Beginner's guide to cycle touring
Discover more of Britain's countryside by going off-road on a cycling touring holiday.
Cycling enthusiast and GetOutside Champion, Laura Kennington gives us 10 top tips for planning, packing and executing a successful overnight or 3-day bike adventure.
I think it’s safe to say that where the bicycle is concerned, it was love at first sight.
Some of my happiest childhood memories are of exploring the quiet country lanes of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk with my bike. As an adult, not much has changed except the bike is a bit bigger and I tend to explore a little bit further.
I think there’s huge value in getting somewhere under your own steam - even the smallest of journeys can teach you to appreciate things in a way that using motorised transport just can’t.
With a few cycle trips now under my belt, ranging from a month-long detour to my Uncle’s wedding via the west coast of Ireland to overnight trips to Rotterdam and Paris, I’ve learned a few things about packing up your bike for an adventure - big or small.
Here are a few tips that I hope will help you prepare for your own adventure on 2 wheels! Warning: self-propelled adventures can be addictive!
It can be tempting to pack any number of “just in case” items but when you hit your first hill, or you get a visit from Helga the 20mph Headwind, you’ll really regret bringing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Bring clothes that are multipurpose and don’t be afraid to wear things for a few days in a row - fabrics like merino wool and bamboo are brilliant for being anti-bacterial and odour resistant.
I have one set of clothes for on the bike (bike shorts, bike jersey) and one set of clothes for off the bike (bamboo leggings and a bamboo t-shirt - I can sleep in both of these, wear them if I head out to the pub and the leggings add extra warmth whilst still being breathable enough to wear on the bike if I need to).
If I’m camping then I have a down jacket and an extra-long sleeved base layer - again, the base layer doubles up as something I can wear under my jersey if the weather turns. A lightweight waterproof that you can pack down small is great and will also act as a windbreaker if needs be.
Snacking little & often a happy cyclist makes. Food you eat is not necessarily for that kilometre, but for 20 minutes down the road.
I usually have a trail mix in a ziplock bag, a small block of cheese and a couple of snack bars handy. Whatever you bring, make sure it’s accessible and convenient to eat as you ride.
Similar to the point above, this should be done regularly - especially important in warm temperatures when your sweat rate will naturally increase.
I travel with two x 1 litre bottles - usually putting electrolytes in one & just water in the other. Unless you’re going somewhere really remote, you can nearly always top up along the way and this saves you having to carry extra water (see point 1!)
If you’re travelling with a few of you, it’s a good idea to agree on things like expectations, pace and stopping times in advance - all of those “quick little breaks” soon add up! This tends to matter more if you have a particular ferry booked or a particular time target you’re trying to reach (i.e. London to Paris in 24 hours)
If you are using a ferry or a train for part of your adventure, make sure to reserve space for your bike early. Each company is different but some may have limited space for bikes so it’s always good to get this done nice and early.
I used to live in fear of punctures until one day I decided to sit down and watch a YouTube tutorial. Turns out, it’s pretty simple and although fiddly to begin with, it’s really not a big deal.
If you’re off adventuring, chances are you’ll be on unfamiliar roads - some of which sadly might have a pretty rough surface with a few potholes! This combined with extra weight on the bike might mean you’re more susceptible to punctures but if you’re prepared then it doesn’t need to be anything more than a minor inconvenience.
I tend to bring a spare inner tube and (and also a spare folding tyre in case something has gone REALLY wrong) rather than relying on a puncture repair kit as it’s a bit quicker but this is just preference!
The more you get your legs used to cycling, the more you’ll enjoy your little adventure and the less time you’ll spend in your pain cave.
That’s not to say you have to be doing hundreds of miles each week, but it is a good idea to build up your mileage in the run up to the trip - bear in mind that you’ll have a bit of extra weight on the bike, too! Going from zero to hero is mostly a recipe for very grumpy legs!
Making sure your bike is in good condition before you set off will save you a lot of trouble later on! If your bike has been neglected for a while or been out tackling the winter elements, the chain could have rusted.
Even if it hasn’t, it could almost definitely do with a good clean and a relubrication! I always get my bike serviced before a big trip to make sure it’s ready to go!
Test your packing set up in advance - that way you can go through it a few times and make sure it’s as efficient as it can be. It always takes me a couple of attempts to get it right!
I always try to leave a bit of extra time in my schedule, so I can take photos, etc without stressing. Memories fade quicker than you might think, and I love having something to look back on!
Take time to appreciate the journey, not just the destination.
Laura is a British adventure athlete with a passion for the endurance capability of the human body. A strong believer in the positive impact that adventure and sport can have on children and adults alike, Laura uses her human powered journeys as a platform to inspire and encourage others to #GetOutside.