Time might be the most important thing to have on a bike tour

Article by Robert Ashworth, printed in Bellingham Herald

Maybe you're the kind of person who's seen bicyclists riding past on winding country roads with panniers packed full and thought, "That could be me."

Or maybe you just shake your head and think, "Those people are crazy."

Either way, maybe you want to know how those cyclists do it, the ones who go on bike tours. Personal experience is a powerful teacher. After 13 tours in 15 years, including 2 trips cycling from coast to coast, I've learned a few things.

For example, the most important thing to have on a bike tour is plenty of time. It usually takes more than two months to bicycle across America.

When my boss got my request for a leave of absence so I could ride coast to coast, he approved the request and then jokingly said the note would be pinned to his dart board.

There's no way around it, bike touring takes time, but it is worth it if you really want to meet the people and see the landscapes. I usually average about 45 miles to 95 miles per day, depending on the situation. 

Before you start planning for a long trip, take lots of small trips in the local area. This is the best way to learn what works and what doesn't. A novice bike tourist from Bellingham might try riding a bike loaded with camping gear to Larabee State Park. The short distance is a good "test run" for cyclist and equipment.

On one of my early trips, the sleeping bag fell off the back of my bike and rolled down into a ditch. That was when I learned a better way to position bungy cords for holding camping supplies on a bike rack.

Camping gear, such as a light tent, sleeping bag and foam pad is needed for camping, but cyclists who stay in motels can travel lighter. Some say it is possible to travel with little more than a bank card.

There isn't much room on a bicycle. I usually bring a spare inner tube and a few tools for fixing flat tires. Nor is there much room for clothing; possibly only one or two changes, but I always try to bring plenty of clean socks.

You'll need a rain coat and a few other things like a flashlight, water bottles and pocket knife. Things like a camera and radio can be useful also. I listen to a lot of talk shows. A radio is great entertainment when cycling through mile after mile of flat cornfields, and it's also good to get weather forcasts. Choose lightweight durable items.


Stopping to eat along the way somewhere west of Spokane, WA.

Some bike tourists bring food and cooking gear, but I find it easier to buy food along the way.

Everyone has their own mix of essential things to bring. That is a reason to do small trips in the local area to find out what you need. Unlike backpacking through the wilderness, bike touring is usually never far from civilization. You can refill supplies along the way.

Places like laundromats, bike shops, restaurants and hot tubs give you an opportunity to refresh yourself and get ready for another day of riding.


My camping style along side the style of others.

Many state parks have programs that encourage bike touring. Cyclists can often stay in special areas of a state park for reduced rates, even when the regular campground is full.

Forest service campgrounds, private resorts and a few motels on stormy nights are good stopping places. Some bike tourists just find hidden places in the woods to camp.

Maps and campground guides are easy to find at visitor information booths along the way.

The main hazard in touring is what you find at home: traffic and accidents. Riding carefully and wearing a helmet is an important precaution for any cycling.

The sun is another hazard. My first trip from Bellingham to Seattle taught me an important lesson. The 10 hours it took to get to Seattle was in direct sunlight. I got a very painful sunburn. Since then, I have remembered to bring plenty of sunscreen with SPF 25 or higher.

Crime has never been a problem for me, but it is always good to use common sense. Being on the road offers similar risks as day to day life around town. Dirty socks, stashed in visible places on my bike, tend to make it a less desirable target. 

Getting in shape for a bike tour does not have to be a chore. Cycling, walking, dancing and aerobics are among some of the things that are fun to do. It is easier to stick with a form of excersise that is enjoyable.

Relying on your bicycle for day to day transportation is a good way to stay in shape while running your day to day errands.

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