Pushing Miles: Planning your next bike tour

Cycling down the Alaska HWY

Cycling down the Alaska HWY

If you’re new to bike touring planning can be overwhelming. It’s important you begin planning well in advance to give yourself a smooth and steady trip – no one likes being surprised minutes (or a week if it’s a long trip) before the trip or even, heaven forbid, during the trip. The planning time depends on the length of trip and the past experience of you, the touring cyclist. I often use the quick planner to brainstorm, and the practical planner to lay out my true plan.

The Quick Planner: Not ideal, but may help jump-start your planning

Wherever the idea came from for you to jump on a bike and ride far from (or near) your backyard came originally as an idea. This is normally the first part of planning… the spark of interest. This is when you need to ask yourself the 5 W’s. Who, what, when, where, why, and of course, how?

Who? Obviously yourself, but do you want a partner on this trip? If so, who do you think would be interested (or who are you interested in asking). You must make sure this person holds a similar interest in doing a trip. If you believe you’d like to go solo move along to the next paragraph.

What? Another obvious answer would be a bike tour. However, how long do you want this trip to last? Would you like a weekend trip, week-long adventure, cross-country journey, or a world expedition? Where would you like this trip to take you, or will it be a loop? The choice is up to you.

When? Look at your calendar. Truthfully, your trip begins with the planning. Set dates when you would like to finish with the planning and move on to the preparation? When would you like to leave? If you keep these dates tentative it’ll make for a less stressful encounter if you fall behind schedule. If you believe you’ll needed back by a certain date, mark it! This is the only deadline you may or may not have.

Where? This is the physical place the tour will take place. Where is it you would like to go? People have taken bike journeys all over the world. The possibilities are practically endless.

Why? I can’t answer this question for you.

How? You can achieve anything with the proper planning, preparation, and execution.

The Practical Planner: The step by step guide

As a general rule of thumb I have developed for any trip is that you should start to plan approximately the duration you plan on being gone before you leave the door up to a year; for shorter trips this may not be possible if you don’t have the gear and may need to order it, and longer trips the planning can overlap some of the trip itself. Then break it down 50% closer to the departure time as shown in the example; one for a 6 month-long trip is below.

6 months prior to leaving –

  • Make sure you have a bike
  • Figure out your route and order maps and supplements.
  • Create an equipment list (many of these are found online and the gear listed on each on varies slightly for each. I have created a generic one here).
  • Check off what you have and don’t have. Out of what you don’t have it is beneficial to read reviews and post on forums until you find the ideal gear for you.
  • Visit bike shops and talk to the sales representatives. Make sure they know about bike touring and aren’t just trying to push sales. In some places there are tour focused bike shops – these are very helpful.
  • Search the internet and start reading blogs, forums, reviews, anything and everything. There is no such thing as too much reading. However, internet sources are not edited/checked for quality so use your best judgement. Normally bike touring sites are fairly helpful.

3 months prior to leaving –

  • You should have all your gear by now. Be sure it is all in working condition and works together. For instance, do your panniers (or trailer), rack, and bike work together?
  • Wear some of your clothing on test rides. Do you like the way they feel? If not exchange them for more comfortable clothes. You don’t want to be cycling uncomfortably all day every day.
  • Study your maps and check accommodations in each city. If you’re staying in hotels/motels it’s not too early to book a room, especially if it’s in a touristy destination during a peak season.
  • Book flights if needed. Normally you have a better rate the earlier you book a flight and you don’t run the risk of the flight being full.

1.5 months (6 weeks) before leaving –

  • Check the expiration date of your identification you’ll be using. If it’s near  expiring renew it. Passports should be checked earlier than 1.5 months from departure.
  • Double check your gear. Can you think of anything else you might need for the trip? If you don’t have something, order it.
  • Run some test rides with your fully loaded bike on some less traveled roads. The biggest mistake I’ve made was leave with a new trailer only to realize the handling was different from cycling with panniers.

3 weeks before leaving –

  • Plan what you’re going to be eating on the trip.
  • Gather addresses of anyone you want to keep in contact with throughout the trip.
  • Make sure you have a reliable emergency contact who knows when you’re supposed to be back. This person should be one of your #1 contacts throughout the trip.
  • Service your bike; put on new tires, new chain, and clean it.
  • Make sure your 1st aid kit is up to date and full. You do not need surprises.
  • Buy final items: fuel, batteries, water purifying tablets, etc.

1-1.5 weeks before leaving

  • If necessary pack your bike in a bike box. These are available from any bike store – cardboard works fine.
  • Buy food necessary for the first part of your tour.
  • Pack your trailer/panniers

1 night before leaving

  • Drink a beer; you’re ready.
  • Get a good nights rest.

** There will be more to pay attention to if you’ll be traveling over borders. For instance: immunizations, visas, passport, availability of money in foreign countries – especially in poorer countries.

*** The book I highly recommend for anyone, but especially for the perspective world cycling junkie is the “Adventure Cycle-Touring HANDBOOK” by Stephen Lord. He was the one who came up with a year plan before going on long tours; he caused me to develop my own practical prep guide, and the general rule of thumb “plan approximately the duration you plan on being gone”.


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