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First Bike Trip!

Touring Have a dream to ride a bike across your state, across the country, or around the world? Self-contained or fully supported? Trade ideas, adventures, and more in our bicycle touring forum.

First Bike Trip!

Old 05-08-10, 10:45 AM
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Last edited by courtleigh; 05-11-16 at 11:42 PM.
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Old 05-08-10, 11:56 AM
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I've still not done a first tour yet, at least not since I was a teenager. I can't say how far you could go in a given amount of months as that is something you'll just have to work on. To train just ride as long and as far as you can without hurting yourself, as much as possible. Also, where you go should be your choice, go with your gut. Maybe take the flattest route if you can't decide either way.

You can do anything alone, it's just a mater of not being afraid, which is easier said than done. Personally I like some company whenever I take adventures. Not just for the safety factor, but to share the experience with someone else. My first tour will likely be alone.

As far as camping goes, you could stay in motels if you are scared of camping and have the financial freedom to do so. I will be camping because I enjoy it, which is great considering I don't have the money to stay in a motel every night when I could camp instead. But I am willing to take a night in a motel if things are looking extremely unpleasant.

The right type of bike... I hate this question because almost everyone will tell you to get a touring bike and then throw in their favorite bike name. I agree with them! Personally I want a Surly Long Haul Trucker, it's a great bike. So is the Trek 520. Both are steel frames which will make the ride a little more pleasant than aluminum (Aluminum is stiffer, you'll feel more vibrations, harder on your bum, your wrists, elbows, etc.). There are a ton of great touring bikes out there and everyone has their favorite. A new Long Haul Trucker starts out around $1000 in the USA. It's one of the cheaper touring bikes but also one of the most loved. You can get bikes used for much less, but make sure you get the right sized frame. If you don't know what size you need I'd get the bike from a shop, they will measure you and order the correct bike, build it and spend an hour or so with you making sure the seat, handlebars, etc. are adjusted correctly for your body. That fitting is one of the most important things you can have done, even if you buy the bike used you should pay for a fitting at a shop. The better the fit, the more comfortable you will be for long rides.

Don't use a backpack. Use Panniers and Pannier bags. If you hate that idea look into a bicycle trailer. I'd hate to ride long distances with a huge backpack on, loaded with a tent, sleeping gear and a couple days of clothing and food. Plus extras.

The reason I sort of hate that question (what bike to use) is that really any bike can be used as a touring bike. They might not all be as comfortable, or as well suited. But people have been "touring" for as long as the modern bicycle as been around. The real question is do you need a touring bike and what are you willing to invest? I think a lot of people come here and have us tell them;

Look, you need a touring bike, it's at somewhere around $1000, you need pannier racks (those racks that you see on the front and back of a bike to hold bags), so there's another $100-200. Oh and then you need pannier bags so let's add another $200. You will want to make sure you have a pump, spare tires, patches, some basic tools. Oh maybe a handlebar bag too. Don't wear cotton, cotton kills! Get all new clothing, get fabric that breaths and dries fast, wicking fabrics. Oh you're camping? Do you have the gear? Get an ultra light tent, there goes $150-300 bucks or so, sleeping bag too, ultra light, another $150-250 gone, depending on temperature rating required. Get a nice sleeping pad, that's $75 or more. You'll need a stove if you're camping... depending what you want that's anywhere from free (make a pop can stove) or up to $150 or so.
And the list seems to never end, I think some people end up missing out on great experiences because of price tag shock. There are a few things I personally think are important. And remember I've never actually toured yet, at least not recently or "correctly" (I used to use a backpack as a teenager, it sucked, I also had no idea what I was doing was called touring, we just called it bike camping...), but I've been doing a TON of research and others will be fast to point out anywhere that I am wrong and more importantly fill on blanks I might have missed because of their real world experiences. This place is a great wealth of information, read old threads, read "crazy guy on a bike" and get an idea of what is important to you.

So here is what I think is important.

