Author Topic: extremely new to cycle touring  (Read 1267 times)

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Offline tom135ca

extremely new to cycle touring
« on: September 04, 2022, 12:48:55 pm »
Hello, my name is Tom, I'm a Canadian Vet medically released from the Military with a desire to do some cycle touring around European countries or somewhere in that part of the world. I know nothing about this, looking to learn as I think this would be a pretty cool adventure. So where to start? I do have a couple of questions;
  • What type of bike would one recommend? My cycling experience is primarily Road, triathlon and time trial.
What about accommodations, is it usually hostles or something else that is beneficial for cycle touring.
  • Are there informal groups that tour together. I would like to tour with someone but not a formal tour group.
Basically I would like to tour somewhere in Europe in 2023 with at least one other person for a few weeks staying in affordable accommodations. I'm pretty flexible on the details, I'm looking for adventure and share some laughs along the way. I'm a pretty chill guy that is retired and is getting a little bored.
Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
Cheers.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2022, 01:54:44 pm »
First, welcome to the ACA Forums!  Next, a warning that bicycle touring really gets into your blood and could become an obsession.

To answer to most of your questions is it varies.  Are you going to do paved touring only?  More "mountain biking" on mainly gravel or dirt paths (this is also called bike packing)?  Do you have health issues that might require you to get an electric assist bike or a recumbent trike in the not too distant future?  Whatever you decide, I strongly recommend you start by buying a used decent bike to ensure you 1) like bike touring (people tend to love it or hate it); 2) don't waste a lot of money on depreciation if you only keep for one summer; 3) decide a different style bike is what you want; etc.  You can get a good used touring bike for around $1500 that could easily be the last bike you will need if it is the right one for you.  NOTE:  Do not try to rig a road club/racing bike to tour if it does not already come with built-in rack mounts as the frame is either too short (heels hit the packs) and/or not stiff enough.

Accommodations in Europe (and to a lesser extent in North America) range from "stealth" camping (hiding in woods), to campgrounds, to indoor accommodations.  Indoor accommodations range from albergue/l'auberge/ hostel (dormitory style) to pension/gite/chambres (typically a private room which may or may not be in a person's home) to hotels/motels to resorts. Note that in campgrounds, you may be charged for each item, i.e. a tent site, a fee per person, the shower, electric, laundry, etc.  but they are typically a little cheaper overall than a North American commercial campground.

 The best way to find an informal group in advance it to ask around.  For instance, you can post a "companions wanted" ad (free) in ACA's Classified section here on the forums and you can write in and have one included in the monthly magazine (don't know if it is free) but you most likely have to be a member of ACA to get in the magazine.  Other websites also have a "companions wanted" section such as BikeForums.net; CrazyGuyonaBike.com; various Facebook sites, etc.  Don't forget to see if the various European bike websites like Cyclists Touring Club in Britain have a companions wanted section. Usually, a group of 2-4 is a good start.

You don't say how long you want to ride in Europe for, i.e. 1 week, 1 month, the summer, etc.  One option to possibly consider that could give you flexibility is to ride the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  While 95% of the people walk it, I rode it this summer.  There are towns about every 3-6 miles which typically have a Auberge and a restaurant/bar (tavern or pub).  Something 200k people do a section of the Camino per year and there was never a day I didn't see a dozen other cyclists so you could ride with others as much or as little as you want and not worry about not meeting someone else the next day. 

Spain is a scenic country, relatively cheap, drivers are very courteous, and the towns along the Camino are used to bikers and hikers.  It would take about 2-3 weeks to ride it the main Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port (in France near the border with Spain) to Santiago though there is probably a dozen Caminos to choose from. After you do that (recommend mid-May to early June or after mid-September departure due to summer temps in Spain), you would have your "touring legs" under you and could venture out on your own. 

Touring in Europe is easier overall than in North America if you want plenty of services as it is much more densely populated than North America.  I speak only limited Spanish but can get by in Europe with the help of Google's Translate app; a godsend for this Okie who can barely speak proper English. Honestly, if you know how to do the minor repair on your bike (flats; adjust derailleur & brakes; clean/oil the chain; etc.) you can do Europe (or North America) on your own.  Europe has numerous trails, paths, and routes to enjoy.  Check out the EuroVelo routes for easy planning. 

Finally, you might try posting something on the International ACA Forum but it is very little used.  You would have much better luck with international touring info over on the BikeForums site as it is more international that the ACA website.  This site primarily address ACA's vast route network and touring in North America.

