I thought it might be interesting to write a handbook, of sorts, for cyclists and maybe other travellers who tour in a self-contained way long distances and usually camp.
For the beginner then there is a lot to consider in terms of what to carry, what to ride, what research to carry out, what to prepare for on the road etc. I hope the following is a good start in that preparation.
My cycle touring has been mainly in warm climates and on a bicycle. Countries that I have toured include the UK (England, Scotland & Wales), Canada, USA, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. I have visited many other countries and know how things are and I think that the detail and principles above will apply there as well.
My durations vary between 9 weeks on the road to 3 days. In principle little changes but I have experienced several scenarios.
When reading the following then much of my travel, equipment and arrangements is geared toward covering the ground as quickly as possible. I have regularly averaged over 70 miles a day and that means around 7 hours in the saddle. Getting to my accommodation at, say 2pm, and then organising a leisurely camp fire for 5 hours later is not me. However, this blog is a great place to start your research.
It has to be said that I have never been drawn to stealth/wild camping (although I’m always prepared should the need arise). I have always travelled on a budget but it was never so restricted that if an expensive night’s accommodation was the only solution that I couldn’t take it. I was never so off the beaten track that I couldn’t find someone to speak English or find (eventually!) an ATM, tarmac to ride on or proper access to health solutions. I admire those adventurers who head off into the less developed world but ‘never is enough’ for me if the route involves hundreds of miles on a dirt track, locals cruising past in Toyota pick ups with AK47’s and a difficult border to cross where bribery and patience was the order of the day.
There are a few things to tell you before you start:
1. My Personal System – I have read many blogs, been on many forums and all seasoned travellers have their own system. So with that in mind then this is the way I roll. I would say I have some idiosyncrasies and preferences that might not suit all.However, I can tell you that it all works well. Frankly half the pleasure is refining the kit and travel methods to a more personal bespoke model. Start here at least!
I must add that as I have toured regularly I have migrated to quite expensive, proven and durable kit. If you’re planning, say, one tour for a few days then without doubt it can be done more cheaply.
2. Weight – it makes sense to travel with as little as possible. Why lug a burden up hills with weary legs? However, experience has told me that discarding various items before you travel to only regret it is brought into sharp contrast when on your travels you will think nothing of buying cans of drinks or heavy groceries that weigh several kilos (I know, I was that soldier!) So some of the kit below is not the lightest. I have come across folk who hauled a ukulele and a pointless umbrella across America and so you have my permission to pack those nail scissors. Lastly, remember a touring bike is usually built to carry weight and move comfortably. Look away you weekend carbon warriors.
3. Solo – I have travelled with others but most of the cycling was by myself. Hence there may be savings if you set off with a fellow tourer. This handbook is compiled with the lone traveller in mind.
4. Fitness – I ride my bike most weeks in the UK and have an accumulated fitness. I am not a racer, remotely quick or a fitness fanatic but I plan to cover the ground as quickly as I can. If you are going on tour then you need to start fit and healthy and with some experience of riding a bike, day after day. We can all do one day in the Cairngorms but can you keep doing it day after day? You don’t need to be able to race but having your legs aware of what is coming. Preparation makes the ride a pleasure.
5. Dry Run – before your first trip, a trip with lots of new kit or other challenges then I recommend a night away locally where you can see what you really don’t need or what problems arise. This is a great time to put it right before touring.
In a logical order of considerations I have provided a list of subjects and chapters. Enjoy and if you have anything to add then please let me know on email@example.com.
DESTINATION & RESEARCH
I think this all starts with being excited by the adventure. You want to feel the wind in your hair, experience a different culture, get back to nature, get to a museum or a famous sight by bicycle, ride lots of miles for the hell of it etc.
I’ve simply cycled through lovely countryside between an airport that I flew into and one I’m flew out of. However on one trip I went across the Channel and cycled to Verdun to visit WW1 battlefields and a museum. I then headed to near Limoges to visit a town that has been preserved as a monument after Nazi atrocities before heading south to Portugal. On one trip I cycled to American cities with a musical heritage – Nashville, Muscle Shoals, Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. Other trips have included car museums and seeing the Tour de France. Use your imagination, if you’re cycling for several weeks then having something to excite you along the way is fabulous.
Before you consider some of the negatives then get excited by what you might see and experience. All the negative challenges I find are usually exaggerated.
Europe is easy to cycle. Much of the Western Europe has campsites and affordable lodgings. Most of the routes are easy to pedal (although the road can often go upwards).
So let’s make it happen!
I’m happy to ride on most roads that will allow cyclists but there are now dedicated maps for cycling for Europe and the USA. In the USA I used for much of the route produced by the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). I have just used B roads in Europe. I am not enthusiastic about cycle paths: they are slow and meandering. However in countries such as The Netherlands or Belgium you will be forced to use them.
On most occasions if I know where I’m going I plot the distances using an online mapping page such as Google Maps. I like to know the distances and total elevation that I will be climbing. Google Maps allows cyclists if they use the PC based web site to plot the elevation but there are other providers e.g Plot A Route.
It is important to:
1. Distance – work out what the day looks like in terms of distance.
2. Climbing – what is the elevation profile? You will be slow or fast depending on the terrain. You might feel comfortable on the bike whatever the challenge but putting up a tent up in darkness is not easy. It is best to know what time you will reach your destination.
3. Temperatures – altitude readings will give you a clue as to the temperatures you face. If you’re camping then you can go from 25° to 3°C overnight in the space of a few days depending on the altitude. This will help you to carry the right clothes for sleeping in as well as identify the need for gloves. (Being too cold is worse than too hot in my experience).
4. Pin point exactly where you are going – Google can help you find accommodation and you may also have a map or guidebook to tell you. If it is in a city then have a close look to ensure you can get there directly. Dealing with ‘one way systems’ and pedestrian precincts is often best researched.
5. Ferries – you may need to use a ferry on your route. Finding where they sail from and their time of sailing is critical.
6. Route Planning – often there are options. I have often abandoned the guidebook or map. Cartographers are very cautious and cycle paths can send you on endless diversions. Also you may be happy to climb a steep hill that the map suggests that you should make a detour to avoid. I remember following one ACA map that took me north when I was generally heading south – this was because it was taking in historical locations. Study the night before.
7. Rest Over Days – if you are having days off the bike then you are best to stop somewhere that is interesting, has lodging options, has good shops, restaurants, wi-fi solutions and possibly a bike shop for maintenance. (I like a beer and I once declared to my Kentucky campsite Receptionist that this was my first priority after pitching my tent. ‘Not here’ she explained: I was camping in a ‘dry’ county).
If you cycle through a big country, like the USA, with considerable distances between settlements then you need to work out locations to buy food – whether at a restaurant or a supermarket. Additionally where you can replenish your water. In Europe then ordinarily due to the density of the settlements you should have few problems: providing you remember to plan to get water and shop when the opportunity presents itself. Never pass up an opportunity, ‘Sod’s Law’ will determine that you won’t find another shop or restaurant again during the day if you pass one by.
