Travelling is essential. It serves to disconnect from our routines, oxygenate our mind, take perspective of the things that surround us, and above all, discover new landscapes, new people and experience new sensations. Travelling by bicycle is even better.
Cycling allows us to observe calmly, to stop, to interact with the environment and with other cyclists or passers-by. However, travelling by bike, like any other type of self-organised trip, requires specific preparation and planning. Before setting off, you will be faced with questions such as: Where am I going to sleep? What am I going to carry? And how? How many kilometres do I plan to cycle per day? A circular route or a point-to-point route? Am I going to ride alone, accompanied or with children?
In this post, we are going to give you, from our own experience, 7 tips to face with guarantees and enjoy your first bicycle trip.
1. CHOOSE YOUR ITINERARY AND WHERE TO SLEEP
This is the first decision you will have to make about your cycling trip. Where are you going to go? When organising your first trip we advise you not to get too adventurous. Don’t go to a very remote area where it may be difficult to find water or to solve any unforeseen problems that may arise, such as the breakage of a component of your bike.
There are many routes of several days already created by other cyclists that can help you in your first adventure. You can find these itineraries divided by days, or in a complete track. To find them we use Komoot or Wikiloc, although you can also find them by searching the Internet and looking for routes in specific areas.
It could be a circular route or a route from point A to point B. A circular route will make the logistics of getting back home or to the starting point easier, but if you have to use public transport to get back, it’s complicated, as putting your bike in a bag on trains, buses or planes can be a hassle depending on where you are.
For sleeping we advise you to design or modify an already created route depending on where you are going to sleep, if you know beforehand. Basically, there are two options: go with booked hotels/hostels and thus establishing the daily routes according to where you are going to sleep, or go on an adventure and sleep in a tent or in the open. The latter will allow you to decide as you go, but you’ll have to carry the extra weight of a tent, sleeping bag, cooking utensils and food, of course. Also, in some countries, camping is prohibited, and only bivouacking (a kind of weatherproof sleeping bag) is allowed.
2. CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME AND DURATION
An overnight cycling trip in summer is not the same as a route lasting several days in winter. The longer the days, the more equipment you will have to carry, making the bike heavier, slower and less agile. Depending on where you live, our recommendation is to do this type of trip during spring and autumn in warmer areas and summer in colder areas. We say this because of the extra weight you will have to carry in warm clothes as well as the hours of natural light.
However, we also recommend that you carry a waterproof technical jacket at all times of the year, as night-time temperatures can drop quickly in high-altitude areas, and if you sleep in a tent or in the open you’ll appreciate it.
Also, bear in mind that the hours of sunlight in winter are reduced, so you’ll need lights with plenty of range to ride safely during the early and late hours of the day.
3. CHOOSE THE RIGHT BIKE
The type of bike that will work best for you will be determined by the route you ride, and vice versa. It will not be efficient to do a route with mostly tarmac on a mountain bike, or a route with dirt sections on a road bike. If there is one type of bike that is perfectly suited to long routes where you may have to ride over different types of terrain, it is a gravel bike.
Gravel bikes really are great on gravel, asphalt, dirt, stone and any other type of surface. In addition, within the gravel segment there are more adventure-oriented bikes that have ideal features such as extra holes for panniers, bags and bottle racks or a generous wheel arch to get you through muddy areas.
4. WHAT YOU WILL NEED
This is important. You have to carry everything on the bike. And the more weight you carry, the more effort you will have to make. How much material you carry will depend largely on how many days you are going to be on the road and how you are going to sleep, although there are some basic things that you must take with you. For example, GPS with the route loaded, documentation, cash, basic tools to solve any unforeseen events, spare inner tubes, wicks and some tubeless liquid if you go without inner tubes, flanges, lubricating oil, inflator, lights, power bank and chargers, energy bars, dried fruit…
In addition to all spare clothing. In this respect, the ideal is to take the minimum. Less is more. It’s OK to wear the same jersey two days in a row. The important thing is to have a comfortable change of clothes that allows you to relax and recover your strength for the next day. A pair of tracksuit bottoms, for example, is basic for us. They also take up very little space.
If you are going to sleep in a tent, things get more complicated, of course. In addition to the tent, which already weighs at least 1.5 kilos, you have to add a sleeping mat, sleeping bag and, optionally, cooking equipment. A portable cooker and dehydrated noodle-type food are best if you’re sleeping away from civilisation. You will only need enough water to feast on packaged food at night and make a good cup of coffee in the morning and wake up with a jolt.
If you want more information on how to prepare properly and what items are essential to take on your next cycling trip, don’t miss this post. In this article, you will find a more detailed and complete guide that will be of great help for your trip.
5. HOW TO CARRY EVERYTHING
There are a multitude of bikepacking bags and panniers to carry all the gear you need for your cycling adventure.
Bikepacking bags can be mounted on different parts of the bike such as the handlebars, the top tube, the inside of the frame and the seat post. They come in many sizes and are quite inexpensive to get you started on equipping your bike for a trip.
Saddlebags, on the other hand, need to be pre-attached to the bike. This provides great stability, and in terms of capacity, they are usually larger than bikepacking bags.
The benefit of the bags over saddlebags is that as they don’t require anchors, they can be mounted on almost any bike if the measurements are right. They are quick to mount and dismount, just like saddlebags, but the bags have the small disadvantage that they can move slightly (especially the saddle bag if it is very large) making pedalling a little uncomfortable.
We can’t really advise you on this point, it will depend on your tastes and preferences for bags or panniers, although if your bike doesn’t have anchorage points you will have no choice but to mount bikepacking bags.
6. TRAVELLING ALONE, ACCOMPANIED OR WITH CHILDREN
Travelling alone by bike is a unique experience. The solitude gives you a lot to think about, to enjoy the surroundings, to engage in conversation more easily with other cyclists… but riding with your family, and with children, is another level.
Seeing the happiness on their faces as they discover a new world is priceless. When it comes to travelling with them, so many kilometres, for so many days, can be unbearable.
Therefore, if we go with children we must adapt the route to fewer kilometres, with the minimum possible slope, and taking into account that we will have to stop constantly to rest, play, eat, drink …
Another option is to take them with a trailer. This way you will be able to cover practically the same distance as travelling alone, they will be comfortable admiring the scenery, and you can also enjoy a family bike trip.
This is the last, but also the best advice we can give you: enjoy the trip. After preparing everything meticulously to minimise the possibility of an unforeseen event en route that could ruin your trip, it’s time to live it and enjoy it. You’ve been working all year to get a few days off, now it’s time to discover new destinations and spend the whole day on your bike. We can’t think of a better plan, but beware, it’s a hook. Before you finish your first bike trip, you’ll already be thinking about the next one and how to improve the distribution of your belongings. You’ve been warned.