I'm brand new to touring, and I'm planning a solo trip covering the country of The Netherlands. I appreciate any advices and/or experiences you can provide.
It sounds like you are in for a great adventure! I'll try to answer your general questions.
My Cycling Experience:
I spent two months cycling to work on a mountain bike; kept on the same gear of 2 and 5 on a 21-speed. Each way, it took me ½ hour covering 7 miles, including a very steep bridge. The longest trip I'd ever biked was 9 hrs; it was a rental bike, one gear with coastal brake. I was tired by the end but I wasn't burnt out; with a few short stop-overs, it was enjoyable riding. That is the extend of my riding experience. That said, I am female, and I am healthy and athletically built. I don't know how long and fast I would ride with full panniers, does 100km a day sound unreasonable?
You don’t have much cycling experience, but if you can ride for nine hours at a time, you’ll be fine—especially if the terrain is flat. The one thing about not having any cycling experience is: how will your body hold up to riding an unfamiliar bike day after day. Will your sitbones get bruised and tender from sitting on a bicycle seat so many days in a row? Will your knees get tendonitis? Remember, if the front of your knees hurt, raise your saddle a little bit. If the back of your knees hurt, lower your saddle. 100 km/day on flat terrain is easily doable for an experienced cyclist who is fit.
2. Is there a ratio formula of gear/pannier:body weight:bike weight? For example: If I weigh 120 lbs (54 kilos), my personal possession (not including pannier weight,) should not exceed X number of pounds?
Not really. First, you need a sturdy bike to carry gear. A touring bike is built with sturdy tubing to handle the weight of panniers packed with gear, and to withstand being dropped or leaned on things. A touring bike may also be able to accommodate wider tires, which make the riding more comfortable, and protects the rims from being damaged.
3. Are cycling shoes necessary? I'll be cycling leisurely but I also want to use my energy efficiently.
I use them. They certainly aren’t necessary. Lots of people tour with sandals.
4. I read that all restaurants carry bike repair kits throughout the country. What items do I need to keep in my personal repair kit anyway?
I carry a patch kit and several spare tubes, which I replace as necessary. Some chain oil, which I put on about every two weeks, or more often if it rained (plan on getting a new chain after 2000 miles or so). Some surgical gloves and rags for handling greasy chains, and baby wipes for cleaning up afterwards(which I use for other things too). Some hemostats for pulling steel wires(from car tires) out of my tires. A FiberFix for replacing a broken spoke. A chain tool, a foldable set of Allen wrenches(Park brand) for all the various bolts on my bike. Spare M5 bolts(for the seatpost, fenders, etc.) and some nuts for my fenders. An extra brake and derailleur cable. An extra SRAM Power Link to connect my chain.
I also carried one spare tire, which turned out not to be enough. I went through five Schwalbe tires in 2 1/2 months, and I finished my tour on two more tires. I used 38mm wide tires which were hard to find, and most bikes don't accommodate tires that wide, so if you are using a more common size, one spare tire is enough.
2. When you go inside somewhere for an hour or so (supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, hostels, etc...), how do lock up your stuff inside the panniers, or do you bring every thing with you in a backpack?
The longest I ever left my bike on tour was to go into a grocery store to buy food: 15 minutes. I used a long cable with a combination lock, but a bike thief can easily snip the cable in 5 seconds. Unloading all your panniers into a grocery cart is an option, but it is also a big hassle.
3. I was thinking of a U-lock and a chain one. My chain ones are 3½ lbs or 8 lbs. They seem so heavy to lug around while I'm trying to cut down on weight in my stuff. What do you think?
U-locks and chains are too heavy.
Eating and Drinking:
1. I understand the public water is generally safe to drink, do I need to bring a water filter anyway?
How many water bottles would you bring? How easy is it to get them refilled?
I carry three large bottles. Touring bikes usually have 3 water bottle holders, but you can also make do with two, and put a 100 oz (3 liter) bladder in your panniers, and fill it up with however much water you think you will need to get to the next water stop.
1. Let's say, 2 front panniers and 2 back panniers, how would you pack? Camping gear in one back pannier, clothes in the other back pannier; food in one front pannier, flashlight/everything else in the other front pannier? What has worked for you?