Where do I do my research?
1. World Wide Web – obviously the internet. European travel now offers the opportunity to use your mobile phone data allowance without additional cost if you are British. However I have spent an embarrassing amount of time in McDonalds using their wi-fi all around the world! Buying a SIM to insert in your phone is a common solution; they seem to be very good value for money.
2. Blogs are invaluable. You will find that someone has already ridden a route, ridden an exact road, climbed that mountain, found a campsite, experienced the heat etc. The longer the trip then the better these are. I even met one blogger I knew. He was, coincidentally, passing by in Kansas going the other way! Google search throws things up but by far the recognised Oracle is www.crazyguyonabike.com
3. Accommodation – despite this talk of intense research then I leave a number of things unresolved until I am out on the road. An example is lodgings. At this point I may book ahead using www.Booking.com and check out the rating of the lodging by, say, www.tripadviser.com. There are lots of sites and Apps for identifying campsites and hostels.
Not everyone wants to camp! I started camping when I was away on long trips: I couldn’t afford seven weeks in a hotel! I got to love it. However, for me it is a warm weather activity and it is no fun in the cold. I read about hardy souls unwrapping their bivouacs whilst repelling polar bears… not for Tony. I’ve listed some considerations that should help:
1. Weather Considerations
The temperature is important when camping (obviously). If you arrive at a campsite at, say, 5pm then you have four or five hours before sleep. If its cold then you could be hanging about, cooking, drying washing, bike maintenance, meeting other campers or writing up a blog outside – it is no fun. Also as we are talking conditions that are more commonly found in winter then you have less daylight.
2. Types Of Campsite
A. Holiday Parks – you will find swimming pools, restaurants, table tennis etc. Inevitably you get children roaming until all hours and often a late night culture as the parents drink outside their caravans or tents (copiously if you’re talking Holland!). I like a night’s sleep. I try and avoid such parks. This isn’t always possible. I am attracted to a campsite that is not overly children friendly and with fewer facilities.
B. Basic – in Europe then campsites can be basic but all have ablutions and sheltered pitches. Seldom will you find benches or tables. North America often has benches for laying out your food or equipment. The majority of campers will either be in caravans or Recreational Vehicles (RV’s) – see below.
Campsites are more social than a hotel (if it is a brief stay). You will find other like minded campers to talk to. Hotels are all very well but once you disappear into your room and shut the door then you are very much by yourself (if you are a solo traveller). When I have travelled alone for several weeks then a conversation is quite often as refreshing as a drink! In addition, more than once, a stranger has wandered up holding a cold beer deducing that I wasn’t carrying a fridge on the bike!
4. Site Location
I would recommend that you establish the exact location of the campsite on the internet before you get to the location. In failing night, and tired, it can be a quite a trial trying to find some site behind tall walls down a side street in a big town.
On many sites that accommodate caravans, RV’s or other vehicles you will find that the area for tents is designated but I would suggest you consider:
A. Pitch On Grass – If it rains during the night then where you are pitched might turn to mud and get you and your equipment wet and dirty. A dry flat piece of dirt seems acceptable until it rains! Driving tent pegs into hard dirt is difficult. Driving them into grass is a lot easier and cleaner.
B. Pitch on the flat – Sleeping on a slope is not comfortable. Also rain runs downhill!
C. Pitch close to your laundry – I often pitch near to a bush or tree so that I can hang my washing off it! Proximity to the hanging location means that you won’t cycle off without that jersey!
D. Pitch next to a wall/fence etc. – when you pitch then other campers may arrive after you. You can return to your tent to find yourself next to a family with several children playing ball games and listening to loud music. As a consequence I usually pitch on the edge of something and near to a hedge, wall or fence. After pitching I then leave the site for whatever reason. When I return at least I know one side of me won’t have changed from when I pitched.
E. Furniture – North American campsites usually offer some sort of table or bench to prepare and cook your food or sit down at near your pitch. European campsites have a lot fewer. In Europe I carry a folding chair (see images below).
F. Bike Storage thoughts – this is easy if you pitch next to a fence, tree or wall where you can lock and store your bike in close proximity. I like to sleep close to my steed. If you have no way of leaning the bike up then I turn it upside down and it rests on the saddle (covered) and handlebars. I don’t fit my bike with a stand – they just seem, to me, like extra weight to haul up a mountain! I always lock up the bike overnight.
I never take a pitch with an electric hook up. I charge my electrics using the shaving socket in washrooms. I’ve never had a any worries about theft even when I have left items unattended for a couple of hours (however, I am confident that the campsite was not full of shady characters). You will find a lot of threads on forums discussing charging devices on cycle tours. It’s one of those forum topics that gets lots of people engaged. I just maximise any time I am near a socket during the day and night. (I also carry a power bar for emergencies). I have never had a problem and that includes a fairly ‘thirsty’ iPad to charge.
as I wrote in the INTRODUCTION then everyone has a system and this is the kit that supports my travelling:
A. Tent – I use a one-man freestanding tent. It is lightweight and as it is freestanding then it can be pitched on hard standing. When travelling in rainy weather then it may be more comfortable to pitch under, say, a pavilion roof. This is difficult with a tent that only stands up with tent pegs (being driven into softer ground).
I don’t carry a mallet for tent pegs, when pitching on softer ground. If I cannot drive them in then I find another camper, who has probably motored there, who will lend you one. I love and use a Big Agnes Jack Rabbit SL1. This is a quality US brand that packs small, is light and is waterproof. I have used it for several tours and it is still in excellent condition.
As it is a ‘one man’ tent then it is very small inside. This means that when you are in the tent you need to be very organised to know where everything is. Overnight I only leave the bike outside. That means I keep my panniers inside the tent. If it is raining then you have to pack inside the tent in a very cramped and busy space. This is preferable to getting all your clothing ands bedding wet in the rain! It is only by practise that you’ll work out a sequence of what to do first.
B. Sleeping Bag – I have an expensive down sleeping bag. You can go to sleep in relative heat but wake up in the early hours freezing. So you can start off sleeping on the sleeping bag or with it unzipped but then jump in at 4am! I always use a liner – you can wash it on your travels and protect your sleeping bag. There is nothing worse than being cold, don’t skimp. The more money you spend on a sleeping bag then the smaller it will pack. I use a Mountain Equipment Aero 300 and I also have an inflatable camping pillow.
C. Inflatable Airbed – you cannot sleep on the groundsheet alone, it is too hard. I have an airbed. This ensures a comfortable base. An expensive one is again very lightweight and small when deflated. I use a Nemo Astro Air Lite 20R.
D. Plastic Bags – I travel with endless bags to put wet equipment into. You can wake up to rain or heavy dew. When the weather picks up later in the day then this equipment will dry quickly but you need to be able to travel without it soaking your clothes and electronics – carry bin liners and plastic carrier bags! I know this type of packing is not ecologically sound but I use the same one for several weeks and tours.