The Bike... get a touring bike if you want to, if you can't justify the cost, or just don't want to then the next best bet is to look for a used mountain bike on craigslist, etc. Not just any mountain bike mind you. You want one of the old early 90's bikes. The ones without shocks, etc. These make for pretty good touring bikes because they tend to have long chain stays, the distance from the center of your bottom bracket (where the arms your pedals attach to hook to the bike) to the center of your rear tire where the gears attach to the wheel. This allows for your feet to spin without your heels hitting your bags. Also they tend to have attachments for racks and more bottle bracket mounts than a newer bike. Also, they tend to be cheap! Find a nice one, get it tuned up (make sure the frame size is right for you!) and you're good to go for much less than a real touring bike. People seem to like the old Specialized Rockhoppers. But I'm no expert.

Get a bike that has low gears, low gears are the ones where you can spin your legs at super sonic speeds and barely move. You'll love these gears when you have weight on your bike and you're going up a hill. That's another reason old mountain bikes are good. I don't know what your current bike has for gearing.

Get some comfortable cycling clothing, you don't have to get the tights you see people wearing, just get a couple pairs of padded cycling underwear that you can put under a regular pair of shorts, they tend to be cheaper. Get some good cycling socks and shirts. They don't have to be expensive, they just have to get the job done. REI.com probably has something.

Don't use a backpack, get panniers. Racks and bags basically. If those are not for you check out trailers. Trailers tend to cost more I think, but I've honestly not looked into them very much.

Find items that pack up small.

For camping, if you have the gear then great! Try to keep the weight down though, you don't want to carry too much heavy gear if you can avoid it. If the gear you have is heavier (for example, walmart gear) then it's nice if you can split the load with someone else. Again, REI.com probably has a lot of items that would be great for you. REI also has an outlet online with lots of cheaper items.

Have fun! Don't rush it. Take your time. Research, research, research! The more time you spend figuring things out, the better off you'll be when you are ready to go and the more chances you'll have to find excellent deals on website sales or craigslist. You don't have to buy new, used is typically excellent quality because people want to start camping (example) and but all kinds of gear and after three years of it sitting there and never being used they can't justify the space it takes up any longer so they sell it for cheap. Obviously if you have a date set to do something you can't take all the time in the world to research, but still, don't rush it.

Consider Renting. You could probably rent a trailer for a couple weeks for very little money from a bike rental shop in your city. I'm not sure if REI rents camping gear, (I don't have REI in Canada, but we do have MEC, and they rent out items) that is also an option for lightweight gear.

Borrow if you can, maybe you know someone who's into backpacking, maybe they will lend you a nice light single person tent for a couple weeks.

You can cut new prices in half or less by going used while still getting the same quality.

Good Luck!
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Old 05-08-10, 09:28 PM
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You've got plenty of time to get in good cycling condition. Just ride as often and as far as you can without becoming too tired or bored. Don't over do the training. You'll be touring not racing.

Practice the art of spinning, as in rotating the pedals faster than 70 rpm. Stay in gears low enough to do this. More efficient and less tiring than mashing along at 50 rpm. Hit a hill, gear lower and keep those legs moving.

The hybrid that you love will do just fine for a first tour. Clip on a rear rack and get a couple of large panniers and a rack top stuff sack. Load up with gear and head out for an overnight trip to test yourself and the gear out. Very important so don't skip this step.

While on tour, figure on about 50 miles/day max, and be satisfied with 30 or 40. So, for two weeks, and including one day off the bike, figure on about 500 miles. You can probably do more, but would have less time to smell those roses, meaning sightseeing and visiting with all the people you're likely to meet. It's the people you'll likely remember the most.

Make sure you can fix a flat, and take the bike to a local bike shop for a solid tune up before leaving on tour.

Digest as much as you can here and over at www.crazyguyonabike.com, but don't get so bogged down in the thousands of options that you get discouraged/confused. Just do it.
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Old 05-09-10, 10:37 AM
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Wow, this calls for Bike Touring 101! (There actually is a site by that name here.)

