Beginner Guide: How to get started with cycling touring?
I get asked a lot how to start bike (bicycle) touring and in general how to even begin the arduous process of travelling with a bike/bicycle.
Starting local and riding around your town or taking a nearby overnight trip doesn’t have to require a lot of miles. Simply plan a short overnight and hop on your bike to go through the logistics of a short bike tour. Get on your bike and learn the logistics of what’s required. No fancy equipment needed.
Cycling Touring – Longer ride
Bicycle touring is a type of adventure travel that combines cycling with backpacking. Unlike regular cycling, where you pedal for miles and return home later that day, bicycle touring allows you to travel from point to point and set up camp for the night. After some shut-eye, you pack up your tent, hop on your bike and head out for the next leg.
You can plan your own trip or join a guided tour which often offer food and lodging. A bicycle tour can last for as long as you want. Some people like to take off for a weekend cycling, while others enjoy a month-long break from life to cycle across the country. If you really want an adventure, there is a great book about it call “How to hit the road”, a newcomer’s guide to the art of the bicycle-mounted adventure.
Your daily mileage depends on your fitness level, your trip goals, and the terrain. As long as there are not too many hills and you are reasonably fit, then 70-80km a day is a good benchmark for most cyclists. Moderate mileage is the beauty of bike touring – it is not as slow as hiking and not as fast as road tripping.
Cycling Touring vs Bikepacking
Cycle touring is generally more on-the-road with road bikes that have thinner tires. The emphasis is more on distance as you cycle from one town or landscape to the next, possibly for months at a time.
Bikepacking is generally more off-road on a fatter-tired bike, often a mountain bike with shocks. You’ll climb mountains and follow dirt trails deep through the woods, possibly for a few days.
How to select the route?
Planning for a rural bike tour is similar to organizing a road trip. If you just get started, You want to find routes with beautiful views that are easy to navigate on a bike. You also should study the terrain so you have plenty of water sources and safe places to camp on your trip. ( Many apps available for that) Depending on the length of your trip, you may have to plan some in-town trips to resupply, too. In general, you can go anywhere you want on a bicycle tour. When planning a tour, here are a few things to prioritize though:
Perth to the Gold coast (7500km – 4600 Miles)
1) Minimal Amount of Traffic.
You should avoid busy roads for safety reasons and choose paths that are less traveled. At minimum, only ride on roads with a wide shoulder for a safe bike lane. Note that sometimes there is no shoulder at all and that having a miror is highly recommended.)
2) Campsite Options.
Yea… you will need a place to sleep. Unlike hiking, where on-trail campsites are abundant, setting your tent on the side of the road can be a lot less reliable. Keep campsite availability (or stealth camping sites) in mind when selecting a route or ask people if you can pitch your tent in their garden for the night. ( I have done it a few time and it works pretty well)
3) Town and Resupply Options.
Depending on how far you plan to ride everyday and how much food weight you are comfortable carrying, you will want to be within a reasonable access of towns. For example: if you plan on riding 40 miles a day and only want to carry 2 or 3 days of food with you, then plan your town stops about every 100 miles .
How much does cycling touring cost?
Budgeting for a bicycle tour can be broken down into four main areas – gear, food, lodging and travel. Equipment is the most significant cost, ( Even tho I have traveled long distance with very cheap gear) but if you invest wisely, your gear can last you for years. There are also plenty of ways to save cash and not spend a fortune.
7500km with a $200 bicycle and a $150 trailer from Ebay.
GEAR COSTS: $1,200
Bicycle Gear: $500 Used Bicycle, $200 Panniers, $50 Pump, $50 Repair Kit. The first thing you need is a decent bicycle. If you are doing most of your cycling on the road, then a touring bicycle should be your first pick. These bikes have relatively thin tires and robust gearing so you can move quickly on the flats and climb easily on the hills. Bikepacking trips require a beefier mountain bike or fat tire bike to handle the remote dirt trails. You don’t need a fancy mountain bike for it to be a bikepacking rig. As long as you are comfortable in the saddle, you can add a few minor upgrades to turn any mountain bike into a gear-hauling beast.
Save some money by looking for used bicycles, yard sales, or your local bike shop for used bikes. You may also consider upgrading some core components on the bike including the saddle and the handlebars so they are a bit more comfortable.
Camping Gear: $200 Tent, $100 Sleeping Bag, $50 Sleeping Pad, $50 Other
You can leave your pack, trekking poles, and shoes at home when you head out on a bicycle tour, but you will need to bring some basic lightweight camping equipment if you plan to sleep outside at all.
FOOD COSTS: $20 Per Day (Variable)
Another significant expense is food. Plan on a minimum of $20 per day if you opt to bring inexpensive backpacking food and resupply at local grocery stores. If you have a bigger budget for food, you can eat at restaurants and experience the local cuisine.