E. Chair – In Europe (only) I carry a Helinox foldable chair. This is lightweight and makes a very comfortable seat. This may be seen by many as an indulgence. Benches and tables are few and far between on European sites. Sitting on your backside on the ground or even on the airbed is not comfortable. Also from a seated position you can cook more easily.
F. Lights – I use my bike light inside the tent as well as a head torch. The tent is a very cramped area with lots of clothing and small items. You need lighting to find and organise all this stuff. (Yes, I have a torch on my smart phone but it is difficult to clamp to my head, to read with or carry out a search!)
A. Stove – I have a lightweight gas burner fitted to a gas cylinder. I use an MSR Superfly which works with Coleman (screw) canisters. I have little difficulty in buying cylinders in either Europe or the USA. In the USA, where camping stores are few and far between, then you will find most supermarkets have solutions for fishermen (which will do for you). In Europe most large supermarkets carry cylinders. Beware that not all brands are compatible with your gas burner – check out what is available before going. There are lots of options and this is mine. Where you are flying to a destination then you cannot pack gas canisters. One of my first jobs whenever I get to my destination is to buy gas before I set off on my bike.
B. Utensils – I carry a mess tin, a lightweight aluminium kettle, plastic cereal bowl, plastic plate, cutlery including a knife (that is sharp enough to cut vegetables and meat), a spatula, a plastic mug, a washing up scrubber and a small bottle of washing up liquid. It has to be said that I am more of a ‘heat things up’ cook rather than very creative and hence the limited kitchen.
C. Plastic Washing Up Bowl, What? Yes, I find this invaluable to:
- To carry washing up to the shower block and then later to wash up in.
- To wash my laundry in – not many campsite basins/sinks have plugs to keep the water in the basin.
- In hot weather to let drinks cool in standing cold water.
- I have other uses but a small lightweight bowl is one of the first things I pack!
In my system then I always ride in washed/clean kit!
A. Multiple sets of clothes – I carry three sets of shorts, socks and jerseys. Within a three day cycle I can be sure to get the opportunity to wash and dry any items. So every night I always wash out my cycling kit despite having reserves. In a hot climate drying is usually very quick with polyester and lycra.
B. Washing Kit – I carry three plastic coat hangers, pegs and a bit of string to create a washing line. I often peg some things to the tent but ordinarily items need to be hung rather than draped next to a tent wall, hence locating the tent next to a tree. I take small bottles of the concentrated liquid that you put into your washing machines at home. It is very concentrated and you need virtually nothing to wash out a top, shorts and socks.
C. Proper washes! – I do this on days off or when I might want to wash, in addition, a towel, sleeping bag liner and casual wear. In this case I find a washing machine. (Also it washes my cycling kit properly!) These can be found on some campsites, at hotels or nearby launderettes. Here you can buy the washing powder and also get to tumble-dry your clothes. This is a typical ‘rest day’ job.
A. Disposing Of Waste – I put cooking packaging and food waste in bags. If you still keep it around the tent then do not leave it on the ground, hang it up. There will be animals in the night shuffling around the pitches who will be tempted to open the bags, and spread the debris around the site.
B. Lock the Tent – I carry a small padlock to lock the tabs on the zip to the tent entrance. It stops opportunists reaching into the tent and quickly stealing items when you are away from the tent. Obviously a determined thief can enter a tent with a knife but anything that is a deterrent will help. If on your travels you stay in a hostel then often your allocated locker will have a hasp and clasp for a padlock. The padlock doesn’t need to be more than lightweight.
C. Time Is Tight – get sorted as soon as you get to your pitch. Light will fall and inflating airbeds, putting up tents, cooking food etc can be a real challenge in the dark. As soon as I get to the pitch then in this sequence I use:
1. Erect the tent
2. Pull together my laundry
3. Shower and wash laundry
4. Hang up laundry
5. Cook food
6. Wash up
7. Repack the above and get tomorrow’s clothes sorted
1. Fit For Purpose
I ride a ‘touring’ bike. This means that it has a steel frame, sturdy wheels, three chain wheels (27 gears), a fitted rack to hang luggage off and has a ‘set up’ and frame geometry that is about comfort and efficiency rather than speed. My bicycle started as an ‘off the peg’ UK Ridgeback World. An ‘entry level’ tourer. Over the years I have adapted it so that only the frame remains original. I elaborate on the adaptations below. However, I have read about people adapting mountain bikes or sticking a type of rack to their seat post where they carry a minimum of luggage whilst attempting to cover the ground quickly. Frankly if you are out on the road for a few days, weeks or months then you need, in my opinion, a bike for the job.
Remember that the next day you need to be able to throw your leg across the cross bar (top tube) and do it all again. Most bicycle tourers that I have met on the road ride appropriate equipment. The following is what works for me. Should you be foolish enough to ask other tourers what they recommend then put aside a few hours so that they can tell you their solutions!
Bikes come in different size ranges. Your bike shop will measure you and recommend the correct size. The size will be about the frame (and it will be the same across bike types). It needs to be right!
Due to injury I have had a ‘bike fit’. This is a physiological evaluation and then using a bike jig and lasers a bike is configured to be the most suitable. A bike fit might not be about preventing an injury but to set you up to be as powerful as you can be. Most of the changes for me were about saddle height, location of the saddle laterally, height and width of the handle bars, distance over the front wheel of the handle bars and then the correct crank lengths. In fairness if you having a bike built for you then all this can be easily incorporated in your bike. Otherwise it might cost you quite a bit of money to have the bike adapted.
I suspect that more you ride and the older you are then this becomes relevant. I am benefitting from it.
3. Tyres & Wheels
The wheels (rims) need to be quite heavy duty to take the weight of a rider and luggage. In addition if you end up riding on surfaces other than tarmac you will put enormous stresses on the bike and the last thing you want are wheels that easily buckle or spokes that snap. My bike originally came with lightweight Audax wheels and it wasn’t long before they were discarded! Most new touring bike ‘packages’ come with sturdy wheels. Do not skimp or fret over weight. I lost hours every day on one trip repairing punctures or finding shops to straighten wheels.
I weigh about 165lbs or 75kg. In addition I carry about 30 kg of luggage and I use Mavic wheels. Another debate is the number of spokes. Ideally tourers use 36 spokes per wheel. I have always toured successfully with 32. I carry spare new spokes taped to the frame. A Surly (the touring bike world’s Mercedes) comes with them automatically secured to the frame.
I use a 28mm wide tyre. Again most tourers use tyres that are at least 32mm wide. I have never had a problem. I prefer a Continental Touring tyre. Schwalbe are other folks’ choice and are probably the most popular brand. I only ride on tarmac and some of their heavy duty qualities are not needed by me.
However, I recommend starting off with either new or nearly new tyres on any long tour. Old tyres might look acceptable but as soon as you get to challenging road surfaces then you may be tortured by punctures. Louisiana has terrible road surfaces. On a ride where I was close to New Orleans I had punctures. The first was in heavy rain and then the other was such that I lost faith in the tyre that I rode a few miles with a flat to a hotel where I could try and patch it up properly. Next day I bought two brand new tyres. Fortunately I was near excellent bike shops. Remember that luxury might not be available.
