April 4, 2019
If you live by the expression, “it’s about the journey, not the destination,” cycle tours are the way to go when you’re travelling. When I was in Cuba, biking was one of the only ways to get away from the typical resort-town experience. In Taiwan, cycling gave me the chance to visit remote mountain towns and drink tea with local farmers. Travelling by bike offers you a totally different experience than backpacking or riding a tour bus – and not just when it comes to getting from point A to point B.
1. You make real connections
Let’s be honest – being stuck on a tour bus and breezing in and out of a town with barely enough time to get a selfie isn’t fun. Exploring a city by bike slows things down and gives you a lots of opportunities to connect with locals. In countries where cycling is the norm, people will stop to chat about your route or gear. And in places where long-distance cycling is less common, people may approach you to ask, “Why?!” Either way, cycling opens the door to all kinds of cross-cultural adventures.
2. You go at your own pace
Being on a bike gives you complete control over the pace of a trip. It’s easy to pull over and stop when you see something interesting or just feel like taking a break. While cycling through Taiwan, I often stopped at small temples, neat-looking rock formations and roadside fruit stands. You can choose to take a slow, leisurely ride, but you can also push your body – you might even surprise yourself, as your fitness levels improve along the way. And you don’t have to be an extreme athlete to experience the joy of cresting the next hill.
3. You get to refuel (lots)
One of my favourite things about cycle touring is that you’re hungry all the time. It’s the perfect excuse to try new foods, so you wouldn’t do wrong to pick a bike touring location based on cuisines you want to try. Countries like Taiwan and Vietnam are known for fast, affordable and delicious food that can you can pick up at roadside stops. And I’ll admit that a double scoop of authentic Italian gelato tastes a lot better when you feel like you’ve earned it.
Why cycle with a group?
Travelling by bike isn’t always easy, and yes, on some days you’ll likely feel pushed to your limits. But joining a group tour increases your chances of riding safely and comfortably. Here are just a few reasons why setting out on a group bike tour can be great:
- Mechanical help: Sometimes you get lucky and can go hundreds of kilometres without so much as a flat tire. Other times, you may feel plagued by mechanical issues which can be frustrating if you don’t have the skills or tools to get yourself going quickly again. Travelling with a group tour removes this stress, so you can focus on the ride.
- Excellent route choices: Large highways, steep grades and distances that seem doable as a day ride but can actually be much more difficult (especially when you’re carrying a lot of weight) are a few things to be aware of for route planning. Reading blogs or hiring a local guide can help you find more enjoyable (and realistic) routes.
- **Extra support:**Before you head out, you should practice riding with loads similar to what you’ll be carrying on a cycle tour – fill up those panniers! Check in with your tour company to find out what kind of support is available. Many of them provide vans that carry your gear to lighten your load.
- **Logistics sorted:**There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a hot shower and a comfortable place to sleep at the end of the day. Booking ahead or riding with a group tour can help with those details.
- Advice from other riders: Even small pinches or strains can feel different after several hours in the saddle, so it’s important that you listen to your body. Getting your bike properly fitted (whether it’s a touring bike, mountain bike, or recumbent bike) is helpful before a long tour, but fellow riders will be able to share their tips and tricks along the way, too.
When you’re travelling by bike, you get to immerse yourself in the surroundings (the smells, the weather, the bumps in the road), connect with the locals, and move at your own pace. But most of all, you get to appreciate how you got there, feeling the subtle changes in terrain and climate along the way.
What to pack for a cycle tour
Bike tours force you to be practical with your packing – these are a few basics you’ll need to be comfortable on and off the road:
- A lightweight, long-sleeved jersey for sun protection
- Bike shorts and a rain jacket for unpredictable weather
- Thin merino base layers and a down jacket for higher altitudes and colder climates
- Comfortable riding shoes, plus a pair of sandals for when you’re not on a bike
- Fingerless gloves for stronger grips and fewer blisters
- A small handlebar bag or backpack for easy access to valuables and snacks