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Could use some Beginner's Tips!

Old 06-30-18, 12:03 AM
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Could use some Beginner's Tips!

Looked a ways back in the threads and it doesn't look like this has come up in a while, so hopefully I don't get flamed too badly for starting this thread for probably the 100th time

My wife and I are going to start doing some light bikepacking/camping and short tours, and could use some advice. We'd like to know what a good goal is to start with as far as mileage and length of trips, any handy little hacks for packing, must have gear that isn't super apparent when starting out, things of that nature. We aren't "serious" riders, on back to back days on the road bikes we do maybe 40 miles a day. Thinking to start out with a few overnighters, and then look into moving out further. From what I have seen, it seems that a very common mistake is overpacking when starting out - we should be able to avoid that as we do a lot of back country camping and have learned all about weight penalties for carrying too much stuff.

Would love to hear some tales about how folks started out, mistakes made or lessons learned.

Wife is on a Specialized Vita, and I just picked up a Cannondale Quick 5 Disc. Just running rear racks and panniers for now, with a handlebar bag up front. We know these aren't touring bikes per se, like I said we are just giving the light stuff a go for now. Thanks in advance for any tales or advice!
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Old 06-30-18, 01:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Vegasclimber
We aren't "serious" riders, on back to back days on the road bikes we do maybe 40 miles a day. Thinking to start out with a few overnighters, and then look into moving out further.
Yep. Pick a place 40 miles away from home ... ride there, stay overnight, and ride back.

You can stay overnight in a hotel, hostel, B&B, campground, or whatever you prefer.

You've got experience packing etc. so you should be all right, but what I do is to think in terms of rooms in the house:

- bedroom (sleeping mat, sleeping bag, pillow, etc.)
- kitchen (dishes & cooking stuff)
- bathroom (toiletries, towels, etc.)
- dressing room (clothes)
- garage (tools, outdoor wear like jackets)

Things like that. And I divide up my panniers that way ... bedroom in one pannier, tools and outdoor wear in my trunk bag, etc.
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Old 06-30-18, 06:04 AM
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A good tip I use is that you should be able to wear all your clothing at once as part of a coordinated layering system. That will minimize "extras." Clothing requires a lot of volume, sometimes even an entire pack, and is often surprisingly heavy. (Use a good scale to weigh everything.)

Wash and dry clothing as you travel. Stop at a suitable water source on a sunny afternoon, wash your clothing, give yourself a sponge bath, and put your clothes back on damp. It's refreshing, and by the time you stop for the day your clothes are clean(ish) and dry. If the weather's harsh or there's not enough water, it won't kill you to skip a day--embrace the stink. On extended trips an occasional stop at a laundromat or the house of a generous host is extra welcome.

Look at single-wall tents like at Tarptent for shelter. There's a learning curve dealing with condensation, but weight, volume and cost savings are appreciable.

Consider a quilt instead of a sleeping bag.
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Old 06-30-18, 08:37 AM
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This might sound cliche, but the best beginner tip is to just go do it. It's easy to get caught up in the planning, researching, and purchasing, but until you get out there you won't have a frame of reference for any of the advice you'll read here. You'll get conflicting advice from people who tour in lots of different ways. Eventually you just need to get on the bikes and go somewhere.

The usefulness of handlebar bags would be my other beginner advice but you already have them so good work on that.

Beyond that think about availability of food. If you're going to a place where you won't need to cook, not having to bring cooking gear and plan and prepare your meals makes trips easier. For short trips as you're just getting started removing one layer of complexity makes it a simpler undertaking, meaning hopefully you enjoy it more and continue with the hobby.
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Old 06-30-18, 10:37 AM
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Bring rain gear, even if it is warm. Rain will sap your body heat very quickly. Also, fenders are nice.
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Old 06-30-18, 10:47 AM
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Have low enough gearing on your crank that you will get up the steepest hill you might encounter without walking. There is a big difference between a loaded and unloaded bike.

I walked up a 7 mile mountain pass on my first tour in 1987 because I didn't have a small chainring on my crank.

Last edited by boomhauer; 06-30-18 at 08:43 PM.
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Old 06-30-18, 12:36 PM
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Personally I'm OK with walking a bit, rather than the feeling of my heart trying to bang its way out of my ribcage..

Gone over some unrideable hills that way... on bike tours.. push,, grab brake lever , rest, push again, rest, repeat.


my town is built over one of those, But I'm not living on top of it..
those who do, drive..
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Old 06-30-18, 01:43 PM
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If you've got 'over-packing' under control, and you have the necessary repair items as well as a 1st aid kit, go for it.
As you say, you're only going for a couple of days or so and you will learn what suits you best. As 'boomhauer' mentions,
low gears, but if you have to walk up steep grades, proper shoes are critical as it can be really hard on your ankles and
calves when pushing a loaded bike. I found a pair of clip-ons that were also designed for walking that worked well.
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Old 06-30-18, 06:35 PM
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Outstanding stuff all, thanks very much! I like the "room" organizing thoughts and technique. I agree that the best thing to do is to just get on it - that's why I went ahead and bought the starter touring bike but it's always fun to talk to people here on the forums and hear their thoughts, makes me feel like part of the community

Set to go in the gearing dept I think, running *shudder* triples on both rigs. Block is geared for hills. Great advice on the shoes as well, I was already thinking about going to the recessed mountain bike style clips for this, and I know that there are a few mountain bike shoes out there with good ankle support.

