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Cycling Holidays First time touring

When you’re cycling along with the sun on your back and the wind in your hair, it can be tempting to keep going instead of turning for home. Try it. That’s cycle touring: extending your day’s ride to the next day, or the day after that, or the next week. All you need is your bike, a way to carry a bit of luggage, and the time and desire to travel.

Cyling Holiday

CARRYING THE LOADProgressive plan Cycling
A rucksack is fine if you’re nipping across town or riding a mountain bike on technical trails. For touring, however, there’s no point being a beast of burden, when you’re already sitting on one: the bike. Putting the load on the bike is much better for your back, which won’t ache or get sweaty, as well as for your backside and wrists, because there’s less weight bearing down on them. In short: using panniers you can carry more luggage, more comfortably, for longer.

Panniers were originally used to carry bread, hence the name. You may see expedition cyclists with bags all over their bikes: two rear panniers, two front ones, a bar bag, a rackpack, and a seatpack. For your first trip, all you really need is two panniers on a rear carrier rack.

Panniers are available in two rough sizes: rear panniers, which have a volume of 40-54 litres per pair; and front panniers, sometimes called ‘universal’ panniers, which have a volume of 24-28 litres per pair. While you can’t usually fit rear panniers to a front carrier rack, you can fit front/universal panniers to the roar. Why would you want to? You might not need the extra space of big roar panniers.

The golden rule of pannier packing is: your luggage will expand or contract to fit the space available. If you use big panniers, you’ll fill them. If you use small panniers, you’ll fill them - but with a lighter load that’s easy to carry.
For a long weekend away in the UK, around 25 litres of luggage space per person is feasible and around 50 litres is ample, assuming you’re staying at B&Bs, hotels or youth hostels. (A typical, medium-sized suitcase holds 60 litres.) So you could use two front/universal panniers for yourself. Or you could use two rear panniers and carry the luggage for two people - your partner’s, perhaps, or one of your children’s. If you want to carry more than this you can, but any hills will be commensurately harder.

Progressive plan Cycling Before you can fit panniers you’ll need a luggage carrier (or rack) on the bike. The carrier fits to threaded eyelets in the frame near to the rear drop-outs and high up on the seatstays. If your bike lacks the upper set, it’s possible to use little band-on brackets called P-clips instead. If it lacks the lower set, which bears the greater part of the load, you can’t securely fit a rear rack; P-clips aren’t strong enough there. Note that while many hybrids have rack eyelets, a tot of mountain bikes don’t.

Road signs are designed tar motor traffic and will guide you down the biggest, quickest roads. Invest in a detailed map so you can plot your own route instead.

Busy roads make touring like commuting, and if you’re accompanied by less confident cyclists even a few miles on one can spoil your whole day. Use minor roads, or when they’re unavailable, B roads. Since the shortest point between two places will often be linked by the biggest road, this will often mean taking a longer, more roundabout route. But that’s the essence of touring anyway; enjoying the journey, not minimising the journey time.

Of course, roads aren’t your only option. There are thousands of miles of rights of way where you can escape the traffic completely. Sustrans’ National Cycle Network (NCN), while mostly made up of country lanes, includes many traffic-free sections. Often following the path of old railways, these routes make excellent quiet corridors through the countryside. Gradients tend to be modest (trains don’t do hills) and signage is good.

Canal towpaths are another peaceful way to tour. To see what’s available for cycling in your area, visit the British Waterways leisure website. You need a cycling permit to ride on towpaths, but this is free and can be downloaded from the website.

Progressive plan Cycling Cyclists can use bridleways too - but not footpaths. Bridleways can take you into some fantastic, unspoilt parts of the countryside. Riding surfaces are variable — some are tricky on an unloaded mountain bike, let alone a loaded hybrid. Unless you know a local bridleway to be good for cycling, or are happy to get off and push, it’s better to leave bridleways until you’ve got more experience in touring and map reading.

For your first trip, keep distances modest - especially if you’ll be riding with relatively inexperienced cyclists. You can always try something more ambitious like the Coast to Coast later on. A good target for your first trip is simply to pick an interesting destination roughly 15-30 miles away, riding there on the first day and returning the next. If you assume you’ll average 10mph on road or 5mph off it, you’ll get an idea of the riding time - to which you’ll need to add time off the bike for lunch, etc.

For really independent, self-contained cycle touring, nothing beats camping. With all the extra gear involved, it’s perhaps better if you’ve become more used to cycle touring itself first. There are plenty of options for staying overnight under a roof. Just because you’re a cyclist doesn’t mean you can’t stop at a posh hotel or at a roadside motel.
If you’re touring on quiet roads or a traffic-free route you’re more likely to find a bed and breakfast at the end of your day’s ride. For a list of cyclist-friendly B&Bs, visit the CTC website and follow the links ‘What I need’, Travel Services’ and ‘Cyclists Welcome Online Directory’. With these establishments, you know that the owners are used to dealing with cyclists, that they’ll look after your bike, and so forth. Other B&Bs can be accommodating, although it’s worth mentioning when booking that you’ll be arriving by bike - because if they can’t store your bike you’ll need to take a big, heavy lock to secure the bike(s) outside. Staying in a B&B or hotel limits the luggage you’ll need to carry. What’s more, you won’t need to take a huge stock of underwear or spare clothing, even on tours that run longer than a weekend, because you can hand-wash essentials in the sink and dry them on a radiator overnight. Youth hostels are an excellent alternative to B&Bs. There are more than 200 in England and Wales and they congregate in areas that are good for touring, and all have bike sheds. You don’t have to be young or even a member to stay there and costs are low because you stay in a single sex dormitory in bunk beds – although usually families can book a room to themselves. Youth hostels often have breakfast or evening meals available. They also have kitchens and dining rooms – and pans, plates and cutlery – that any guest can use, so you can take your own food with. You will be provided with a sheet sleeping bag at the hostel, so won’t need bedding, although you will need a towel. If you’re a light sleeper, it’s worth taking ear plugs – in any dormitory, there will be one snorer.

Wind and shower-proof jacket. Long-sleeved jersey or fleece. Spare socks and underwear. Sunglasses. Possibly spare T-shirt and shorts/trousers, depending on riding gear.
Toothbrush, razor, etc. Also take wet wipes, sun block, plasters, Vaseline (in case of chafing), possibly insect repellent. Towel if staying at a youth hostel.
At least one 750m1 plastic bottle of water per person, ideally in a bottle cage fitted to the bike. Plus snacks such as cereal bars. If self-catering, ingredients for an evening meal (ideally pasta) and breakfast.
Useful for contacting your B&B en-route, or for distress calls. Make sure it’s charged.
Ccompass optional, as you’ll be on roads or recognisable trails, not in the wilderness.
Pump - make sure its connector fits all your bikes’ valve types. Two tyre levers. Patches and glue. Spare inner tube. Ideally a multi-purpose tool.
A small cable lock is fine if you’ll be able to store your bikes safely overnight. If not, you’ll need a big D-lock weighing 1.5kg or so!
Paperback book, deck of cards, MP3 player, handheld computer - anything small.
Enough to buy essentials if you can’t find a cash machine, plus a credit/debit card.