Get out there!
What to Expect on the Road?
As the start of your tour approaches, it’s a good idea to gather your equipment and make sure it all fits in your bags. If you are using important gear for the first time, take a few short rides and an overnight trip to make sure that everything is working and that you haven’t forgotten any critical pieces.
During the Tour
The first days of a tour might be full of uncertainty. Your body might need time to get used to the new rhythm and a new level of physical exertion. Despite your best efforts, you might have brought too much gear.
Naturally, bicycling will be your primary mode of transportation, but unless you are planning a shorter trip or have lots of time, you may need to take public transportation on occasion. When traveling with a bicycle on a plane, train, or bus, there are several factors to consider. Each airline, train, and bus company has its own policy regarding the transportation of bicycles. Some airlines and trains have strict size and weight limits for bicycles, and you may need to pay an additional fee if your bike exceeds these limits. On some buses and trains, bicycles are prohibited entirely.
As wonderful as a loaded bicycle is to ride, the machine is a beast to maneuver in airports, train stations, and into buses. With a few exceptions, long-distance transportation is not set up for carrying bicycles. In general, avoid planning too many segments on public transit. Use it only when necessary (transcontinental flight) and as a backup.
If traveling by airplane, you will need to properly package your bicycle for transport. Some people use their own bike bags or hard cases, but I have had success with a cardboard bicycle box. These boxes can be obtained free of charge from your friendly local bicycle store – they have plenty of them left over after building their bikes. Often, there are even small plastic pieces in the box that help protect the fork, wheel axles, and cassette. If you end your tour in a different city, you can dispose of the box at the airport after bicycle reassembly (and find another box at your destination). If you will be returning to the same city, you can sometimes store your box or dedicated case at your last night’s accommodation. For example, airport hotels are usually happy to store these for up to a few weeks if you will be spending your last night with them.
The fees charged by airlines for the transportation of bicycles are in constant flux. Despite all the regulations, how much you ultimately have to pay might come down to how the person at the check-in counter is feeling. With luck, the bicycle will be treated as another piece of checked luggage and sent on its way. In some cases, however, a bicycle might cost hundreds of dollars. Having a folding bicycle simplifies matters, as it will almost always just be regarded as an extra piece of luggage.
The train can be an excellent alternative if you are running short on time or want to avoid cycling through congested areas. Before boarding, you need to learn the conditions for bicycle carriage on your train. Some considerations:
- Bicycle state. You can bring your fully assembled bicycle on trains (usually slow, regional lines) including wagons with dedicated bicycle spaces or racks. On faster trains, you will probably have to disassemble your bicycle and pack it in a box or non-rigid container.
- Location on train. Some trains allow you to bring your packed bicycle with you, while others require that it be checked in.
- On many trains, you will have to pay for bicycle transportation. This could mean having to buy a special bicycle ticket or paying a fee to check it in.
- Additionally, some trains require that you reserve a spot for your bicycle. The reservation can either be free or cost money. There might also be a limit of one bicycle per passenger.
- Odd sizes. As on airplanes, a folding bicycle can normally be carried on any train in a protective bag as another piece of luggage. Recumbents and tandems that do not fit in a standard bicycle box are often prohibited.
On urban buses, fully assembled bicycles can be carried on front-mounted racks or in designated areas. On long-distance buses, the criteria for travel with bicycles is somewhat simpler than trains. The bicycle must be carried in the cargo space underneath the passenger seats, and a reservation is not usually required. The major considerations are whether the bike can be transported fully assembled and how much it will cost.
Some riders take a very simple approach to nutrition on tour: They eat and drink whatever they please. Because they are burning so many calories, they don’t often notice any weight gain or adverse effects.
Warning: Detour Ahead
For those who would like to know a bit more about what is going on in their body, please see here: COMING SOON.
Eat a Healthy Breakfast
This is popular advice, but it’s especially important with a day of touring ahead. Too many cyclists start off by munching on an energy bar or two. This leads to hunger down the road, which leads to sugary snacks and huge dinners. You should focus on taking in easy-to-digest carbohydrates for maximum energy. Good breakfast options include whole-grain cereals and bread, as well as fruit, such as apples and bananas. While dairy products, including yogurt and cheese, are often recommended by experts, I avoid them pre-workout because they make me sluggish.