I carry two new spare inner tubes and tyre levers. I also carry patches and a puncture repair kit. Sometimes tubes are not worth repairing but I often repair them in case I run short and have no opportunity to replace with new. I don’t carry a spare tyre.
A joke that all your friends will make if you talk about a cycle tour is the condition of your butt after several days riding. So it goes without saying that this needs to be thought about. I had no problems for several years until I did consecutive days riding in hilly/mountainous regions in high heat. The combination of being sat pushing down heavily on the pedals and exceptional perspiration led to considerable pain through chaffing. The biggest problem after chaffing arrives is that the best cure is to climb off for a week and let it heal. That isn’t always possible or desirable.
There are lots of saddle solutions and a touring bike will come with one. However, tourers swear by the British brand ‘Brooks’ who make leather saddles. Frankly a horse saddle comes to mind when you sit on one because they are wide and like a bench. They are hard but after breaking in they fit your sit bones perfectly. After this you will swear by one as well! I ride a Brooks B17 model. I talk below about shorts; they come as a vital part of the comfort solution.
Racks are the metal frames that are bolted to the frame. You can have them on the front wheel forks and over the rear wheel. No serious tourer wears a backpack and in effect uses this solution for carrying luggage. A rack usually comes automatically on a touring bike.
Most touring bikes will come with mountings, to fix a front rack, either side of the front wheel forks. On here you can hang small panniers either side of the wheel. I don’t choose to do this. I manage to carry all my luggage on the rear rack.
Racks are fairly standard in size and they can accommodate all types of luggage with fixing brackets. If I was to change my rear rack for another then I would have one fitted that had a fixing for a rear light. Most do nowadays.
All touring bikes need fitting with front and rear mudguards. If you’re lucky then maybe it won’t rain, however, back in the real world, it will. You cannot contemplate cycling all day getting sodden.
Most tourers clip in and don’t use flat pedals (only). If you are hoping to get the best pedal stroke then being attached to the pedal is optimum. I use a Shimano SPD A530 pedal that has a ‘clip in’ solution on one side and is flat on the other side. There are quite a few models like this. A bike shop or website review will help you find the model.
The benefit is that in towns you might want to stop and start at traffic lights or at junctions. Not having to clip in is easier.. Also if you are intending to cycle briefly into a town from a campsite then you can wear regular shoes rather than wear cycling shoes.
I’m a fan of Ortleib. This is a German brand and whilst I think that they are well designed then they are certainly simple with few pockets or tricks. However, they are very robust and waterproof. I have used them for several tours and not only toured extensively in Europe but also across and down the USA. They are still in very good condition. The material is heavy duty with a plastic coating. I use two rear panniers and one larger ‘rack bag’ that I strap above the panniers. On the handlebars I fit a bag. In this bag I put items that I may need during the day e.g. sun tan cream, money, phone, spare inner tubes and my tools. The top of my bag has a transparent plastic folder that you can put your map into it. Frankly, this is essential otherwise you’ll spend the whole ride stopping and digging out the map to only do this a short time later.
A. Bell – I would recommend fitting one. Not only can you greet fellow cyclists but more seriously if you are on a cycle path and are approaching slower cyclists or pedestrians from behind then it can help warn and move them.
(I once cycled with a pal in rural Scotland where loose sheep roamed. He thought it was hilarious to cycle behind me ringing his bell sending frantic sheep scurrying in front of me. I bought one for our next trip!)
B. Inflator/Pump – the best way to improve your speed is ride with tyres at the correct pressure. It is very inefficient to ride with flat tyres. I carry a pump that has a gauge on it (Topeak Mini Morph). It straps to the frame and I check my tyres to ensures that I have the appropriate pressure. This can be found on the tyre wall. I have heard that carrying a gas cylinder and adaptor is increasingly popular as a quick way to inflate tyres after a puncture. Frankly on a long cycle tour then I have the extra 5 minutes to blow up a tyre.
C. Lights – I never plan to ride after dark. However, it can be an emergency solution and if you have to experience thegreatest terror known to cyclists… a tunnel, then they are essential. They are not heavy and I carry a front and back light. I use a brand call Moon and I do recommend ensuring that you have the maximum lumens illumination available. The front (white) light is also useful for around the campsite or if walking down unlit roads.
D. Compass – some bells incorporate a compass and certainly a GPS device will. Usually from a map or knowing that you are heading, say, west then you may feel that you don’t need one. However try exiting a town with lots of streets, many that might be sending you in the wrong direction due to ‘One Way’ systems. It is really useful to know that you can avoid stopping and starting and just keep heading in the direction where you know the town’s exit road is.
10. Bike Maintenance
If there is a forum topic that makes my heart plummet then it is the question of “what is the cheapest bike anyone has ever ridden?” or the wag who let’s everyone know that he adapted a supermarket trolley with pram wheels and tyres and turned it into a recumbent and then ascended the Pyrenees in a record time. Beware these fools as they are a breed apart who like the opportunity to get oil beneath their finger nails and save money fixing stuff. We all seek value for money but there are limits.
You can be cycling in very isolated and exposed countryside for hours in the cold or in blisteringly hot and/or rainy weather. Mechanical problems can occur at that time. To discover that you’ve skimped on professional bike maintenance, serviceable tyres, failed to repair obvious problems before you set off or not learned how to change a punctured tyre indicates that you are a very ill prepared.
If I have gears ‘slipping’ on the bike, know the chain and tyres to be very old, are running with brake blocks running low, have a mudguard catching on a tyre etc. then I get it fixed before setting off.
Even for those who feel that they can adjust or replace such issues en route then you’ll still lose time on tour and need to carry tools that are heavy and you may only need once.
Lecture over. Set off with your bike in perfect working order.
A. I Am Not A Bike Mechanic!
In fact most other cycle tourers I met weren’t either but they set off with a bike in working order. Don’t worry if you are not!
What I did regularly on tour was check the tyre pressures and oil the chain. I also knew how to change a tyre or replace a punctured inner tube. Again, if you set off with new or nearly new tyres then they are usually tough enough to resist punctures. I can promise that as soon as they are worn then they will repeatedly fail.
If you are living with a bike for several weeks and several hours a day then you’ll start to note where it has weaknesses and get quite astute at odd taps and adjustments. When cycling across the USA one key task on a day off in Kansas was to get the bike serviced – I am always thinking that, like your car, get it serviced before it fails. At this point the bike shop mechanic will probably recommend sorting other problems they identify.
B. Tools Carried
- I always dismantle the bike prior to packing (for flights) with tools that I will be using to re-assemble the bike with at the flight destination.
- Allen keys – make sure the selection fit all the bolts on the bike needing an Allen Key. This tool will have a Phillips Head and flat head screwdriver
- Seldom on a multi tool (with several Allen Keys) is the large Allen Key that separately fits the pedals – you will need to remove the pedals on flying home.
