Bicycle touring may be divided into three primary categories: Supported, Self-Contained, and Hybrid. The first two may sound rather self-explanatory, yet each contains its own subcategories. Hybrid tours include elements of both Supported and Self-Contained.
Self-contained tours can take place, well, anywhere. Paved roads, gravel roads, trails, or any combination are fair game when you’re carrying everything you need.
Individuals touring on paved roads exclusively, whether going independently or with an organized group, usually carry their camping and cooking gear in rack-mounted panniers and handlebar bags. This is what many consider to be traditional bicycle touring.
The loaded rider pedaling the paved backroads of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail is the foundation that Adventure Cycling Association — originally known as Bikecentennial — was built on. To this day, Adventure Cycling is one of the few organizations that offer guided, self-contained tours, where riders carry all of their own gear, camp in campgrounds, but have a guide that rides the entirety of the tour with the group.
Mountain bike touring, or bikepacking — exploring remote dirt trails and gravel byways by bicycle — is a newer style of riding that can be considered a cross between bike touring and backpacking.
Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route has been a major catalyst in the popularization of this style of riding, which has spawned a new generation of bikes and gear. The idea is to go as light as possible, carrying minimal gear in framebags and other specialized bags, making days on the dirt roads and trails more enjoyable (and, arguably, the time spent in camp less comfortable).
The sky’s the limit for self-contained bike travel — you can go around the world or around the corner.