The best drink to have before a workout is water. A cup of tea or coffee is fine, if that’s part of your normal morning routine. Pure fruit juice (no added sugars, not from concentrate) provides nutrients and boosts the immune system. I avoid milk (a dairy product), as well as energy drinks and sodas, which can spike blood sugar levels. Artificial sweeteners might cut the calorie load but have other health drawbacks. Whatever the choice of food and drink, it’s important to stop eating breakfast (and all other meals) when you feel content. Starting off your exercise after gorging yourself can hinder your performance.
The most important nutritional advice during the ride is to eat before you get hungry and tired. After one or two hours of intense pedaling, your glycogen reserves will dwindle. When you start to feel your performance decrease, your body is requesting more fuel. By the time you feel hunger pangs, it’s too late. You are on your way to bonking, or hypoglycemia, which means that your body’s glycogen reserves are running low and the blood glucose level is dropping. Symptoms may include extreme weakness, dizziness, light-headedness, and of course hunger. When you feel a bonk coming on, it’s important to ingest simple carbs, such as energy gels (taken with water), chocolate, dried fruit, or a soft drink.
The best way to avoid bonking is to eat both meals and snacks on a regular schedule. Sweets are a quick way to prevent a bonk, but it’s best not to reach a level of hunger where you regularly crave them and end up eating junk food. On the other hand, try not to ban foods entirely, unless you are on a specific diet. Moderation is key, as you strive to consume mostly healthful food without depriving yourself of treats.
For a balanced meal, your plate should be two-thirds carbs – (whole) grains, vegetables, and fruit – and one-third protein-rich foods – meat, dairy, nuts, or other plant-based protein. Try to vary your menu, both for the nutritional benefits and your own enjoyment. On tour, you’ll be eating a bunch of calories every day (don’t count them unless you’re trying to lose weight) and ingesting abundant vitamins. The food tastes better too, so make sure to eat until you are full!
After a long day’s ride, you will be tempted to pile on the carbs or protein. While it is true that the primary function of protein is to build and repair cells, including the muscle cells damaged when exercising, it is also important to go easy on your digestive system. Consuming large quantities of fatty foods and alcoholic beverages will leave you feeling bloated and in bad shape for the next day’s ride. It’s much better to have a balanced meal that allows for slow absorption of calories, ready for a steady burn while riding the next day.
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
As discussed above, there is nothing preventing vegetarians and vegans from being adequately fueled for a bicycle tour. While certain plant-based sources have low quantities of specific indispensable amino acids, combining foods will result in a complete intake that is typically more than sufficient to meet individual daily amino acid requirements. While grains are low in lysine, beans are an excellent source of this amino acid. Additionally, vitamin B12 is easier to absorb from animal sources than plant-based ones. You might want to consider boosting your B12 level, for example by taking supplements.
The key to keeping a vegetarian or vegan diet on tour is preparation. You may need to research the availability of desired foods and buy larger quantities of these foods once you find them. Farmers markets and roadside stands ideal bicycle tour pit stops. Often, you will have to stock up at supermarkets, convenience stores, and gas stations. While some establishments may sell fresh, locally grown food, others will offer mostly limp, wilted, and overripe fruits and vegetables. At these times, you will be pushed towards more processed food, such as instant potatoes, canned soups, and frozen vegetables. If you are willing to make these compromises, you should be thriving on the road.
Prolonged exercise strains your muscles; they repair themselves and grow during recovery, especially sleep. A good night’s rest, six to eight hours of solid sleep, is crucial in keeping a body healthy and fit. Without proper rest, you will soon feel fatigued. You will stop enjoying the ride and begin to think only of reaching the finish. Unfortunately, your cognitive function and willpower will also decrease, making you more likely to quit. For this reason, it’s especially important to bring along good gear if you are planning on camping. Having the right tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat can make or break a tour.
The good news is that bicycle touring can have very positive effects on your body. Riders who get into a good exercise-recovery rhythm report being less injury-prone and sleeping much better than during their sedentary lives at home. Bicycle touring can be a positive influence against insomnia and even mild depression. You’ll notice yourself getting stronger every day.
After the Tour
When you return home, unpack and clean your gear as soon as possible. Organize your photos and catch up on your journal. As time goes by, you will start forgetting important details of your trip. Lastly, start planning your next trip!