How to Plan Your Ultimate Bike Trip
Whether you’re a beginning biker or looking for that next (or first) long distance journey, you’ve come to the right place! We've been on several short and long distance bike trips, and realized a lot of planning went into the forefront of the journey. We wrote down everything we could think of to make your trip as easy and prepared as possible.
Pick Your Distance
When trying to decide what distance you want to travel, first think about your biking experience. Is this your first real encounter with a bike or have you been biking for years? I’ve broken up the distance choices into three categories: short, medium and long. Nothing too complicated here. A good short distance bike ride will be one you can easily do in a day, say 40 miles or less. A medium distance bike trip can take you between 40 and 120 miles, and this can be done in a day or two, depending on what you want to do along the way. Now, your long distance trips are going to be those 120 plus miles. This depends on your ambition and amount of vacation days you have available from work. Whether it’s a three day jaunt or a two week excursion, this is definitely the most involved ride of them all.
Pick Your Destination
Now for your destination. Do you want to end up at a state park? A far away friend’s house? Mount Rushmore? Maybe you don’t want to end up anywhere and just want the trip to be one giant circle. Whatever you pick, it’s important to decide where you want to go and what you want to do, and stick with it because there are many factors in the planning phase that will revolve around this decision.
Pick Your Date
The date you pick can be a fluid one. For instance, maybe you want to go the first or second week of June. But it is also good to have an actual date in mind to give you a deadline for when you start practicing. Depending upon the climate you are biking in, there are perks and downfalls to each season.
Spring is wonderful for biking because of the beautiful flowers, warming weather and sunshine; however there is high potential for rain and the nights are colder (if incorporating camping into the longer trips).
Summer has great sunshine and warmer nights, but biking is best in the early morning and later afternoon to avoid extremely high temperatures, sunburn, heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Fall offers magnificent colors and scenery with generally very mild temperatures. Obviously though, the later into the season the colder the days and nights will be.
Winter biking... now this might seem completely out of the question for some climates, but it is possible. Obviously the warmer southern states provide better biking conditions than the northerly regions. But hey, if you’re up for a challenge this is for you! Short distance rides are best for winter biking. Just watch out for frostbite and hypothermia, and make sure you factor in the wind chill. The ice can be very treacherous, so a road bike (discussed later) is not the best vehicle for this trip. A mountain bike will give you the best traction in this weather.
Plan Your Route
Now that you know how far, where and when you want to ride, it's time to start looking into the route you're going to take. There may already be an official bike path/route on your way, or you may have to take regular streets and create the route on your own. The Internet offers several helpful websites that can assist you with your route. Include in your planning any stops you want to take along the way and other modes of transportation you may need to utilize, i. e. train, car, boat. What cities are along your route? Are there any rest stops, hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, etc. along the way? Get familiar with your route. The last thing you need is to be in the middle of unfamiliar territory and need food, water or shelter.
Prepare Your Bike
I mentioned road and mountain bikes earlier, but I’ll go into more detail here. Road bikes are typically lightweight and travel faster with their skinny, aerodynamic tires. As a downfall, their tires pop easily and they are not very good in bad weather. Mountain bikes have a much deeper tread on the tires and are heavier in weight which make them good in bad weather. However, they take more effort to ride and tend to be slower compared to road bikes. If your trip is going to be along roads and paths on a nice sunny day, a road bike will be perfect for you. But if the weather is rainy, icy or stormy, or if you plan to do some off-roading, pick the mountain bike.
The hybrid bike is another option, whose features are right in the middle of the two aforementioned bikes. This bike has medium sized tires and a sturdier frame than the road bike. Perfect if you’re having a hard time deciding between the mountain or road bike. You can always go to a bike shop and ask around. The bike pros are always very knowledgeable about the various bikes.
