What You Need for Self Supported Touring by Bicycle

  Equipment   Concerns   Considerations    Necessary Options
Before you left, you promised yourself the following:

  1. I will ride every mile.

  2. I will not backtrack.

  3. I will take everything I might need.

  4. I will stick to the easy roads.

  5. I will not miss what others have experienced.

  6. I will be happy when the shoulders are six feet wide.

  7. I will be careful to pre-plan everything.

  8. I will stick to the main roads.

  9. I will promote cycling by telling everyone who will listen about my tour.

  10. I will take a lot of scenic pictures.

  11. I will avoid wierd-looking people.

  12. I will ride as far as I can every day.

W H A T   W E R E   Y O U   T H I N K I N G ?

Let's take these one by one.

I will ride every mile.

I thought you wanted to have an enjoyable tour. Nobody cares if you really ride every mile. Your non-riding friends will be amazed if you get from point A to point B. Guinnes and Ripley probably are not interested. And the question is, will you turn around at the first hill you can't climb and go home? No! You will put your feet on the ground and push your bike up that hill.

Other things can pop this bubble. You could bonk, or get sick, or get invited to be someplace that is irrisistably interesting, but too far to ride to. Your bike could break or get stolen, or simply have a flat tire within 100 yards of reaching a shade tree.

I will not backtrack.

This is another strait jacket you can put yourself into. Hold onto this and you can't ride around town, or go back a mile or two to a highly-recommended cafe. You can't come back in a couple days to an interesting event. You can't ride down to that scenic town because there might not be another way back to your route. The best campground might be at the end of a dead end road. Sorry, you'll have to miss it. You can't even loop back to a favorite village on your way back to meet the new friends you just made.

I will take everything I might need.

Well, for starters, if you were able to make such a list, you probably couldn't move your bicycle with all that stuff on it. This convenience-store-on-a-bike will cost you time, money, and energy. Most of us don't have enough of any one of them to waste it.

Don't take anything unless it falls into one of these categories:
I will stick to the easy roads.

Roads that are flat and straight are generally uninteresting. They either put you through highly developed areas with lots of homes, businesses, and factories, or you can see the water tower at the town where you plan lunch - before you leave in the morning.

Curving and rolling roads nearly always have less traffic because they take longer to get some place. Remember, at the top of each hill could be a great scenic view. Down between the hills in the valley can be a peaceful stream or river. The people you meet out there are more easygoing; they have discovered how to slow down and be happy.

I will not miss what others have experienced

It's not a bad thing to want to see people and places on the recommendation of others. But beware of high expectations. What other people have experienced are a direct result of circumstances of the moment. Chances are unlikely that you will be in a place with the same weather, mental attitude or personalities (yours and theirs) that existed at the times and places you heard about.

For instance, if you use one of the nicely laid-out routes provided by Adventure Cycling, you can be fairly certain of the roads and services they list. You can also be fairly certain that few people along that route will be amazed at, or even interested in, you tour. They've been seeing it for over 20 years. And a large number of those cyclists will be different than you. Their focus is the big pond on the other side of the country, where your focus may be on exploring areas and making new friends.

It is better to make your own experiences. They will be unique, and you will own them.

I will be happy when the shoulders are six feet wide.

Be careful what you ask for.

Debris from the road gets pushed off to the side by being blown and run over. This force is only good for about two feet. Riding more than two feet away from the road has you riding through all kinds of things that are tire-unfriendly. It is also bumpy and provides less traction.

Roads that have extra wide shoulders are usually busy. If they weren't, the extra paving couldn't be justified. Being busy means you have to deal with fumes and noise. If you find yourself in this situation, put an earplug in your left ear. If you have no earplug, use a wad of cotton or toilet tissue. Keep the right ear available for hearing.

These roads may also have a continuous rumble strip just where you want to ride, forcing you off into the debris collection. In this instance, try the two feet farthest from the roadway and hope the debris hasn't reached it.

I will be careful to pre-plan everything.

Planning is fun, but most of the time, after your tour, you will see two different things if you compare your plan to your tour.

You can't plan the strangers you will meet, or the opportunities they will present. You can't plan the weather. You can't plan the traffic. You can't plan the condition of the roads. You can't plan your health or your stamina or your whimsy.

You can plan a general route, and some alternative shortcuts that may be helpful. Just remember that the biggest enemy of a good time is a schedule.

I will stick to the main roads.

Well, this may help you keep from getting lost, but being lost is over rated. I have been lost several times in a day, and actually survived.

The main roads, whether they have six-foot shoulders or not, will be busy, smelly, noisey, and generally unscenic. You will be thinking how long you will have to endure it. The good experiences generally don't happen on the main roads, just the other kind.

I will promote cycling by telling everyone who will listen about my tour.

Although this seems like a great idea, it isn't, and here's why:

I will take a lot of scenic pictures.

Scenic pictures never do reality justice, but to remember places you were at, snap a few. It is usually better to just sit and gaze.

Take pictures of people and things that are unique to you. If the details of an item impress you, be sure your shot is close enough to see the details. Written items, like signs and plaques, require special care.

I will avoid wierd-looking people.

That would be a shame. These people have had to learn to deal with things we can only imagine. They are happy when people give them sincere attention and treat them like 'normal' folks. And outside of their appearance, most of them are more down-to-earth than you could imagine.

I will ride as far as I can every day.

Hey, yer on yer vacation. Smell the flowers and relax. Maximum miles you can do at home and sleep in your own bed at night. A better target might be to talk to as many different interesting people as you can each day.