- Tyre levers
- Oil for the chain’s lubrication – I do this after riding in rain or every other day.
- Puncture repair kit
- Light Weight Spanners – just a couple of small ones to fit the bolts on the mudguards
- 2 x inner tubes
- Rags to clean bike with on rest days.
- Zip ties – I use re-usable ones. They have endless uses such as locking luggage onto the bike for security, tying your shopping onto the rack securely, providing a temporary solution for broken fittings etc. There are other campsite applications as well.
- Surgical gloves to wear when cleaning the bike or changing a tyre – keeps you clean.
If you go abroad and are not completing a round tour then you will need to dismantle the bike sufficiently for airlines to ship at your final destination. Back in the day you used to be able to wheel your steed up to Check-In and if you’d let down the tyres, turned around the handlebars and taken off the pedals you were good to go.
Such flexibility wasn’t all good. I had one bike eventually written off by British Airways and I will always treasure watching Baggage Handling at Nîmes airport lob my bike at a considerable height onto a trolley with other suitcases and buckle a wheel.
Nowadays they require you to put the bag into a box or bike bag. A bike bag is all very well if you can store the bag at your point of arrival and easily collect it on your return. However most tours start in one place and finish in another. My appraoch to packing with this type of route is:
A. Box – whether at home in Yorkshire or at my finishing point (San Francisco, Copenhagen, Bergerac, Faro, Orlando, Bordeaux etc.) I find a bike shop and ask for a bike box. They receive new bikes in boxes that they eventually have pay to dispose of. They are happy for you to have one for free. Asking for one is never a problem. Being selective over the ‘ free’ box may be difficult but you really want the largest box they have. Inserting the bike, and other items such as helmet and maybe some panniers, means that space is tight. It can be a logistical challenge getting a large empty box to the airport, hotel or hostel to pack the bike!
B. Packaging Materials – the bike shop will probably have some surplus bubble wrap and extra pieces of cardboard. You may need to buy a roll of brown parcel tape to secure it all. If you are packing the bike at home then during the year you will have surplus packing from other parcels – make sure you retain the stuff!
C. How To Pack
There are several videos on YouTube showing you how to do this. They may be worth a look.However, some thoughts below:
- As mentioned above then dismantle the bike, at home. using Tools that you will carry on your trip. On this basis then in an airport or wherever you will be carrying the correct tools.
- I undo the Handle bars and head set by taking them out of the frame. (This means that the bars can be easily fitted around the frame and reduce the height of the bike). The bars need wrapping in something to stop them scratching the paint on the bike frame. Also the bottom of the head set will be greasy. (Note that the bars will still be attached to the bike frame by the gear and brake cables).
- Saddle – I remove this to reduce the height of the bike in the box. I usually put the saddle and stem in a bag elsewhere in the box. Depending on the size of your box then you may be able to simply lower the saddle.
- Pedals – I take these off and again put them in a bag in the box. This reduces the width of the bike in the box.
- Back Wheel – the bike when it is packed at the factory i.e. new, is inserted into the box with the back wheel in place. This ensures that the rear mech is better protected during transit by being held firmly in situ. (Again for you to insert the bike into the box successfully like this requires you to have a larger bike box).
- Wheels – apparently you should deflate your tyres. I do but I’ve read it makes no difference as they will not explode in the hold. I will probably take the shaft and quick release mechanism from out of the centre of the wheel. This reduces the width of the wheel and makes them more easy to insert in the box. Again remember where you put these components and again put them in a bag as they will be greasy. I often put an additional piece of cardboard between the wheel and the wall of the box as regrettably your box may be thrown around.
- Marking The Box – I’m not sure if this is of any use but I note the countries who will handle the bike and put ‘Fragile – Handle with Care Please’ in the native language. (I am suspicious that this may induce them to throw the box higher onto the other luggage!)
- Also In The Box – If you are flying then I use my panniers as luggage but the bike box is a good place to put bulky items like your helmet and heavier metal items that airlines don’t like within the cabin e.g. pedals.
- Disposing Of The Box – this needs some thinking through. In airports then there is usually an opportunity to put it beside a bin and hotels have bin areas behind the building. I once nearly came to blow with a ‘jobsworth’ at Manchester Airport who cited terrorism concerns about my discarding the box inside the building! Anyway there are solutions.
There are some key considerations – comfortable, easily washable, durable, uncreasable, waterproof, keeps you warm, keep you cool etc. If a few items below seem extraneous then I would add that I have spent a lot time selecting the lightest solution e.g. gloves. I’m aware that carrying around something that you may not use is a very bad idea. Women may have some additions and subtractions but I think most of this works for both sexes. For reference then look at ‘CAMPING/Laundry‘ above to compliment the following. Here’s a list that works for me:
A. Cycling Jerseys and Shorts – all the cycling jerseys and tops are lycra/polyester. This means that the items will wash easily and drip dry quickly (overnight) without needing any ironing. I take three pairs of each. This means that if I cannot wash or the weather is too wet for drying outside the tent that I have a couple of days to sort this out. In addition if you are going away for a few weeks then wearing the same piece of kit everyday will shorten their lifespan. I do tend to take at least two ‘cycling’ jerseys as I like the convenience of the rear pockets. I used to use cheap shorts with inadequate padding. This was a terrible mistake! On a long trip perspiration can lead to chaffing and the only ‘cure’ was to climb off my bike for a few days. I didn’t have this opportunity and it was thereafter a painful ride. If you are to spend serious money on clothing then it should be on your butt!
B. Cycling Jacket – I always carry one ‘hi viz’ cycling rain jacket. You may be cycling in hot weather and think you won’t wear it but you will experience rain or be out and about on a night. If it is raining then your visibility is vital to cars ploughing along with windscreen wipers on. High viz is vital.
C. Trousers – I carry one pair that I can wear on aeroplanes or in hotels. You will spend the day in your cycling shorts and around the camp site, hostel etc you’ll wear other shorts. I have some lightweight trousers that fold up tightly. I’ve seen photos where cyclists have experienced cold morning weather in the mountains and worn them. (Remember that a lot of things about cycle touring are about ‘Plan B’).
D. Shirts – I carry a couple of polyester T shirts that I can wash easily (as well as the cycling jerseys)
E. Casual Shorts – when not in cycling kit then I spend most of my time in these.
F. Swimming Trunks – not only are these useful for swimming but I like them for wearing around the camp site
G. Socks, Long Sleeve top & Underwear – I take three pairs of cycling socks using the same washing ‘logic’ as for the jersey and shorts. I use cycling socks for cycling and off the bike and take a black pair! I often sleep in a thermal long sleeve top. You can get cold every night in the tent and this solution works well for me. I have to add that once when cycling in Denmark in August it was cold and I cycled in this top (with a jacket!) Everyone will have a view on their underwear. I take a couple of pairs of pants.
