You got the bike, you got the panniers, now what?

There’s a huge latent demand for cycling, and a huge demand for cycle touring. However, a latent demand for something is not the same as a huge amount of it actually happening.

In the UK, if you’re a new cyclist, you can go on the Let’s Ride site and look for group rides in your area. If you’re a seasoned roadie, you can find a club to ride with, and the same goes for MTBers. But what if you wanted to go cycle touring? What do you do? How do you start?

Some couples share a love for cycle touring, to the point that they cycled around the world together, as Helen Langridge and her partner did – they even got married along the way. Most people who go cycle touring, however, do solo touring, and if you’re brand new to cycle touring, that will probably be rather off-putting.
That can leave prospective cycle tourers feeling left out in the cold.

There are other options, including going on a paid tour. Going on a tour, arranged by a company, has the benefits of you having support available, and fellow riders along. It also has downsides: you may, or may not get along with other riders, and you’ll have no control over the pace, and timings of the ride, nor the route itself.

Everyone is different, and that’s what makes life so interesting. Some won’t settle for anything less than top-of-the-range Ortlieb panniers, while others (like me) take great pleasure in using panniers from Aldi, which cost around £10 each.

If an organised tour is your cup of tea, then by all means, go for it. Alternatively, perhaps consider a sponsored charity ride, such as London to Paris, or similar. In both cases, you won’t even have to carry luggage on the bike.

See also  Use your noodle

If, however, you wanted to have greater freedom, and experience proper cycle touring, you still have a number of options open. For example, you could ask friends, or relatives to ride with you, or you could join the local cycling campaign, and ask if anyone would like to join you.
Failing that, there are no reasons why you cannot go on your own, regardless how overwhelming it might seem at first.

There are some tips to bear in mind, though:

  • Ensure you are able to cycle the daily distance, over similar terrain before setting off. It’s a great idea to start doing shorter rides, with all your luggage on the bike, before setting off on a multi-day tour.
  • For your first tour, stay in B&Bs, hotels, or similar. It will make your life easier, and you’ll be able to get away with carrying less on the bike.
  • Keep it short. Go for a two-day ride, overnighting just for a single night. This has the added benefit that you could do it over a weekend.
  • Learn how to fix a puncture before setting off. Also, ensure you carry some tools, and two spare inner tubes.
  • There will be less-than-pleasant bits. This is part and parcel of the experience, and when you know to expect it in advance, you won’t feel despondent when you encounter any of these.
  • Have an escape plan. Perhaps choose a route with multiple train stations along the way, or have a friend or relative on standby, able to come pick you up, should you be unable to continue for some reason.
  • Whenever possible, choose a traffic-free route, or the closest you can get to traffic-free. There are some possible routes for you to choose from on my Route Guides page.
While out riding, ignore the clock. Stop often, and take many photos. You won’t be racing, so relax and take your time.

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