Bicycle touring has a rich and unique history. From working class travel in late 19th century Europe, to US soldier brigades traveling entirely by bike in the early 1900’s history has seen its share of people who supported and got the most out of bike travel. However, prior to 1976, bicycle touring was really seen as a European phenomenon. It didn’t take off in the United States until the “Ride Across America” started taking off.
Now there are so many different ways to travel by bike. You can blog or keep up a website to let others follow you on your journey. And so many different ways to fully embrace all life has to offer. People are linking up bike travel with their other hobbies. Bike travel is becoming multifaceted and communities around the globe are embracing it now more than ever.
Here at Icebike we have put together an infographic and collected interviews from 121 experts in bicycle touring with the hope that you get out there and learn for yourself what touring is all about.
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Take a look at the key to orient yourself with the different symbols. It will tell you about distance, budget, websites and so much more. Look at the gear set ups and maybe even shoot some of the riders an email if you have specific questions. The community is so amazing and supportive of others who are wanting to get out and experience touring for themselves.
Who Can Bike Tour?
If you look at our inforgraphic you will see that literally anyone can travel by bike. You don’t have to go out and crush 200 miles a day to bike tour. You can go at your pace, set your own plans, and divert any time you want. Older generations who were around for the first bike travel renaissance in the 1970’s are still alive and well; traveling well into their twilight years. Young guns are striking out right when they finish school, trading in career uncertainty for a fulfilling life on the road. Married couples with their children in tow are out there riding for years, homeschooling them, letting the vast array of cultures be their guides and the landscape their classroom.
There are solo trips, couple’s trips, old college buddies and beyond. People of all ages, genders, cultures, and classes are traveling by bike and you can to.
Don’t think about the reasons you shouldn’t bike tour. Let these tours we have listed be examples of why you should. Think about the experiences you are missing and think about the opportunities that will present themselves on the road. Think about being entirely self sufficient and being happy with the choices you have made. Think about other things you would like to do while you are out there.
Is this tour about exploring your hobby in photography? Is this tour about learning a new language or teaching your kids about the world? Is this tour an escape from all the plans and security you thought you wanted? Think about all of those things and worry about the rest later.
How do I prepare?
If you look at the different tours here in this infographic, they will all have website linked in which they will go into specifics about how they prepared both mentally and physically. They will post gear and components lists along with how often they maintenanced their bikes and what their budget was.
It is so hard to prepare for everything that will come. I think the most important thing is to remain calm if any situation arises. I remember being on my last tube and no patches left. The tire had multiple holes and I had to pump it up just to go 5 miles and it would go flat again and it was 20 to the next town where I was hoping there was a bike shop. You will get caught in the rain and your gear won’t ever seem to dry and I know it seems odd but that is part of the fun.
In many ways, a tour is about testing your mental and emotional preparation. You will have many highs and lows as I am sure these folks in the infographic have had, but not one of them say they would regret what the experience brought.
Looking more specifically at the infographic, some people choose trailers and some people panniers or framebags. The important thing is to figure out what system you like. Inevitably it will change the more time you spend on the road. You will end up keeping your kitchen in the same bag every time and you will end up keeping your tent in another and your valuables and maps where you can reach them without too much hassle.
To get yourself in physical shape you just need to get out and ride your bike, but to be honest the first couple weeks will be much harder than any of your training. Before my tour I had been doing 60-70 mile training rides along with my normal commute and I remember being so exhausted during my first 5 days that I would nap during my short lunch rests. After 2-3 weeks you will feel stronger than you ever have in your life.
Here is what Shirine said about being prepared: “My best advice for a trip like this is to just do it. The hardest part is taking that first step to walk out your door, after that, the rest comes naturally!”- Shirine
You can read the rest of her interview as well as check out her blog here.
Why Bike Tour?
I briefly mentioned answers to this question above but the reality is that the answer may not come to you until you get out on the road. However I think I can provide some compelling evidence until you get there.
Reason Number 1: It is so cheap.