LODGING: $25 Twice a Week (Variable)
You might be fine sticking to your tent every night. Depending on how long you are cycling for though, showering and sleeping in clean sheets can be tempting. You should plan on bunking up in a hotel or hostel at least once or twice a week.
TOTAL: $2,000 (Example: Estimate for 30 Day Trip)
- Gear: $1,200
- Food: $600 ($20 x 30 days)
- Lodging: $200 ($25 x 8 hostels)
*Travel Costs: One overlooked expense is travel. Obviously, if it is far away, then you are going to have to fly. Please shop around airlines for their checked bicycle rates and factor it in to your passenger airfare. Instead of shipping your bike, it might be cheaper to rent a bike at your destination. This is very common to do in some places, notably New Zealand. Some airlines can charge exorbitant fees for checking bicycles. Most, American Airlines for example, charge around $150 per bicycle though.
Shall I use panniers or buy a trailer?
Touring Panniers vs Bicycle Touring Trailers
Firstly, I should begin by saying that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Whether you use one or the other comes down to you and the situation you think you might use them in.
Some people even combine the use of both, and tow a full trailer as well as having a further four panniers attached to their bicycles.
I personally used both while cycling from Mongolia to Tajikistan in 2015, I had to carry a lots of weight with me due to the extreme cold weather in the Gobi desert, huge sleeping bag, quality lightweight pad & Tent (MSR Elexir 2)& I had also to carry over 20 liters of water (extra 20kg). Check this bag HERE
How much should I spend?
Panniers range in cost from around $60 a pair to several hundred dollars. As you spend more you’ll get tougher materials, waterproofing, and replaceable fixings. Bicycle Racks themselves vary in cost from around $30 to $100, with specific models for disk brake bikes, or to fit with very wide tyres.
- Tubus Cargo Evo Pannier Rack
- Topeak Super for disk brake bicycle
- Topeak Uni Super Tourist Fat Disc Frame Mounted Bicycle Rack
Burley Coho XC, Single Wheel Suspension Cargo Bike Trailer
What clothes should I bring along?
On most bicycle tours, you’re on the move with little time for laundry and drying. When possible, travel with fast-drying clothing – from undergarments to outerwear. Check out our clothing recommendations. Synthetic fabrics/blends are not only the most breathable and quick drying, they can also be the easiest to pack.
Here’s what our new slim-line packing list looks like:
Clothing (per person):
- 2 t-shirts
- 1 warm long-sleeve top
- 2 cycling short
- 1 pair pants for off the bike
- 1 pair of flip flop
- 3 pairs of socks
- 3 pairs of underwear
- 1 hoodie
- 1 waterproof rain jacket
- 1 pair biking gloves
- 1 pair sunglasses
- 1 bandana (to cover ears in windy weather)
- 1 cap
Bike Camping Gear: a complete list of lightweight equipment for cycle touring:
Unless you’re going on a so-called “credit card tour” (meaning sleep only in hotels and eat only in restaurants), the most of your nights out bike touring will probably be camping nights.
Camping and bike touring go hand in hand, and camping is one of the fascinating aspects of traveling by bicycle. Finding the perfect spot, sleeping in nature, cooking your own meal, enjoying the stars, and waking up in the wilderness. These are experiences you’ll carry with you forever.
Choosing the right tent
The first thing you’re going to want to remember to pack is your tent. Don’t forget to check for stakesand it’s always a good idea to bring extras just in case.
There are so many tents on the market, I will personally recommend the MSR Elixir 2,I have been using it during my Bike touring trip in Mongolia, very easy to set up and affordable. The perfect backpack tool for every adventure. Inspire the world to walk- Cycle– Hike with nature. Professional Gears.
MSR Elexir 2
Size: 2 Person
- Unique pole geometry optimizes headroom and fits two mats; adaptable rainfly allows for excellent views
- Built-in gear lofts and glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls enhance livability
- Includes an MSR Elixir footprint that allows for a lightweight fast & light setup with rainfly
- Freestanding system features color-coded poles, clips and webbing, Plus red vestibules for fast and easy setup
- Mesh and solid fabric panels offer ventilation, warmth and privacy
Somewhere in France
- The North Face Triarch 2 Person Backpacking Tent
- Fjallraven – Abisko View 2
- Naturehike Cloud-Up 1, 2 and 3 Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent
Sleeping bag and Pad
The worst part about camping is feeling every rock and twig underneath your sleeping bag when you lie down. Bring a sleeping bag and good pad for an extra barrier between you and the ground. We all want two different sleeping bags on a bike tour. The bag we carry all day should weigh almost nothing and take up almost no space. The bag we sleep in at night should be lofty, spacious, comfy, and warm.The perfect combination of those qualities may be an impossible dream, but sleeping bag manufacturers get closer to it every year. This list of the best sleeping bags for bike touring should help you choose the right one for your next cycle tour.1- Summer sleeping bag
- ECOOPRO Warm Weather Sleeping Bag
- MalloMe Camping Sleeping Bag
- Active Era Ultra Lightweight Sleeping Bag
2- Winter sleeping bag – Extreme temperatures
- Big Agnes Lost Dog (FireLine Eco) Sleeping Bag
- Big Agnes Anvil Horn (650 DownTek) Sleeping Bag
- Nemo Kyan Mummy Sleeping Bag
Top 10 Best Sleeping Pad:
Great sleep in the backcountry can be surprisingly tough to come by. You’d think after a long day of cycling, most bikepackers would be tired enough to pass out face first in their rehydrated mashed potatoes. But that’s not always the case.