H. Gloves, Arm Warmers and Vest – I obviously have cycling mitts but I also consider taking other full finger variants in case I am climbing at altitude or the temperature plummets. It can be hell on a campsite in low temperatures where your fingers freeze or descending in the high mountains. I take very lightweight full finger solutions. As for arm warmers then you can find that early mornings are chilly but not chilly enough to wear a jacket. These are great to set off in. Similarly I carry a running vets (polyester) to wear beneath a jersey if it is cold. Frankly, this is all about layers that you can peel off as the location or weather changes.
I. Shoes – I take three solutions. The first is proper cycling shoes with cleats, second, a pair of very lightweight trainers for off the bike and then some flip lops for wandering around the campsite.
J. Buff – I carry a buff scarf that I can wear around my neck or I can wrap around my head to give insulation – not least for at night in the tent – your head can get very cold outside of the sleeping bag.
K. Hat – I take a lightweight baseball cap. I wear this beneath my helmet when it is raining as the brim keeps the rain off my glasses.
L. Head Sweatband – I wear this all the time to keep the perspiration from running down my face.
M. Fleece Top – I take a Craghopper zip up jersey. It is vital to have selection of clothes that you could wear to keep warm. These tops are informal, casual and usually don’t crease. Again this is lightweight and not a rugged variant that you use in winter for Fell walking!
When on the bike you should be clearly visible. Many of today’s cycling clothes are black. This is très chic but doesn’t take into consideration that gentlemen approaching 80 years old are propelling massive RV’s at 70mph across empty roads in Nevada. They are barely paying attention and certainly not looking for a bicycle in overcast conditions. You are a long time dead…. BE SEEN IN SOMETHING BRIGHTLY COLOURED
Amongst the many joys of cycle touring is being able to eat anything without it having any weight gain implications! When I cycled across the USA I lost 2 stones (13 kg) in 9 weeks. In fact you have to be careful to not lose muscle let alone fat. Also you need to eat thoughtfully, if you plan on cycling great distances on consecutive days. I did originally start cycling for week long holidays and eating very nicely in hotels. It was delicious but frankly it didn’t help the cycling.
Some readers will take their food and cooking very seriously. This means that taking time to prepare food and cook it is put aside. Not really for me. So maybe none of this advice is for you (!) but every cyclist is usually ravenous and is interested in food. Read on:
1. Water – nothing is more important. Always have water on the bike (even if your are tempted to jettison it to lighten your load). Never cycle past a filling opportunity if you are low. Simple as that.
2. Fuel – treat your daily intake as such. Pizzas, cakes, ice cream can all be part of your consumption but it will not provide the energy over a a long day to get you to your destination in good condition. You need a base of carbohydrate. I would also add that your daily intake of protein, fibre, vitamins etc needs to be in place as well. I tend to have pasta most nights and, as I write below, then this soon migrates from pleasure to a chore but it is like bike maintenance – simply essential.
3. Variety – in fairness you can tolerate a dull diet for a week but by, say, week six you need to have the same nutritional intake but may want something new. I would always boil up a portion of pasta or cous cous with most meals. Other carbohydrates are less easy to make quickly on a camp stove such as rice. Bread is not a useful base for me. Added to the pasta or the cous cous are the ingredients to make it interesting.
I can boil up a sauce from a packet, cut up some vegetables and fry them in olive oil, add some ‘cold cooked’ protein I might have bought earlier on the road. Illustrations are chicken or prawns, and put it all together. In fact you will start going into supermarkets looking for a lot of ingredients that you can carry, are quick to prepare, can be prepared simply and are tasty. The significant challenge in North America then the large distances do not facilitate a lot of interesting groceries.
4. Shopping – Happiness is a large supermarket with a big selection. Often life is not that accommodating. I shop daily and wherever. I think about what I will eat tonight assuming that this will be the only useful store I pass today. On occasion better options turn up later in the day and I either hold over my food until another day or dispose of that piece of cooked salmon!
5. Cooking – I have a gas stove and a mess tin and kettle. Between them I cook in these utensils. I am not a particularly innovative or talented cook and I know some of you will probably want to find the time to produce something more interesting. I read about folks grilling steaks on open fires or producing baked potatoes by burying them in types of forest ovens. Go for it!
6. Eat On The Road – the above paragraphs refer to camp site cooking. However during the day I will probably stop and have a hot meal. Forgive me but I am not a snob and if a McDonalds come into sight with low prices, wi-fi, good work surfaces, toilets, sockets to allow me to charge devices, food available in minutes and air con then I can think of fewer more appropriate stops. This way I know that I have achieved a very balanced meal. Also they are usually on the road in or out of every town and conveniently located. I am always wanting to press on and and this quick stop works well.
7. Alcohol – my enthusiasm stretches mainly to a beer after a long hot ride. If you are staying in a hostel or hotel then there will be plenty of opportunities around. The issue comes with camping and finding it cold and not wanting to lug the weight of it around. In the USA then it is found in petrol/gas stations (as well as supermarkets). When closing in on my evening campsite then finding a nearby gas station is on my mind. In Europe then you may find it at Reception or a nearby supermarket. Wine is easier to carry providing it is less than a bottle (and I would never encourage anyone to carry glass). However it has to be red rather than white unless you like it tepid!
I have ridden after a ‘skinful’ and it isn’t to be encouraged not least because you feel dreadful and with additional challenges of dehydration then it is a foolish thing to do.
8. Emergency meal – I always carry on the bike water and one meal that I can guarantee to make. So I have dried pasta and maybe a sauce in a powder or sachet form. If the end of the day is looking a challenge in terms of time or finding a camp site then at least you know you can re-fuel.
Also you will find that this provision provides comfort to your loved ones who envisage you collapsing in a desert with no supplies.
9. Energy drinks and gels – if it is cold then I seldom bother with either of them. If it is hot then I like to replace minerals and salts during the day and out of two bidons that I normally carry then one will have a supplement in it. These supplements usually have a glucose in them which gives an energy boost. It works for me but it is more to carry in terms of powders etc. I do have a couple of gels in the handle bar bag. If I get into a depleted state then they can be a ‘pick me up’ but they are an emergency fix rather than anything regular.
Again, I would stress that I am not in a performance situation merely want to stay in a fit state to cycle day after day in often mountainous
and or hot places.
HEALTH, TOILETRIES & HYGENE
The list below is for a man without a lot of hair! I suppose my main idea is to promote cleanliness. If you turn up at a camp site or hotel/ hostel reception smelling like a polecat and looking like you’ve been dragged through a mud bath then you may be turned away. I recollect a good friend losing the coin toss about who went into Reception to sort out a room for the night. He strolled into the Florence hotel to enquire about a room and in the conversation asked ‘how much?’ to which the response was ‘to you, too much”! Clearly we were not welcome. It does help to think about how you look. In addition then if you get some cuts or grazes you might have problems.
