Advice & Tips for Self-Contained Touring
By Carol Waaser
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Touring is much more relaxed than club rides, and you’ll want time to do some sightseeing along the way. A good rule of thumb would be to have the daily mileage on a tour average about 70-80% of what you would normally do on a typical club ride. If you’re a B rider who would normally do 60-70 miles on a club ride, you’ll want to average between 50 and 60 miles/day on tour. If you’re an A rider who normally knocks off 100 miles on a club ride, you can afford to do 65-75 miles/day on tour, but remember to kick back a little and enjoy the scenery. If you’re a C ride or slower B rider, you may want to average no more than 40-50 miles/day on tour (depending on the amount of climbing). For your first tour, limit the number of days to four or fewer.
Road bikes. You can do some self-contained touring on a road bike. You would want to choose on-road routes with few or no dirt roads, and you’ll want motels or B & B’s since you won’t be able to carry camping gear on a road bike. You would use a seatpost rack (http://topeak.com/products/BeamRack-RX) and a large rack trunk or something like the Topeak rack trunk with drop down panniers (http://topeak.com/products/bags/MTXTrunkBagEXP), or you can use one of the large saddlebags made by Carradice (http://www.wallbike.com/catalog/bags/bags-brand/carradice) or Revelate Designs (https://www.revelatedesigns.com/index.cfm/store.catalog/Seat-Bags). With any of these systems it is essential to use a steel seatpost, not carbon. You can switch out the seatpost for the tour and then return to your carbon for your next club ride. There are weight limits for any seatpost-based system, so you are likely to have to limit your tours to 5 or 6 days.
It’s advisable to have fenders & lights on your bike. You can use clip-on fenders – they’re easy-on, easy-off – but you’ll be grateful for them if you get a little rain. If possible, you should install 25 or 28c tires.
Touring bikes. With a full touring bike your options expand. You’ll be able to attach a full rack and use higher capacity panniers to carry all your needs. A touring bike has a longer wheelbase and wider tire clearance – you can typically use up to 32 or even 38c tires. You’ll get a very stable ride from a touring bike. This bike will also have lower gearing for hauling heavier loads up those hills. Typically, a touring bike will have a triple chain ring, often with 26-38-48 tooth rings, paired with a mountain cassette with up to a 34 or even 36 tooth large cog. Low gearing is essential for long tours. If you’re planning to camp, you’ll need a full touring bike or a mountain bike.
Mountain bikes. Depending on the bike (and suspension system) you may or may not be able to attach a rear rack. Revelate Designs (see link above) makes frame bags and handlebar bags specifically for mountain bike touring. With a mountain bike you can set it up to go off-road or you can install smoother tires and have your choice of surfaces. You have a more upright position and a very stable bike.
How to pack
DO NOT OVERPACK! You don’t want to lug a lot of extra stuff up those hills. You don’t need to be a fashion plate when you’re on tour. For a 4-day or even 6-day tour, you can bring one pair of lightweight pants (something like Ex Officio nylon safari pants are great – you can zip off the legs to make shorts if it’s hot, but you’re still carrying just one garment), two lightweight tops, one set of underwear, a lightweight pair of shoes or sandals for off the bike, and your most basic toiletry kit (“travelsize” toothpaste, shampoo, etc., no electric razor!). You’ll be wearing one cycling kit and you may or may not want to pack a second kit. In most cases you’ll be doing hand laundry in the motel sink each night. All your clothes should be easily washable and quick drying. Wool jerseys do not need to be laundered every day, so wearing wool will save time & energy. If you’re lucky, you can prevail upon a B & B host to allow you access to the laundry facilities, or the motel may have a guest laundry. You’ll also want a light windbreaker or rain jacket that will serve you on the bike if the weather turns and will keep you warm on a cool evening as you walk to town for dinner. (If you’re touring during spring or fall, you’ll need a few more layers.)
All your clothing and shoes should be packed in plastic bags or dry bags within whatever carrying system you use. The last thing you want is for all your clothes to be wet at the end of a rainy day.
You probably shouldn’t pack food or electrolyte drink mixes unless you know you’ll be in a remote area. Most routes in the northeast will have enough services that you can find whatever you need. And nowadays with either a Garmin device or a smart phone you can find what you need in any location.
You should, however, have all your tools, at least two spare tubes, a patch kit and a pump (the Topeak Road Morph or Mountain Morph is excellent to have on tour), and you should make sure your tires still have plenty of life and aren’t nicked or sliced. A small first aid kit is highly recommended, and don’t forget to carry your insurance cards and emergency contact info with you at all times.
Planning your trip
Once you’ve chosen your destination and route, you can research accommodations on line. Call for reservations at least a couple of weeks in advance and make sure the place has somewhere to lock up the bikes. Many motels will allow you to keep them in the rooms. Most B & B’s have a garage or a covered back porch.
The biggest thing you have no control over, of course, is the weather. And once you’ve started your tour, you’ll ride no matter what the weather. You just have to be prepared for it. (If you’re using cue sheets, make sure you encase them in plastic.)
Most people now will use a Garmin device and a smart phone while on the road and thus will not need to bring paper maps. (Can you still get paper maps?) However, sometimes a paper map is good for planning, in order to get an overview of where you’re going. County maps are ideal for planning. If you’re creating your own route, once you have an outline of the route from the county maps, you should enter it in one of the GPS programs or Google Maps to get an accurate cue sheet and/or load the route into a GPS device. Make sure you get to know your GPS unit before you tour. Some units do not like rail trails and will try to guide you to a road. The unit may also have trouble if you’re on very back roads, particularly unpaved roads. Thus it’s good to have a very clear idea of where you’re going before you start out.
Remember, this isn’t a race. It isn’t even a club ride. It will be good if you can change your mindset a bit: relax, no pacelining, look at the scenery, stop and take photos, stop and chat with local folks along the way. It’s a great way to see the country. And take your time. Generally there won’t be a whole lot to do wherever you’re staying for the night, so there’s no rush to get in – you just need time to shower, wash out your kit and walk into town for dinner.