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Bikepacker's tent set by a lake with mountains in the background

4 Tips for Your First Bike Tour

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Maybe you’ve had it in the back of your mind for a while — to finally take that first bike tour. You might be itching to see the world, or you may be a cyclist who just wants a new challenge. 

Either way, there’s no better time to get serious about taking that adventure. There’s nothing like a long time at home to stir up a need to get out and see something new. And cycle touring is a great way to do just that.

But if it’s your first bike tour, you might be wondering how to do it well. Look no further. We’ve put together a few tips to help you prepare and train for your bike tour.

Cycle Touring or Bikepacking? Take Your Pick

When you’re searching for ideas about your first bike tour, you may be perplexed about the distinction between two similar but clearly distinct terms: cycle touring and bikepacking. A decade ago, this wouldn’t have even been a conversation. Cycle touring was the dominant term for traveling the world by bike. 

But in recent years, bikepacking has come to the forefront. There are no hard lines here, but the two terms do conjure different images. Cycle touring calls to mind bikes loaded with panniers, packed to the brim for long-distance journeys from town to town. Bikepacking, on the other hand, might invoke the picture of the hardcore cyclist — equipped with slim packs and ultra-lightweight gear, ready to live off the bike and the land.

Whichever mode you choose, we won’t judge. There’s room here for the dedicated traveler and for the bike junkie. Just take your pick and start planning for your first bike tour or bikepacking trip.

Pro Tips for Your First Cycling Tour

1. Plan Your Route

It’s important to set realistic expectations for your bike tour early, as this could make the difference between an enjoyable adventure and a discouraging letdown. Depending on how much experience you have cycling and camping, you’ll want to plan for a trip that you can manage. 

The distance you can cover in a day will depend largely on terrain, weather and experience. A novice mountain biker might cover 25–40 miles per day on pavement, but only 7–15 on a rugged trail. Know the kind of ground you’re going to cover and don’t be overzealous about how much you can do in a day.

You can find suggestions for everything from an overnight to month-plus trips. Just remember that, if you enjoy a short trip, you can always try a longer one next time. 

2. Pack the Essentials

Of course, there is no limit when it comes to how much you can spend on assembling the perfect bikepacking setup. But you don’t need much to have a successful first adventure. 

You can use any bike for cycle touring, but a mountain bike will obviously work better if you’re planning for more rugged terrain. If you’re not looking to buy a new bike, then we recommend planning your tour based on what your bike is built to handle.

Beyond the bike itself, you’ll need a few waterproof panniers or slim bikepacking bags, a lightweight, freestanding tent, food and a cooking stove. If you’re going to be traveling very remotely, some chlorine tabs could be helpful in a pinch for water purification. Have a few essential tools handy for bike repairs as well, including some spare tire tubes.

One thing that will impact first-time bike tour cyclists is knowing how much to pack. The trick: Pack as lightly as possible, as every ounce counts when you’re trying to max out your distance.

3. Prioritize Comfort

Aside from realistic plans, comfort is the factor next most likely to impact your journey for better or worse. You dont want to pack too many clothes, but make sure you have the right gear for hot, cold, rain or shine based on what you expect. Think quick-dry and lightweight.

Just as you would for a road race, make sure you’re training for the trip. Based on the length of your journey, determine the average distance you expect to travel each day and try to work up to riding that distance (on similar terrain) as early as 12 weeks before your trip. Then keep adding an additional weekly ride of that length every month.

And, of course, there’s perhaps the most important piece for comfort: the bike saddle. Tensioned leather saddles are great for preventing saddle sores on your bike tour, but you can also go for a carbon fiber option if you want something more lightweight and rugged. What’s critical is that you have something that easily conforms to your body and moves with your pedal strokes with minimal resistance.

4. Be Open to the Adventure

Our last tip for your first bike tour is to be ready for a new experience. If you’re used to competitive cycling, you might need to adjust your mindset for your first bike tour. While much of the excitement of road racing lies in trying to beat your latest time or stretch your distance a little farther, much of the joy of cycle touring is in the journey itself. 

Bikepacking — whether through the wilderness or from town to town — is unpredictable. You never know who you’re going to meet or what stories you might hear. There are new wildlife to encounter and new challenges to face that you can’t entirely plan for. Go into it with an open mind and heart, and you might get more out of the adventure than you expected.