Solid advice on the clothing - layers are key, for sure. I always carry an ultralight mini windbreaker with me because except for right now when we are next door to Hades, the mountain passes can cool you off pretty fast. I do some multi-day rock climbing and back country stuff, so I am pretty good with shutting the smell-factor off when needed, haha
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Old 06-30-18, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Vegasclimber
Outstanding stuff all, thanks very much! I like the "room" organizing thoughts and technique. I agree that the best thing to do is to just get on it - that's why I went ahead and bought the starter touring bike but it's always fun to talk to people here on the forums and hear their thoughts, makes me feel like part of the community

Set to go in the gearing dept I think, running *shudder* triples on both rigs. Block is geared for hills. Great advice on the shoes as well, I was already thinking about going to the recessed mountain bike style clips for this, and I know that there are a few mountain bike shoes out there with good ankle support.

Solid advice on the clothing - layers are key, for sure. I always carry an ultralight mini windbreaker with me because except for right now when we are next door to Hades, the mountain passes can cool you off pretty fast. I do some multi-day rock climbing and back country stuff, so I am pretty good with shutting the smell-factor off when needed, haha
Ha ha ha....no problem being a bit odoriferous...if you can keep riding in front, lol!
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Old 06-30-18, 08:27 PM
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RIGHT! Hehe. Of course, there is the flip side of that, the guy who has WAY too much "clean Irish spring dryer sheet" smell on his kit....and you're behind him most of the day....
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Old 06-30-18, 09:06 PM
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Not sure why you would shudder at a triple embrace and appreciate them. Triples can help make touring fun.
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Old 07-01-18, 12:38 AM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr
Not sure why you would shudder at a triple embrace and appreciate them. Triples can help make touring fun.
Oh, I know, I wouldn't be ABLE to tour without it. It's just realllly strange right now haha. I will get used to it again soon enough.
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Old 07-01-18, 01:02 AM
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Oh, as far as the tent/sleeping bag situation, when I do use a tent it's a Black Diamond Hilight. But most of the time I have a light single hammock, a hooped bivy sack and a poncho liner (Also sometimes called a woobie) as my sleep system. I think it should work out for touring as well, but time will tell. Situation changes a bit when I am with the wife, but in those cases we split the tent between us.

On the layered clothing front, I tend to use merino socks and technical underwear from Ex-Officio. Base layer is Patagonia Capilene 3, technical zip-off pants and a technical shirt. My legs stay warm, so I just use an upper mid layer, Patagonia R3. Patagonia Nano-Puff jacket with a hood, a beanie, and a set of rain gear pretty much handles anything I am willing to go out into or may encounter.

Last edited by Vegasclimber; 07-01-18 at 01:19 AM.
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Old 07-01-18, 07:36 AM
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It's all fine and dandy to explore the best equipment, clothing, and food stuffs to take while touring, that's the
advantage of today's internet people didn't have in years gone by. It doesn't make or break having a successful
tour though. My first multi day tour was done on an old man's single speed CCM when my buddy and I were 14
(1960) while carrying everything in canvas packs on our backs. We wore jeans, carried canned goods, an old
lumpy sleeping bag, and had a sheet of plastic for a tent. We didn't have a clue, didn't even carry much water,
had to put a small rock in our mouth to encourage saliva when riding through a small desert, but we had a blast.
We quickly learned not to wear jeans, to carry plenty of water, and to carry our gear on the bike, but otherwise
we would eagerly do it again. Many years later another buddy and I met and rode with a fellow for a few days while
traveling along the Alaskan Hwy. He also basically jumped on his bike and started riding. He wore normal street
clothes, wore work boots, and carried far too much heavy gear, yet he had started in Juneau and was heading home
to New York. He was a retired policeman, had unbridled enthusiasm, and even though was enduring discomfort, was
having the time of his life. This is why I say, learn what you can from sites like this, but most importantly, get on the
bike and go do it....things will work out.
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Old 07-02-18, 06:00 PM
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If you think you might be pushing on some climbs, practice around home before you go. Sounds silly but weight and its distribution on the bike can make a huge difference in how hard it is to keep everything upright and under control while you're slogging away to get it up a hill. You might decide that front panniers work better than rear, or that you need much less weight.

