Biking for All Activities - Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life (2016)

Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life (2016)

Biking for All Activities

A bicycle can serve many purposes. It can be your mode of transportation to get to work. It can be your form of exercise. It can be a way to travel. It can even be your profession. But no matter what purpose a bicycle serves in your life, one thing is for sure: cycling is fun. Whether you’re on a short ride to the grocery store, on a long weekend ride with friends, or on a multi-day trip with your sleeping bag stuffed into one of your panniers, your trusty two-wheeled steed is there to carry you along, and it’s going to feel great.

That feeling of uninhibited youthful exhilaration that you once felt on a bicycle is still attainable today. After all, the enjoyment of a bicycle has no age. Pedaling can be just as much fun at the age of ninety-six as at the age of six, provided that you’re still in good pedaling shape.

We have lots of opportunities to trade in our four-wheeled trips for two wheels. Granted, the prospect of going some distance on a bicycle can be intimidating. But did you know that half of all the trips that Americans make by car are two miles or less? An easy average speed on a bicycle is ten to fifteen miles per hour, making that two-mile trip somewhere in the range of eight to twelve minutes. Suddenly, making that two-mile trip on a bicycle instead doesn’t seem like that much of a lifestyle change, now does it?

If you know how to ride a bicycle, then the opportunities in the world of cycling are limitless. There is so much to be done, so much to be explored, and so much fun to be had. Whether you’re biking to work or traveling to a new country, it can all be done by bicycle. You need only to be willing to try.

As Eddy Merckx, the famous bicycle racer, once said,

“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”


Ever considered riding your bike to work? Then you are part of an ever-growing group of people who prefer two wheels for their commute. According to the League of American Cyclists, in the United States between 2000 and 2011 bike commuting grew by 47 percent, and overall the number of trips made by bicycle in the United States more than doubled, from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009.

As more and more cities invest in cycling infrastructure, bike commuting is a trend that can be seen in many countries around the world. As people look for ways to be more active in their everyday lives, and to do their part to decrease their impact on the environment, bike commuting is a sensible option.

How do I start bike commuting?

As that famous sporting goods company says, “Just do it.” Yes, the best way to start bike commuting is simply to get on your bicycle and bike to work. As long as you have a bicycle and a job that’s within a reasonable distance from home (and “reasonable distance” is up to you; some people will ride over an hour to get to work), you can bike commute.

If you have never ridden to your workplace, it helps to make this adjustment to the “just do it” directive: plan and try out your route in advance. Start by mapping your route—by looking at a paper map or using an online map with a bike function—then bike that route on a day that you’re not going to the office. All maps are not created equal, and this will allow you to figure out the best route without the pressure of needing to make it to the office at a certain time. It will also help you to determine how much time you should allow yourself to get to work; ride at a comfortable pace, and then decide how much time you should allow for your daily commute. Keep in mind that if you’re cycling the route on a weekend, the weekday traffic may change how quickly you can get from point A to point B.

What should I wear?

Unlike going out on a weekend ride, when you can happily suit up in sporty clothes and not worry about how sweaty and grimy you will get, when you ride to work it usually means that you will need to arrive in, or change into, a work outfit. Unless, of course, you’re a bike messenger or work at a bike shop and can get away with wearing a cycling kit all day.

What you wear is completely dependent on what your commute is like. If you’ve got thirty miles of rolling hills to cover, you’re probably going to want to bring a change of clothes. If you’ve got two miles of urban streets, you can probably leave the house in your office wear and arrive at the office ready to work. Here’s the thing about bike commuting: you can bike commute and look like a normal person. You do not need to invest in an entire wardrobe of fancy gear. That being said, here’s some practical advice that will help you.


When it comes to bike commuting, some of you may not want to hear this, but safety comes before fashion. Especially in the winter months, when chances are your morning commute is in the dark, you don’t want to be dressed in your chic all-black outfit. A jacket in a high-visibility color—orange! yellow! maybe even with reflective strips!—is a smart investment for someone who bike commutes regularly.


Any bike commuter, unless they live in a place where rain is a rare occurrence, should invest in good rain wear. You wouldn’t want to be called a fair-weather cyclist, would you? No, the two-wheeled life is all about riding no matter the weather. After all, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.

