Where should you go? With whom?Which bike is best? What kit do you need? Here are our tips on getting ready for your next bike-touring trip.
It may seem like a huge contradiction, but that first turn of the pedal marks the end of something important: a meticulous preparation process that, in some cases, might have been spread out over several months. Where should you go? With whom?Which bike is best? What kit do you need? Rather than just setting off and hoping for the best, it's a good idea to sketch out at least a basic plan. Here are a few tips to make this planning stage as successful as possible.
Often, it's books that inspire our hankering to hit the road. There's no shortage of bike tourists who have put pen to paper to recount their adventures. And many of these are skilled at instilling a sense of wanderlust ‒ the two-wheeled kind. They include pioneers such as Françoise and Claude Hervé, authors of the classic Le Tour du Monde à Vélo. Then there are young talents like Xavier Lebreton (L’Eveil d’un Voyageur), who travelled all the way to Mongolia.
If images speak louder than words to you, Instagram is the place to go for accounts dedicated to bike touring. Check out Un Monde À Vélo, Jeanne Lepoix, Maximilian Schnell and Tim Bsn, who regularly share inspiring photo stories of their adventures.
And if an in-person chat is the surest way to arouse your passion, why not attend a festival dedicated entirely to cycling? There's a growing number of them in France. Without a doubt, the most popular is the Vincennes festival of cycle touring, run by Cyclo-Camping International each January. But you'll also find them in Chambery, Lyon, Strasbourg and more. They're a great chance to watch inspiring films and meet experienced bike tourists who will be happy to offer their advice.
Your playground? The whole world! There are almost no limits as to where you can explore on two wheels! Instead, your horizons will tend to be determined by how much time you have available. Got two or more years for your trip? Then you can definitely undertake a pedal-powered world tour. Between one and two years? Crossing an entire continent is feasible. One to six months? Then you could cycle across one or more countries. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from heading out for shorter periods than this. In the space of a week or even just a weekend, it's possible to get a complete change of scene simply touring not far from home. Adventures aren't about the place or the distance, but about how you look at the world.
FOLLOW AN EXISTING ROUTE
In this case, you simply need to get hold of the GPS route or a detailed map showing where you want to go. Some routes even have signage along the way. Which makes navigating significantly easier. In France, AF3V's interactive map lists all of the country's greenways and bike paths. It can be a handy source of inspiration. You can also use the EuroVelo network of 19 long-distance cycling routes that cross the whole of Europe (10 of which go through France). For shorter rides in the great outdoors, the Decathlon Outdoor app is sure to have something to suit.
Across the pond, Adventure Cycling have been mapping cycling paths all over the country for more than 40 years. Their database includes such famous trails as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: an entirely off-road trail that traverses the Rockies. Another purveyor of adventurous routes is www.bikepacking.com. There, you'll find ways of travelling the entire world without setting foot on a paved road.
PLAN YOUR OWN ROUTE
If you'd rather come up with a route yourself, a route-building website like Komoot or OpenRunner could prove useful. These tools will enable you to calculate the total distance of your trip, figure out the different stages, and get an idea of the elevation gain and type of terrain (paved roads, bike paths, trails, etc.). They can also be used to find points of interest and food and accommodation options. Once you're out on your ride, you can use the smartphone apps to guide you. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from bringing along your trusty old paper map as a back-up solution. Plus, it's a good way of being able to see your whole route in one go. France's network of secondary roads is one of the best and most extensive in the world. There are almost unlimited possibilities for cycling itineraries.
TAKE PART IN AN ORGANISED TRIP
This final option is a great way to discover the joys of bike touring, but with a safety net. The way it works is that you buy a package from a tour company, which generally contains a detailed guidebook and a set of additional services (these might include bag transport, accommodation, meals, support during your ride). It can considerably reduce the amount of prep you need to do before your ride. The go-to website for a custom bike tour in France or across Europe, with complete peace of mind, is www.decathlontravel.com.
Another option is to take part in a Mad Jaques or similar event. This organisation runs short, affordable turnkey bike trips. All participants are given a GPS tracker and a map. It's an accessible adventure with minimal prep and maximum party atmosphere!
Not necessarily. While some people prefer to plan their trip right down to the finest detail, others are happy with a bit less forward planning. It's up to you to decide how much you're willing to just go with the flow, based on your experience and ability to cope with uncertainty. If not knowing where you're going to sleep tonight makes you anxious, then book your accommodation for each night. But if you're not bothered by this sort of thing, then take advantage of the freedom that cycling gives you to stop whenever and wherever you like.
