Should I buy a new bike before bike touring? Should I wait until I save more money? Should I wait until my kids are just a bit older? Should I sell all my stuff and leave for good?
When Should You Go On A Bike Tour?
I often talk with people and they are not quite sure when is the best time to go on a tour. There are so many questions that need answering that it’s quite impossible to give a clear and definite answer. The only answer I can give is that you should go on a bike tour as soon as you are ready and able to do it.
For some people, it might be a long-game, where they plan years ahead, waiting for retirement, for the kids to be old enough to join them, or just to save the necessary funds. Others may want to wait a year or more to save some money, buy top quality equipment so as to provide a level of comfort and assurance that in the worst scenarios, they know they can rely on their equipment. Others yet may not even wait that long, but just go on a whim because they have a bike and enough gear to survive for the duration of whatever trip they are on.
I personally tend to fall into the last group, having never planned more than a month or so in advance before going on a cycling adventure. For the most part, the season, temperature, terrain, and weather in which you are travelling is only relevant to the bike tour when considering the gear you would need to take and the amount of preparation needed ahead of time. People have bike toured across the centre of Australia and across the Arctic regions of Canada, the USA, and Russia, braving temperatures in excess of 50°C and below -40°C
Needless to say, if you do decide to bike tour in more extreme conditions, you may need to spend more time preparing before you can start.
When Do I Really Want To Go Bike Touring?
The most important factor for you, the rider, is to decide WHEN DO YOU REALLY WANT TO GO BIKE TOURING???
Most people new to bike touring, and many veteran bike tourers, like to start their bike tours during a period of good weather. Not only is it nice to ride when the weather is nice, but starting when the weather is good can help maintain motivation and bring more enjoyment during the early days of the tour.
This is especially true for short bike tours as no one wants to spend their entire tour soaked, frozen, or scorched to death. On shorter trips it’s not necessary to hammer out massive days in the saddle, and I would recommend taking some time to enjoy the sights, sounds and food along the way.
With the exception of my first bike tour, which I did during the rainy season in Indonesia because of my 7 week school break, most of my tours have been fair weather tours. However, even during rainy season is SE Asia, it usually rains very hard each day, but only for a short duration, leaving lots of time to spend on the bike.
When going on longer bike tours, most people start during spring/summer and then ride with continual good weather throughout the tour. This is especially true for the many cyclists that cycle from Europe to Asia each year. The majority of them plan their trip to start in the beginning of spring, just at the weather starts to get good, reach Azerbaijan or Iran by late summer, get through the Pamirs before it gets too cold and then enjoy the following winter cycling around SE Asia.
There is nothing wrong with this plan. Hundreds of cyclists do it every year. The added benefit is that you get to meet a ton of other bike tourers along the way and make lots of friends.
Where Can I Go Bike Touring?
While there is nothing wrong with backpacking as a means of travel, one of the disadvantages is that people tend to take a lot of busses or budget flights to go from point A to B to C. Such is the case with backpacking in Europe where people go from city to city. An example itinerary for a backpacker in SE Asia would be flying into Singapore, catching a bus to Kuala Lumpur, taking another bus to Penang, boat to Langkawi, short flight to Phuket in Thailand, a bus and a boat to Koh Samui, a train to Bangkok, and then another one to Chian Mai. You get the picture. Lots of sights, but they end up missing all the amazing things in between.
The most beautiful thing about bike touring is that you are not constrained by modern limitations of travel.
By this I mean that unlike other methods of travel, when on a bike we tend to be more flexible in our planning.
Only two options really provide this level of freedom from the constraints of modern travel: cycling and walking. However, walking is much too slow for most people.
That’s not to say that if you were riding in a car or on a motorbike you wouldn’t be able to see many of the same things. It’s just that when in a car or on a motorbike, you tend to go too fast and miss a lot of what I call micro-tourism opportunities. Chances to see the little things we often take for granted. Having the chance to pitch your tend on a deserted beach, spending the night in a Buddhist Temple while helping the young monks to use their limited English while sharing a meal.
When I cycled the Mae Hong Son Loop in Northern Thailand, I saw many motorcycles just flying by amazing views without a second glance, missing the opportunity to interact with locals at roadside markets and to see the expression of joy on their faces when you have a simple conversation with their child. By taking it slower on a bicycle, I had so many more chances to have these interactions.
By carrying a tent or bivi bag, cyclists are not forced to rely on sleeping in hostels or cheap hotels, but can set-up camp at places with such fantastic views that not even a 5-star hotel can provide. The best part is that these accommodations are free the majority of the time.
Essentially, by having an idea of where you would like to bike tour and by making sure you have a bike that can handle that environment, there is not much limiting where you can bike to.
Although you could take any bike for a tour, it would be sensible to have the right bike for the job. If planning a tour with a lot of single track through the S. American Andes Mountains, it would be beneficial to have a bikepacking setup with at least 2.25″ tires. Mid-fat and fat bikes will make riding in winter conditions much easier than a bike with 700c x 32mm touring tires. The inverse is true as well, and having a touring bike with 4 panniers will perfectly suit a cycling trip from Europe to SE Asia.
There are very few limitations of where one can go on a bike tour. With some careful planning and preparation, the world is, as they say….your oyster.
Traveller. Cyclist. Expat.
Over 15 years experience living abroad in six different countries. I've travelled to over 40+ countries and met countless travellers, cyclists, and other expats. As a passionate cyclist I've had opportunities to bike tour in some truly amazing places.
While definitely not an expert at bike touring, I'm passionate about sharing bike touring stories and helping others learn hacks, tricks, and techniques to improve their touring experience.
I look forward to you joining me on this journey of learning about and becoming a better bike tourist.