Again, welcome, and Tailwinds, John

Offline tom135ca

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2022, 03:50:04 pm »
Hi John,
Wow, thanks for the welcome and the vast amount of information, this really helps. I really appreciate you taking the time to spell things out in detail for me.
I'm hoping to do a combination of paved and gravel touring. Physical wise I'm fit, I think I would not need an e-bike option.
I really like your recommendation of Spain, I think that would be very cool, I have never been there. I would like to tour a country 3-4 weeks, the area you suggest sounds ideal, I think I will try for May 2023.
Appreciate the tip on posting for touring companions 2-4 would be a good size for sure. I'll look into posting in the various forums.
Thanks again John for the info, you gave me lots to think about.
Cheers,
Tom

Offline John Nelson

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2022, 06:01:01 pm »
My recommendations:
  • You can tour on any bike, but if your budget is not tight, buy a bike marketed as a touring bike, like a Trek 520 or a Surly Long Haul Trucker. If you’re willing to tour ultralight, you have lots more options.
  • Read. Lots. Read as much as you can from these forums and the ones over at crazyguyonabike.com. Read the how-to section here.
  • Read journals on crazyguyonabike. If they don’t make you drool, the maybe this isn’t for you.
  • Start watching for sales on the equipment you will need: a sleeping bag, tent, racks, panniers. REI has occasional great sales on high-quality stuff.
  • Plan an overnight trip that you can take from home. Pick a campground 30 to 80 miles from your house. Ride there one day, camp, ride back home the next day.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2022, 06:08:21 pm by John Nelson »

Offline tom135ca

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2022, 06:09:25 pm »
Hi John Nelson

Thanks for your recommendations, really appreciate it. I have been reading on the forums and I gotta say the wealth of information is daunting to say the least. I'm a fan of trek and surley, I have a madone, speed concept and a pugsley. I will definitely check out your recommendations.
Cheers,
Tom

Offline HikeBikeCook

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  • Touring for over 50 years and still learning
Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #5 on: September 05, 2022, 07:07:51 am »
Riding a Surly Trucker (they are only making the Disc Trucker now) is a whole different ride than the Madone. Think of the Madone as a sports car, your mountain bike as a Jeep, and the Trucker as a motor home, when it comes to ride and handling. The Trucker, and similar bikes, are designed to carry a load, but my Disc Trucker with front and rear racks weighs in at 39 lbs. My Litespeed is over 20 lbs. lighter.

If you have back packing experience you tend to think of base weight (which I call dry weight) and "wet weight" which includes food and water. When you compare the starting point of a backpack to a bike that is a huge difference. Granted, there is a mechanical advantage gained by a bike but total weight definitely matters. In addition there are a few things that you need to carry to keep you bike running that you do not carry back packing, like tubes, a pump, spare spokes, patch kit, lube, etc. When you think that my bike empty weighs more that my total pack weight for wilderness backpacking it makes you want to carefully consider you gear selection. I would buy the best you can comfortably afford - it is a balance between weight, durability, and price. This forum will help you sort out a gear list. If you can buy it, chances are someone here already owns it, has used it, and will share their opinion. Start with minimal - weight matters more the older you get.

Next, my two cents on a planned meeting at the start of a trip, going with someone you know, or meeting along the way. If you can go with someone you have ridden with or traveled with I would think that is the best choice. Putting together a group online is risky. They have a Companions Wanted list here, and you will meet great folks, but online personalities are not the same as travel personalities. :)

If you cannot ride with someone you know, then I would shoot for picking a well traveled route and meeting people along the way that are riding your pace. If the chemistry for friendship is there you will find a small group to ride with.

Go luck and enjoy the adventures. Do not be afraid to use this forum to get opinions and information, they are a great group with tons of experience at every level.
Surly Disc Trucker, Lightspeed Classic, Scott Scale, Klein Mantra Comp. First touring bike Peugeot U08 - 1966

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2022, 08:39:34 am »
If your finances can handle it, you might look into packaged bike tours in Europe.  It's not hard to find supported tours of 30-50 miles per day in France, Italy, Germany, etc. that will also rent you a bike (saves shipping across the pond and back).

That just leaves you finding a bike to train on before you leave home.  Without the touring constraint, it should be easy to walk into a bike shop, try some out, and buy the one you like to ride the most.  (It's harder to buy a good touring bike just because it's such a small slice of the bicycle market.)

Offline LouMelini

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2022, 06:54:52 pm »
My only experience in Europe was a 2-week tour along the Danube and a few other places in Southern Germany in 2011, so my information may be dated. The Danube (Danau in Europe) is one of many bike trails in Europe that you will find through EuroVelo. There are 13 routes. en.eurovelo.com. If you are going alone or with a small group that is one resource to use. Unless you have language proficiency, I would concur with Pat and look into a packaged tour or some type of guide service. Despite assurances that we would find a lot of English speakers in Germany, that turned out not to be true. Julie and I struggled, even with her ability to speak and understand some German. Accommodations along the Danube were good. Stealth camping in Germany is illegal. There is more information on my Germany tour in CyclingUtah.com titled "Tales from the old Country".

