Kudos to you if planning to leave the comfort zone of bike riding along the familiar roads and trails around your home and opting for your first long distance bike tour.
When planning a self-contained bike tour, use our Self-Contained Cycling Checklist and Budgeting Calculator
Taking a bike ride through many cities and states is an awesome adventure that will pay rewards in physical and mental well being as well as character shaping experiences.
Long distance bike tours have allowed me to meet new friends (both riders and “locals”) while exploring popular and obscure places in the United States.
Of course, proper preparation is essential to the enjoyment and success of your first long distance bike tour.
Picking up a bike after years of dormancy and jetting out on a 500 mile bike is potentially dangerous and could make it your last ride because of injury, displeasure, or other mishap.
There are always going to be unexpected circumstances over a long distance ride that might end your tour early, but proper preparation with these 10 steps will help increase your chances for a fun and successful adventure.
Find the Right Bike for your Long Distance Tour
Since you’ll be spending 5-6 hours or even more a day on your bike, it’s important to have one that is a comfortable fit and meets your needs.
Many people preparing for a long distance bike tour try out 4 or 5 different bikes before finding one that lets them sit at the right angle, is the correct height, and is just overall comfortable to be on for extended periods of time.
Choose a Supported or Non-Supported Ride
An early decision in the preparation for your long distance ride is whether to do a supported or non-supported ride.
A supported ride is planned by a company and features other riders as well as a ‘hospitality’ vehicle to carry gear, bring meals, etc.
A non-supported ride means you’re going rogue, planning your own route and being accountable for your own food, lodging, etc.
Depending on the option you choose, you’re planning will look quite different.
Be Honest About Your Physical Condition
When I was cycling across America, a large number of cycling adventurers I met were people in their late 50s to early 60s or older.
Some of these folks were in tremendous shape. They could burn me in a race and beat me up a mountain, while others had to be cycling more slowly and deliberately.
No matter what your age you should be honest about your physical conditions so that you can plan and carry out a feasible tour.
Every tour will provide some challenges and pains, but bike tours turn bad when you sign up for way more than your body can reasonably handle.
Overestimating your abilities may result in a poorly planned or poorly executed adventure. In the worst cases, it may lead to injury.
Start Training for your Bike Tour at Least 3 Months Out
You’ll get stronger as you complete the route on your long distance tour, but it will help in the early days and help prevent injury if you build up a fitness foundation first.
You should be riding frequently to get comfortable on a bike and doing other cardiovascular exercises to build up your heart and lung capacity.
Plan Your Long Distance Bike Tour
The Adventure Cycling Association has implemented almost 30 routes through America, giving you options on what part of the country you’d like to see and terrain you’d like to tackle.
There are Atlantic Coast maps, North to South, Transamerica, Pacific Northwest, and even routes that delve into Canada so options are plenty.
We recommend Adventure Cycling’s maps, and we found them really useful on our bike ride across America, as they showed climbs, descents, accommodations, stores, libraries, etc., all of which were helpful in the planning and on-the-spot decisions.
Don’t skimp on maps. Buy the maps meant for long-distance cycling.
Like, Really Plan Your Bike Touring Route
After deciding which route to ride, it’s important to make a day by day (or close) itinerary.
By estimating mileage traveled per day you can plan your nightly accommodations, meals, sites, and know if you need to increase your pace or can be more leisurely.
Have New Brakes Installed
Before leaving on a long distance bike trip, you should have your brakes changed to promote safety and also reduce the likelihood of having to deal with them on the ride.
Many riders cycle 4,000 miles or more on new brakes without having to change them (although adjustments may be necessary).
Familiarize Yourself With Bicycle Repair
You should practice changing your tires, adjusting derailleurs, and just overall familiarizing yourself with the parts of a bicycle and how they work.
Odds are you’ll at least have to change a tube on your ride but you should be prepared for any and all other repairs.
Join Bike Forums and Do Online Research
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably checking this one of the list.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have traveled the routes before you, and these experienced folks are often more than willing to share their experiences with you online.
Riders who have actually pounded the pavement and have encountered the unpredictable on their journey are the best resource for what to expect on a given ride.
Create an Adventure Travel Budget
Although the general costs of a long distance bike tour can be much lower than a traditional vacation, you’ll still want to create an adventure travel budget and set aside enough money for the unexpected.
When planning your bike tour, make use of our free Self-Contained Cycling Checklist and Budgeting Calculator
Some cost considerations to keep in mind…
Many cyclists find that average daily food costs increase as they must replenish their bodies from the 5,000 to 6,000 calories burned per day.
Camping is relatively cheap and can be great on the budget, but there will be nights you prefer a hotel. If you are planning on hotels, call ahead while planning your adventure to find the best deal. Unexpected or more frequent hotel stays can quickly blow up a budget.
And make sure that you set aside enough money for attractions and fun. A long distance bike tour is an awesome opportunity for unique experiences, but many experiences may not be free. Be prepared to spend on museums, parks, concerts, or whatever else gets you excited.
If this is your first long distance bike tour, you find that a fair amount is going to be learned ‘on the fly’, but with proper preparation you can be ‘as ready as you’ll ever be’ for a long distance bike tour.
Got other tips for riders planning their first long-distance bike tour? Leave a comment.
Lillian Moore says
I like the suggestion to find the right bike for your long distance tour. What you are riding on can really make a difference during your trip. Make sure you are comfortable on the bike seat as well since you will have to be on it for a while.
Jack Mulligan says
I have always wanted to go on a long bike tour, but I know I’m not quite in shape enough for it yet. That’s where the planning comes in, I suppose. When I finally get comfortable with the idea, I’ll be referencing this list again so I don’t miss anything.
Mark Kelley says
Thanks for sharing, Jack. Good luck on your bike tour.
Georgia B says
Thanks for the tip on starting the training at least three months before the tour! I’m going on my first bike tour later this year and I want to make sure I’m prepared so I can really enjoy it. It’s good to know that this is also a great way to prevent injury in the early days of the tour!
Leviticus Bennett says
I like your tip to find the right bike for the tour. When I was younger I went on a fifty mile bike ride with some friends. I was using a mountain bike instead of a road bike, so it was a lot more work for me than anyone else.
Mark Kelley says
Thanks for the comment, Leviticus.
Parl Brody says
I have a plan for long distance bike ride. Thanks for the tips.
My ultimate goal is to head on a huge cycling trip in America, for now its the pennine trail!
Junaid A. says
Before biking you must be trained to ride a bicycle. Although it is not a big deal to ride a bicycle but it involves fitness and health issues.