asked me, “Is it easy?”

    I replied, “No, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it has the peculiar result of joy.”

  10. Kevin Wolfe says:

    I guess I may be that person your talking about. LOL. I’m 57 & my wife is 46. We just rode from Bellingham WA. to Virginia Beach Virginia, unsupported, inexperienced, &
    Outside of a trainer in the garage “out of shape”. It wasn’t EASY, but that being said with some athletic ability totally doable. My wife rode Surly’s Disc trucker, I rode a Trek 520 with disc brakes & an extra-wheel trailer. (1 gallon of water in each Ortlieb Pannier) ha! It took us 77 days. I would love to see more people touring with bicycles, & the people we met along the way restored my faith in Americans! Many nights were spent in complete strangers homes who ASKED US if we needed a shower or place to stay, including the Mayor of a town in West Virginia! I’m not saying this is “normal” because I don’t know. (We have never toured before) Easy NO! Point is IMHO I don’t think you need to be an Olympic level athlete to achieve your goal. (It did require time and money). Cheers, and I’m afraid I’m one of those people your talking about here.

  11. Frosty Wooldridge says:

    Hell of a good article. On my first tour in 1975 coast to coast across America, I had no idea of what I was getting into on that ride. At the same time, I learned everything the hard way. It’s true! Bicycle touring is hard, sweaty, dusty work. It also places you on the “edge of wonder.” You need to be in shape. YOu need to possess a love of cycling. You must engage your own ‘true grit’. You must understand that 12,000 foot mountain passes can kick your butt! You must appreciate that you will live hard times, good times and bad times. But if you love it, that bicycle will take you around the world. If you love it, nothing will stop you. If you don’t love it and you don’t possess ‘true grit’, you won’t last very long at all. Me? I love it to the core of my being. Frosty Woolridge, 6 continent world bicycle traveler, author of six bicycle adventure books

  12. Adam Wilson says:

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