Taking a Trip, with Your Bike as a Ship

“Up, up, and away—[on] my beautiful, my beautiful…” —The 5th Dimension

Le Père de Grace et de Pommes de terre suggested I write a little bit for you about bicycle touring. This is sort of a loaded question. Not because I’m so very knowledgeable from experience, but more because I’m long-winded and full of trivia. I began riding road bikes in 1987 while working in a Schwinn shop (back when that used to mean something other than a Target), and though I’ve become far more of a mountain biker than a road cyclist, I have kept up with touring over the years, as it simply speaks to me more than racing does.

Bicycle touring was really biggest in the 1970s. There was something called BikeCentennial in 1976, and for some reason (that I’m sure someone out there can tell us) it lit a philosophical fire under America (rightfully so) for touring the country by bike. If you’re old enough, you might remember a time when most road bikes were covered with bags. It should be memorable, because you’re starting to see all those bags around again—in this case, more for utility cycling, but nevertheless, it’s the first time bikes have been seen in a guise other than racing for many years.

See, I told you this would be long-winded. Anyway, what does this have to do with YOU, I hear you asking. Well, you will know if you are interested. I’m not going to try to talk you into anything. But I’m here to be a resource if this is something you can see yourself or your family trying.

The first place you should start is a quick overnight. There are two excellent (in my opinion) sources of info on how to do this. The time-honored veterans of these short camping trips are Rivendell Bicycle Works. For years they have championed what they call the ‘Sub- 24 Hour Overnight’ or S24O. Check out info from them HERE. Another new and fantastic source of information comes from a contest that the Welsh clothing company Howies put on involving people going on what they call MicroAdventures and documenting it. Check out these videos HERE.  Between these two, you should be well aware of how to get started with this bike touring thing.

But before you read that, let me tell you what you already know, but don’t know you know, y’know? (Ugh). You’ll need a bike (either road or mountain bike, really) and either a backpack (a rather large one) or a rack on the bike. Or a rack and a smaller backpack. You need to either plan on sleeping outside, renting a hotel room, or carrying a tent. You’ll need food. Again, you can “credit card tour” and this is perfectly valid, but it’s not the cheapest way to go. Perhaps better to carry food and either fire starting material (be VERY careful with fire) or a campstove.

This is a good time to say that one of the worst things you could do is get a special touring bike, outfit it with all the bags, buy all the camping things, before ever sleeping outside on a bike tour. Remember, the experience here is worth far more than having all the “right” equipment. After you’re experienced, you can tour the whole country with all the gear, but first, get started doing it. the Howies videos are good at getting this point across.

Now, if you want to just get an idea of what the larger kind of touring is about, give THIS a look.  And bikes like this or this.  Andand and…  You see how easily you can be lured into gear worship.  But this is supposed to be about re-experiencing nature.  And for most of the readers of this site, modeling for your children what it means to experience nature.  So what does it mean?  A reason to use your cool gear?  Or is the gear just a tool?  I knew you thought so.  (Wish I could practice what I preach- well, I can, but only through poverty!)

Ernest Hemingway has a famous quote which I won’t bother to Google, because it’s so easy for you to do. In which he said that riding a bicycle helps you to appreciate the landscape in a way you never could in a car. A hill is very physical and real to you. Flat ground isn’t always as flat as it looks, as you will know if you have to keep pedaling, instead of coasting. A forest has a smell and a feeling to the air within. Know what I mean? You will!

Certainly, ask any questions you’d like in the comments or e-mail me at the contact info on the home page.



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