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  1. #1
    Senior Member Bike-a-Boo's Avatar
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    How did you get into touring?

    Did you head off on your own or with a group or with an experienced friend? Did you do a lot of research first? Did you already have a lot of experience with camping and cycling (as separate endeavours)? Did you head out on short tours first and then ease your way into more epic adventures?

    I'm dying to give it a try, but I'm new to cycling (aside from zipping around the neighbourhood as a kid, my only experience has been commuting 12 km each way to work for the past 2 months), I'm not an experienced camper (don't own any camping equipment), and I don't know anyone that could be my mentor with whom I could tag along with.

    Not to mention it's fall - is that a bad time to start? Do I need to train to be able to ride reasonably long distances each day? Aside from a bike with rack and panniers (I have those for commuting) do I need to invest in a lot of "stuff" (assuming I'm not going to stay in hotels or B&B's)? I'm in a holding pattern and it's a bummer!

  2. #2
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    I think your comuting experience is fine for heading out on a tour in Ontario. It's a lot more than I do. For your first tour just set out and tell yourself your only objective is to stay comfortable. Don't try to do a 100 miles. If you make it 40 miles or 80 miles it doesn't really mater the key thing is to not develop a numbness, or saddle pain, or overstress a joint in a progressive way. The comfort power is the one thing comuting doesn't prepare you for. a 12 mile ride doesn't tell you how your ass will feel after 100K. SO for intance my city bike is not comfortable for long distances. The key is just to take it easy the first few days out and deal with anything that crops up. This is the main advantage to going alone at least at first, you don't have to keep up. Following someone who wants to go just a fraction faster than you do is more tiring/anoying than most mountain ranges.

    I've camped all my life, but it has never struck me as a complicated skill in the moderm world. There are people who know all kinds of woodcraft, and can make bread out of cattails. But in the modern world you just stop somewhere unroll tent, sleeping bag and matress, and climb in. In Southern Ontario you can ride to Montreal, without ever failing to pass a campground for your evening stay, or a grocery store to stock up on fresh/cold food. So you don't really need much gear, there isn't any need to cook unless you want to. your body may prefer some fresh food to anything that comes form a camping store.

    Camping is perfectly plausible all year round in Ontario, but this time of year can be quite umcomfortable. It can be the best time to go, but there is the risk as a newbie that you will discover your gear is not warm enough and shiver violently through a night. Nothing bad will probably happen but it can be smarter to ease into it, and gradually expand your horizons.

    I have these pictures of early climbers in the alps, huge names in Alpinism 60 years ago. Some of them coming out of the war are pictured in tweed suits, looking more like vagabonds then people about to make climbing history. When I took up rock climbing in the 70s, I started with a braided cotton rope. I once climbed with a really good climber in Ireland who used two 1/4" laid nylon ropes like you might use to strap a canoe on. How much specialized gear you need to do something depends on your patience with not having the perfect tool for every eventuality. There is a huge range of potential expert gear to get for bike touring, and getting that gear is for some people the main pleasure. As Tilman once remarked when he was asked how it was that he had managed to make so many wonderful expeditions "just put on your boots and go".

  3. #3
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    I started camping with the Boy Scouts when I was 11, I started ridng a bike when I was 5 so it would make sense to combine the two. We took the occasional bike tour in the Scouts. My first solo tour was when I was 14 and it was an out and back to a local state park. 30 mile IIRC. Then it expanded from there. I did my first and only coast to coast in 1977 at age 17. I still tour when I get the chance. Out and backs are good for me right now. Or ride two days out and have someone get me with a vehicle. You can start with very basic equipment and build up from there. My first set of touring panniers were put together from a kit that you sewed at home Believe the company was called Frostline. I didn't buy my first tent until the coast to coast tour. I usually used a big piece of plastic and carried a roll of light rope and kind of built my own shelter. Light and cheap. Didn't have a sleeping bag at first either used an old wool army blanket. I have done days as long as 110 miles but reccomend keeping it shorter. I find 30-50 miles seems to be a decent daily mileage, but if something along the way catches my attention even that is subjec to change. I tour to see things and for the pure enjoyment of riding.

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  4. #4
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    Yeehaw! You go girl! I'm always excited when someone with no prior experience is contemplating bike touring.

