Travelling by bike for beginners

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Ever thought that self-powered metal thing in your garage – aka your bike – could take you around the world? Because it can! You don't have to be a world-class athlete to go from strolling through your neighbourhood to pedalling the roads of China.

It may be daunting to wrap your head around the idea of powering your own transportation, but those who have done it before call it the best way to travel. Bike travel gives you heaps of freedom, plus it's eco-friendly and a great form of exercise.

Luckily bike-travelling isn’t something that you’ll be figuring out on your own. There are tonnes of resources out there, so start researching! To get you going, here’s a guide to some things you need to consider:

How long do you want to go?

While many of the blogs or websites you'll visit will talk about biking around the world, it’s important to recognise that just because you can’t take three years off to bike everywhere, there’s always the option of going for a month – or even only a week or two. Like any other trip, you just have to make sure that the time you allot is sufficient for the distance you want to travel.

Where do you want to go?

Because people have been travelling by bike for several years now, it’s no surprise there are plenty of maps of bike routes all over the world. These are very useful when you’re planning your own bike tour. If you prefer, you can take guided bike tours as well. Make sure to go where you actually want to go, not just where the trails are easy. And don’t forget to consider the weather conditions at the time of year you plan on going. Once you knew where you want to go, check out these sites:  Adventure Cycling Association (North America), Planning your own European Bicycle TourSpice Roads (Asia), Tour d' Afrique Ltd. (Africa), DuVine Adventures (South America) and Cycling Tours Australia & New Zealand.

What kind of shape are you in?

Image by magical-world

To ride for potentially 70 kilometres straight and climb mountain trails, you need to be in decent shape and good health. If you haven’t taken many trips on the bike you’ll be riding, start logging some kilometres before you head on your trip. Strength training will also be really helpful. Remember that you will also build up your stamina on your trip, so it will get easier. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it either, no matter what your age - just go at your own pace. You’ll be so preoccupied by the stunning scenery, you won’t feel the burn anyway!

Hotels, hostels, or camping?

Some companies set out maps that have places for you to stay at the end of every day of your journey. Depending on how well you plan, it’s more than likely it won’t always work out that way. If you’re exploring some rural part of Asia or Africa, for instance, a tent will be necessary. Look for a durable, compact tent with high circulation – The North Face has some good options.

What should you bring?

What you definitely need: helmet, appropriate clothing, phone, passport (with visas), water and snacks. What else you bring depends on the circumstances of your bike tour (think available bathrooms - will you need to BYO toilet paper?). Check out this interactive checklist before you start to pack.

How heavy a pack can you carry?

If you’re biking across the Mojave Desert, you’re going to be doing some camping and you’re going to need food – all of which is going to increase the weight of your pack. Make sure if you have a heavier load to carry, your bike can support it. Also take some rides with the predicted weight you’ll be carrying. This will help you determine exactly how much you can handle.

Have you practised?

Image by antwerpenR

If you are planning your biking adventure yourself, it’s best you break your touring bike in before you leave (even if you consider yourself an expert cyclist). Go on a weekend tour with a pack of the realistic weight of the bags you’re taking. If you can, do this several times. It will only make you more confident with your abilities. Doing this will also give you an idea of your riding pace. Factor this pace into your travel plans. Terrain, weather, sites along the way and especially your conditioning highly affect the distance you can cover.

Once you have thought these factors through, you will be more than prepared to embark on your adventure. For tips on any issues you may run into, check out Bicycle Touring Pro – this site has the answers to all your biking questions.

This article was updated in May 2012.