A. Cleanliness – I think it vital to keep clean. You’ll spend most of the day hot and grubby. At the end of the day you need to clean up. I hate the thought of entering my sleeping bag grubby and or having to wear soiled clothing day after day. I carry a shower solution which is a ‘bladder’ bag that folds up to be very small but takes a rose fitting – this can be hung from a tree and you can shower under it. I seldom have to use it but it is useful as and when. This is from a park in Missouri, where I got some hot water from the bathroom of a petrol/gas station washroom nearby:
B. Toiletries – I carry the usual items but usually carry the smallest I can buy. Stores have ‘travel’ size items – I think these sizes were made as a result of Budget airlines restricting the luggage you could carry. You don’t need a large tube of toothpaste. after all the trip is probably only for a few weeks. I also carry some moist wipes – these can be used for spills in the tent, oil removal after bike repairs as well as removing sun tan cream from your eyes. I put these toiletries in a small bag, which, in principle is meant to stop me leaving them in various camp site washrooms! I have donated many a bar of soap and its box to camp sites around the world.
C. Shaving – As a man then I know it seems so ‘Twentieth Century’ to talk about a razor and not automatically growing a beard but I thought I would put it out there. It is possible to be male and not look like a wild eyed vagrant in lycra on the road or is that the charm?
D. Towel – you can get travel towels. These are lightweight and dry quickly. No one wants to carry something bulky. I ensure that whenever I visit a launderette that this is included in the wash.
E. Toilet roll – most campsites have loo roll in the WC’s but some don’t. Don’t ever get caught short! Again I don’t carry a full roll but enough to solve a problem.
F. Insect Bites – in most hot climates you will probably come across biting insects at some point. The reality is that you will not know they are present until you have been bitten! Mostly they become manifest as dusk occurs and so daylight is less of a problem. I carry a mosquito repellant spray that I apply to my legs, arms and neck. I also keep my tent zipped up at all times just to ensure that I have no visitors including those that simply want accommodation rather than blood. I did transport a slug (yes, I know it is a mollusc) from Holland to Northern Germany and even took it into the B&B overnight as it remained stuck to my pannier!
G. First Aid – some tourers will take medication and will have a regime for that. In addition I carry some indigestion tablets, a few pain killer tablets and some plasters. I’m usually likely to cycle through a town with a pharmacy should issues need to be solved. I wrap all this stuff in plastic to keep it dry.
ELECTRONICS, MONEY MANAGEMENT & SAFETY
Today everyone has their preferred devices and the detail below just illustrate the uses and some of the challenges that I plan for. I like to be in touch. I want to know the news ‘at home’, football results, post my blog, post videos on Facebook, keep in touch with the family on WhatsApp, book accommodation, get money via Apps and send emails to various folk on a long trip.
(This is the latest solution. Back in the day I was known to carry a Short Wave radio to get BBC World Service when in France!)
A. Mobile/Cell Phones – we all carry one, wherever we are. I use an iPhone. As a Brit then I can use my phone in Europe without any additional roaming charges. With 4G coverage then not only is it useful for calling but it is a help when wi-fi is not available. I buy a local SIM card when outside of Europe. I ask the vendor to insert it into the phone to confirm it works. The SIM comes with a new phone number and varying amounts of data depending on what you pay. I bought a 3G card for around £15 recently in South Africa – it’s cheaper then asking your regular domestic provider giving you a deal.
I use my phone as a camera. The quality of images is fabulous. I know some readers are photographic buffs and will want better equipment but this probably means that you are into carrying lens, tripods etc and on top of additional weight you also have security and damage challenges. Good luck!
When stopping by the roadside and consulting a map on the internet then I ‘screen print’ a lot of times. These are probably only needed for one night and soon discarded. If I keep a copy then I may not need to worry about phone signals or wi-fi problems later on when I want to consult it.
I carry my phone in a case but also a plastic bag. You’re not human if you haven’t damaged a phone by getting it wet and I keep the device in a ‘sandwich bag’.
B. iPad – I write a blog and also like to do my research with a bigger screen. My iPad can only access the internet by wi-fi. (There is ‘Personnel Hotspot’ off my iPhone at a push). I also keep films/movies on to watch inside the tent. Again map ‘screen prints’ are a big help. I also transfer images, I’ve taken off my iPhone, onto my iPad as a back up.
(On one trip through Germany during the Football/Soccer World Cup I downloaded an App for the national TV broadcaster and watched a match. It was all free and fortunately I was near enough to the camp site router to get a good wi-fi signal in my tent).
I take a soft zip up case to protect the device and then put that in a plastic envelope. I always worry about getting these things wet!
C. Garmin Sat Nav – I use a Garmin 830. For navigation I load it with maps and it’s pretty fabulous. I also use paper maps but the Garmin can offer detours if there are obstacles ahead. If you are looking for street addresses then the Garmin can take you to the door as well as help you find the nearest fast food outlet.
I’m interested in the distance covered, altitude climbed, current elevation, average speed, compass direction, distance to go and all the other pieces of information. I cannot imagine riding without all this data.
The Garmin 830 uploads my rides onto the Garmin Connect website via an App on my iPhone. The data also uploads onto Strava. I like the historic information being stored but I’m not overly competitive and don’t use this information for comparison purposes.
D. Power Bar – I carry a fully charged back up all the time. You can get various capacities. Mine will recharge my phone and Garmin. I have stayed on several sites where the facility to charge was not available and this was a solution. I’m always concerned to ensure that I set off in the morning with a fully charged IPhone and Garmin.
1. Cables – Having two Apple devices means that I have a charging cable that works for both but given the low weight and the inconvenience of losing one then I carry a couple. I have a different cables to charge the Garmin and Power Bar. I well remember cycling round Memphis to get a replacement cable for the Garmin – always remember to take them out of the wall after charging!
2. Socket Adaptor – I carry a couple of adaptors including one adaptor than can take four USB plugs. Clearly if you insert such an adaptor into one socket then you will reduce the charge to each device (but sometimes you have the time or need to get a charge into several devices). I have also ended up buying adaptors on the road. This is because e.g. in Switzerland the socket was such a shape that it didn’t take my adaptor! Keep flexible on this, you will always have challenges.
3. Headphones – I carried my Apple headphones with me. I use them for listening to entertainment in the tent and I also listen to music as I ride along. However, I have found, lately, bluetooth headphones are even better as they don’t require attaching to the device. Yes, I will admit that some readers will criticise me for not paying full attention to traffic – to which I have no defence. If you cycle for several weeks by yourself then it can lead to very long days – the relief of some AC/DC or a podcast can make life sweeter.
4. Watch – I wear a Swatch. They are well made, reliable and quite rugged. This brand is mainly plastic externally and so is not damaged by water or sun tan lotion. On this latter point then when you do stop en route and take off your watch and deposit it on a garden wall to apply Factor 25 don’t cycle off without it. I know a man who did…
2. MONEY MANAGEMENT
People organise their finances everyday away from their cycling touring. I have no revelations. There is nothing particularly new in the following but it is worth recording how I deal with cash and bills over a long time away. The plan is to ensure you always have money about you but you are never at risk of theft.
