When you’re zooming downhill, with wind whipping tears from the corner of your eyes and every muscle tense as a violin string, bike-tripping might seem like the ultimate way to travel. Not only does it get you from A to B on your own schedule, but you can’t beat the cost to speed ratio. And while some level of physicality is required, you definitely don’t need to be a Lance Armstrong incarnate. For the beginner looking to head out, here are a few tips.
1. Bring a repair kit
Invariably, you will get a flat within the first two hours and your merry band of bike-fixer-upper friends will be nowhere in sight. Bring a small repair kit and know how to use it. Or at the very least know how to change a tire (always carry a spare tube). You may want to consider bringing a small, *light* bike repair book. Or, I’m not a smartphone user but there’s probably an app for that.
2. Budget your time
Unless you have the luxury of multiple months set aside for travel, you’ll have to budget your time somewhat. Plan for about an hour’s drive to equal a day of biking.
3. Camp smart
If you’re travelling on a particularly tight shoestring and hoping to pitch tent in people’s backyard, be smart about it. Look at the yard. Children’s toys, corny lawn ornaments that say ‘two old crows live here,’ and minivans are good signs. Junkyards and shady dilapidated buildings usually aren’t. But don’t generalize. Knock and start by asking for directions, and as you talk with them scope them out. Ask yourself: do I feel comfortable and safe with these people? If you don’t, move on.
4. Don’t say you’re alone
If you’re travelling alone, never tell someone that. You’re meeting a friend in the next town. Your parents expect a nightly call. The government’s tracking your every move (ok maybe don’t use that one). If you’re a girl, having a travel partner should always be Plan A, but don’t necessarily be shackled by the lack-there-of. Again, ask yourself what you’re comfortable with.
5. Be courteous
Bring ready-made thank you cards – about one for each day of your trip – to give to people who help you out. You’ll be amazed how often you’re glad to have them.
6. Don’t bring too much food
Food is heavy. Don’t weigh yourself down with too much it. Unless you’re going somewhere where you doubt you’ll see a grocery store all day (though as a beginner you probably shouldn’t make this an issue), don’t set out with more than two days’ worth of food. That said, always have a few emergency packets of oatmeal, which are small, light and filling.
7. Be prepared for emergencies
Leave an itinerary of your general routes and plans with someone back home. Bring a cellphone, but also a list of numbers on a separate piece of paper in case the battery dies.
8. Give yourself a treat
Afford yourself some small luxuries. Mine is to bring a tiny airplane pillow instead of using a bunched-up sweater. For me, losing the extra space is worth it at the end of a hard day. Also, wear bike gloves. These aren’t a luxury; they really do make a difference when your hands are being smashed against handlebars for hours. Seriously.
9. Stay positive
When the days get long and the open road seems more endless than exciting, don’t get discouraged. Have a sense of humour. Belt out a country song and laugh at yourself for being the silly twat who actually wanted to do this.
10. Bring a small roll of duct tape
Because you never know.