    First let's start with how I got into touring. I just kinda though it would be "kinda neat" to head out on the road on a bike. I'd already seen most of BC by car and the "nifty" idea of checking things out by bike just somehow felt right. I've had very extensive cycling experience dodging the rather hostile Vancouver drivers on my almost daily 10 - 50km wanderings around the city. I cycled almost everywhere. I also got into hiking and overnight backpacking around the same time that I did my first bike tour. All my tours were solo ...or started out that way. The first one was up BC's Sunshine Coast and back down Vancouver Island to Nanaimo. I've since toured the 600km Kettle Valley Railway, another Vancouver Island tour, Washington's San Juan Islands, Cuba twice, Oregon Coast and California Coast as far as San Francisco (while 60lbs overweight), Germany and Morrocco. It's like chips, you can't have just one.

    The fact that you have limited experience should not stop you. Bike touring is an incredibly rewarding experience. But then you do have experience through your commuting. Why not try loading up the bike with some weight on your commutes to get a better feel for what a loaded bike is like? Training for a tour is a great idea. But if you don't train, go anyway. Just be realistic about your abilities and don't overdo it to the point where you have to abandon the trip on the first day.

    Gear. That all depends on what type of touring you're hoping to do. Right now you seem to have a rear rack. Just add some panniers, I started with cheap Norco panniers that saw me through parts of BC, Germany and Morrocco. More money gets you something more durable. Fenders and rain gear might be a good idea for your personal comfort. If you're going to be doing extensive camping and cooking then front racks and panniers become pretty much a necessity. Having said that, I did a camping trip on the Kettle Valley Railway with all my gear on the back. Pretty unstable if you ask me.

    You mentioned not staying at B&B's and hotels. Hostels can be far apart so a tent, sleeping bag, and Thermarest style sleeping pad will be required. Don't skimp too much on those items since your comfort will depend on them. If you're not planning on eating out then lightweight cooking gear would also be required. You may want to consider just doing a "credit card tour" the first time around and build from there. That will give you a better feel for long dinstances on the bike. One thing I can say for sure is that your butt will hurt like Hades after a full day in the saddle.

    October in Ontario? Absolutely beautiful with the fall colours (I'm from Quebec originally). But keep in mind that you will most likely encounter frost overnight. That makes camping a chilly experience unless you have an adequate sleeping bag and a good sleeping pad for ground insulation. For this time of year I'd recommend a hostel for those with no camping experience.

    I agree with the previous post about taking it easy. The main goal of touring, in my esteem, is to enjoy the ride. If you're struggling just to get to the next campground then the joy can quickly be sucked out of the trip. I generally cycle anywhere from 50-80km's per day when touring. My longest day was 140km's in Morrocco. Second longest 120km's, also in Morrocco. These days my main goal is just survival and enjoyment of the trip.

    Have fun!

  5. #5
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Start easy

    I've camped all my life. I started backpacking in the Boy Scouts in junior high. I got started bike touring when I was a very poor college student. I had a 10-speed bike, a sleeping bag, and a backpacking tent. It seemed like a good way to get out camping for little money, and a bit of an adventure besides. It was all those things.

    I sewed my first panniers - again, because I was so broke. I bought some pack cloth at REI, an awl, hung some newspaper from my cheapo rack and cut a pattern, and I started hand stitching. They came out fine, and I used them for several tours. They closed with snaps rather than zippers. They had no stiffener to keep them out of the spokes, so I tied some pieces of 1/4" plywood to the seat stays and rack supports. It worked.

    I tied my sleeping bag between the drops of my handlebars with string. I knew I should carry a pump, but I couldn't afford a good frame pump, so I bought an ancient floor pump at a 2nd hand store and carried that. I got a flat on my first tour, so it came in handy!

    If you don't want to spend a ton of money before you know if you're going to take to touring, consider Ebay. You can get some good stuff for cheap if you know what to look for and are willing to wait for the right deal. You'll probably want a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and some panniers to carry it all. I suggest more postings if you need advice on those items.

    You can tour without carrying cooking stuff. Eat in restaurants, buy some muffins or bagels for breakfast, maybe a big sandwich for dinnner.

