tour bike

These are some basic suggestions that will really help you in your preparation for a good and safe trip no matter how long the ride will be. It should be noted that these suggestions are not put into any particular order of any importance. A lot of these suggestions might seem ridiculous but these things are good to know.

Get a good helmet and wear it.
A helmet can save your life. Wearing a helmet has saved my life several times during run-ins with cars and having a pipe bashed into the back of my head during a robbery. Never wear something under the helmet because the helmet might not sit properly on your head and lose some ability to protect your head. A good thing to keep in mind is that you should think about "investing $40 now or $40,000 or more later" (to pay for hospital expenses, etc. if you do happen to crash and suffer serious injury).
If you do wear a helmet, you should wear it properly. Make sure that the helmet fits snugly on your head with very little side to side movement and the straps are tight so that you can only be able to slip two fingers under your chin. With regards to positioning the helmet on your head, the best rule of thumb is that "the bottom of the helmet in front touches the top of your sun glasses if you are wearing some or it is at eye brow level". The front part of your skull is the thinnest and also is the area where some of the most important parts of the brain are.

Get the right kind of bicycle.
The best rule of thumb is that "the more gears you have to choose from the better the ride will be". Ten and twelve speed bicycles are good for riding in town but you need more than eighteen speeds for touring. If you have access to hundreds of dollars you can buy a specially designed touring bicycle but the manufacturers are few and far between. Racing bicycles won't cut it because those skinny 125 P.S.I. tires will go flat fast. Mountain bicycles are good just for mountains. The low pressure of the tires that are great for smooth rides over bumps and logs will not give you a comfortable ride on roads.

My advice is to check out "hybrid" bicycles. This type of bicycle combines the best features of mountain and road bicycles. The 75 - 85 P.S.I. tires support you and your gear without much problem. You can get a good hybrid for as little as three hundred dollars.

The overall fit of your bicycle affects how comfortable it is to ride, how easy it is to pedal and control, and how safe it is to use. Make sure that your bicycle is sized and set up correctly. Some fit problems can be solved by making basic adjustments. Remember that not all bicycles are meant to fit all riders.

Get travel insurance if your insurance company sells it.
There are some companies that do cater to bicyclists.

Get your bicycle tuned up.
No real explanation is needed. A full tune-up might cost around $40 excluding replacement parts cost. Here are some good things to check out.

1) Tires - Make sure that your tires are properly inflated and in good condition. Remove any foreign objects lodged in the treads. Check your sidewalls for any damage or cracks.
2) Rims - Check the rims to make sure that they are clean and free from damage.
3) Quick-releases - Make sure that the levers (on the wheels and seat post) are closed securely.
4) Saddle - Make sure that the saddle is secure and positioned properly.
5) Handlebar and stem - Make sure that the handlebar is secure and lined up perpendicular to your bike frame, that your stem is mounted deep enough in your headset that you cannot see the extension limit line.
6) Headset - Make sure that the headset rotates smoothly from one extreme position to another. Also, you need to make sure that it doesn't shift up and down within the bike's head tube when you hold the front wheel still and lift up on the handlebars. Care should be taken to listen for any rattles, clunks, or grinding sounds while testing your headset. These are signs of trouble.
7) Brakes - The brakes should engage smoothly and reliably. Each brake should hold your leaning weight without slipping. When the brakes are fully engaged, the brake levers should rest about one inch from your handlebar (this estimate might be slightly off for certain types of levers. It is not the universal standard). The brakes should also rotate smoothly and be positioned so that they are easy to grab while riding.

The brake assemblies (arms, pads, and shoes) should be centered around each rim. When the brakes are engaged, the brake pads on each side of the rim should make contact simultaneously, front edge slightly before the rear. Also, the pads should be clean and free of damage.

Learn basic bicycle repair.
As a minimum, practice changing inner tubes for "flats". Either get a good manual or instructions at a bicycle shop with a respectable mechanic to learn how to at least fully disassemble or reassemble your bicycle at least once. Learn how to use a patch kit. Learn how to repair a broken spoke. Practice removing and connecting the links with an old chain.

