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Practice Tour?

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Practice Tour?

Old 02-12-11, 06:34 AM
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Practice Tour?

How many of you did a practice tour before your long tour?

If you did, was it benefical?

If it was beneficial, what did you learn?


Before getting into touring, I had done quite a bit of camping so I had a reasonable idea what to expect in that regard. I had also done a lot of cycling, so I was familiar with that aspect of touring.

My touring history started with several short supported tours, and hub-and-spoke style tours, which were not much different from my usual weekend rides except that I stayed somewhere else overnight. They didn't involve carrying a lot of gear.

My first tour with a loaded touring bicycle was in 2003 ... 3 weeks in Europe ... and was a combination of going sightseeing with friends (no bicycle), travelling by train and ferry (hauling the bicycle around), riding the PBP (lightly loaded), and doing a 6-day cycling tour in Wales. That 6-day tour was my official practice tour ... to see if I really liked touring.

What I learned from that short 2003 tour ...

1) Bring a sleeping mat! I thought I could save some weight by skipping the sleeping mat. Sleeping mats aren't just to ease the discomfort of sleeping on hard ground, they also keep you warmer. Sleeping on the hard ground is COLD! Doing a practice tour was worth it for this discovery alone.

2) Lighter is better ... easier to haul around when not cycling, easier to pedal around when cycling. But even so, on my much longer tour in 2004, I still wasn't travelling as light as I should have been and ended up putting 10 lbs of gear into storage a few days into the tour.

3) Change is heavy! And I still get caught with this one ... pay for stuff with bills, get change in return, and before I know it, I've got a kg of change in the bottom of my bag.

Last edited by Machka; 02-12-11 at 06:40 AM.
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Old 02-12-11, 06:57 AM
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I guess I eased myself into touring slowly. First with a rental bike when on holdiay, then an untralight weekend jaunt on my old bike, then a 5-day hostelling trip on my new touring bike. A few hostel and camping (not cooking) trips around Europe. When I finally had the time/money/inclination for a big trip I was pretty experienced and knew what to expect.

I understand your issue with coins. In Europe there are still countries outside the Euro-zone. Best to spend your coins on a decent coffee and cakes before you leave. I hauled a good few Danish-pastries worth of Kroner around Norway.
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Old 02-12-11, 07:00 AM
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First tour was with two small panniers and a large blue homemade rack sack, on a cheap Diamondback cyclocross. 120 miles, two nights.

After 3 flats in 5 miles, I learned that you gotta find the tiny wire in the tire. Duh. Also learned that you can meet a lot of really nice, helpful, interesting people on a bike tour. I was hooked.
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Old 02-12-11, 08:39 AM
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I did an overnight practice with my wife before I did a 6 day tour solo. I learned that I needed a sleeping mat also, but actually more for the comfort than the warmth. I also learned adding all that stuff on the back of a road bake makes the handling crazy, and tried to cut some weight back. Unfortunately it didn't teach me that my rack was going to get messed up 5 times a day, and now I'm switching to actually getting a real touring bike with eyelets for my tour this year.
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Old 02-12-11, 08:51 AM
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I just took off on a coast to coast 4244 mile (73 day) tour right off. I had done a lot of cycling and had camped a lot when backpacking, canoe camping, and a bunch of other outdoor activities so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.

Not knocking shakedown tours, but I have no regrets about not doing any myself. I am just not inclined to do tours shorter than 10 days and really prefer to go for a month or more at a time. For whatever reason weekend tours, S24O tours, and the like have zero appeal to me.

That said if you haven't done much camping or much riding they would probably be highly advisable. I would caution that you just might find that you like may like one type of tour and not the other. So hating or loving a short tour may not predict how you will feel about a longer tour.
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Old 02-12-11, 09:06 AM
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Each tour is a practice for the next. I had also done a fair amount of camping and backpacking before my first overnight cycle trip in 1982. I did quite a few of those weekend trips before my first week long trip in 1985 and multiples of those before my first cross-continent ride in 1992. They weren't necessarily planned to be preparatory trips as this is how it naturally happened. I still do short overnights now in between longer trips since I enjoy them, but they also check out gear before the next long trip.

As far as learnings go:
- early on I learned that bike maintenance and particularly functioning brakes are important
- I learned to develop a checklist to make sure nothing was forgotten
- I learned to take fewer clothes since it is extra weight
- I learned to wash in the sink with woolite
- I learned to check bolts to make sure they remained tight and didn't rattle off/loose, e.g on racks
- I learned that a stove is extra weight and there is a surprising amount of no-cook foods; so I rarely bring stove/pans on trips anymore
- I learned my own style and preferences of riding early, motels vs. camping, etc
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Old 02-12-11, 09:50 AM
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Every tour is a practice tour..... I learn something every single tour. So yes.
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Old 02-12-11, 10:04 AM
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I did nothing special to prepare for my first, major, multi-day tour, other than loading up my panniers and riding around for a few hours. And I did not even pack everything on this so-called "shakedown" ride.