    I'd recommend keeping the miles per day low at first - probably not more than your normal training ride. I'm always wimpy for the first couple of days of a tour. It takes more energy to drag all that extra weight up hills. I like to start with 25-30 mile days. By the third day I'm ready to consider 50-70. Buy the 4th or 5th day, I can start doing a series of longer days (70-80 or more). Of course, if it's really hilly, those numbers go down.

    I think the best advice is to see how it goes. I don't like having a set-in-stone itinerary. Some days I feel strong, and some days I'm wimpy. I often don't know how it's going to go until several hours into the day.

  6. #6
    jon bon stovie
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    the first time i even thought that people could travel any sort of distance by bicycle was a few years ago. i was studiying abroad in ireland and had no plans for our spring break. i also had no money. but, i had rented a bicycle for the semester. i thought that i would ride around the area in which i lived in. i looked at a map and realised that i could travel pretty far (hey, 20 miles seemed pretty far then). i founf a hostel along the way and a twon in which to explore before turning around and heading home. unfortunately, on the way back from the local grocery store where i stocked up on snacks for the ride, i blew out my back tire. i was no where near a bike shop and had no way of fixing it. there was a hole in my tire the size of an egg! i ended up just hiking around instead, not going very far.

    i still wish i did that "tour". about two years later i found myself thinking about that failed attempt and thought about riding across the country (USA). i thought i was the first person to do this! how naive! that is when i started researching the idea of bicycle touring.

    i started biking again, making a few long rides, including my first century in july. i read up on camping skills and have gone camping a few times to see how well i can use those techniques. while i really haven't done any touring (hopefully soon!) i feel as though it is somthing that i COULD do.

    like all things, if you really want to do it, you will do it. i say, jump right in. the worst thing that happens is that you turn around and go home. go for it!

  7. #7
    Senior Member Sebach's Avatar
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    I got into it like this:
    1) Ottawa-Toronto (430km)
    2) Ottawa-Montreal (250km)
    3) Victoria-St.John's (8200km), a bit of a jump.

    I came across these 3 kids cycling from Thunderbay to Winnipeg. They were like 15-16, and only one looked like he had ever cycled more then 20km in one day. Two of the bikes were as old as the riders. They were wearing garbage bags for the rain and one didn't have any panniers, he was carrying 40lbs of crap in a backpack on his back! He was beat after only like 50km that day, he was hydrating and eating like crazy when we met... but he was happy. By this time, I had crossed the Rockies and the Great Plains and they were looking up to me as a veteran but I was looking up to them. Honestly, I was inspired by these kids, I didn't even know how to convey how much I envied them. They had some of the dodgiest gear I'd ever seen but they were happy with it because they were doing it! Three inexperienced friends just came up with a crazy idea they liked and set off together. So young... I just kept thinking about how great their lives could be if they keep living that way.

    If you want to try touring, go for it. Bike, water, food, and anything else you need to survive the environment. You take care of those things and the worst thing you can expect happening is that you learn something new.

  8. #8
    Dead Men Assume...
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    I was very green when I first started. I knew how to camp (I can sit down with all of my ingredients for a meal, two water bottles, and a stove. Make the meal, eat it, wash everything and, then, get up.) but I had no experience with bike touring when I first started. In fact, my first tour was an attempt at going around the world. I started from Brussels (hey, everything does fit on the bike!) and made it to Cairo before giving up. Looking back, I'm surprised at how far I managed to get. People around here keep talking about taking along this and that but, really, take it easy, smile a lot and you should be able to avoid any hassles...people or equipment-wise.

    I did very little research. In fact, I didn't pick up any maps until I hit the country I was in. Most people can't do that but I'm pretty knowledgeable about geography. I don't need a map to tell me that there has to be a road along the Rhone or Po Valleys. Did wish I knew about the exact location of the Iron Gate south of Cappadocia so I could have appreciated it a bit more when I stood in the middle of it and said to myself, this is an excellent bottleneck for armies!

    Fall is an excellent time so long as it's not raining. hehehe This weekend is an excellent time for a tour. As for training...yes, it does help but that world tour that I did? I barely trained more than 20 klicks a day for a few months, I think.
    Last edited by IronMac; 10-08-06 at 03:21 AM.

