1 // Get inspired
Think you’re the first person to try to bike across Siberia? Think again: the website Crazy Guy on a Bike hosts thousands of blogs from bicycle tourers all over the world, covering trips in forensic detail. For the ultimate in touring geekery, check out the Database of Long Distance Cycle Journeys, where tourers who’ve travelled over 10,000km log their trip and all the important minutiae, like average speed, distance, cost and bike type.
2 // Choose a route
Following an established route can mean a safer, more sociable ride. In Europe, the EuroVelo network of 15 long-distance trails spans 42 countries; the vast majority segregated cycle paths. In America, the Adventure Cycling Association routes include the iconic TransAmerica Trail and Pacific Coast Route.
3 // All about the bike
For a long-distance tour you really need a bike that’s tough and easy to fix, which is why many cyclists opt for a weldable steel frame. Popular touring bikes include Surly’s Long Haul Trucker and the Expedition Bike by Oxford Bike Works.
4 // Bear the burden
Panniers, which are attached to a rack on the front or back of the bike, are the classic way to carry gear. It’s best to avoid backpacks, which can strain your back.
5 // Sleep for free
Camping and cycle touring go hand in hand, and because there’s no sweeter feeling than riding until sunset and throwing down a tent wherever you stop, many tourers choose to wild camp. For the most part it’s illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but legal throughout Scotland; it’s allowed in most of Scandinavia, and a grey area in many other countries. Alternatives include ‘pole camping’ sites in rural Holland, where it’s legal to camp within a number of metres of a designated spot; and ‘dispersed camping’ on national forest land in America. Rules vary but in most forests, you’ll need to pitch your tent a set distance from the nearest road, trail, or official campground. State parks along popular routes in America have cyclist-only campsites, which charge around $5 (£3.80) a night.
6 // Meet the locals
Warmshowers is basically Couchsurfing for cyclists — a free, internet-based platform that’s a great alternative to camping. Use its app to find a host in a given neighbourhood; not only will you score a free bed, more often than not you’ll get dinner and a wealth of local cycling knowledge too. Warmshowers is well established in North America and Europe, and hosts can also be found all over the world.
7 // Bike repair
Whether you’re touring through Texas or Tajikistan, at some point you’re bound to get a flat tyre, so you’ll need to carry a puncture repair kit, plus spare tubes and a pump. But it’s also worth brushing up on bike maintenance before you leave. Evans Cycles charges £15 for a one-hour basic bike maintenance class. Many bike shops also offer tuition in advanced skills like wheel truing and gear indexing.
Published in the September 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)