Ever dreamed of cycling the Channel to the Med? There are several cycling routes you can use to complete this French end-to-end. The Vélodyssée or EuroVelo 1 connects Roscoff (northern Brittany) to Hendaye (the Spanish border) via a 1200-km coastal route. 70% of the route is off-road, away from traffic. Another option is the EuroVelo 6. This long-distance route across France covers some 1300 km, from Saint-Brévin-les-Pins on the Atlantic coast to Mulhouse on the German border, following the Loire, Saône and Doubs rivers. Lastly, the French part of the EuroVelo 3, known as the Scandibérique, follows a 1700 km diagonal line between Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (south-west France) and the Belgian border.
Traversing the country from one extremity to another is something of a tradition in the world of bike touring. So much so that the Amicale des Diagonales de France has made it its specialism. It has created 9 long-distance routes that link up France's 6 "points" (Dunkirk, Strasbourg, Menton, Perpignan, Hendaye and Brest). Why not give them a go?
Hotels, B&Bs or camping? Where you stay will greatly affect the nature of your ride. By opting for bricks-and-mortar accommodation, you can expect a comfortable night's sleep and easy logistics. But we recommend identifying potential stopovers before setting off or, even better, booking in advance so that there's no chance of getting caught out. In France, the Accueil Vélo label tells you that the business is bike-friendly (secure parking area, repair kit with basic tools, etc).
If you instead decide to camp, you'll save yourself money and have more freedom to make last-minute decisions on where to stay. Especially if you decide to just kip in a bivvy bag wherever you happen to find yourself. That said, you'll need to carry the right equipment with you (tent, roll mat, sleeping bag, etc.) which means weighing yourself down more.
Will you be riding solo, as a couple, with family or with friends? The make-up of your group will affect how your trip plays out. For example, it'll affect your daily mileage, your sleeping logistics, how intense your ride is, and how independent you're able to be. All of these things need to be taken into account beforehand in order to devise a ride that works for everyone in the group. A lone adult won't have the same needs or goals as a family with two young kids.
If you want to avoid this question, you can of course simply set off straight from home. There's nothing quite like settling into your saddle right on your doorstep and seeing the familiar sights gradually slip away with each turn of the pedals. But if you're not doing that, you'll need to carefully research the options for getting to your starting point.
Environmentally, taking your bike on the train makes most sense. However, it's not always easy to find space on board with your bike and various bags. And it's even worse with a trailer, regardless of where you are in the world. It's always worth checking the train company's rules on bikes. Do you have to book? Are there restrictions on what times you can take bikes on board? Do bikes have to be dismantled? Do you need to pay extra for your bike? It's best to know the answer to all of these questions before setting off, otherwise you might have a nasty surprise later on. The same goes for taking your bike on a plane. Our advice is to contact your airline to find out about their policy on bulky sports items.
If you decide to drive to the start of your ride, a circular route is best. Or, if you do a point-to-point, plan how you're going to get back and pick your car up (train, car belonging to someone else in your group, hitchhiking, etc.).
Give it a bit of TLC, and that old bike gathering dust at the back of your garage will be just the job. Alternatively, you could hire a bike. Bike hire businesses are popping up all over the shop, renting out touring bikes (both electric and conventional) with bags, trailers and other options for carrying your kids. Some of them will even deliver bikes to your home or the start of your ride, especially on the most popular cycling routes (Loire à vélo, Vélodyssée, ViaRhôna etc.).
Do you cycle regularly and want to invest in your own bike? Then pick a model labelled as a trekking, touring or adventure bike. The advantage of these bikes is that they're comfortable, easy to use, reliable and sturdy. Capable of carrying the weight of your luggage, they'll happily take you on any terrain. At Riverside, we have three models of touring bike. The Touring 520 is perfect for touring on greenways and bike routes for the first time and doing cycling holidays. The Touring 900 is designed to eat up the miles and withstand a long-distance ride across a continent or around the entire world. And the gravel bike TRIBAN GRVL 520 is for bikepacking expeditions off the beaten track.
If you'd prefer a less leisurely, more energetic experience, get yourself a lightweight gravel bike that you can ride absolutely anywhere.
Or, if you're not a fan of hill climbs and long distances, then an e-bike might be more your thing.
Traditional pannier bags on a pannier rack, or a minimalist bikepacking bag? Or why not go for a hybrid solution, or even a trailer? This decision will have a big impact on your overall logistics.
We've drawn up a special guide to help you choose the most suitable luggage option and optimise your bag set-up. It'll also help you to organise your belongings inside your bags.
It'll give you an overview of your equipment. You'll then be able to organise it more easily, plus you'll be less likely to forget something. We've written a bike touring checklist template to help you draw up your own.
