A guide to planning a cycle touring expedition or bikepacking trip

By Will Newton

As the summer draws ever closer and the days get longer, the touring and bikepacking season is almost upon us. Prepare for the adventure ahead with the following tips and tricks…

Selecting a route for your cycle tour

This isn’t your average Sunday morning dawdle, the typical bikepacking adventure spans anything from a long weekend to a whole month in the saddle. Such a long venture into unknown lands clearly needs a bit of pre-planning, the route ultimately dictating what bike you will need to take, the essentials you need to pack and the training you need to complete.

If, like us, you’re constantly on the look out for the next adventure, you’ll soon be overwhelmed at the sheer number of routes to pick from and the associated questions that come with choosing one. Will you set off to another continent and conquer the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, or stay close to home and follow in the tyre tracks of many along the South Downs Way? Should you rein in the imagination and choose the most realistic option, or go outside your comfort zone? How much training have you done and how much longer do you have before D-Day? Are you an experienced bikepacker? Do you have the time to travel abroad with your bike, across whole countries?

Our advice is to take on something achievable, building up your experience level before striking out on a full continent-crossing mega-adventure.

Choosing a bike for a cycle touring holiday

The beauty of a touring expedition or bikepacking trip is that it often takes you outside of your comfort zone, into lands untravelled and surfaces not quite up to scratch. For such a journey, you clearly need to choose the right machine for the job, choosing between full touring rig, gravel-adventure bike, hardtail or full on fat bike.

The type of roads you’ll be using is the biggest indicator of what type of bike you should use – the rougher the terrain, the fatter your tyres ought to be and the more forgiving your geometry.

In recent years we’ve seen the emergence of the gravel-adventure bike, the ideal steed for virtually any expedition. With the ability to equip a wide range of tyre treads and sizes, fixings for mudguards, racks and panniers, the gravel-adventure bike is designed with rough stuff in mind. With many manufacturers jumping on this adventure trend, there now lies a wealth of options to choose from, cheaper entry-level models that will more than handle the tamer trails – to the top-end gravel rigs that could flatten even the Atlas Mountains to mere speed bumps.

Packing the essentials for your cycling holiday

Remember, a light setup is a fun setup – no one wants to be burdened with the kitchen sink when ascending the toughest of gravel climbs. Not only will it increase the scale of the physical task, it’ll also dent your spirit and morale.

Whether you’re camping or glamming it up in the local hotel, planning on some sightseeing after your riding ventures, or simply heating your own morning brew – there’s cycling-specific kit for almost every eventuality. Some amenities are often dictated by the kind of ride you’re doing, but make sure you do not forgo these essential items:

  • Spare inner tubes: it’s not a question of ‘if’, more ‘when’ and ‘how many.’
  • Toothbrush and deodorant: you don’t want to alienate your riding partners.
  • Small toolkit: mechanicals are inevitable, make sure you’re prepared.
  • Off the bike kit: lycra isn’t the comfiest of clothing to sleep in.

Trans-continental traveller and world record holder for the fastest crossing of Europe by bicycle, Sean Conway, is an expert when it comes to packing the essentials. The self-confessed ‘gram nerd’ scrimps on weight as much as possible, even going as far as to hack away half of his toothbrush to shave a sizeable 40 grams. While some of his tips are more appropriate to racing-inclined bike travellers, he also understands some of the luxuries that more easy-going tourers may want to take on their adventure, a handy hip flask is apparently just one of life’s ‘essentials’ when the going gets particularly tough.

Pick your partners wisely

The feeling of freedom and serenity as you’re ensconced within nature is one of the primary reasons you chose to go bikepacking in the first place – but it can soon grow old and weary, especially upon your final few days of touring.

Nothing makes an arduous week in the saddle better than riding it with friends – the ability to share your experiences and swap excuses a staple of every touring expedition. But, who do you take on your mythical quest?

Your dependable weekend riding partner may be your first choice, but even the closest of friends can soon grate on you when you’re nine hours into the day’s ride, daylight is dwindling, and you have nothing but your phone screen to light the way. Avoid the inevitable feeling of leaving your trip acting like an old married couple and instead gather a small group of friends to join you on the adventure – at least then someone can share the blame when things inevitably go tits up.

Don’t forget cycling travel insurance

Although it depends on where you decide to head, what exactly you’re going to do and how long you’re going to be away, generally speaking a standard travel insurance policy is not going to cover you for your trip. The team at Pedalcover have a wealth of experience of providing cover for all types of cycling trips and can provide you with comprehensive cycle travel insurance for your trip. Contact Pedalcover today, to discuss your requirements. As a team of keen cyclists ourselves, we look forward to hearing what you’ve got planned!

Eat, drink, sleep repeat

As with every outing on the bicycle, eating and drinking is a must. This is none more apparent than when embarking on a long touring expedition, your body often needing double its usual amount of calories on tougher days.

Whether you choose to carry your own cooking equipment or raid the local supermarkets, you’ll need to pick out the right nutrition to fuel your epic ride. The bakery counter may come a calling, but save your sweet tooth for the occasional café stop and after-ride treat – instead head to the deli counter and grab yourself some lean meats and fresh greens, a protein and fibre rich meal aiding in both recovery and general alertness.

When out touring, drinking isn’t just confined to your bidon and occasional energy drink, liquids often straying into the warm and caffeinated, potentially even alcoholic variety. On the bike, nothing beats a bidon of water every 1-2 hours – keeping the body quenched and the feelings of dehydration at bay. For the early mornings, coffee is the undisputed champion, and the late nights, a refreshing bottle of beer or a glass of local vino – whatever wets your whistle. Be sure not to overindulge though, as a hangover is an express ticket to dehydration and on-bike misery.

One of the big worries of bikepacking trips and touring expeditions is where to sleep – the choice between sleeping under the stars or slumming it in the local budget hotel proving a tough one to make. For a ‘true’ bikepacking experience, camping is a must – the flexibility and independence unrivalled by that of a budget hotel. Want to step it up a notch? Then opt for just a bivvy bag and sleep as mother nature intended – but be warned, you’ll be sharing nature’s mattress with a whole host of other creatures.

Ride long, ride far

What’s an epic cycling adventure if you don’t have the tales and stories to tell once finished? The ability to boast about the distance covered once you’ve finished your trip is one of the primary reasons you went on it in the first place, family and friends yearning to hear your tales of heroism and woe.

A good trip should leave you with experiences to look fondly back on and kit to replace after taking a thorough beating on mud-spattered ‘roads’. The bikepacking bug is an easy one to catch but a notoriously difficult one to get rid of – this isn’t the thrills and spills of classic racing, this is quite simply a way of life. Never again will you be able to ignore the road untravelled ahead.

Ready to head out on your own two-wheeled quest? Remember, plan, pack light and, most of all, have fun – don’t end your first bikepacking experience like me, head down under a rain sodden Keswick bus stop waiting for the next sign of life to ferry me, my bike and my broken touring dream back to civilisation and cold, hard reality.

If you’re going bikepacking this year, we’d love to hear where your adventures are taking you and see your pics. Head over to Facebook or Twitter and share them with us.