By Ambassador Mikael Hedberg
When I tell people that I’m bike touring across whole countries, the response I usually get is on the lines of, “Wow, you must be some kind of super athlete,” or “You’re crazy. I would never be able to do that.” But the fact is that I’m neither of those. I’m just an average guy that happens to enjoy cycling and traveling. What I’m trying to tell you is that you don’t have to be a superhero to start bikepacking or bike touring. And you don’t have to buy a bunch of new expensive gear to get started either. In fact if you already own a bike and some basic camping gear you probably have most of the things that you need.
For the first couple of years I did my bike touring on my 10 year old hybrid bike. And it wasn’t until I was a couple of years into my bike touring career that I bought my first designated touring bike. This was great since it gave me plenty of time to figure out exactly what I was looking for in my dream touring bike. And I found all of those features in my Kona Sutra.
When you get started it’s important to not get carried away and go on a month-long tour around a whole continent right away. Instead try to go for a couple of weekend overnighters first, to dip your toes in the bike touring waters. You’re quickly going to realize that a fully loaded touring bike handles a lot differently than it usually does. You’re also going to realize that you’re bringing way too much gear, and you can probably reduce your load with ease.
This is why it’s so important to go on the short overnighters first before you take on greater adventures. Think of it as your preseason. In sports, athletes have their preseason to get into shape and fine tune their skills and equipment. And the same applies here. It’s a lot easier to fix whatever problems you might have with your equipment if you’re close to home, compared to being out in the middle of nowhere with days to the next bike shop.
And when you finally decide to go for a longer trip, my best advice is to take it slow in the beginning. What a lot of beginners do is they get carried away, riding on that adrenaline rush and feel like they’re able to do 100-mile days right from day 1. Only to crash both mentally and physically by day 3. In long distance cycling there is such a thing as a third day slump. And the only way to avoid it is to start slow.
My tip is to take your planned mileage and cut it in half for the first day. By day 2 and 3 you can slowly increase your mileage to get your body acclimated. There are so many things that you’re going to experience during a day on the bike, and all those impressions take a while for your brain to process. I can often find myself, especially in the beginning of a bike tour, feeling like I’ve been away for a week when in fact I’m still on the very first day.
And set realistic goals for yourself. There is nothing that can ruin a bike tour as much as planning your tour into every single detail only to realize that you’re not going to be able to make it to that campground you’ve booked at the end of the day. This only puts a lot of stress on you and can ruin your experience altogether. Always have a plan B. Or better yet, have no plan at all. Things can and will happen on a bike tour. Injuries, mechanical problems, headwinds or rain.
Remember it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey.