How do you prepare for a cycle tour? How do you prepare yourself, so your cycle tour is pleasure, not punishment?
No, this post will not turn into a detailed, structured training plan (though it does contain a link to a simplified training plan). If you were preparing to tackle the Hour record, I’d expect you to be following a very scientific training regime, but cycle touring is a world away from high-level cycling-as-sport achievements.
Being prepared for a tour means a number of things, starting with how in shape you are for cycling the distance you’re planning on cycling. Remember, riding with a laden touring bike is far harder work than simply riding your bike normally, especially if there are hills involved – and there will be hills involved sooner or later. However, being physically in shape is just one part of it, and you also have to review your kit (especially if camping), your route, security while on a cycle tour and even how to pack your panniers.
There’s no burning need to follow a training programme, but it may help if you did. Start by looking at what distance you can comfortably cycle per day, then compare that to expected distances you’ll need to cycle while touring. For example, if you’ll happily ride 80 miles in a day, and your touring route is based on 60 miles per day, you should be absolutely fine. However, if your comfortable distance per day is 20 miles, then I’d rather strongly suggest you follow a training programme in the months before your cycle tour. Just remember, 60 miles with a laden touring bike is far harder work than 80 miles on a road bike.
At the bottom of this post is a simple training programme you could follow, or amend to suit your preferences. You may find it helps to reduce your calorie intake appropriately at the same time, if you wanted to lose weight, as we tend to overcompensate for calories burnt, but if you have any doubts, have a word with your GP first.
Remember, when cycle touring, you’ll be able to indulge guilt-free, as you’ll be burning the calories anyway, but losing weight beforehand will mean you have less weight to drag up all those hills.
You really don’t want anything to go wrong with your bike while cycle touring, and that starts with ensuring your bike’s in good shape. If you’re going to service your bike before a tour, ensure that’s at least a week before, as sometimes maintenance goes wrong, and you want some time to discover that, and put it right, before going touring.
Ideally, you’ll know how to fix punctures by the roadside, and carry tools, plus a few spare inner tubes. I ride with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres – they’re slow and heavy (but then that accurately describes me too!) but as close to bullet-proof as bicycle tyres get. Tim McKenna reported having done over 40 000 puncture-free miles on Marathon Plus tyres, and while there’s no guarantee that you’ll never have a puncture, those tyres certainly improve the chances of the air staying inside the inner tubes!
Consider carrying spare brake and gear cables, if your bike uses those (some have hydraulic brakes and electronic shifting) and learn how to replace those by the roadside. It really isn’t difficult to do, and might save you a long walk.
Even if your cycle tour only involves staying in B&B’s, you’ll still carry at least some luggage on your bike. Here, I’ll suggest you read my post on carrying luggage on the bike, as well as how to pack your panniers (no, that’s not a joke). Importantly, a laden bike handles differently, and it’s important that you at least get some training rides in, with all the luggage on your bicycle.
If you’re planning on camping, then test all your camping gear out beforehand, even if by camping in your garden, or a local park. I also suggest you read my post on camping gear, as doing so might save you a fair bit.
This training plan, from Meningitus Now, is meant to help a beginner prepare for a 100-mile ride, but will form a good foundation for preparing for cycle touring.