Your Questions About Bicycle Touring – Bicycle Touring Pro

Your Questions About Bicycle Touring

Two weeks ago I held a live Internet event on Ustream.com where I talked about the 7 major mistakes I see bicycle tourists making on their travels… and at the end of that presentation I asked you to write in and ask me a question about your single biggest concern in regards to planning, preparing for, or executing a bicycle tour of your own.

I then promised that if you wrote in, I would post your question and, most importantly, my answer in an article on the website here at BicycleTouringPro.com. The post is a week later that I promised (mainly because I felt it was more important to share with you the start of the Localmotive Bike Tour last week), but now the timing is perfect. So here you go! Here are the questions you sent me about bicycle touring… and here are my answers!

Darren, would you recommend, or discourage using a backpack water bladder on a 19 day, 1200 mile trip? Would it be better to stick with frame mounted bottles and the stopping to refill more frequently?

Trent Whittaker

Hey Trent,

I usually discourage people from carrying hydration packs or any kind of backpack on their bicycles tours. There are two reasons for this:

1. The weight of the pack can cause neck, shoulder, and back pain.
2. Your back tends to get all sweaty.

Instead, I recommend you carry as much water as you can on the frame of your bicycle (in 2 or 3 standard bicycle water bottles) and if you need extra water, consider doing something like I do in this video: http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-to-carry-extra-water-on-your-bicycle/

Hope this helps!

Hi Darren!

First of all, thanks a lot for your website and all you are doing for promoting bicycle touring. It is great!

I watched your recent clip about the mistakes made by bicycle tourists and wondered if you could share your experiences, thoughts and practices on dealing safely with money on your trips. I will be going to South America in a few months and I need advice. I will arrive to Caracas and start to pedal down to the south until Ushuaia. How much cash should I have on me at any particular time, where should I keep my money, which bankcards should I bring along, how could I be as smart as possible moneywise? I would be extremely happy if you could give advice on these issues. Thanks in advance!

Best,

Veiko

Hi Vieko,

I typically carry no more than $200 USD cash at a time on my travels. I usually have 2 credit cards and 2 ATM cards that I carry (linked to separate accounts). This way, if I lose one card (like I did on my last trip through Peru), I have the other card to fall back on. In South America (and many other parts of the world), cash is king and credit/debit cards are not taken at most small shops, restaurants, etc. So you need to have cash on you at all times.

Some travelers recommend carrying their cash in a wallet that is hung around their neck or stored between their pant legs, but I have never done this (too much work… and kind of annoying). While bike touring, I typically carry my wallet and other valuables inside my handlebar bag (See this old video: http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-to-pack-your-handlebar-bag/). And I never let that handlebar bag leave my side.

Also, make sure you set up online banking so you can pay any bills you might need to pay while you are traveling. And if you have someone back at home who can mail checks/pay bills for you (if needed), that is always nice as well.

I’ve personally never had anything stolen from me on my travels… but I do know a few people who have been robbed while on their trips. If you are super concerned about getting robbed, you can hide your cash and credit/debit cards in two separate places (one in your handlebar bag and one in a wallet hung around your neck for example) so that you might, after being robbed, still have one set of cash/credit cards.

Also, before you leave on your trip, make sure you photograph all of your credit/debit cards so that if they are lost or stolen, you and someone back home has all the information needed to cancel those cards right away. You can photograph the cards and then email those photos to yourself. That way, if you lose your cards, you can log into your email account and you will have access to the information you need to quickly cancel the lost/stolen cards.

Finally, put your wallet and all other important items back in the same place every time you pack your bike/gear. By doing this, you will know something has gone missing simply by looking and seeing that that item is not in it’s normal place.

Hi Darren,

Thanks for all the great information. I’m starting to assemble what I need for a tour, Kona Sutra. Vancouver to Ventura. What do you recommend for bike locks and pannier security. I will be using Ortlieb panniers. Do you know anything about their cable lock system?

Thanks Again,

Thomas Paulsen

Hi Thomas,

Congrats on your plan for a bike tour down the Pacific Coast. And how cool that you plan to stop in Ventura, CA. I grew up in a city called Camarillo, which is located just about 20 miles from Ventura. My father works as a doctor in Ventura to this day… and the city is pretty much my second home.

Anyway, about your question: When I am on tour I do my best to never (or almost never) let my bicycle out of my sight. The only time it is not within view is when I go into a supermarket, bank, or something like that. The rest of the time it is either within my view or locked somewhere secure (such as inside a hotel, garage, broom closet, etc).