Ideally, you'll use a freestanding model that can be pitched in all conditions, including on hard ground. Sometimes you might find that you need to set up camp on a patio, in a car park or on another hard surface, especially if you're stopping off in a town. An awning can be handy for covering your bags and sheltering you from bad weather as you cook. Three-seasons trekking tents are light and compact and, as a general rule, well suited to bike touring. But there are more minimalist options as well. For example, the bivvy bag, which is a waterproof bag to go over you and your sleeping bag. And the tarp, a cover that, when strung up with ropes, can serve as a makeshift shelter, without weighing too much.
Your wardrobe will depend in large part on your destination, the season and the weather forecast. It's best to have an "on-bike" and an "off-bike" outfit with you. The former should be something that won't restrict your pedalling. Preferably, it will be well ventilated, won't show the dirt, and will dry quickly. For your upper half, merino jerseys are a good bet. Then there's your shorts: padded or not? This one's totally up to you. And don't forget about safety: bike helmet, full-finger gloves or fingerless gloves, and sunglasses. In case the weather takes a sudden turn for the worse, you should also carry a waterproof, windproof jacket.
For your off-bike outfit, comfort is king. Your clothing will need to keep you warm once night falls. Layering is the secret to success: a thermal top near your body, a fleece, and a down jacket. In cold conditions, you could also wear a winter hat and gloves. There's no point in taking loads of changes of clothes. Two or three sets of base layers that you wash as you go along will be plenty. To find out more, take a look at our bike touring checklist.
How are you going to eat on your ride? If you're planning to stop off at restaurants, cafes and bakeries, then you don't really need to plan ahead. But if you want the fun of cooking for yourself during your trip, you'll need to pack all the right gear: camping stove, pans, cutlery, and stuff to wash up with. A neat trick to make your food that bit tastier is to bring a little salt, oil and your favourite condiments in small sachets or sealed containers. Before you set off, research a few simple, spot-hitting recipes that you'll be able to cook en route.
When it comes to charging your electronic devices during your ride, the easiest way is to carry a battery pack with plenty of capacity. The most powerful ones will charge a smartphone 4 or 5 times over, or possibly even more. Some bikes also come with a dynamo linked to a USB port that's built into the stem, for example the Riverside Touring 900 and 920 bikes. It's really handy for charging on the go.
This is probably the hardest part of your ride. Especially if you're planning a long-distance trip. Even if you have some serious wanderlust, getting over the psychological barriers that are stopping you from leaving can be a mission in itself. Embracing the nomadic lifestyle, albeit temporarily, means accepting a level of uncertainty, renouncing your usual creature comforts, and changing your habits. These are all legitimate sources of anxiety. But you can minimise them with meticulous preparation. Study your route, familiarise yourself with your equipment, and above all plan a journey that's right for you.
Take into account your physical abilities, as well as your tolerance for effort and commitment. There's nothing forcing you to cover miles and miles if what you'd really like to do is take things slow and steady. Stay attuned to your needs in terms of comfort and safety, even if it means a few more restaurant meals and hotel stays than you'd originally expected. At any rate, bike touring should never mean jumping into the void without a parachute. If for some reason you lose your drive to keep riding, you're sure to find a fallback. It might mean stopping for a few days to recover mentally and physically, then setting off again once you're feeling better. Or maybe you'll find yourself catching a train to skip a particularly difficult leg, or even heading home if your heart's no longer in it.
You don't need to be a top athlete to go bike touring. If you already ride every day ‒ even just a handful of miles ‒ then you'll be able to cope with a bike tour. The more your body becomes used to the effort, the longer you'll be able to ride for. Obviously, you need to keep things reasonable, especially at the start of the ride, and plan legs that suit your fitness levels.
If you're not already a cyclist or you only rarely use a bike, it's worth gradually building up your cycling distance over the course of a few weeks before you attempt your trip. A few regular rides of a dozen or so miles will be enough to get you up and running again. You'll then have much less of a risk of aches and pains when you start your ride.
As a reality check for you and your equipment. This dry run is essential for making the final adjustments, settling on a particular piece of kit, fine-tuning your packing, and getting a taste of what's to come. Ideally, this dry run should take place somewhere that you know well, a few weeks before your real departure. Give yourself the time to make small tweaks here and there. It'll mean that, when the big day finally comes, you can set off with confidence. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting just a few miles into your ride before finding out that your planned set-up isn't at all practical…
Have you worked through all of the planning stages described above? Then you're ready to hit the road. In some ways, the hardest part is already behind you! All that remains is to spin your legs and enjoy the ride!
A fan of cycling in all its forms. Particularly enjoys taking the scenic route. Has equally fond memories of the Great Divide, Paris-Cape Town and Scandinavia as he does of crossing the Pyrenees, cycling the Millevaches plateau and riding around Picardy! Loves a good climb, because it's a natural high - both figuratively and literally. Rides alone, as a couple and as a family. Endeavours to convey the call of the road in his books. Author of "A vélo, 50 itinéraires pour pédaler le nez au vent" published by Gallimard.