A. Cash – I know som tourers use cards to pay for everything. It seems common in North America. I tend to carry a certain amount of cash for the convenience e.g. paying for a ferry, some camp sites, buying fruit off a road side stall etc. I have some in a wallet but I carry more stashed in a plastic bag in the sole of my shoe!
Also if you travel in Europe then you may come across different currencies. In addition you may only be in that country for a day or two. Frankly having a little cash is the cheapest and easiest solution.
B. Debit Cards – I carry two, however you need to ensure that you have a decent balance in your current account whilst
you are away. In addition you need to tell your bank that you will be accessing your account from abroad. This isn’t onerous as their web site should facilitate you telling them of your absence:
you are away. In addition you need to tell your bank that you will be accessing your account from abroad. This isn’t onerous as their web site should facilitate you telling them of your absence:
I load the card prior to travelling and keep an eye on the prevailing exchange rate. If at the time of loading it is poor and likely to improve I put a lesser amount on it.
2. Debit Card – this is the one I use in the UK. Using it abroad brings with it charges. I keep it as a back up should all else fail for emergencies.
C. Credit Cards – I carry one that I may put items on such as hotels. This helps spread payments but if you are away a long time then you may need to bear in mind that you may have to pay it on the road and so have a link to their web site or App.
D. Loyalty Cards – it is worth considering some discount loyalty solutions. When in the USA I carried a current AARP card that gave me a discount of 10% on hotels. You need to be over 50 years old to have this but there may be others.
E. Apple Pay – it’s appropriate to mention that you can store cards on your wrist and pay this way. I’m new to an Apple Watch and paying in this way. Whether I take my watch on a bike tour or pay this way is something I’m thinking about. I still think I will carry the physical cards as well.
A question I get asked regularly is about safety. Non-tourers seem to think that you are immensely vulnerable to unwanted attention, theft, violence and exposure to terrible weather. I have had no issues in all the years that I have travelled. I feel a lot of lone female travellers start with some anxieties and in fairness there are different threats for them. Having cycled with a few then I think they would subscribe to some of the following:
A. Would You Feel A Stranger Is At Risk In Your Neighbourhood? – I think you would feel that they were safe from attack and that if they had any problems then you and several other folk would help them out. This is my experience but it doesn’t mean that I am not cautious all the time. I have knocked on doors on a few occasions because I was low on water. Of course there is bemusement but then you usually get water and more!
B. Plan and Aim Not To Need Help – if you can proceed to your daily destination and remain mobile, fed and watered on your travels then you shouldn’t need to ask anyone for help. This means that unless someone actually stops you then you should be fine.
However, I have only experienced kindness from strangers. Even when not needing help ladies stop to see if I need help with a puncture, cars pull along side and offer water, people follow you out of supermarkets with extra provisions etc. In dangerous weather I’ve been offered accommodation by complete but very concerned strangers. I was touched and delighted. However I am always self contained and never in trouble.
C. Lock Everything Up – it really is a bind to get to a shop, a restaurant or attraction during the day and have to haul out the lock and ensure valuables are in your possession even though you may be in the establishment for 5 minutes (and you are in the middle of nowhere). Do it! It is a good habit and thieves probably see you locking up the bike, which may suggest to them that there are easier pickings elsewhere. If you sit in a restaurant then keep your bike in your eye line.
At a camp site I always carry my phone, wallet and passport to the wash room with everything else!
D. Tell Someone Where You Are Every Day – if you are travelling alone then it is a good idea to tell someone at home where you are and where you are going. Not only will they know where you are (although they have no idea where it is!) they will know to expect a message from you the next day. I have the ‘Find Friends’ App on my iPhone. This means that providing your phone is switched on then others can see exactly where you are.
E. Safety In A Crowd – if you are cycling alone there there is potentially more safety in buddying up for the camp site or on the road. On certain routes you will probably meet other tourers. (Frankly I can sustain only a week of company and negotiating where we will stop to eat, sleep, shop etc. before I start to feel constricted but it does seem safer).
F. Does It Feel Safe? – if you are uncomfortable with a camp site, a bar or some creepy company watching you, as you eat a sandwich, by the road, then trust you instinct and move on. I have turned on my heels just thinking that this isn’t as comfortable as I would like it. It hasn’t happened very often.
If you are approached by a stranger, make eye contact with them. Never leave your drink unattended. Try to look confident. Ensure you understand the local customs and don’t contravene them to avoid offence.
G. Traffic – I am not ordinarily worrried about road traffic but it is the biggest risk out there. Make sure that you can be seen by wearing bright colours. Fit your bike with lights when the gloom demands it. Some riders fit flags and horizontal pieces of plastic strip to create a distance. Ride defensively – that is, at the side of the road but not in the gutter.
WEAR A HELMET. There is a debate amongst some cyclists that the very wearing of them encourages motorists to give you less clearance and respect. Also they say that it won’t save you from injury after being hit by a truck. I am just going to say that if you fall off your bike then your head will hit the tarmac/black top first. End of discussion.
Don’t get into conflict with other road users. In the USA there are some motorists (usually on a Harley Davidsons!) who have issues with bicyclists. They seem to resent our presence on the road. Frankly ‘keep your head down’ and keep pedalling. I have never had any physical intervention but some middle fingers and horns! (Indulge them because they were unloved as children and probably dropped on their heads).
Experience tells me that in built up areas the traffic cannot move as fast as it likes and is potentially less dangerous than wide open spaces where tourists are driving as fast as they can to get somewhere. They are not looking for a bicycle in the road. In other words be vigilant and disciplined when there are still few cars or RV’s.
I am comfortable around trucks. They are professional drivers and know their rigs. However they are big!
H. Research It: ‘Forewarned Is Forearmed’ – there are plenty of forums and if you are concerned about an area or country then ask others before you get there. However, be prepared to think about the responses – I would have never cycled within five miles of an African American judging by some of the warnings I got from people (white) when riding in the USA.
I. Dogs – yes I have had the ‘Full Nine Yards’ of doggie chases. Eastern Kentucky is difficult although the only physical contact occurred outside Clarksdale, MS when Fido barrelled into a pannier. They come in all shapes and sizes. Most are bored and you are a temporary diversion from an uneventful day and worth a 30 yard chase and lots of barking. I’ve carried pepper spray (that I never used) and a large stick to waft around but the best advice is keep moving and keep calm. A firm shout of ‘stop’ is quite effective… after all this is what their owners presumably shout at them most of the time.
In Europe the dogs still go ballistic but they are often behind fences and whilst the explosion of barking can be quite a shock then you will not face them. I think I will eventually write a book on dog psychological issues with cyclists – it is a mystery to us all.
Lastly, I am a man of a certain age and I don’t look like I have anything worth stealing. Also bicyclists are quite strange to most residents, they find it unfathomable as to why you are labouring up a mountain pass in intensive heat. They think that you must be poor or else you wouldn’t holiday like this!
Think things through.