Today I was elated to find out I got one of the last two spots on a three days, 350 kilometers cycling tour from Milan to Venice, organised by the company I work for. That completes my long distance cycling agenda for this summer, as I was already planning a 600 km tour from Luxembourg to Geneva.
There are three months left for training so I am not worried about physical fitness yet, but getting the right gear together is something I am already starting to consider.
Since I have already undertaken numerous one day trips, many of them in the beautiful mountains of Romania and two cycling tours that have taken me through four European countries, I judged this would be a great time to share my list of essentials to bring on a multi-day ride.
Continue reading below to find out more on how to get ready before the day of departure or click HERE to jump straight to my list of 10 essentials.
Before the tour
In our upcoming tour with my work colleagues we will be privileged to benefit from assistance should things go south, provided by an organizer of challenge events. Employing such a company would be your safest bet. Of course, it’s more expensive than organizing your own trip and if you ask me, it’s much more rewarding to take fate into your own hands. Furthermore, such organizers tend to offer hotel accommodation while you might prefer a closer to nature approach, like we did on my private tours.
When should you start preparing for a cycling tour?
For an expedition like this you should start preparing your gear at least one month in advance. This gives you enough time to remember that must have item you would have otherwise forgot or order those amazing saddle bags you’ve been ogling for some time.
It goes without question, one of the first things you should do once you decide to follow through with this adventure is to service the bike you are planning to ride. Having a one month buffer also allows for repairs, should any faults be discovered when servicing.
Fix or replace anything that needs to be and make sure you buy a pair of puncture resistant tires. Together with having the right tire pressure (specified on the side on the tire; check the essentials section below for more details on how to read the pressure), these should provide the highest protection against punctures.
What bike type should you use?
The good news is there are many types that can be used for a bike touring trip, and you probably own one of them.
Usually I’d say the type of bike should depend on the type of terrain and the duration of the trip, but really, it depends on your budget or on the bike you already have. Chances are, if you already own a bike, you won’t be inclined to buy a second one just for the tour, unless you are really passionate about cycling. Personally I have three bikes and I’d buy at least one more but I am perfectly aware not everyone is as addicted.
So are there bikes that are not as suitable for a cycling tour?
Actually, there are:
- Folding bikes – These might be useful for the city or daily commute but I would not recommend them for a tour. You might not have enough space for luggage and while there are expensive models out there that allow off-road riding, generally I’d not consider them sturdy enough for such an adventure
- City bikes – City bikes have gone a long way in recent years from the models of old, so they could actually be suitable for a cycling tour. Nevertheless the older models that are not fitted with gear mechanisms would be cumbersome as soon as you hit an incline. Trust me, I should know, since for my first tour I used one of those bikes. It was painful; don’t do it.
- (carbon) Road bikes – While you could fit as much luggage on these as on a folding bike, by attaching it to the frame, handlebars and saddle, these bikes are made for speed, not comfort. Also the thin tires make them uncomfortable over long distances.
- Fat bikes – Why? Why would you do this to yourself? Unless you are planning a winter trip in a snowy location or a desert adventure on sand, these bikes would be sluggish and heavier compared to your average touring bike, not to mention they are not the cheapest out there.
Which are the most recommended bikes? I hear you inquire. I am glad you asked:
- Touring bikes – The best choice would be to go with one of these bikes. They are specially designed with touring in mind so come already fitted with racks (some of them come fitted with front racks as well). Compared to MTBs they sport a host of features designed to make your ride smoother over long distances: they usually allow for an upright position, can have fenders so you don’t get dirty when it rains, and are stiff enough to handle very heavy panniers. As with everything out there, they can have different optimizations for asphalt or dirt roads so be sure to ask your bike salesman or mechanic about all these once you know more about the kind of trip you are undertaking.
- Mountain bikes – While not as suitable as touring bikes, these can be easily adapted for an extensive cycling trip. Most of them, unless they are made out of carbon, come pre-fitted with holes which allow attaching front and back racks. Remember to change the mud tires MTBs come fitted with to something more road oriented and you should have a faster, less energy consuming and quieter ride. To give yourself more options for a comfortable ride, you can always install one of those trekking handlebars which allow different hand positions, so you tire less. A decent one sells for around 20$. Besides all this, MTBs usually have a good spread of gears which should allow you a broad range of pedaling options, depending on the incline. With these small upgrades, you can have your mountain bike touring-ready with little effort.
Whichever bike you end up choosing, I’d recommend installing a back rack if it doesn’t come pre-fitted with one; it can easily accommodate 2 or 3 panniers. While it’s possible to attach a set of panniers to the front of the bike as well, pragmatically speaking, the less you pack, the less you have to carry up-hill.
If you’d like to travel even lighter, you can always install bikepacking bags that fit underneath the frame, in front of the handlebars and attached to the saddle post. You will probably need a combination of these if you are to carry anything but the very essentials.
Before I forget, one last word about luggage. However and whatever you pack, make sure you do not end up carrying a backpack, unless it’s something very light. After a couple of hours in the saddle, it will start giving you an exquisite back pain so make sure to use just a small one for your camera, passport and other very important items you don’t want to be carrying in the panniers.
Should you train?
So you have your bike ready and have decided on a route. But have you trained properly?
Like with any other sport, the time spent practicing it matters. Even if you are fit and hit the gym regularly, have had no training lately or you are a complete beginner, nothing prepares you for a cycling tour like getting out there and pedaling. Not to mention that without spending time in the saddle beforehand, come tour day your butt is going to hurt really, really bad. So do yourself a very, very big favor and go practice at least two months in advance.
You can find plenty of plans on how to train for a cycling tour online so be sure to look one up.