I have always been a Spartan traveler – as a hitchhiker in the 1970s and 1980s, the total weight of all of my stuff was less than 8 kg when I crossed Europe and Asia. So the transition to bicycle touring was easy, at least the part about not hauling too much stuff.
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Old 02-12-11, 10:43 AM
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I was totally anal for my first tour.

I had cycled for years (I've never even owned a driver's license), but no camping. Over the course of a couple weeks leading up to my first tour, I went out on several afternoon rides, each with a different load configuration. I thought, get used to the handling, get used to the load, and be prepared. In my mind, this all calculated into an intricately orchestrated grand strategy. Then I did a one night test outing. The plan was 100km out, camp, then 100km back. Simple. I skimped, not only on sleeping mats, but on a sleeping bag too. I thought, "hey, it's summer." I forgot, "oh, I live in Canada." So I slept on the ground with nothing but a thin tent and cycling shorts in about 12 degrees Celsius. After having injured my knee half way through the first day, I did the ride home one-legged and missed the ACTUAL tour I was planning because I couldn't even walk, much less ride.

1) Don't plan for the expected weather, but the worst weather.
2) Don't ride on an injury. When the body fails, get off the bike.
3) You can only plan so much without experience. Be flexible.
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Old 02-12-11, 04:54 PM
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I jumped straight in without any practice tours. I had a little background in car-camping, and had taken up cycling only a matter of months beforehand. I was on a budget, and cobbled together some cheap stuff and set forth on a cheap hybrid. It was ambitious, and I generally succeeded.

I've come a long way since then. And yes to the others, each tour is a learning experience. As a result, I think, as I mentioned in another thread, that my cycle touring has evolved from being Point A to Point B as the objective, to enjoying what is along the way.

Things I have learned:

1. Bulk is as much an issue as weight. It really is possible to do comfortable extended tours with two largish panniers, a tent, and a moderately sized handlebar bag.

2. Experiment. What works for someone else might not work for you. Having said that, get the best equipment you can afford, and look after it.

3. Don't be afraid to explore.

4. Don't overthink the issues, just go and do it!
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Old 02-12-11, 05:23 PM
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I started with one or two night bike camping trips because that was all my budget and schedule would allow. I wasn't any sort of cyclist, and I hadn't camped since childhood. The draw for me was to be able to travel and explore under my own power.

My first three trips where pretty rough - I had bad weather, a chilly hammock and wool blanket, inadequate maps, and as someone who does not drive, rather sketchy navigational skills. I also didn't think much of stealth camping, and felt that the only way to go was to dash from state park to state park with very little flexibility. About the only piece of equipment I did get right was the Ortlieb panniers, and having spent $160 on them, I felt I had made a commitment to keep trying until I could enjoy myself.

ANYWAY. If I can pull any lesson out that, it would be:

1. No matter how bad your first, second, or third experience may be, the fourth time might just make it all worthwhile.

2. Be flexible. If you're completely wiped out, pushing your bike up a hill covered in mosquitoes at 2am, you really should have just asked around and found a place to sleep a long time ago.

3. If your gear sucks, at least it will make for a funny story later. Cheer up.

Last edited by Tansy; 02-12-11 at 05:27 PM.
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Old 02-14-11, 04:42 AM
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I did an overnighter before my first two-week tour back in 2000. What I learned that day is that it's easier to practice setting up a new tent in your lounge room before you leave, than it is to try to set it up on the first day of the tour when the temperature hits 47 degrees C (and that was only the "official" temperature, so the real one was probably closer to 50). Oh, and I also learned the value of having a creek flowing near the campsite when it gets that hot.

On the tour itself I got stuck in the town of Glen Innes (look it up on a map if you want) for a couple of days after having an ATM swallow a plastic card on a Saturday morning. The lessons: Have another account activated by another card so you can still get money, and have some "slack" in your itinerary just in case something like that happens.
I am clinically insane. I am proud of it.

That is all.
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Old 02-14-11, 08:39 AM
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Two short, flat, partially-loaded rides, one 62 mile fully-loaded ride and a test pitch of my tent in my mom's living room before my 5,000+ mile tour. I had been riding for sport and transportation for years, and I had the "luxury" of going with a small group so I could learn from more experienced campers, which I did.

One important thing I learned (the hard way) when it was my first time to cook dinner was where not to touch a stove that had been burning for a while. I have permanently lost some of the sensation on the pad of my right index fingertip.
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Old 02-15-11, 03:29 PM
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I did not do a practice tour before my first big tour. All I did was load my bike up and ride it around the block once.
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Old 02-18-11, 01:19 PM
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Our club does a tune-up "tour" as soon as the weather permits and a loaded tour to the closest campsite just 25 km out of town sometime in June. The rookie loaded tourists really just need to find out how their bike handles and stops with a load on. It usually takes a little shake down to find out how the racks fit and how to pack a pannier so your rain gear is not buried. The club bought a complete set of panniers, a couple of front racks, a tent, 2 sleeping pads and several mess kits and stove sets for the club members to use until they decide to invest in their own.
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Old 02-18-11, 05:49 PM
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I'm gearing up for my first tour this summer, and I think my son and I are going to do a shortish ride nearby and camp in a local campground just to be sure, a few weeks before we take off on the planned weeklong tour.
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