Feel envious when you see cycle tourers riding through your town? Fancy tasting the joys of travelling by bike yourself? The only problem is, you don’t know where to start. There are many things to consider when it comes to preparing your first bike touring trip.
Travelling by bike, a different approach to tourism
Travelling by a bike is a different approach to tourism. It is a slower form of travel, where you take your time. You live the scenery and trails rather than passing through or along them. It is also a greener and more sustainable way to travel. You are in direct contact with the environment, and the elements, too. It is also an excellent way to meet people. With this alternative form of travel, the journey matters more than the destination.
Planning your bike trip well requires asking the right questions
The first thing to do when planning your bike trip is to make a list of questions. Your answers will determine the rest. A bike trip is not entirely risk free. It is therefore wise to prepare as best as possible to prevent minor incidents from turning into a nightmare situation.
Deciding your route
What is your target destination? Even though the destination matters less than the journey itself, this is one of the first questions to ask. You may of course enjoy planning nothing and heading where fancy takes you. Why not? It is preferable, though, to have an objective to aim for. It makes the experience more mentally stimulating, especially if it is your first time travelling by bike.
Based on this end destination, you will be able to calculate the distance to be covered, and the number of days it will take you to get there. For some, 100 kilometres will be an easy one-day stage, for others a week-long expedition. But the important thing isn’t how long it takes.
If you are cycle touring for the first time, beware of not taking on too much. Aim for a suitable distance which you are capable of completing. What is a suitable distance? It’s hard to say. You could, for instance, start out easy and work up to longer distances, with a first stage of 30 km, then a second of 45 km, and so on. The last stage should also be reasonable in terms of kilometres, as your legs will have already worked hard. By choosing short stages, of between 30 and 50 kilometres a day (or perhaps a little less or more depending on your level), with the energy you have left on arrival, you will be able to explore your destination (in Angers, the bike concierge service allows you to store your bike and belongings).
Choosing a type of route
Another thing to decide is the type of route you want to do: One way? Same route there and back? Round-trip? A round-trip or there-and-back route will make life easier. You won’t need any other means of transport than your bike and your own two legs.
If, however, you want to go further, you’ll need a transfer solution. It could simply be your own car (but are you equipped to carry bikes?) It could also be the train. Note that some train services (like the TER) accept bikes (without having to dismantle them or book in advance); others will refuse you access if your bike isn’t disassembled and bagged or boxed (this is the case on the TGV). You might also consider setting off far from home and riding your way back.
Our advice, though, would be to opt for a round-trip. This is because coming back the same way can be tiresome and with one-way routes, finding a solution for the return journey isn’t always easy to do. After a wonderfully relaxing cycling holiday, do you really want the stress of putting your bike on the train or on the roof of the car?
Decide on your mode of accommodation
Once you have settled on your destination and determined the number of stages on your trip, you still need to choose a mode of accommodation. Of course, the material you will need to take with you will differ depending on where you plan to sleep (and the level of comfort you desire). If you opt to sleep beneath the stars, your load will be lighter than if you choose to camp in a tent with a minimum amount of comfort.
Unless you are an absolute fan of camping, for a first cycle touring trip, we recommend opting to stay in “hard-wall” accommodation, where you will be warm and out of the elements (eg. in a gîte or a hotel). There is no point adding difficulty to difficulty. Moreover, investing in light camping gear can quickly make things expensive.
You can choose to stay in a hotel, but be aware that not all are set up to welcome cycle tourers (you will need bike storage, for example), so you will need to check in advance. Some accommodation, however, is certified cyclist friendly (Accueil Vélo mark). Choosing to stay in a gîte, guest house or with a local host, is also an excellent way to meet people.
Taking the right equipment with you
So your trip is all planned and you are ready to go. All you have to do now is load up your bike. Although it is not impossible, we strongly advise against carrying your equipment in a rucksack, which might seem like an easy solution but will make your journey unpleasant in the long run.
A good pair of panniers on your bike’s luggage rack is a much more efficient solution. If you prefer travelling light, you could instead opt for a bikepacking style set up for your luggage. If you need even more volume, you can add a front rack. You will need to make sure, though, that the fork of your bike is compatible with such a system. It is also important to ensure that the weight is properly distributed, keeping weight as low as possible to improve your bike’s centre of gravity.
Which bike to take?
Yours, of course. What we mean is that you don’t need a special bike for cycle touring. Whether electric or pedal-powered, your everyday bike, as long as it is in good working condition, will do the job perfectly well. Of course, some types of bike will be better suited, depending on the distance and duration of your trip and the type of route you take. If you are not sure your bike is up to it, you could also hire a bike, for example via the Angers Bike Concierge service.
Plan for the unforeseeable
To make your cycle touring trip as unforgettable an experience as possible, it is best to anticipate the little things that could go wrong. Firstly, remember that weather can be changeable. Ensure you have what you need to protect yourself from the heat, cold, and rain. Also make sure that your luggage is watertight. You don’t want to arrive at your destination and have to sleep in a wet sleeping bag.
You should also pack what you need to make small repairs to your bike, just in case, like a pump, inner tubes, a multi-purpose tool, some duct tape, plastic collars and even perhaps a chain tool. If you are not comfortable with these types of repairs, practice at home before you set off on your trip.
And if you really don’t want to get your hands dirty, research the bike repair shops that you can call upon, if necessary, along your way. If the worst does happen while you are on your trip, you are certain to come across a fellow cyclist who knows what to do. You can always lend them your tools and let them help you out.
You are all prepared now to mount your bike and set off to discover the extraordinary scenery along the long-distance cycling routes or bike routes around Angers!