ARE YOU PREPARED?
So you are about to join your first bike tour - are you prepared?
Bike touring comes in many forms and as mentioned previously, this web page concentrates on guided bike tours. Over the last 12 years Mary and I have joined bike and barge tours, bike and hotel tours and a variety of short tours based around a single site for accommodation.
We started with bike and barge tours utilising hybrid bikes rented from the company organising the tours. These tours typically last from 5-7 days with out and back rides each day racing from, say, 40 to 50 kms. As we became confident with this style of cycling we moved on to tours with longer rides on road bikes and eventually started joining bike and hotel tours which often included rides anywhere between 70 and 100 kms a day. The preparation for these rides was very much dependent on the length of the daily rides.
For a first tour you might like to consider whether the tour will include ride lengths and efforts that you already meet or exceed from your current riding program or do you need to start building up for the ride and get saddle ready? Nothing will dampen your enjoyment of cycling more than a sore bottom! You can be aerobically prepared but if you do not put in "saddle time" you might be sorry.
In relation to distance, if you go on 50 km rides from home two or three days a week, you might be well prepared for the distance of your tour rides, but perhaps not the frequency. A cycle tour usually involves several days of riding in succession, although longer tours might also include one or two rest days. Doing a tour on an electric bike will find it much easier, but frequency might still be an. Issue.
Accordingly, I suggest that you consider the 'plus 10 x 2 rule' - If the longest day on your tour is 25 km, then you should be able to ride 10 kms longer which is 35 km in this example. The x 2 component means that you should be able to do this distance AT LEAST twice in one week. You will benefit even more if you add at least one ride of a shorter distance for a few weeks before your tour. If you will be riding an electric bike and you do your training on a regular bike you shoulda be able to reduce the rule to a 'minus 10 x 2 rule, as the electric bike will certainly make it easier to complete the distances on the tour, but frequency might still be an issue.
Even if you're accustomed to long distances, remember that you're going to be riding at a leisurely explorer's pace. This means you'll be on your bike longer than you expect, and certainly longer than your daily rides at home. Most home rides will last two, three or four hours, whereas touring usually sees you in the saddle from early morning till late afternoon with breaks for morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and possibly visiting a tourist attraction or two.
As the difficulty level increases, so should your pre-tour preparation and training. For those booking a difficult tour, the assumption of the organisers is that you are a regular year-round cyclist who understands training techniques. Hills require hill work and long distances require longer times in the saddle. Mary and I recently completed a ten day tour of Tasmania with two rest days on our electric road bikes. The daily rides ranged from 60 to 105 kms with many climbs every day. We completed in excess of 600km of riding with over 9,000 m of climbing. Our preparation included months or riding 2-3 times a week with distances equaling about 200 kms. On regular road bikes we would not have been prepared, but with our Specialized Creo electric road bikes we were able to match it with the younger, fitter riders and found ourselves enjoying the full eight days of riding.
Wearing comfortable cycling attire, especially padded cycling pants or shorts, can be the difference between an enjoyable and a painful ride. If wearing 'lycra' is not for you, padded mountain bike shorts look like regular shorts with the benefit of good padding. You may also wish to bring along a padded/gel saddle cover for extra comfort, but perhaps test one out before you tour as not everyone finds them comfortable or effective.
Check the weather forecasts for the tour route before you go and consider multiple layers of clothing. Multi layers tend to work best for all kinds of weather and if your bike has a paneer you can always take extra clothes off and store them till they are needed again. You might want to consider bringing a windbreaker and full rain gear and your own properly fitted helmet.
If you will be riding in the Netherlands/Belgium, note that these countries are
famous for their changeable weather - mornings can start cool and foggy, then slowly change to sunny, then clouds at the end of the day can make it chilly again. You never know what the day will be like, although we all hope that we have chosen a touring date that offers fabulous weather.
Having a Rest
One of the benefits of guided tours is the ability to have a rest if the need to rest arises. On a bike and barge tour, riders have the opportunity to decide at the start of the day that they will stay aboard the barge for the day rather than go for a ride. In most instances this means staying of the barge all day as it makes its way to the meeting point for the riders to return to in the afternoon. This can be a nice, slow, day and might help to get you ready for the next day's ride. As it will usually be the whole day, choose the day carefully so that you don't inadvertently miss the highlight of the tour.
With bike and hotel tours, you would expect the tour to include a 'sag' wagon. This is the mini-bus that carries spares and my also carry the equipment to set up a trail lunch when no commercial alternative is available. The guides will tell you that the sag wagon is there as backup for riders who might decided that they can't ride any further, whether that's at the start of the day or some time during. You can also jump on board if the terrain gets too difficult and then resume riding once conditions improve. Mary and I have used the sag wagon under a variety of circumstances including when the climbing got too tough and we got out once the hard part was passed, on really hot days when the heat got to us for the last stage of the day's ride, and to mange a slight hamstring strain to make sure that we would be right to ride for the rest of the tour.
Don't feel awkward about staying on board the barge or climbing aboard a sag wagon. Its your holiday and you should be enjoying everything, including the ride.
So, in summary, the more you ride before your bicycle tour, the more you'll enjoy it! Nothing prepares you for a bike tour like "time in the saddle." If you have a bike, take it out as much as you can; to work, to go shopping or when visiting friends. Or go on a weekend bike excursion to that local forest, lake or nature area that you always wanted to explore. Practice makes perfect. And you'll be a lot fitter too. If you don't have a bike think about hiring one for the month or two before your tour.
Likewise, if you will be hiring an electric bike for your tour, think about hiring one to practice on before your join the tour. Remember that an electric-bike still requires some cycling experience. It works like a normal bike - you do the pedalling - but it can go a lot faster. And don't forget to use the gears; cycling uphill or with a headwind calls for low gears.
I would like to acknowledge that besides my own experience, I have utilised information published by AllTrails.com.au, BikeTours.com and Boat Bike Tours to prepare this page.