Last edited by thumpism; 07-02-18 at 06:05 PM.
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Old 07-02-18, 08:41 PM
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Originally Posted by thumpism
If you think you might be pushing on some climbs, practice around home before you go. Sounds silly but weight and its distribution on the bike can make a huge difference in how hard it is to keep everything upright and under control while you're slogging away to get it up a hill. You might decide that front panniers work better than rear, or that you need much less weight.
Awesome tip! Thanks!
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Old 07-02-18, 08:50 PM
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Originally Posted by thumpism
If you think you might be pushing on some climbs, practice around home before you go. Sounds silly but weight and its distribution on the bike can make a huge difference in how hard it is to keep everything upright and under control while you're slogging away to get it up a hill. You might decide that front panniers work better than rear, or that you need much less weight.
Yes, everyone has to decide how much they take, and how many panniers or bags they need.
For me, I always travel with 4 panniers, and easily detachable handlebar bag containing my valuables so i can take it with me
rather than leave that type of stuff with my bike, and anything like tents, ground sheets, etc secured on the top of my rear rack.
Having all 4 panniers allows me to distribute everything evenly even if the panniers are only half full. Having too much weight on
the back can be a problem in handling and when grinding uphill. One of the thrills of touring for me after struggling up a big mountain
is getting to 'let it all hang out' and go as fast as I can down the other side...having a evenly balanced load is critical when doing that.
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Old 07-03-18, 12:10 PM
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Ride a lot before embarking on any tours. "Ride into shape," only works for people with a long history of riding. Many beginning tourers find themselves stranded after an over-use injury develops in the late second or third week. There is a big difference riding 8 hours a day for weeks at a time vs 1 Saturday a month.
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Old 07-03-18, 04:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Vegasclimber
From what I have seen, it seems that a very common mistake is overpacking when starting out - we should be able to avoid that as we do a lot of back country camping and have learned all about weight penalties for carrying too much stuff.
Yes, your backpacking experience will come in handy. While weight certainly matters, on-bike weight is more forgiving than weight directly strapped to your back. You can easily afford some weight in the interest of comfort, that isn't practical when backpacking.
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Old 07-04-18, 07:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Big Lew
It's all fine and dandy to explore the best equipment, clothing, and food stuffs to take while touring, that's the
advantage of today's internet people didn't have in years gone by. It doesn't make or break having a successful
tour though. My first multi day tour was done on an old man's single speed CCM when my buddy and I were 14
(1960) while carrying everything in canvas packs on our backs. We wore jeans, carried canned goods, an old
lumpy sleeping bag, and had a sheet of plastic for a tent. We didn't have a clue, didn't even carry much water,
had to put a small rock in our mouth to encourage saliva when riding through a small desert, but we had a blast.
We quickly learned not to wear jeans, to carry plenty of water, and to carry our gear on the bike, but otherwise
we would eagerly do it again. Many years later another buddy and I met and rode with a fellow for a few days while
traveling along the Alaskan Hwy. He also basically jumped on his bike and started riding. He wore normal street
clothes, wore work boots, and carried far too much heavy gear, yet he had started in Juneau and was heading home
to New York. He was a retired policeman, had unbridled enthusiasm, and even though was enduring discomfort, was
having the time of his life. This is why I say, learn what you can from sites like this, but most importantly, get on the
bike and go do it....things will work out.
So spot on.

My first serious ride was deciding the night before to borrow a mountain bike and attempt the NYC 50+ mile tour. It took me 10 hours, multiple stops and a significant amount of walking the bike - but 20 years later I still have amazing, vivid memories from that day. Not having the best of everything or knowing exactly how to navigate the hills, streets, alleys of NYC added to the adventure.

It's fun to get a little obsessed with the details, but I have to remind myself that if it's the adventure you're seeking - embrace the unknowns and take the leap.
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Old 07-04-18, 11:39 PM
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Badass story Vin! My inner selves "Captain Adventure" and Captain Safety" are always warring about adventure vs being safe, with about a 50/50 success rate
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Old 07-04-18, 11:41 PM
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Been on vacation up in the Pacific Northwest this week - have been finding some incredible places to tour around my home town that I never knew about. Wife and I are doing StP next year, depending on which vehicle we have at the time we might tour a bit as well.
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Old 07-05-18, 12:05 AM
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Honestly the best advice you will get is watching some youtube videos of folks who are actually out doing it until you are comfortable doing it. Simple youtube search:

"Bike Camping"

There are tons of folks making channels now who have lots of great advice. You can collectively pick up tons of tips, ideas, packing, and many warnings and advice as they are literally doing it. Rather than point you to some specific folks, it might be more practical for you to spend time researching it that way and get comfortable with a style you will adapt collectively from them. You can even follow some of them as they are actively doing it and communicate with them through their youtube channel while it is happening. Gosh the beauties of technology!
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Old 07-05-18, 07:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Vegasclimber
Badass story Vin! My inner selves "Captain Adventure" and Captain Safety" are always warring about adventure vs being safe, with about a 50/50 success rate
Safety and Adventure often have an inverse relationship.

Have fun on whatever trip you choose.
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