Learn how to hand wash your laundry.
This is great when there is no laundromat available.

Learn how to use a compass and read maps.
Road signs are really not always correct. Sometimes directions asked for are not really correct. I found this out many times when I had to back-track up to five miles because the signs were not correct or I missed a turn.

Learn how to sleep with earplugs on.
This is great if you sleep in a noisy hostel room or having to camp out near traffic.

Learn how to travel light.
Bring really what you absolutely need. Ounces count. Electric hair dryers and irons are great but where are you going to plug them in at campgrounds or in the woods. Use a rule of thumb that backpackers use - "If you cannot use it for more than two or three uses, it is not really worth carrying". I'm reminded about the first miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia where things are left behind alongside the trail because the backpacks are too heavy.

I've met some people who were struggling with bicycles that almost weighed two hundred pounds. Their bicycles looked like beast of burdens instead of sleek two-wheeled machines. I have met bicycle tourists who were carrying full-length axes and machetes and several cyclists had guitars taking the place of one of the front panniers. These cyclists always seemed to have a strained look upon their face and they can't wait to get to a post office to send some of the not needed things home. I still have a lot to learn myself because some people have called my bicycle an "over-burdened camel".

Learn simple phrases of the local language if you are traveling abroad.

Practice climbing in a seated position with a full-load or partial load on your bicycle.
Standing up on the pedals while climbing might be great on an unloaded bicycle if you are racing but it will change your center of gravity on a loaded bicycle and will allow the bike to tip more easily. Get a bicycle with a very low "granny gear" (small gear up front) that will help you up a hill. Do not be concerned if you are just poking up along a hill at four miles an hour. You'll eventually get to the top of the hill no matter what speed you travel.

Plan your route.
Learn about the area you will be traveling in. Gather as much information as you can. State tourism centers are great resources and some states even have web sites. Some states even have maps that show local bicycle routes. As an example, North Carolina has great bike route maps and even designated routes with signs across the state from border-to-border.

Develop relatively detailed route plans for your first several tours. Plan conservatively to avoid mileage problems. Base your daily distance estimates on your skill and ability. Include time for rest and relaxation in your plans as well as time for non-cycling activities such as eating, exploring, and sightseeing. Long trips can be fun but attempting to cover too much ground but it can result in sore muscles, bad moods, and missed opportunities along the way.

Be aware of prominent wind direction. Generally, if you are traveling in the southern part of the country, the wind is coming from the east and up north the wind is coming from the west. Tail winds are great. Strong headwinds can reduce your speed to one that you might as well get off the bicycle and push it. I remember one time along the coast of California that I had to push the bicycle down a hill because the winds were so strong.

Prepare your body.
Get a health check including a dental check up before you start. This is so your trip will not be prematurely terminated due to an existing condition that can be corrected before the trip.

The best thing to do is to train. The amount of physical preparation depends on your current level of fitness and the kind of tour that you have in mind. The best training for bicycle touring is regular cycling. No single training plan works for every cyclist. Start out slowly to give yourself plenty of time to get in shape. Begin with short rides over easy-to-moderate terrain at first and then increase the length and difficulty as you get stronger.

Train in the kinds of conditions that you are likely to encounter while touring. This includes terrain, weather, and riding surface conditions. Keep your training program interesting. It would also be best to get used to the extra weight of all of the gear. Start with small loads at first on level terrain and then increase the load and difficulty of your training rides gradually. Listen carefully to your body while training and slow down and make adjustments to your program when necessary. The more that you practice before you leave on your trip the smoother and more enjoyable that your tour will be.

Prepare your mind.
Take it easy. Consider a trip as being a vacation. Maintain a "I will enjoy this trip, regardless of what happens" attitude. This would help especially when things get rough. I usually think of two words "Surf's up". There were times when I was sort of stuck at my wit's end and just thinking about these words brought on a smile and in the end things did turn out to be better than what I had imagined. If all else fails that is in your power, pray.


Bicyclist in Sunset


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