Now that you have your bike, it’s time for a tune-up. Maybe you’re handy enough to do this on your own, but I like to take mine to a professional to have them take care of any misgivings. This usually encompasses cleaning off dirt on the chain and other vital parts, lubing all necessary areas, and adjusting anything that has gone awry.
While you’re at the bike shop, it’s a good idea to look around at all of the gadgets you might benefit from on your journey. Here’s a list of helpful items to install onto your bike or to bring along with you: Bike lock, lights (front and back), helmet, back rack and/or saddle bags (good for camping gear), rearview mirror, bike tubes, lube, patch kit, tools for repairs, small tire pump, gloves (if you don’t want to form calluses), front and back fenders, water bottle holder, bell.
What to Bring
Start a list of items to bring. Think about how you are going to carry your belongings-backpack, saddlebags, fanny pack (I know these are ridiculous, but I remember thinking during a trip that a fanny pack would be very helpful!). Here are things you should consider bringing for all distance rides: Water, spare tubes, tools, small tire pump, wrench, food (energy and nutrient rich), basic first aid supplies, phone, phone charger, gps, money, helmet, lights (front and back), sunscreen, sunglasses.
For medium and long distance rides, you’re going to need to pack a bit more. Some of these items may not be necessary if you’re staying in a hotel as opposed to camping. A light change of clothes, basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, travel size shampoo and conditioner), small tent, blanket, zip lock baggie for your phone (great for protection from rain, sweat, mud, etc.).
*Remember! Important!* Everything you bring should be as lightweight as possible! Even substituting the simplest things like a travel size toothpaste for the regular size can make a huge difference. Every extra bit of weight counts and you want your journey to be as enjoyable and lightweight as possible!
What to wear, what to wear? This all depends on the weather, of course. For shorter rides, you should be better able to estimate what to bring by looking up the daily weather forecast. It’s those longer rides that tend to be tricky. Just remember: layers! Start with a tanktop/cutoff and move up to heavier clothing. You can always take a layer off. Winter biking will obviously require way more layers than summer biking will. Tight fitting clothing is better than baggy items for aerodynamicity and to avoid getting a pant leg caught in your bike chain. Also consider a raincoat, poncho, or garbage bag- this is great for covering your backpack in the rain (hey, we did it!).
Now for the good stuff, it’s time to start practicing! Whatever your distance, start with small mileage and work your way bigger. Plan at least one long ride a week, with several smaller rides throughout the week. Increase the mileage on your long ride every week until you travel the distance you plan to ride in one day on your actual journey. For instance, if you plan to travel no more than 40 miles a day on your journey, practice riding at least 40 miles (if not more) about two weeks before you leave. This will tell you how ready you are, and give you time to improve your endurance, if need be.
With practice, you will build your endurance, build calluses on your hands, strengthen your muscles, and get your body used to the bike (your bottom and neck muscles may be sore after your first time out). Practicing will help you improve your speed. You will also learn what a comfortable speed is for you, and how far you can go in a certain amount of time.
Get to know your body’s hydration needs while you’re practicing. If you’re used to drinking a lot of water throughout the day, plan to bring a lot of water with you, or at least know where you can stop to get more. Dehydration is very dangerous, especially when you don’t have easy access to emergency personnel.
Practice in similar conditions to what your actual ride is going to be like. If you’re riding at a hot time of year, make sure you practice in hot temperatures. Morning, afternoon and evening riding are all very different and have various factors to consider. Practice during these times so you know what to expect (heat, cold, daylight, bugs flying in your face).
Lastly, you should practice basic repairs on your bike. At the very least, you should know how to change a tire. Look how to do this on YouTube or ask a professional to assist you with basic repairs in the event you have a malfunction.
Well, that should about do it! You’re ready to embark on an amazing journey. We truly wish you the best of luck. This is going to be a trip you will never forget. It’s a good idea to record the trip in some fashion, whether through journaling, pictures, or even live footage. Happy trails!
Four hours of moderate biking equals 1,800 calories burned!