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Better Bike Touring: 5 Tips From the Saddle

Packing it Out Abby on Roadside
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As with any good adventure, there were some oversights on my latest five-month bike tour. Here are a few things to remember that I didn’t realize until I was in the saddle.

Tips for bike touring

From weekend trips to 30-day expeditions, I have planned and packed for all types of trips. I considered a plethora of experiences I was sure to encounter on a bike tour across the US, but I didn’t prepare for everything.

These five considerations may seem unorthodox, but they will help you better prepare, both mentally and physically, for any expedition.

1. Bugs

I grew up in an area filled with mosquitos, fire ants, and gnats, so I didn’t mind insects when hiking. I figured, if you walk quickly enough, you usually escape their tiny, hungry mouths.

And for the most part, things are pretty similar on a bike.

That is, until you bomb a hill and a carpenter bee slams into your chest at 20 mph. Or, when you speed through a cloud of mosquitoes and feel like you’re being pelted in the face with an airsoft gun.

Pro tip: Wear eye protection. Thankfully, I have glasses or I would have been blinded by now.

Tips for bike touring

2. Speed

In all of the outdoor sports I love, one of the things I enjoy the most is completely immersing in the moment. On remote trails, rivers, and mountains, the only people you see are doing the same thing you are.

When bike touring, however, you are constantly surrounded by vehicles going much faster than you. It can be a huge distraction watching cars pass and knowing that they will reach the same destination in a fraction of the time.

Pro tip: Try for less-trafficked roads, both for safety and peace of mind.

Packing it Out: Tips for bike touring

3. Food

Good food has always been a huge reward and something I look forward to on the trail. When we first embarked on this tour, we planned to carry four days’ worth of meals.

Yet, nearly three months into this journey, my bike partner is still carrying rice from that first pack, hoping (probably in vain) that one day we will eat it.

Touring requires roads, which exist to connect towns. Food is no longer something to daydream about; at any gas station or produce stand we are free to grab anything our stomachs desire.

Pro tip: Pack only a day or two worth of food at a time, and supplement with the goodies you pass along the way.

Packing it Out: Tips for bike touring

4. Navigation

Unless you are completely off-trail or getting a first ascent/descent, navigation in most sports is pretty straightforward. The path is set and all you do is follow it.

That said, there are countless routes people follow when bike touring. Like any bike route, our’s is custom-tailored for distance and destinations.

Unfortunately, with all the choices, we’ve definitely fallen into fits of “analysis paralysis.”

Pro tip: Plan daily for long-term destinations with the use of hard and online maps. Prioritize what you want to see versus how long you want to ride.

Packing it Out: Tips for bike touring

5. Trash

Litter: It’s the reason we’re on this tour. We committed before the trip to only clean up scenic areas, and we’d love to leave our roadsides as clean as our public lands. But we’d never get anywhere if we tried.

Driving in cars, you see a lot of things in ditches on the highway. On bikes, moving slower, you see and smell everything. Glass, plastic, clothes, car debris, bags full of trash, and even plates of spaghetti.

It’s in every state, on every country road, and it’s a bit disheartening. Though it feels like a small piece of a bigger problem, cleaning the scenic places still makes us feel pretty good.

Pro tip: Pack it out! And join us along the way or commit to clean up something on your next bike tour.

Packing It out: Tips for bike touring

–Our 2017 ‘Packing It Out‘ coverage is sponsored by REI.

–Check out the crew’s 2015 and 2016 efforts on our ‘Packing It Out’ page. Connect with Abby and Seth on InstagramTwitter, and their blog.

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