  9. #9
    eccentric tourer WestOz's Avatar
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    I got into touring when I was about 12. I discovered I could escape my little country home town, without relying on anyone else. I then expanded on this to get even further, and could get away for weeks at a time.

    I built my first tourer with parts from the rubbish tip. I learn't the camping bit as I went. A weekender is a good way to get started. After a few short trips you will find out what you prefer. Just remember it's not a race. Never be in a hurry to get anywhere, because you might miss something.

  10. #10
    This user is a pipebomb brotherdan's Avatar
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    The first time I tried touring I just did a short solo ride of about thirty miles to a nearby campground. Never having ridden with a loaded bike before, I totally exhausted myself on that short ride. I had purchased the cheapest rack I could find, which broke as I reached my destination, taking a spoke out along with it. I was able to get back home on my damaged bike a couple of days later.

    The next time I tried touring was two years later. I biked around 4000 miles solo over three months from my home in michigan to northern washington and down to los angeles.

    All you really need to tour and camp is a good bike, racks, panniers, basic tools, a pump, spare tubes, a tent, a sleeping bag, water bottles, trail mix or energy bars, spare clothes, bathroom supplies, some kind of light and a credit card or cash.

    You can bring along lots of other things, like cooking gear. But you can tour fairly well with a minimal packing list.
    Bikes belong in the motor city

  11. #11
    Florida to Oregon in 2007 lighthorse@eart's Avatar
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    sharrison,
    My first tour was across the U.S. solo unsupported.
    I bought the racks and panniers put them on my bike and loaded the bags with heavy stuff. I rode the bike and trained with the added weight/drag. My own thoughts are that you need to be riding a minimum of 100 miles/week before departing on a long tour. I use 250 miles/ week minimum for myself and try to get to 300/wk. But then I am 60 yrs. of age and need the conditioning. That will make you ready for the long ride.
    If your intent is to camp on your tour, then get the camping gear and by all means try it out, at least in your own back yard.
    The next big decision is to determine if you intend to cook meals on tour. I do not but many do. If you so intend then get that gear as well and try it out. I and others just find food along the way, eat out a lot, and carry only a very few basic foods at any time (bagels, fruit, powerbars).
    If you are only going to do a short tour of 4-6 days you can drive the route before and locate your campsites in advance, that would be the best research. If you are going on a long tour then , yes, it takes a lot of research in advance. I am already working on the details of next years (June 2007) cross country. I feel if I use good equipment, and have a detailed plan before I depart, then all of the unexpected opportunities will work themselves out.

    Probably the most important thing is to make a committment to yourself to go. And then follow through. Once you make the committment, things will fall into place for you.
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  12. #12
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    As to training ride, ride , ride. A century must be no big deal to you. After you feel physically ready check out needed equiptment. Make lists of your touring needs. When you have the stuff that suits your needs ,start out with short local tours to get the feeling of it and to see how you like your gear. When you are comfortable with your small tours, then the world is yours. That was my pathway to touring.
    Last edited by cyclezealot; 10-09-06 at 12:22 PM.

  13. #13
    Two H's!!! TWO!!!!! chephy's Avatar
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    I've been biking for a while before I started touring, but not super-great distances. I did an occasional club ride in the country but it's never been overnight. I also haven't done any camping, except the sort where you come to an organized campground in a car, set up a tent, crawl in. Easy as pie.

    Then I read on the internet about bike touring - and I got hooked. I talked my boyfriend into it (about the same level of biking and experience). Did a lot of research, yes - on routes, on motels/campgrounds etc. We never toured just for the sake of touring - we rode to music and theatre festivals throughout Ontario - and did all the usual touring things (camping, swimming, sightseeing) along the way as well.

    We had A LOT of worries about how it would turn out - and it turned out surprisingly well. We even biked through "wildish" (not quite wild - cottages around, for stretches anyway) bear country in Northern Ontario at 2 a.m. Totally crazy - but so much FUN!

  14. #14
    Hooked on Touring
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    From my late teens I would often go on long rides out in the country - getting back after dark - but it never occurred to me to overnight until I went to France in my late twenties and did a tour there. That was touring lite since I stayed at inexpensive pensions - it was 7 francs to the dollar. I toured in Europe the following summer and then the next year I did my first cross-country in the U.S.