I put my tent and sleeping pad in a waterproof bag and strapped it on top of my rear rack. Then I put a cargo net over that, and stuffed my sandals under the cargo net. I also tied one end of a large mesh bag to my saddle, and knotted the other end and tucked it under the cargo net. I thought I would be able to hand wash my clothes at night , hang them to dry overnight, and then if they were still wet, put them in the mesh bag to dry out—but that didn’t work because my clothes never dried out overnight, and they remained wet inside the mesh bag. I ended up just putting my dirty clothes in the mesh bag, which kept them out of my panniers. I also used the mesh bag to store my tent fly in it if the fly was wet when I packed up in the morning. Then when I found some sun(or even just a little breeze), I would stop and spread the fly out for 10-15 minutes until it dried.
The rear panniers are easiest to access, so I used one rear pannier for cooking equipment (on the bottom) and food on top. I also kept my toiletry kit and baby wipes in my food pannier, so that anything a bear might be attracted to was only contaminating one pannier. I found I needed to reserve half the pannier for food. In the other rear pannier, I stored lots of miscellaneous things: foldable bucket(for washing clothes, dishes or filtering water), backpack towel, washcloth, liquid camp soap, silk sleeping bag liner, hanging shower, accessory cord, mosquito jacket, rain gear, rear flashers for my panniers, bike tools, and water filter.
In one front pannier I stored extra bike clothes, and my sleeping bag; and in the other front pannier, I stored casual clothes, jacket, and a warm shirt. At night, I stuffed my soft fiber fill jacket into a pillow case, and it served admirably as a pillow.
I also had a handlebar bag(which sat on a mini front rack), in which I put maps, powerbars, front flasher, leg and arm warmers, warm gloves, warm cycling hat, camera, headlamp(helpful for fixing flats in the dark), sometimes my rain jacket, etc. Make sure you get some leg and arm warmers. They are indispensable.
2. What are some things you packed for a trip that you regret taking?
Cooking equipment. I found it was way too big of a hassle to cook and cleanup—especially in bear country(which you won’t have to worry about). I went on a 2 ½ month tour, and after two weeks I stopped cooking. Instead, I ate things like turkey jerky, nuts, fruit, carrots, bagels, sandwich meat, milk, and cookies.
What are some "common sense" things that people take on a trip but don't make sense for touring?
I took two sets of cycling clothing to save weight, and as a result I had to do laundry every other day. In hindsight, I would have taken three sets of clothing, so I could have done wash less frequently. Finding a laundry and then doing wash takes a lot of time, and I was riding 70 miles a day(112 km).
3. I've heard people talk about "bum cream" to reduce chafing/sores. Can anyone explain? Is it necessary? What other things are necessary?
It’s generally known as ‘chamois cream’. I applied it every morning before setting out, and I applied more during the day. I also had other tourists ask to borrow some. At home, I make it myself to save money, but on tour that is too much of a hassle. I used a brand called ‘Chamois Butter’ because it came in a nice tube, and it was avaiable everywhere.
1. I am clueless about cycling shorts. Where I'm traveling may rain often, and I likely won't have a place to dry my shorts properly. How many pair of cycling shorts do you suggest? Are they meant to be washed everyday?
I can’t stand putting on dirty cycling clothing. I sweat a lot, but inevitably I had to do it a couple of times. I suggest three pairs so you can do wash less often. Riding in the rain is no problem with cycling shorts. They don’t get water logged, and they dry out fast. For riding in the rain, I wore cycling shorts plus leg warmers, cycling jersey plus arm warmers, rain booties for my feet, and my rain jacket. If I got cold I would put on my rain pants.
2. What articles of clothing would you pack for a two month trip?
For casual clothes, I packed one short sleeve cotton shirt and some cotton shorts for sleeping(summer tour), one long sleeve REI Safari shirt, one pair of REI Safari pants with zip off legs, a bathing suit, and sandals. I also packed some warm clothes: one long sleeve warm shirt, some long underwear, a warm cycling hat, and some wool socks. Typically, I would pull into camp at night, and the first thing I would do is wriggle out of my wet cycling clothing(with my pack towel around my waist), and then put on my warm cycling cap, my warm shirt, my long underwear with the REI Safari pants over that, my wool socks, my sandals, and my warm jacket. If I needed more protection, I had my rain jacket plus hood, and rain pants. If it was cold at night, I used my long johns and long sleeve warm shirt for sleeping in (coupled with my 35 degree down bag). I found that I had just the right amount of clothing for all weather conditions.
I don't really know how to plan out my trip. There are so many options and I get confused by where to start once I depart from Amsterdam. Where would you start off the trip, what routes would you take, and where will your trip end? Bear in mind I want to cover quaint villages, castles and nature (but not necessarily going to every forests or heath.) And I don't want to find myself back-tracking all the time.
If you want to ride a lot of miles per day, then there won’t be much time to stop and sightsee.