A beginner's guide to mountain biking
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Discover more of Britain's countryside by going off-road on a cycling touring holiday.
Every mode of transport we take when going on holiday has its advantages. We love our cars because they give us the freedom to climb in and easily go wherever we please. Our motorbikes get us out amongst the elements. Public transport allows us to reduce our carbon footprints.
Cycling offers all of the above, plus a few unique advantages of its own. It’s no surprise, then, that so many people are choosing to take holidays designed around riding their bikes. But cycle touring isn’t a new fad; for many it’s a deep-rooted passion.
For others, however, the concept of going on a British holiday where you leave your car keys at home, don’t book a train ticket, and only pack luggage that you can carry on your back (or on the back of your bicycle), is a relatively new one. So if you’re thinking of touring Britain on your pushbike for a weekend, a week, a month, or perhaps even longer, here’s a beginner’s guide to cycle touring to help you get started.
The most obvious factor that appeals to fans of cycle touring is that riding a bike is incredibly good for you. Whereas running, jogging, and some other high-impact exercise activities can be a bit gruelling on your joints, cycling is a low-impact form of exercise.
That’s not to say you don’t burn plenty of calories whilst peddling though; according to the NHS, someone who weighs 80kg (12st 9lb) will burn more than 650 calories with an hour’s riding, all the while toning their legs and bum. If you cycle up hills or off-road, you’ll also be working your upper body. What’s better than losing weight and keeping fit whilst on holiday? It means you can eat as much as you like when you reach your evening destination, guilt free.
Then there’s the fact that cycling allows you to get off the beaten track and take routes unavailable to cars, motorbikes and public transport. You’ll see far more of the UK this way, you can stop and admire a view whenever you wish, and you’re likely to meet some interesting people along the way.
Lastly, but by no means least in terms of importance, is the money you save by cycling. There are no tickets or fuel costs required (barring an occasional toll or ferry ticket depending on your route, or some oil and tools for your bike), meaning that travelling the country can barely cost you anything. That means you’ll save money for the really fun stuff you plan to do on your tour – which leads us nicely onto our next section.
Where do you want to go and what do you want to see? These are questions easier mulled over than answered, as the UK has so many incredible potential cycle routes for you to take. When you’re choosing your cycle touring route, consider the parts of the country that you’ve never visited; is there a way that you can string together as many of these destinations as possible? Get yourself a map of potential routes to help you plot your course, or plan your journey online.
To help you choose, it might also be beneficial to read some of the cycle touring adventures had by others. Search for the specific cycle routes you wish to take and read what other people had to say, so that you have a better idea of where to go, what to avoid, what to take, and what you can expect. You could also sign up for a cycle touring forum, such as the National Cycling Charity’s CTC Forum, and chat to other keen cyclists for tips and advice.
If it’s your very first time heading out on a long-distance cycling tour, it might be worthwhile looking into guided and semi-guided tours with cycling experts who can help you get the most out of every destination you ride through. Take a look at skedaddle.co.uk and cycletoursuk.com for starters.
Like any holiday, planning a cycle tour will require different things depending on the time of year you wish to go. Firstly, you should consider how long you should ride for – both in terms of days, but also hours per day. Cycling in very hot weather can be difficult for obvious reasons; the heat can be very demanding of your body, testing your stamina.
Likewise, cycling through heavy rain, wind, thunder and lightning etc. is equally challenging and demanding. Make sure you consider this, and check weather forecasts before you arrange your trip. It will impact the equipment you’ll need to take with you, which we’ll get to shortly.
It’s important to make an itinerary of your schedule before you set off, and try to stick to it as much as possible. This gives you an idea of how much distance you should be travelling per day in order to stay on course, and allows you to make the necessary travel/accommodation arrangements in advance when required.
How many of you are travelling? This will undoubtedly have an impact on the best time for you to travel. Members of your party might only be able to travel a certain stretch of the route before needing to go back to work, for example, so make sure you’ve thought all of this through. If you’re planning to ride solo, then the weight of all equipment lies on your shoulders – quite literally! However, if you’re travelling as a pair or group, you’re able to share the transportation of equipment amongst the group. So, let’s talk equipment, and how you can get prepared.
You’re not going anywhere without your two-wheeled friend, but how do you choose which bike will serve you the best on your tour?
Well, that all depends on the type of tour you’ve decided to take! There are fast cycle tours, slow cycle tours, lightweight cycle tours, heavyweight cycle tours, on-road cycle tours, off-road cycle tours, short-term cycle tours, and long-term cycle tours.
That being said, the most common type of cycle touring in the UK is fast, light, on-road and short-term. For these trips, a touring bike with skinny tires is likely to do the job just fine. As you’re travelling light and on comfortable terrain, you’ll be able to pick up some decent speed and see more sights/spend more time off the saddle along the way.
Then again, if you want to throw in a bit of off-road cycling for good measure, a mountain bike with good suspension will do the trick. Check out our beginner’s guide to mountain biking, and make sure it’s light enough for you to carry, should you need to lug it around.
In terms of equipment you’ll need to take, the most important items are arguably your map/GPS device, your bike pump, and a water bottle. But there are obviously plenty of other bits you’ll need, especially if you’re planning to camp along the way. There’s plenty of high-quality outdoor gear available, so have a look and get everything you think you’ll need for your trip in advance.
We hope you have an amazing time on your first cycle touring experience. Be sure to let us know where you went, what you saw, and how you found the touring experience!