Offline Westinghouse

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2022, 03:23:20 am »
Eastern Europe, the check Republic, Poland, and moldovia could be very interesting places to travel to and visit. I would stay clear of the border of Ukraine. I did a trip like that by bicycle in 1994. I cycled across France, Germany, the check Republic, Poland, Ukraine, moldovia, Romania, Bulgaria, Grease, the east coast of Italy from brindisi to Milano, and the east coast of the United States from New York City to Southeast Coastal Florida. The war in the former Yugoslavia was still in force. Things were tense all over. I cycled around England Scotland and Wales in 1984. In 86 I bicycled around England, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy. I did a lot more travel in that region by train at other times. I think it would be a little more adventurous going into Eastern Europe. Keep a Daily Journal on that. It would make interesting reading.

Offline j1of1

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2022, 07:07:21 pm »
If going to Europe, and shortly the rest of the world, and looking for lodging consider using BeWelcome (similar to WarmShowers, but better).  Go here:  https://www.bewelcome.org/

Offline HobbesOnTour

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2022, 06:11:45 am »
I would second an organised trip in Europe for a number of reasons.
All the stress and organisation is for someone else.
It is a real opportunity to dip your toes in and get a taste for cycle touring without buying a load of equipment (and later discovering that it doesn't suit your style of touring).
There is an abundance of cycling infrastructure and (generally) traffic is well behaved and respectful.

I also heartily agree with John above about Spain. I've been wandering around here for the past 4 months and it is one of my favourite countries for touring. An amazingly varied landscape, rich history, fantastic food, lots of accommodation and excellent value outside of peak season in peak locations. Language does help, especially outside the cities.

Perhaps it's just me but I'd be wary of looking for a cycling partner that I didn't already know. I understand well the anxiety before a first trip but I have found that there are always people to talk to - in fact, being solo often makes me more approachable.
Against that there's the questions of adapting to someone else's pace and standards (food, accommodation, etc ). There are different ways to tour "with someone" from riding together all the time to simply agreeing a place to meet at the end of the day.
I've toured with other solo cyclists that I met along the way for a day or two. It was pleasant but I always breathed a sigh of relief when we parted ways. They probably did too!  :)
I've also toured with a girlfriend and loved it.
A self guided tour on a popular route in Europe will have you meeting lots of other cyclists going the same way.

Best of luck in your adventures!

Offline Galloper

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2022, 02:23:10 pm »
The Camino de Santiago has many different starting points, being one of the oldest pilgrim routes.   A book called Amber, Fur and Cockleshells by Anne Mustoe gives a wonderful account of the Camino and two other routes.

Accomodation: Hostels are relatively cheap but will vary in quality, you will need a membership card for the International Hostel organisation for many, your own national organisation card will do for that and it's not expensive.   Some campsites may require a Camping Carnet but will accept a hostel card or membership card or your national cycling organisation.   I will say I've only been asked a very few times.   In France the Camping Municipal sites, run by the local town are cheaper than privately run sites and provide all the basic facilities.

Where to go:  Germany has a huge network of cycle routes, both long distance and local with, generally. an excellent supporting infrastructure, have a look at https://www.adfc.de/ this is their national cycling organisation and has loads of routes.   France is also developing an similar network and the Belgian Ravel network is outstanding.   The Netherlands isn't as scenic but their cycle network has to be experienced although is is more utilitarian than touristic.

If you have a month you could start in Amsterdam (major airport), work your way from there up the Rhine and peel off onto the Mosel (which is one of the most enjoyable and scenic routes) then head north through Prum, into the Ardennes then pick up the Meuse cycle route into France then head north into the Aube region before finishing off back in Amsterdam.    Just a suggestion :)

Your LHT is perfect of the job.

My top tip would be to contact National and regional tourist offices well in advance, most will send you relevant information or point you to the right place on their web sites.

Enjoy!

Offline froze

Re: extremely new to cycle touring
« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2022, 12:15:08 pm »
Is this going to be the only time you plan on touring, or will you later want to do more touring?  If all you're going to do is tour once you could rent a bicycle once you get to Europe, or do as a friend of mine did and that was he bought a used bike when he got to Europe, and with the intention of selling it when he was done, but liked it so much decided not to sell and sent it back by UPS to his home!  He did say that it was cheaper to buy a used bike than it was to rent one, so something to consider.  He had a bike shop pack up the bike, and UPS picked up the bike from the shop.  He also said that Europe had a ton of used bikes for sale in shops, so he had no trouble finding the right bike for his needs, but this was back in the '90s, not sure if things have changed since then. 

If you for some reason like the idea of buying a used bike once you get there, you should bring all that you will need with you to carry on the bike, if you'll be using panniers bring them, with all your stuff inside, use them like you would a suitcase.  Buy a pannier rack once you get there.  Bring your own shoes and pedals, and saddle so you won't be breaking that stuff while riding.