But there are times when you may have to leave your bicycle for a while and you want to make sure the bike, panniers and the things in your panniers don’t get stolen. I’m not familiar with the Ortlieb locking system, but this is what I do whenever I need to temporarily leave my bicycle: http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-to-secure-your-bicycle-belongings-when-going-inside-a-building/

Hi Darren,I listened with great interest to your webcast and I found the 7 mistakes really worthwhile information. Thank you very much. I have three questions.

First – what is a realistic maximum that a person can ride on a one-day trip? There is a circle route where I live which is about 160 miles (~ 260 kilometres) round trip. Parts are very hilly and there is one long climb of several kilometres which would be towards the end of the ride. It is a beautiful scenic ride along the ocean and through the mountains on Southern Vancouver Island. I still need to start training for it seriously – I am just wondering for the ‘average’ rider if this is a realistic and attainable goal.

Second – what is the minimum gear to bring on an extended trip of two plus weeks? Clothes?, bike repair kit? I am riding a CRUZBIKE recumbent so I need the lightest possible gear as hills are a real challenge on this bike. I have no funds so I need to do this on a shoestring. I don’t need a stove or any cooking as I am planning a raw food diet plus chocolate bars of course.

Third – is it realistic for seniors to go on extended bike tours? I am 62 years old, without any serious health problems and my dream is to ride across Canada from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland and I guess I would need to ride back as well.

Any advice you could offer would be appreciated. Thanks,

Don Brown

Hi Don,

Thanks so much for your email.

1. As for how long your average cyclist can cover in a day, it depends on a number of factors. Will you be traveling light (with just you and your bike)? Or will you be traveling with a fully-loaded bicycle (and carrying camping equipment, clothing, food, etc)? Will the terrain be flat or hilly? Are you in good shape? Etc, etc, etc.

Personally, my longest day on the road was just over 150 miles (241 kilometers). And during my 11 years of long-distance bicycle touring, I’ve probably only done about a dozen days that were over 100 miles. As you likely know by now, most traveling cyclists tend to cover about 40 to 60 miles per day.

That said, I’m sure you could do that 160 mile day as long as you woke up early, traveled light, ate well, stayed hydrated, and rode well into the evening.

My guess, however, is that you would enjoy yourself a whole lot more if you broke that 160 mile day up into two 80 mile parts.

What is the furthest you have ever ridden in the past? If you have never ridden over 80-100 miles in a day, then trying to jump straight to 160 is probably going to be quite a push.

2. As for the minimum amount of gear you need, this too depends on how you plan to travel and where you plan to sleep. If you plan to sleep in hotels, hostels, etc, then all you need is a change of clothes or two, your toiletries, panniers, and basic bicycle repair instruments (such as a pump, spare tube, multi-tool, etc.). But if you are planning to camp along the way, then you need a tent, sleeping mat, and sleeping bag in addition to whatever else you might need for the tour. A map, money, food, and cell phone (in case of emergencies) are also likely needed – no matter which way you plan to travel.

3. And as for whether or not you can do a long bike tour at the age of 62, yes you can! You might not believe it, but the bicycle touring population is divided up into two major camps. There are the young college students who tend to travel on a super light budget in one camp… and the older retirees who go on long bike tours now they they finally have the time to travel. See this article for more information http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-old-are-bicycle-touring-pro-readers/ As you will see, there are a number of people your age (and older) who are traveling long distance via bike. And as long as you are in good physical condition, you should be able to do it too!

I’m taking a solo tour from vancouver to san diego real soon and I’m good to go except for being really paranoid of getting my bike stolen. I think I’ll just never try and leave my bike unless it’s  a hotel room. Any tips? Great website! Thanks!

Ian

Hi Ian,

The ride from Vancouver to San Diego is awesome! You should have a great time.

As for not getting your bike stolen, yes, try not to let it out of your sight. And when you do need to leave the bike, make sure it is locked up. Also, see this article: http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-to-secure-your-bicycle-belongings-when-going-inside-a-building/

Dear Mr Darren Alff

First all thank you very much for your web site and email.  I am very encouraged by what you said in the e-mail and web site.

I would like introduce to you myself as below,

My name is Sunwook Kim, Living in Seoul, Korea.

I, aged of 58 was diagnosed with Lung Cancer stage 4 in 11 of November 2010. I have finished 4 sets of Chemotherapy on 7th of February 2011 then I have being taking an “Iressa” from 22 of March 2011.

When I was in good health it was my dream to explore the world through a bike tour with my lovely wife Jearan Park. My initial plan was to finish the tour in 5 years, starting from 1st of June 2012. Unfortunately it was postponed indefinitely owing to this ruthless lung cancer. The doctors say that my health condition is better now. Expectations can be kept along with me further. As per to the doctors, regular medical attention and care is the most important thing. In the midst of all these I cannot stop thinking about my dream too. I know that my dream is the perfect medication for me now, it keeps me alive.