If you look at the infographic you can see that people are living on 10-15 dollars a day on average. That is $4000 dollars a year or so. Think about the last time you traveled around the world and how much it cost you (to be honest I have never done it because the price seemed daunting). Think about how much more enriching it will be to see all of the small communities and real people you missed in between while really living with the essentials of life. Airfare alone would almost eclipse that yearly amount some people are spending.
You can stay in campgrounds with amenities or wild camp. You can stay with hosts, volunteer for food or a room in exchange, or work for a small wage doing odd jobs. Life on the road is so simple; you just take what it gives you and it turns out that doesn’t cost a whole lot. I remember my biggest expense being food and to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Reason Number 2: Exercise
I don’t know about you, but every time I travel I mess up my exercise routine and eat out way too much or have a few too many beers just because that seems to be what happens when I have free time. Well, with a bike tour that doesn’t happen. You are biking close to every day and eating cheaply to maximize your time on the road. Drinking just makes me nauseous after 100 mile days and honestly I just like to sit around camp and relax, talk about life, or read.
At the end of the day you are tired; physically just tired from all the stimulation, the change in scenery, the pedaling and the people. There is no insomnia or stress on a trip and that is because you are out there doing good for your body with every pedal revolution.
Coming off of your bike tour you will feel like you can accomplish anything physically. Your commitment to exercise and activity will keep you honest long after you stop pedaling.
Reason 3: The People
A long time ago I can remember a friend of mine saying, “Any adventure can change your life.” Call me an optimist but I think we have so much to learn from everyone out there. No two lives are the same and if you are willing to open yourself up to complete strangers then I guarantee you will not be sorry. Especially people who are already in the same mindset about bike travel, instead of people just kind of assuming you are crazy for such an undertaking.
Listen, adapt, and allow yourself to feel things that maybe you are afraid of. Look at lives that are different from yours and try to embrace them fully. Touring will give you so many opportunities whether you want them or not. Use warmshowers.org or couchsurfing.com or airbnb to meet new people. Immerse yourself in cultures different from your own. Who knows you may even meet your partner like Tilmann Waldthaler did.
You can read more of his story here.
The Hard Part: Managing Regrets and Expectations
Tours and traveling can be rough. Things don’t always go as planned, but in many ways they aren’t meant to. It is easy to think about what you leave behind or what you will come back to, but all these thoughts do is take you out of the present. If you continue to think about the moment in front of you then there is no way that negative feelings can slow you down or distract you.
We only get so much time on this earth and it goes by so quickly. Don’t you want to spend that time experiencing everything? Every time I think about how scared I am to leave the security of life here at home I think about everything I have yet to do that I don’t want to miss and this is what drives me to plan and save for my next tour.
I think this might be something that some of the younger readers deal with more. I worry about not having a career to come back to or ruining relationships that I have spent so much time cultivating. I worry about not ever being able to buy a house or just committing myself to living in debt from traveling. It really is hedging my future for something I want to do now. It is complicated and worth thinking about.
I think for older readers it might be more about missing important pivotal family moments like birthdays and graduations. These things are just as important to think about, but inevitably those of us who travel end up leading a little different lives than most. Hopefully by reading some of these interviews you come away with a better understanding about what forms regret may take. Coming to terms with the choices we have made is not just a bike traveling phenomenon.
On living without regrets: “After having said Hello World at birth we must also learn to say goodbye if we have the chance of getting older.”- Tilmann Waldthaler
Almost all of the tours on this infographic set a goal for themselves. Whether it was to cycle around the world or from Alaska to Argentina, most of them had a location in mind. Whether it was to live without limits or only spend $5 a day, most of them thought about this beforehand. I think people often mistake travelers for carefree bums who live off the kindness of others, but that is a misconception. Most of these folks are meticulous; they think about miles, calories, money, and liters of water they consume almost every minute of the day.
Bike travel is about being self sufficient and preparing yourself for everything. It is about setting goals and accomplishing them. It is most importantly about accomplishing the goal to live a life purpose and self determined meaning. Get out there and explore it for yourself.