It’s that time of year again, the time when cyclists across the country head out to meet with other like minded individuals to ride their bikes across or around a state for the week, in essence to create a week long cycling party. There are dozens of well attended week long cycling tours around America where the support staff carry your luggage, mark out a route and provide camping or other accomodations each night. Most of these rides are known by their Acronym, such as RAGBRAI, or Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, the biggest tour in the nation, and worlds largest rolling party.
I’ve been on a wide variety of week long tours including
- BRAN, Bike Ride Across Nebraska
- Border Raiders
- Tour de Kota
- Bicycle Tour of Colorado
- GOBA, Great Ohio Bike Adventure
- BRAG. Bike Ride Across Georgia
I haven’t been able to do a ride in the last few years, and its not looking good this year either, but I wish I could, they are amazing fun. If you’re thinking about doing one in the future, or maybe you’re about to I thought I’d offer some handy advice.
Know your limits: Tours can range from ultra difficult to ultra easy, they can cover 700 miles or 250 miles in a week. Pick one that’s right for you. I went to the Bicycle Tour of Colorado overweight and undertrained. I couldn’t ride 70 miles a day on flatland so 70 miles with 15,000 feet of climbing at elevation turned me into a slug. I’m all for a challenge but these things should be fun, not torture.
Big ride or little ride: I’ve done tours with 2500 people and about 125. Some rides have an almost cult like following while others are just a collection of people on a bike ride. Research the tours and pick one that suits your style. Big crowds make for a huge presence on the road and in the towns, making it seem as if the world revolves around the tour, they also mean huge lines every time you need to use the bathroom. Small rides don’t have the atmosphere and gusto of the big tours but you may never have to wait in line, and by the end you may have talked to every single rider on the tour.
Fix your Bike: You want to focus on having a good time, not dealing with bike issues. Some tours have excellent mechanical support, others don’t. Make sure you’ve got good tires and tubes, your drive train isn’t about to fail, and your wheels are in good shape. If you brake a standard J bend spoke you likely won’t have any issues getting it fixed, if you break a Mavic spoke, good luck. While you’re at it new bar tape will make your hands happier.
Pack what you need: Most rides allow two bags of 40 pounds. I’ve spent enough time helping to unload the baggage truck to know that no one is weighing these bags. Don’t be a jerk and bring a 60 pound bag. Hikers can survive for a week with a 25 pound backpack, you don’t 100 pounds of crap. You need a few shorts, a few jerseys, street clothes and a minimal amount of camping gear. One luxury I would suggest is a small and light folding chair. Your back will thank you for it.
Mark your bag: When the baggage truck, or trucks, arrive at the next town they will be unloaded in a long line, or maybe a big pile. Finding a green duffle bag will be like finding a needle in a haystack. Try painting poka dots, tying ribbons, or writing your name in huge letters, do something to make your bag stand out.
Gym floor or tent floor: There are people who go on tours and stay in motels every night, I’m not sure why since the campground is where the fun is at. Most tours offer you the choice of sleeping in a gym or in your tent. The tent offers privacy and the outdoors may be better for sleeping, but the hassle of putting a tent up and taking it down along with the additional weight can be avoided if you sleep inside. I’ve done both and enjoyed both but I usually take a smallish tent.
Make friends: I’ve had the good fortune to do several rides with a guy who is excellent at making friends. There are tons of people who go to these things by themselves and many of them would be glad to have a pal for the ride. Friendships made on tours can last a lifetime, and who knows, you may be meeting up with these people every year.
No one is going to steal from you: On my first tour I was amazed by the fact that extremely high dollar bicycles were laying around everywhere. You had to really watch out that you didn’t step on a Pinarello or a Cologno someone had left in the grass. When my Dad went on a tour with me he insisted on locking his bike up all the time, I tried to point our that his locked bike was literally surrounded by bikes that were worth several thousand dollars more then his and none of them were locked.
Take walking shoes: After several days of riding your bike you’ll be looking forward to putting on some trainers and walking. One year I brought some horrible sandals that broke leaving me hobbling around town looking for a pair of shoes.
Have fun: Enjoy the scenery, take pictures, stop and check things out, its a bike tour and one of the coolest vacations you can take.
If you have any tour stories or tips please post them in the comments. Thanks!