Cycle tour planning and preparation is more is more like planning an expedition than a holiday. There is just so much more to consider when you’re constantly on the move with your bicycle. Here is list that will help you with your cycle tour planning. It will take you from dreaming about a cycle adventure to living it in 8 steps.
#1 Pick a Destination and Date
The first step in cycle tour planning is to decide where you would like to cycle tour. There are numerous considerations when choosing a route including:
- How far is the destination?
- How much will it cost?
- Do you need to acquire visas?
- Will the destination have the facilities you need for a cycle tour (good roads, campsites, B&B’s, healthcare, public transportation, food, etc)?
- What’s the climate like for your dates?
- Do you have the necessary equipment for the country and climate?
Most importantly you should choose a country you have a strong desire to see by bicycle. That will drive you to finalise your cycle tour planning and get going with living your adventure. For inspiration on locations you could take a look at My Top 5 Favorite Cycle Touring Countries or spend some time browsing Google Maps.
When cycle tour planning I really enjoy browsing Google Maps for inspiration. I find that Turning on the photos overlay is a good place to start your search for an ideal cycling route.
Remember to keep it simple if you can, the grass is not always greener on the other side and you might have some great cycle touring destinations right on your doorstep. It’s exciting to rediscover where you live and find new places that are easy to visit.
#2 Decide How You are Going to Transport Your Bike and Equipment
You might be lucky enough to have an ideal cycle touring route on your doorstep, in which case your cycle tour planning might be finalised really quickly. However, if you plan to cycle tour a little further from home you might need to consider transportation.
For information on transporting your bicycle you might like to read my post on Transporting Bicycles on Ferries, Boats and Trains.
#3 Cycle Tour Planning Equipment List
Check out my recently published cycle tour planning equipment list. When I’m cycle tour planning and I get to the stage where I’m testing my setup this is what I look at first. I don’t take everything included here, instead I pick and choose from the following kit list and use it to ensure I don’t forget anything important.
#4 Cycle Tour Planning, Navigation Options
There are several options for navigation on a cycle tour. The most traditional and reliable way is with paper maps. Paper maps have the advantage over many other mapping tools as they tell you in great detail what is around you as you cycle.
Paper maps can illustrate the land and features around you in every direction, not just what lies ahead, as per many GPS units. They also don’t require powering and are very durable, especially laminated waterproof maps.
Some GPS units do show you a terrain view and surrounding features and really good ones can even show you what business and facilities are nearby, such as shops B&Bs and campsites. But consider that more features on a GPS device typically requires more battery power.
Other, simple GPS units, such as the Garmin 310xt use very little battery power and offer just enough information to navigate a pre planned cycle route. This is my prefered method for ultralight cycle touring. See the Using a Garmin Forerunner 310xt For Mapping and Navigating a Cycle Tour for a video demonstration of sports watch GPS mapping.
One last navigation option is to use cue sheets. If you subscribe to CycleFar you’ll receive a free ebook the ‘Ultralight Cycling Instruction Manual’ where you can read all about cue sheets and other ultralight cycling tips and tricks. I won’t share your email and you can unsubscribe at anytime.
In short, cue sheets are directions written down in a super condensed format that can be printed or written out on paper. Cue sheets can then be laminated or covered with tape for waterproofing. They can convey a lot of information very simply and for very little weight.
#5 Consider Sickness and Exit Strategies
New places, new people and most commonly of all; new food and accidents are common causes for sickness and injury when travelling. Some places in the world also come with their own unique health hazard such as rabies and malaria.
Cycle tour planning should involve a visit to your travel doctor if you are going to countries you are unfamiliar with. Find out what vaccines you might need early on, you may find that some vaccines have to be given in multiple doses over a period of time. Once you know where you stand with vaccinations then next stage in protecting your health whilst cycle touring is to build or buy a medical kit. In addition to antibacterial wound cleaners and plasters you may want to equip yourself with some basic medications. I usually take:
- Imodium (to combat diarrhoea)
- Broad spectrum antibiotics (can be effective against food poisoning, urine infections and many other things)
- Electrolytes (for aiding hydration)
- Antihistamines (Allergy tablets that work well against hay fever, animal allergies and bad reactions to bites and stings)
- Painkillers of some kind
Though I take these drugs cycle touring as a precaution I have only ever used allergy tablets and vaccines. I would avoid using antibiotics at all costs as they kill just as much good bacteria as they do bad (a huge topic for another day, and probably another website!). None-the-less, there are many possible situations when travelling when I would be very grateful to have a selection of medications. So I’ll continue to pack them and hope I don’t need them.
#6 Maintenance, Repairs and Building Your ToolKit
When building your cycle touring tool kit it’s best to start with a thorough analysis of what your bikes actually needs. Look at the various parts of your bicycle that may need adjusting; brakes, gears, seat post, spokes, racks, etc. then pack only the tools you need for those jobs.
Next, take a look and work out what might need replacing; brake blocks, chain, spokes, lubricant and grease, etc. and take only the spare parts that you think you will struggle to find during the cycle tour. Tools kits can soon become bulky and unnecessarily heavy, this simple approach ensures you have no dead weight and only carry the essential tools and spares. To see how far weight saving can go regarding tool kits see the Ultralight Tools For Ultralight Cycle Touring and Ultralight Cycle Touring Toolkit posts.
#7 Build Your Cycle Touring Bike Including Luggage and Equipment
Once you have your travel plans in place it’s then time to consider building your bicycle. There are several ways to carry your luggage when cycle touring but the two most common (and probably best) ways for fully loaded and ultralight cycle touring are shown in these two videos:
Cycle Tour Planning – Fully Loaded Cycle Touring Video
Cycle Tour Planning – Ultralight Cycle Touring Video
#8 Test Your Cycle Touring Setup
Once you have finished your cycle tour planning it’s time for cycle tour testing. Test out your cycle touring and camping setup. A quick S24O (sub-24 hour overnight) bike camping trip should reveal any last minute creases that need to be ironed out and will give you a taste of what’s to come.
Unless you’re going on a very short cycle tour, where you need to bank the miles from the start, don’t worry too much about your fitness. Most cycle tourers find they ease into a longer ride and pick up the pace as they go. If you’re in pretty good shape anyway you’ll feel fit on the bike within a week of sustained effort followed by a rest day.
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For more information on building an ultralight touring bike you can subscribe for free and receive the condensed “Ultra Light Cycling Instruction Manual” or grab a full copy of the Ultralight Cycle Touring Guide from your local Amazon website.