So why should I defer it further. I want to start my world tour on the 1st of May 2014. The first stage of the tour will start from New York to Los Angeles for 18 months.

Before I get victimized by this merciless disease, my original plan was just biking, sighting through towns and countries. But my new plan is when I visit any town, village or a country; I want to meet cancer patients and share my life & sorrow with them and encourage them to live with hope by understanding the nature of this difficult task that the God has gifted us!

While interacting with the public and rest of the world throughout my World Bike Tour, I am looking forward for a volunteer supporting team comprising of a web designer, article editor (Korean/English languages), visiting country’s organizer, public relations specialist, strategic planning specialist and Advocacy & Engagement specialist who can give me a helping hand to make my dream a success.

Would be willing to tell me quite frankly and confidentially what you think about my World Bike Tour plan.

Hello Sunwook,

And thank you so much for your email.

I’m sorry to hear about your health condition, but I think it is great that you are planning this bike tour as something to look forward to and motivate others to stay positive while suffering with similar conditions.

I think your bike tour is a great idea, and I think you are very smart to know that you are going to need a team of people to help you with web development, marketing, PR, etc. Many people who do bicycle tours for charity think that they are going to be able to do all of these things (and ride 50-60 miles per day) all by themselves. But doing it all alone is very, very hard. So, yes, you need to get someone else (or a team of other people) to help you with these things.

Other that than, I think you have a great idea. Just make sure that you are in a healthy state before you take off on your tour and be safe out there.

If there is any other way I can help, please let me know.

What are the fattest tyres you can fit on a 2009 Fuji Touring….I want to take myself from Cairns, North Queensland, Australia, to the tip of the cape york penninsula (the most northern point in australia….there’s some pretty nasty dirt tracks fr om what I’ve read and basically I’m wondering if my bike can take it….

tristan cornell

Hey Tristan,

Typically, you don’t want a 700c wheel on an around the world bike tour because the parts for 700c wheels can be very hard to find in some countries outside of North America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand. 26 inch wheels, however, are standard and easy to find pretty much everywhere in the world. See this article: http://bicycletouringpro.com/700c-vs-26-inch-wheels-which-is-best/

That said, you can find tires that are as wide as a mountain bike tire for 700c wheels, although they are typically referred to as 29″ wheels in these cases. These too are very hard to find in many parts of the world. But if you just want a super wide 700c road tire, then 40-45mm is a pretty common tire size for that.

Hey Darren

Thank you so much for all your wisdom. I like that i trust you after watching some of your videos, you truly seem to know what you are doing. Which is why i want to ask you a couple question and i hope you have some time to help me out. This will be my very first bike trip and i am going against all odds right now. No one thinks i can really do this but i know in my heart that i can and i want to. My question that i have for you is, Where should i begin looking for a decent bike. Im not picky and i do not need the best bike. I dont have lot of money so i would just need something that will basically carry me and my things with me. (im going from Vancouver, Canada to California… and maybe further) So for touring bikes that are on the cheaper side or even places to get cheaper or used ones. Is there anything to look out for when im making my decision? Ok and one more question… where are some good places to do research on these types of things (as im in canada and im pretty sure you cant point me in the exact direction) Ok it would be cool to hear back but i wont be mad if you dont reply. And thank you again for sharing this info to people like me 🙂 Its such an amazing world to be in and im glad that people like you can help others truly enjoy it the way we want to!!!

Also, is it safe to travel to california in september. My plan is to leave from vancouver but this will be my first bike trip and i know it’ll be a little cold but will it be quite dangerous?? Also do you ever worry about someone stealing your things when you sleep?
Natalie

Hi Natalie… and thanks for your email.

As for finding a good touring bike at an affordable price, there are a couple places to look. Your local bikes shops are a good place to start, but most shops either don’t carry touring bikes… or their selection is limited to just 1 or 2 bikes.

Craigslist.org and ebay.com is another good place to find used touring bikes. Many people buy a brand new touring bike, then do their tour, and then never ride the bicycle again. So if you can find one of these people who no longer wants/needs their touring bike, you can usually get a good deal on the thing.

And if you want more info on touring bikes, my Essential Guide To Touring Bicycles is a good little resource that introduces you to all the different types of touring bikes that are available and gives you some additional information on how to find a touring bike, what to look for in a good touring bike, how to ensure the correct fit, etc.

From what you tell me, however, you might not need a full-blown traditional touring bike. If you plan to travel light, you might just need a bike that has some kind of rear rack capability. If so, you could use a hard-tail mountain bike… or a road bike that is designed for light touring. Either of these two types of bikes will be a whole lot easier for you to find at your local bike shop, garage sales, or online… and they will work just fine for shorter, lighter bike tours.