Packing a top-notch sleeping pad can help you take your backcountry sleep game to the next level, and it’s critical for comfort and warmth.Check out this quick list of our favorites one:
- Sleeping pad for ultralight summer backpacking: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite
- Ultralight 3-season backpacking: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
- Comfy & convenient sleeping pad: NEMO Tensor Insulated
- Best sleeping pad for 4-Season backpacking & cold sleepers: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
- Closed-cell foam sleeping pad: NEMO Switchback
- Budget-friendly sleeping pad: Klymit Static V2
- Comfy & durable sleeping pad for 3-season trips: Sea to Summit UltraLight Insulated
- Affordable lightweight sleeping pad for backpackers on a budget: WellaX Ultralight Air Sleeping Pad
- Thick, cushy pad that’s great for side-sleepers & tosser-turners: Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX
- Warm & durable pad that works well for side sleepers: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated
Camping Stove & accessories
Cook gourmet meals on a camp stove while out in the wild! You can make just about anything on one of these. I highly recommend MSR Stove, I have been using it since 2010 and it never let me down. When that long-awaited camping trip finally pops up, make sure you add these outdoor essentials to your packing list, and you’ll have the time of your life. Sure, there will always be a new gadget or accessory that could add to your experience in the wild, but if you want the best camping gear this year, look no further!
MSR XGK EX Extreme-Condition Camping and Mountaineering Stove
- Multi-Fuel: Reliably burns more liquid fuels than any other stove.
- Dependable: Easy to field maintain; Shaker Jet cleans fuel jet with a simple shake
- Compact: New flexible fuel line allows stove to fit in a 1.5-liter MSR pot.
- Superfast: Boils 1 liter of water in just 2.8 minutes (using kerosene fuel).
- Extra stable: New retractable legs and pot supports provide unprecedented stability.
- Jetboil Flash
- Kovea Spider
- MSR pocket
- MSR Quick 2 System Cookset: MSR Quick 2.5L – 266g
- Espresso Cups: Juro Tumbler 20 oz Stainless Steel
- Stove: MSR Whisperlite Internationale (Review HERE) – 435g
- Fuel Bottle: MSR fuel bottle – 133g
- Tea Towel: Any will be fine !
- Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze / 500ml Bag – 127g
- Water Bottle: Polar Bottle Sport Insulated Water Bottle
- Universal Plug: NEWVANGA International Universal
- Cigarette Lighter: Generic – 20g
- Pocket Knife: Opinel are the best
- Forks, Spoons, Knives, Wooden Spoon: Black Travel flatware set with Case Stainless Steel
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Hand sanitizer
- Passport, wallet and ID
- Health insurance card
- Travel insurance
- Cash and/or credit cards
- Camera (with spare battery)
- Plastic bags (for dirty laundry, wet clothes)
- Portable solar panel charger
- Adaptors or converters
First aid kit
- Insect repellent
- Antiseptic cream or antibiotic ointment
- Band-aids and ‘Second Skin’ for blisters
- Salve for chafing
- Medications (in original bottles with your name on them)
Easy to to carry first aids kit
What if I know NOTHING about bikes?
No stress! Other than actually knowing how to ride a bike, I knew nothing about bicycle mechanics before committing to my 3 month cycle tour.That being said, it could be extremely helpful to know a few basics in case of a breakdown.
- research tips and videos
- take a course on bike maintenance
- volunteer at a local bike shop or co-op (that’s what I did!)
- tinker with your own bike
*Pro Tip: 80% of your bike issues will revolve around pumping or replacing a flat tire. At minimum, feel comfortable with this.
Note if you have clip-in pedals, I recommend getting comfortable with those first. Maybe ride with them on the grass and practice clipping in and out. I had a few nasty crashes because I was not well versed in the clip pedals.
RESOURCES: There is a growing community of bike touring enthusiasts who are offering services to help cyclists with their trips. Get involved and use them!
Warmshowers.org: kind of “the” community of cycle tourists specifically designed to connect local hosts with cyclists actively on tour. Think of it like Couchsurfing for cycle tourists. They also have an 20,000+ member Facebook group.
Tomsbiketrip.com: a cycle tourist with in depth tips and how-to’s.
Adventurecycling.org: non-profit organization with maps and routes
Bikepacking.com: helpful resource for gear and more.
Crazyguyonabike.com: popular public journal forum.