You can tour on anything, but a "real" touring bike is specifically designed for the task so it would be desirable. Then you need a way to carry your stuff, opening up the great "panniers vs. trailer debate." (I agree with the person who said don't use a backpack. That would be most unpleasant. I carried my books on my bike in one when I was in college, and I'll carry a Camelbak on tour if I think I'll need it, but it's much better to have nothing on your back.) I prefer panniers, but I've toured with a Bob and would again if my bike choice dictated it. Then you need lightweight camping gear, unless you're going to stay in motels. Either way it will be expensive.

The bottom line is that getting everything you need - really good, dedicated bike touring stuff - is pretty expensive, but once you've got it you won't need to replace anything for many years. The second tour is really inexpensive - just camping and food!

If you want to buy stuff, a Surly LHT will cost about $1,100, which is towards the lower end of prices for tourers, though there are some lower (Windsor, Fuji, Novara), and when you add good racks and good panniers you're probably well over $1,500.

If you want to ride your Schwinn, make sure the wheels are durable, especially the rear, and that the gearing is low. When you carry a load you put more stress on the wheels, and due to dishing and weight distribution the rear is more vulnerable. I don't know how much you weigh. If you're a lightweight this may not be as much of a concern. I'm 6'4" and weigh 200 lbs. All of my stuff is extra large. Weight is a big concern for me and I've had a tour spoiled by a spate of broken spokes. At least have your rear wheel checked out by a good bike mechanic. Tell him/her about the load you'll be carrying.

If you want to ride your Schwinn, another option would be a trailer. You can buy a Bob for $300. You can carry all your stuff on it (and the sack is waterproof), and carry a couple of extra water bottles. It's a little heavy, and you'll have to carry another spare inner tube (for the small wheel. If you're one of those who carries a spare tire - I don't - you'll also need a spare for the Bob) but it's a good option for someone who has a bike already and doesn't want to spend a ton of money for a whole new setup.

There's almost no avoiding hills, and riding up a long, steep one with all that weight can be a struggle. Worse, it can cause damage to your knees. If your Schwinn has a triple crankset in front, it may be suitable, but check the smallest ring. If it has more than 24 teeth, you might consider swapping it out for something smaller. Of course, gearing also depends on the rear cassette. I have a 24-tooth granny (small ring) in front and a 34-tooth large gear in back. With this setup I've been able to pedal up every hill without suffering (so far). If you're not sure you're in good enough shape, consider a crankset with a 22-tooth granny. The key to pulling a big load up a long, steep hill is just to go slow and not be in a hurry. (You also have to focus to ride in a straight line at really slow speeds.)

As far as your training goes, it sounds like you'll want to get in better shape if you don't want to suffer. You called 20+ a long bike ride. To most of us, that's a pretty short ride. During the school year (I'm a teacher) when I can only ride on intermittant Saturdays I usually do 25 miles when I'm out of shape and up to 35 when I haven't skipped a weekend. On tour, I start easy. If I've been riding a lot I'll usually start with 30 mile days for the first 2 or 3 days, then work up to a 50 mile a day average when I get in the groove. If I haven't been riding much I'll start with 20-25 mile days until I'm feeling stronger, then get into my 50 mile average. Once I'm in the groove I'll ride 75 or 80 miles in a day, depending on where the campgrounds are. Other people have much higher daily averages - 75-80, with occasional 100 mile days.

As you get closer to your tour a good training regimen is to load up your bike as if you're on tour and do some rides approaching the mileages you think you'll be riding on tour. Of course, doing one such ride in a row is a lot different than doing them every day for many days in a row.

I tour for enjoyment, not to prove anything or to get anyplace in a hurry. Others feel like they haven't accomplished enough if they stop after only 30 miles in a day. You'll have to figure out what kind of person you are. But if you want to enjoy the experience, I recommend riding distances that make sense to you, not what you think you should because of what you've read about others doing. (That was a convoluted sentence; did it make sense?)

Last edited by BigBlueToe; 05-09-10 at 10:42 AM.
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