As for traveling in California in September, yes it is safe and you should be fine. You may have to wear warmer clothes, but you should be fine. Which route do you plan to take? If you are going to cycle the coast, then you will be fine. Chilly maybe, but fine. Have you seen this article about me cycling in Switzerland in the dead of winter? http://bicycletouringpro.com/switzerland-cycling-luzern-interlaken/ California should be fine!

How do you ensure that you have a sufficient supply of water when your space is limited?

Benji Marton

See this article/video: http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-to-carry-extra-water-on-your-bicycle/

If I do a 1 week Bicycle tour with just a backpack and no panniers….will that cause fatigue. I’ve done a day tour with a backpack and so far so good. I’m just concerned on long duration. My Osprey backpack has a mesh back to promote cool air flow and can haul 20-25lbs.

Marv Placino

Hi Marv,

You typically want to avoid a backpack of any kind while bicycle touring because it can cause aches in your neck, back and shoulders… and it tends to make people sweat (even with those cool air flow backpacks). You can do it, but you are going to want to keep your weight down as much as possible.

The better option, however, is to get that weight off your body entirely. And investing in a rear rack and set of panniers is probably the best way to do that.

I used a small hydration backpack on my first two bicycle tours and my most recent 9 bike tours I have used panniers. And while I do ride short 1-3 mile distances near my home with a backpack, I would never do an extended bicycle tour with a backpack (and all that extra weight) on my back.

Hi Darren,

Thanks for the presentation on the 7 mistakes you see.  Makes me feel like I am more prepared than I thought!

Anyway, as per your homework, I actually have two major questions at the moment:

1.  Besides flats, what major mechanical problems is one likely to encounter? (I assume broken spokes is one, and if so, what do people carry for drive-side broken spokes on rear wheel; ie mini chain whip?)

2.  Perhaps more interesting debate, I’ve heard different accounts of optimal weight distribution.  Some people carry more weight on front, some on back.  What’s your take on weight distribution front to back, and on low-rider mounts on front?

Thanks.  Keep up the good work!

Nathaniel

Hi Nathaniel,

Thanks so much for tuning in to the live webinar on the 7 major mistakes people make on their bicycle tours. As for your two questions:

1) Flat tires are going to be your most common problem. Other common things you are going to have to deal with include: adjusting your brakes and derailleurs and ensuring that your racks and panniers are secured in place. Otherwise, you hopefully won’t have any major problems (although they do happen). If something major does occur and you don’t know how to fix it, just get yourself to the nearest bike shop and have them fix the problem (but make sure they show you how they fixed it so you can try and fix it if/when that problem occurs again in the future).

As for fixing broken spokes, I’ve never had to deal with that in all my years of bicycle touring. I usually carry a spare spoke or two and could replace a broken spoke if I needed to, but I’ve never actually needed to… and hopefully you won’t either. Spokes usually break because they are damaged during shipping or because you are carrying too much weight on your bicycle. So as long as you pack light, you hopefully won’t have too many problems.

2) As for weight distribution, I don’t put a whole lot of thought into it really. But I do tend to carry most of the heavy stuff in the back (tent, stove, food, etc) and the lighter stuff up front (clothes, some food, toiletries, etc). My weight distribution is probably 60-70% in the back and 30-40% in the front. See this article I wrote for the Adventure Cycling website as well for more packing your panniers advice: http://blog.adventurecycling.org/2009/12/7-secrets-to-successfully-packing-your.html

Hi there ,im cycling from Alaska to Mexico in July and I haven’t started planning the route yet what’s the best way of route planning ? And am I likely to run into any bears !

Rob Fletcher

Hey Rob, your route from Alaska to Mexico should be relatively simple. There is really only one main road that you can take to travel from Alaska to Vancouver. And once you get there, you can use the Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast route maps to get you the rest of the way. http://adventurecycling.org/routes/pacificcoast.cfm

For more route planning help, see these two articles:

1. An extensive guide to bike tour planning.

2. Tools for planning a self-supported bicycle tour.

And as for bears, yes, it is possible that you will encounter some while you are out there. I usually don’t worry about them too much (as they are usually more scared of you than you are of them), but you might want to get yourself some bear spray and also educate yourself on how to hang your food at night, etc.

0 thoughts on “Your Questions About Bicycle Touring

  1. sailinghome says:

    you probably want to fix the links in this posting… I think you need to add the “/blog/” part of the link….

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      I’ve never ridden the Southern Tier route myself, but I would guess that the Adventure Cycling route maps have information for you about camping along the way. That said, I know that there are long stretches of road with very little inbetween and you will probably want to or be forced to camp in some of these desolate areas. For tips on camping in these sorts of environments, see this article about “stealth camping” http://bicycletouringpro.com/the-secrets-of-stealth-camping/

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