    So for me the progression of the disease was:
    1. Nearby country roads.
    2. European lite touring
    3. TransAm

    Now I'm into dirt and super remote camping.
    Been to Alaska, the Yukon, and the NWT - - all by bike.

  15. #15
    Senior Member ronjon10's Avatar
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    I was looking to get into cycling and had never heard of bicycle touring, and probably would have thought it was a nutty idea. I did searches for bikes that would support a lot of weight (I'm a pretty big guy) and wound up seeing links to touring bikes. I happened on a link that was the online diary of a Mom and her (hot) daughter as they rode across the US. I got hooked into the story, then found crazyguyonabike.com and read a lot of those journals. From that point it was....
    2 months til I bought a trek 520.
    6 months til I biked to a group camping trip while the drivers carried my bags.
    1 year til I bought a custom built bike as I've got an odd body geometry, and the trek wasn't a great fit for long rides
    1.2 years til I'd done a 2 day/1 night trip from Los Angeles to San Diego.
    1.5 years til I'd done a solo 5 week tour of England.

  16. #16
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    Started in my teens with a group called SHP.
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  17. #17
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    For me it was just a natural progression. I was already riding reasonable distances, and I wanted to go further. I read something about touring in a magazine and began to think about it more seriously. At the time I was in university and living technically below the poverty line, so I couldn't afford to spend a huge amount of money on a holiday. Eventually it became a cheap, convenient way to get away from suburbia for a couple of weeks, and have an adventure along the way.

    My first tour was in early 2000. I prepared for it with an overnight trip in an area that I knew reasonably well, so that I could get a feel for pitching the tent and any problems I might have with the camping gear. I did get a bit of a shock when the temperature hit 47 degrees C, but I was camping by a river, so cooling off was easy. Thinking back to my first tour, one thing that strikes me was that I was incredibly naive about a lot of things, and severely lacking in confidence in my route-finding ability. While the experience was a rewarding one, it could have been much more so had I done a bit of general research about touring first, and had the confidence to take some of those detours that I had been thinking about.
    "I am never going to flirt with idleness again" - Roy Keane
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  18. #18
    Senior Member Bike-a-Boo's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone! I've found all of these stories incredibly inspiring and motivating!

  19. #19
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Did you head off on your own or with a group or with an experienced friend?
    My first tour was a supported one. My [now ex] husband drove the van while I cycled ... and we camped. My second tour was an MS150 ride. My third tour was with an experienced friend, and all the rest of mine since then have been the same.


    Did you do a lot of research first?
    Not for my first tour! And actually ... not for any of my tours.


    Did you already have a lot of experience with camping and cycling (as separate endeavours)?
    Yes. My [now ex] husband and I had done quite a bit of camping, and I had done a bit of cycling. I had done my first century the year before, and was doing 3000+ miles a year at that time. My quantity of cycling has gone up considerably since then, but still it was enough for me to feel quite comfortable on the bicycle.


    Did you head out on short tours first and then ease your way into more epic adventures?
    Nope! And that was OK for my shorter tours, but I sure wish I had done more short tours before my Australian adventure: http://www.machka.net/australia/ride.htm !!!


    I'm dying to give it a try, but I'm new to cycling (aside from zipping around the neighbourhood as a kid, my only experience has been commuting 12 km each way to work for the past 2 months), I'm not an experienced camper (don't own any camping equipment), and I don't know anyone that could be my mentor with whom I could tag along with.
    With that background, I would suggest gradually upping your mileages. Start heading out for longer rides on the weekends. I'd also suggest borrowing some camping equipment and going out to a local camping spot for the weekend ... not necessarily cycling out there, driving is fine, but at least you'd have a chance to experiment with what works and what doesn't.


    Not to mention it's fall - is that a bad time to start?
    No, not at all! But you do need to be equipped for colder weather.


    Do I need to train to be able to ride reasonably long distances each day?
    Not necessarily if you are in decent shape to begin with, but I'd certainly recommend bringing your mileage up to whatever distance you are thinking of doing each day .... especially if you are thinking about carrying a load, and especially if you are thinking about travelling in areas with different terrain from what you are used to. Cycling day after day after day after day on a tour can be quite exhausting!


