Is longer cycle touring any different?
There isn’t a simple yes or no answer to this question. Yes, it’s different, because it’s longer. No, it’s not different, because you’re still cycling, and carrying all your gear. Both preceding answers simply look at one aspect of cycle touring, but the reality can be far more complex.
Going on a longer cycling tour doesn’t necessarily mean cycling longer daily distances. However, it does mean cycling more days in a row, and that can become an issue, as fatigue can build up. The easiest way to guard against this is to ensure you have rest days, during which you don’t cycle at all.
Gear and weight
Even if you can happily carry 25kg of gear on a three-day tour, carrying that same amount on a far longer tour will become more challenging. There’s a saying that with camping gear, you can choose any two out of the following three options: cheap, light & strong. You cannot have all three options, and somewhere you will need to make a trade-off. On shorter tours, that trade-off can easily be going for cheaper, heavier kit, but on a longer tour you may want to rethink it. Before embarking on a longer tour, test your gear out on a three or four day ride. With the exception of wet-weather and cold-weather gear, if you didn’t use something, then don’t pack it for your longer tour.
When Dervla Murphy set off from Ireland to cycle to India, in 1963, she had no electronic gadgets. You might be the exception, and in this day and age follow her example, but the vast majority of us rely on various electronic gadgets on a daily basis. That immediately raises questions about how to keep your gadgets charged up. Your options are limited: you can overnight somewhere that allows you to charge your gadgets, you can take a power bank, you can take a solar charger, or you can rely on a dynamo.
- Mains electricity
Obviously, this is the easiest, as you just plug everything in and let it charge up overnight. Usually this involves booking into a B&B, hotel, or similar, but equally, it can be the home of a Warmshowers host. Just be aware that not all your gadgets may last from the morning until you can plug it back in, at the end of the day.
- Power bank
Power banks are game changers. I use a 20 000 mAh one, and it can fully recharge my phone and my Garmin at least five times. That means I can, in theory, go on an off-grid tour of at least six days and remain self-sufficient, in terms of power. The downside is that power banks, especially hefty ones, add more weight, but it’s a trade-off I can live with.
- Solar chargers
Solar technology has progressed in leaps and bounds, and you can get a 60W foldable solar charger that’s ideal for cycle touring. Just remember that solar chargers are quite slow, and are only of use when plugged into something that needs charging. Usually, that would be a power bank. Obviously, they work better in direct, strong sunlight, so don’t expect much during the middle of a grey and wet winter.
Hub dynamos are incredible devices, and you simply will not notice any additional drag. During the day, you can use the power generated by the dynamo to trickle-charge a power bank, while at night you can rely on your dynamo lights. There are many good reasons why so many ultra-distance cyclists, as well as Audaxers tend to rely on dynamos.
On a shorter tour, you are more likely to be near people you can turn to for help, in case of emergency. The longer your cycle tour, the more likely that you will need to be self-reliant, and this needs to be factored into your plans. If cycling through Europe, medical facilities tend to be good, but there are many parts of the world where this will certainly not be the case. Remember, in such parts of the world you might not have mobile signal, either. This shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. Instead, it’s simply a heads-up to consider alternatives, such as a Spot messenger.
If you’ll be cycle touring through countries where you cannot speak the language, it’s a good idea to compile a list of questions and answers beforehand (Google translate is your friend here). When in a fix, you can show a printed sheet to a local, find the question you need answered in English, and point to the translation in the local language next to it. Equally, ensure there are answers listed in the local language, with English translations alongside. This way, you will still be able to communicate, with no need of doing that native-English-speaker thing of simply talking slower and louder.
The moment your tour will cross international borders, it becomes more complex. For starters, you will probably need to carry your passport with you at all times, and you may be subject to visa restrictions. Obviously, you will need to keep your passport as secure as possible, and in a waterproof bag. Always make photocopies of your passport and carry that with you, including copies of any visas. Stick those in a plastic bag and hide it inside your handle bars, or steerer tube. That way, should your passport be lost or stolen, you’ll be far better equipped to deal with it.
Food and drinks
Again, in most of Europe, food is readily available, and you can buy food along the way. Just be aware that in more isolated areas, like parts of Scotland, shops will be few and far between. If you will be touring in an area where you can easily gain access to clean drinking water, your life would be simpler. If not, I suggest carrying a water filtration device, as dysentery is no fun! Always, always top up your water bottles at every available opportunity, even if you think you have enough water. If you have access to citrus fruits, lob a segment inside each water bottle – it will flavour the water, and the citric acid will help keep the bottle more hygienic.
Slow the f*** down!
You will probably only cycle that way once in your entire lifetime, so slow down. Look around you. Smile. Talk to people. Take LOTS of photos. If the time available doesn’t allow you to slow down for the route you have in mind, try and shorten the route. You are there to explore, and to experience the wonders the world has to offer. Don’t cheat yourself by rushing past it all!
Have fun out there!