Pedaling off beaten paths
The Bike Type
Touring by bicycle could be one of the most overlooked activities for outdoor enthusiasts or even avid cyclists. I’d venture so far as to say that there’s a direct correlation between how fast you pedal your bike ” road or mountain ” and the slim likelihood that you’ve ever pondered strapping twenty-five pounds of deadweight to your ultra light ride.
If there is anything to gain from an all-day bike ride, then the chance to embark for days on end must behold a whole world of adventure, challenge and discovery. I got my first taste of bike touring last summer and right now I’m wrestling with the urge to drop everything and hit the road again. If my second tour is half as rewarding as my first, it will still surpass my expectations. Touring really is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done on a bike.
Like bike riders themselves, bike tours come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the most popular routes traverse the coast while others cut right through the American heartland. Others descend into the backcountry for days, traversing the Continental Divide or parts of our very own Tahoe Rim Trail. Wherever you choose to go, one thing remains common to all tours ” the number of miles you ride each day is up to you. And everything, miles per day included, is subject to change.
Besides the adventure itself, the simple pleasures of self-sufficient camping should be reward enough for any avid cyclist to give touring a try. Backpacking offers the same joys but bikes will always be able to take you farther. That being said, overestimating the number of miles you can ride in a day is still one of the most common mistakes first-timers make during the planning process. For a quick, conservative gauge, simply half the number of miles you can handle on a regular all-day bike ride. Progress will vary according to topography and weather but for the purpose of mapping your trip this conversion will do.
Trip planning is a crucial part of any successful bike tour and many resources do exist. The Adventure Cycling Association is a non-profit dedicated to inspiring people of all ages to travel by bicycle. Their Web site, http://www.adventurecycling.org, is a great resource but the bulk of it is intended for touring via paved roads. If you’re like me and you’d rather spend your getaway on a trail than pedaling alongside cars and trucks, you’ll have to source your own maps and factor backcountry safety into your plan.
Next to planning your trip, a mission in itself, choosing the right equipment can have a big effect on your tour’s outcome. A bike trailer versus bike panniers (saddlebags) is no easy debate because both have their merits. So the sooner you can make this decision, the sooner you can deal with other logistics. The BOB brand (www.bobtrailers.com) makes great trailers for on and off-road use. For mountain bikers who want to use the traditional rack and panniers set-up, visit http://www.oldmanmountain.com before you spend money on a flimsy rack system that isn’t designed for off-road touring. Many modern bikes do not have the threads or braze-ons to accommodate racks but there are conversion kits. And there’s always the hardware store for those who’d rather rig their own. If you’re going to build a bike specifically for touring, an old steel frame will provide the smoothest ride and chances are it will be dated enough to have rack mounts, too.
Many companies in the bike and outdoor industries make panniers and there is no limit to the number of accessories and hi-tech features they offer. Generally speaking, top-loading bags with few zippers will do better to keep water out should you encounter rain on your trip. Bringing an extra garbage bag or two can also help keep things dry if you’re forced to push on through a downpour. Whether your feet are big or small, be sure you consider heel clearance when buying rear panniers.
Depending on how remote your route is, there are certain spare parts and tools that should accompany any tour: Chain lube, a pump, chain tool, allen-wrench set, spare inner tubes and a patch kit and a multi-purpose tool, like a Leatherman, should be the bare minimum. Spare spokes, brake pads, brake and shifter cables, a couple feet of cable housing and maybe even a compact spare tire should be considered for longer, more remote trips.
Food and water are of obvious importance during bike tours but they’re also of cumbersome weight, especially water. Pack some sort of electrolyte replacement drink mix and make sure your route goes nearby a town or dependable water sources each day. Purifying tablets or a water filter are necessary for mountain bike touring but they can come in handy on any extended trip.
If you’re not sure where to get started with the preparation, just buy a map. The magnetism of adventure will do the rest.
Peter Berridge is an accomplished professional mountain bike racer, tour guide and journalist who lives in the Truckee area and provides columns regularly for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.
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