Top ten worst things about cycle touring

Obviously, I remain an enormous fan of cycle touring, and often wish I was financially able to go cycle touring for half the year, every year. And why not? After all, you get to experience so many wonderful things, see stunning sights, and meet interesting people along the way.

However, cycle touring isn’t just moonshine and roses! Here’s a list of the top 10 worst things about cycle touring.

1. Midges!

Midges are tiny and feeble – on an individual basis! Sadly, they don’t attack on their own, but quite literally in their millions. Having several million bitey little bastards trying to eat you alive is never a pleasant experience.

There are steps you can take though, beginning by changing when you’re going cycle touring. Also, no matter how scenic, try to camp away from water. Midges can only fly at speeds of up to 7mph, and they don’t like direct sunlight. If you can have your lunch stop in a windy location, in direct sunlight, you should be fine.

However, in the morning, and in the evening, you may have a problem, and you have limited options. For starters, cover up. Also consider using a repellent.

Smidge is supposed to be good, but I’ve not used it myself, so cannot say either way. Any DEET-based repellent should work, but be careful with it, and keep it away from your tent’s flysheet. Some people swear by Avon Skin So Soft, too.

2. No hot showers

OK, this one only applies to people like me, who prefer to wild camp. No matter how well you clean your body, or whether you use a flannel or (hopefully biodegradable!) wet wipes, nothing beats having a steaming hot shower!

Even if you only ever wild camp, consider every so often staying in a formal camp site, where showers and washing machines are available.

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3. No chairs

Trust me on this one – there’s only so much sitting, or kneeling on the ground you can do, before the novelty wears off. Being able to sit on a chair (especially when eating) is something we take for granted – till that’s no longer an option.

There are various light-weight camping chairs- such as this one – you might want to consider taking along on your tour.

4. People

When you go cycle touring with someone, you’re in their company 24 hours per day. That can be testing even for solid friendships. Add into the mix the frustrations you may feel if the pace is too fast, or too slow, and the tetchiness that may set in when you’re tired, then you’re well on the way to getting deeply frustrated.

Most people can manage to keep that bottled in for around three days, but on longer tours, things can get heated rapidly.

The cure is to select your touring companions carefully, and to make a conscious effort to be more forgiving and more accommodating towards others.

5. Fatigue

No matter how fit you are, fatigue will get to you sooner or later. When it gets to you will depend on your fitness, whether or not you’re nursing an injury, how much weight you have on the bike, what terrain you’re cycling through, what your average speed is, and what your daily mileage is.

The way to deal with this is simple: build rest days into your schedule. A proper campsite, where washing facilities are available, is best for rest days. Never underestimate how uplifting a hot shower can be, combined with the ability to wash and dry your clothes.

6. Getting there

While it’s perfectly possible to set off from your front door, and cycle around the world, most of us are limited for time. As a result, to go cycle touring a specific area usually means you need to travel to get there, and travelling with a touring bike (not riding it) can be very challenging.

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You may be faced with limited spaces on trains, confusing differences between train operators, or try to negotiate with a coach company to carry your bike. Incidentally, be sure to read my guide to taking your bicycle on a train in the UK, when planning any trips that includes trains.

Sometimes, the easiest option is to simply strap your bike to the back of your car, but with especially linear routes, that leaves you with the additional problem of getting back to your car afterwards.

7. Rain

No, not the occasional shower, or even full day of rain. Instead, I’m talking about several days of rain, 24/7, without easing up. It becomes very difficult to keep everything dry, especially when camping.

While there’s no cure for rain, laundromats are your friend here! It is sheer bliss knowing you once again have dry clothes to wear, and a dry sleeping bag to sleep in. Just be very careful with your tent, and do not tumble-dry the flysheet, unless you want the taping over the seams to come undone! Dry your flysheet with a towel, then wash and dry the towel.

8. Mechanicals

Nobody like a mechanical failure on any bike ride. However, when you’re on your own, very far from home, on a laden touring bike, a mechanical incident could end your tour.

It is exactly because of this that it really helps to be able to do roadside repairs yourself, and to carry the tools you need to do so. Additionally, get a proper bike service several weeks before setting off. Also carry spare cables, cleat bolts, brake pads/shoes and a spare mech hanger.

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9. Cars!

Look, I don’t care how seasoned a city cycle commuter you are, the reality remains that mixing it up with cars is unpleasant. This is why I will almost always prefer traffic-free, or light-traffic routes, and why I prefer to avoid fast, busy roads as much as I can.

Sadly, the UK has almost no longer-distance cycle touring routes that are totally traffic-free. That said, you’d be surprised by how many miles of traffic-free routes there are. When you start designing your touring route, try to include as many traffic-free segments as you can.

Also, on RideWithGPS, you can select the Global Heatmap option, which will help you find routes popular with other cyclists. In areas you don’t know, that can be a life-saver!

10. Post-adventure blues

Even after surprisingly-short cycle tours, you can easily suffer a bout of post-adventure blues. Reality is a harsh medicine to swallow, and it might take you a little while (or longer, depending how long you were on tour for) to get back into the swing of your normal life.

What helps is to be prepared for that, and to take time out reliving your adventure.

2 thoughts on “Top ten worst things about cycle touring”

  1. All this is great advice! I used to light up a cigar and smoke in my tent when the morning midges were active. Last year, some ash fell on my air bed. When I tried to inflate it the following night, I discovered the hole that it had made. Besides continuing with permethrin soaked clothing and judicious use of DEET (Smidge does work too) as anti midge and anti-tick, my untested plan is to use my newly bought FlextailGear mosquito repellant in place of the cigars.

    Reply

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