    Aside from a bike with rack and panniers (I have those for commuting) do I need to invest in a lot of "stuff" (assuming I'm not going to stay in hotels or B&B's)?
    I'd experiment with weekend trips and see what you think you need. On my first self-supported tour (Wales) http://www.machka.net/pbp/post.htm I didn't have any mattress at all and I just had one very small sleeping bag. I was SO cold and SO uncomfortable at night. Even in Australia I didn't have a decent mattress and was quite uncomfortable by the end of the trip. Experimenting is a good thing!


    I'm in a holding pattern and it's a bummer!
    You don't have to be in a holding pattern ... rent or borrow a few items and start your experiments!

  20. #20
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    If you want a totally newbie's perspective on being introduced to cycle touring, try my Perth-Adelaide journal from 1997. It deals with a whole lot of preamble, including a heart attack, that you can rummage through. It's all pretty naive stuff really, but it might give you a real appreciation that we all can start from somewhere. I basically launched into the ride without a huge amount of training and with a hodge-podge of gear, but I got through it (just) and it will live long as one of my most memorable and cherished experiences.
    Dream. Dare. Do.

  21. #21
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Test Your Tent In The Rain

    I planned my first major tour several months in advance. I used my tax refund to buy some new equipment - tent, rain gear, panniers, etc. I went on a weekend trip several weeks before I left. It poured on me. I discovered that my rain fly leaked. When I got home I bought some seam sealer and used it. The tent has never leaked since. I'm glad it didn't happen when I was miles from civilization on my tour. Lesson learned: if it says to use seam sealer, do it.

    I also bought Goretex rain gear. I discovered outside of Tillamook, Oregon that I was creating too much water vapor to permeate the membrane while riding hard. It was condensing inside my rain gear and I got soaked. I pulled into the cheese factory and dried out, waiting until the rain was over. If I had it to do over again I might not spend all that extra money for Goretex. A simple coated, waterproof riding suit might have been just as effective for a whole lot less cash.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Bike-a-Boo's Avatar
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    Thanks! All very informative and inspiring! I'm going to enjoy going through all the websites!

  23. #23
    I don't wanna be a Newbie
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    I rode by you, on labour day weekend on my first tour. It was a short one, as I only went for the weekend, but it was so much fun!! It was solo, and I'm a girl too. lol

  24. #24
    Senior Member Bike-a-Boo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crys
    I rode by you, on labour day weekend on my first tour. It was a short one, as I only went for the weekend, but it was so much fun!! It was solo, and I'm a girl too. lol
    Interesting!!! My husband and I have some vacation time coming up. I want to ride to Niagara Falls and have him meet me there in the car. He doesn't think it's a good idea for me to be "out there all alone". So, then I suggested that we meet at pre-determined spots every hour, but he's still nervous and thinks it's a bad idea. Is he being paranoid? We'd both carry cell phones, but I should point out that I'm a major newbie when it comes to bike maintenance.

    This could be a whole other thread!!

  25. #25
    Dead Men Assume...
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    Quote Originally Posted by sharrison
    Interesting!!! My husband and I have some vacation time coming up. I want to ride to Niagara Falls and have him meet me there in the car. He doesn't think it's a good idea for me to be "out there all alone". So, then I suggested that we meet at pre-determined spots every hour, but he's still nervous and thinks it's a bad idea. Is he being paranoid? We'd both carry cell phones, but I should point out that I'm a major newbie when it comes to bike maintenance.
    It's a hundred klicks down to the 'Falls from where you are. You can get there within a day and there are small towns/villages every couple of kilometers all the way there with quite a bit of traffic. The route is almost flat as a pancake with a couple of exceptions near Jordan and Ste. Catharines (middle route as far as I'm concerned) or Port Dalhousie (Northern route as far as I'm concerned). If your bike is tuned up properly and you have a light load (c'mon, one day ride!), your biggest mechanical problem would probably be a flat tire or two. I've done over 6000 km this year so far with only two flats and a busted left pedal. When the latter happened, I pedaled on the right pedal for 21 km until I got home. This was on my first 200 km day for the year.

    P.S. If you want, you can hook up with the group that I'm leading down this weekend for part of the way.

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