David, like me, grew up in car-centric cities, and the idea of pedaling a bicycle out into the woods and camping was almost as outlandish to him as it was to me. Nonetheless, as I started going on my first bike tours and bikepacking trips, he, more than any of my friends, was the most captivated and interested by even the most mundane of stories. Even though he never said it explicitly, I knew he wanted to experience travel from the saddle of a bicycle.
Adventure Cycling’s Bike Travel Weekend inspired me to finally invite him on a bike overnight, which I hoped would be a positive experience for him. In planning our trip, I realized some things are widely applicable to anyone looking to go on their first trip.
Many of my thoughts can be broken down into five tips that I believe helped David conquer his fear of bike touring and could help you too.
Bike touring, like so many aspects of life, is a complicated activity made up of many, less complicated ones. Taken all together, it can be overwhelming, but the good news is that long before your first trip, you can practice individual activities separately. In the case of David, his biggest fear going into the trip was the distance and the elevation, because prior to this trip, he had never cycled more than 25 miles in any two-day period. He spent the weeks leading up to this trip building up his strength and endurance on an exercise bike at the gym and on day rides.
When I first started, my biggest fear was camping and carrying all the necessary gear on a bicycle. Therefore, my first step was to acquire all the necessary gear and practice using it without depending on my bicycle. After many car camping trips, I refined what I thought I would want on a bike tour and then figured out the best way to carry it on a bicycle.
After getting comfortable with the simple components of bike travel, it becomes much easier to put everything together and go on your first tour.
Even starting in an urban area like San Diego, California, there are almost infinite possibilities for bicycle travel, especially when you factor in riding to the train station and taking the Amtrak to a new city as a starting point.
For this trip, we set our sights on the mountains east of the city. While they are only about 60 miles from the coast and 5,700 feet of elevation gain, it is still incredible to see the landscape change from densely populated urban areas to rural mountain communities and the forests of the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
While David and I both hope to someday go on months-long trips to faraway places, there are a lot of benefits to staying close to home. Even the best planned bike tour will have its fair share of hiccups, but it is way easier to adapt and adjust when your surroundings are more familiar. Plus, every time you have a hiccup that you successfully resolve, you will become more confident that regardless of what may arise, you can find a solution.
Besides the obvious fact that all travel is generally more fun with a friend, there are some practical reasons too. In the case of our trip, David was able to rely on me to take care of most of the details so that he could focus on himself and his own experience. This included planning the route, food, hydration, and campsite. I was also able to lend David a sleeping pad and other gear as well as a rack and panniers to carry everything he needed. Plus, we could share communal equipment such as my camp kitchen and tent.
Not only does this help alleviate the financial barriers to getting started, but it also gives you the opportunity to make sure you enjoy bike travel and to try different gear before buying your own.
Flat tires and broken chains are an inevitable part of riding a bicycle as are needing to adjust your brakes and shifting and to tighten various bolts. The more you know the better, but the reality is that it wouldn’t be practical to carry tools for all situations, so mastering the basics will usually be enough. Anything beyond what can be repaired roadside with a multitool, some tire levers, a spare tube, and a pump will likely require finding a bike shop regardless.
When David finally got his first flat tire, it could have been a huge roadblock to completing the trip. Luckily, he didn’t have to worry about it, because I was prepared for both of us. This also served as an excellent experiential learning opportunity. Not only did he get a live course on the finer nuances of fixing a flat, but he also had the chance to learn just how impactful not being prepared could have been.
Most of the time, this only provides us with some mental comfort knowing we have a way out if something goes wrong, but when needed, it can save your trip. Staying close to home makes this easier because it opens the possibility of calling a friend or family member to pick you up. It might also mean you feel more comfortable hitchhiking because you can communicate effectively or feel more comfortable deciding who to trust. In our case, the Trolley, San Diego’s light rail, was our backup plan. It runs parallel to the route we chose for about 16 miles, and we were thankful it was there when we needed it.