Tour cycling

Tour cycling, bicycle touring,or long distance cycling is cycling for long distance transportation (outside a single city or settlement), rather than urban cycling, sport, or exercise.

No matter where you are in the world, given enough time, no land destination is too far.

Cycling has many advantages as a form of travel, as it is the fastest way to travel by human power, and slow enough to allow the type of local immersion that is impossible with powered travel. Cycle travel is also a cheap form of transportation.

Multi-continental trips are relatively common, such as from tip to tip of the Americas, but cycling can also be enjoyed in month-, week-, or even weekend-long trips. Some routes, such as the Karakoram Highway, are extremely challenging, but an infinite number of safer and easier routes are also available.

Long distance cycling involves a number of challenges not normally encountered in short and medium distance travel. Negotiation of differing road rules, and attitude of authorities to individual cyclists can vary between countries. Different road traffic styles can be very disconcerting where motor vehicles and drivers have little regard for cyclists. In many countries bicycle infrastructure is handled at a very local level and municipal or regional boundaries may be immediately apparent by the sudden disappearance or plummeting quality of bike paths.

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See also: Cycling in Scotland, EuroVelo cycling routes

To get decent distance you should have trained at least somewhat. If it is the first time on the bike this year, a first day of 60 kilometres (40 mi) will indeed feel plenty. That is not to say you need to be an expert cyclist. Normal fitness is quite enough and a bike is forgiving of your carrying extra weight. If you are not used to physical exercise at all, that will of course show on uphill legs and in your speed, so you might want to check what daily distances are realistic for you. Give yourself enough time to actually enjoy the tour.

On a good paved road on level terrain, without a headwind, a cyclist of average fitness on a touring bike can comfortably cover 60–120 km (37–75 mi) a day, depending on the number and length of stops. Distances of up to 250 km (160 mi) a day are feasible, but anything much beyond 120 km (75 mi) will require considerable physical strain and not allow many stops to enjoy the places you visit. For many, 80–120 km (50–75 mi) a day will be the optimal distance to aim for, as it will give a sense of achievement and also leave plenty of time for meals and activities.

Be aware that a full load will slow you down. You may average 25 km/h (16 mph) on your unladen bike, but being loaded up with panniers can reduce that to 15 km/h (10 mph) or less.

For a seven day itinerary, aim to cover about 400–500 km (250–310 mi). It is a good idea to ease into a longer trip, do short days to start with, and take a break on the third or fourth day, to allow sore muscles to recover, perhaps stopping in a city or engaging in a different outdoor activity, such as kayaking or swimming.

It’s worth the climb

The gradient of the trip will reduce your range, in exceptional circumstances with uphill gradients to as little as 20 km (12 mi) a day. Watch the altitude lines on your map closely, both for individual gradients and total altitude differences.

Gradients of more than about 5% are difficult to overcome on a laden touring bike. A rule of thumb is that for every 100 m (330 ft) of altitude you climb, you should add an extra 15 minutes to your journey time.

In hilly or mountainous regions, the easiest routes for cycling are downstream along major rivers, as overall they will be downhill. A long, roundabout route along a river will usually be easier than a short, direct route over a hill or mountain pass. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the most scenic routes often come from hilly terrain. If you are feeling up for a challenge, try some hillier routes. Start small, your legs will get used to it and the views will be worth the effort. Former rail lines that have been converted to bike trails are often quite flat, with bridges and tunnels where you’d otherwise have to go up and down quite some height. Similarly, routes along rivers like the Elbe Radweg are popular among novice cyclists for precisely that reason.

Motor traffic is often worth avoiding as much as possible, for example by planning your cycle trip in less densely populated regions (unless it is in a country that offers exceptionally good cycling facilities, such as The Netherlands or Denmark), by choosing minor roads over trunk roads, and staying away from larger cities unless they offer good cycle paths. Not only can it be dangerous to share the road with large numbers of cars and trucks, it will also be less fun.

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