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.
CARRYING THE LOAD
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.
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.
WHERE TO RIDE
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.
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.
WHERE TO STAY
WHAT TO PACK:
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