Invest in a good pair of rain pants that are easy to pull on over your regular pants and shoes (and easy to pull off when you arrive). That means rain pants that zip up a fair length from the cuff. It’s nice to have a rain jacket that’s a bit longer in the back, as it will keep your torso dry when you are bent over your handlebars. There are plenty of brands out there that make cycling-specific waterproof jackets. This is not the place to skimp on quality; you’re buying rain wear to keep 100 percent of the rain off of you, not 60 percent of the rain. Don’t be stingy.

Your other best friend in the rain? A set of fenders for your bike. Even if you are suited up in full rain wear and aren’t concerned about water splashing on you, a fender helps keep water off your drivetrain. That’s good for keeping your bicycle happy.

What if I’m sweaty?

You might get sweaty, and you might not; it all depends on the length of your ride and how hard you ride. Some offices are equipped with showers, which is helpful if you have a long ride to get to work. But for the most part, particularly if you live in an urban area, sweat is probably the least of your worries, so don’t let it keep you from commuting. Some people take the “I’m a bike commuter and I show up a little sweaty” approach, which is to say, they don’t care. But if it is a concern, figure out a comfortable biking outfit, and pack your work outfit to change into. You can even bring a little towel, a brush or comb, an extra tube of deodorant, or anything else you may want to use to freshen up. Basically, think of it like the little make-do sponge bath or washcloth shower you rely on when you’re camping.

The Essential Commuter Pack

Being a bike commuter is a little easier if you are well prepared. Consider keeping these things on hand in your bag to make the transition from cyclist to worker just a little easier.

WASHCLOTH AND SOAP → While your workplace may not be equipped with showers, a quick face wash before you hit the office can be a game changer.

DEODORANT → If you’re into that kind of thing. Also good if you’re too lazy to wash.

BABY WIPES → You just might have to change a flat, and in that case, you’re going to want to clean off your hands afterward. If you can’t wait to get to a sink, baby wipes will save the day.

CHANGE OF UNDERWEAR AND SOCKS → You just never know, especially if you get stuck biking in a downpour. When your feet are soaked, all of a sudden fresh socks are the greatest thing ever invented.

BRUSH → If you have long hair and want to make sure you look presentable for the workday, bring a brush so you can correct any helmet hair.

TREATS → One undeniable side effect of biking to work is that you’ll often get ravenous around 10:00 a.m. because you pushed hard on your morning ride. Come to work well prepared with something like Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bars with Apricot.

How do I ride in a skirt?

For people who enjoy wearing skirts or dresses, or have them as a part of their office wear, this is a dilemma. There is no right way to ride a bike in a skirt or dress; you just have to do what feels comfortable. But for those biking in anything flowing, there are a few ways to make it easier.

Wear leggings or tights underneath → If you have an underlayer on, you won’t be worried if your skirt flies up in the wind.

Bring a clothespin → You don’t need a high-tech device to keep that skirt from hiking up; you can easily pin it to the underside of your saddle with a clothespin.

Wear a skirt garter → There are special garters out there made specifically for clipping your skirt to the top of your thigh, or you can even make your own.

Sit on your skirt or dress → If you are wearing a longer skirt or dress, pull the front part between your legs and then sit on it, so that you keep it in place while you ride.

Find some loose change → Another secret bike hack? Attach the front and back of your skirt together between your legs with the help of a coin and a rubber band, a strategy popularized by the Penny in Yo’ Pants campaign ( If you don’t want the DIY version, they also sell a small device specifically designed for the same purpose.

What do I put my stuff in?

Now that we’ve conquered the clothing aspect of bike commuting, we get to the packing part. Inevitably, you’ll have some things you want to take with you to work, and you need someplace to store those things on the way.


Yes, you can ride with a backpack, and no, you shouldn’t feel bad about carrying one. While there are those who will insist that for commuting you need a set of panniers, trust me: a backpack will serve you just fine. And you probably already have one at home, reinforcing the point that you don’t need special equipment to become a bike commuter. If you need proof that biking with a backpack is a perfectly acceptable activity, just look at all those bike messengers. The other advantage of carrying your gear in a backpack is that you can use it on any bike and not have to think about your pannier rack setup, which is ideal if you have become so bicycle obsessed that you are regularly rotating through the bikes you ride. Whether you’ll want to upgrade from a backpack to panniers will depend on how far your commute is and how heavy your bag is. A longer ride with a backpack stuffed to the brim can become uncomfortable, and in the end, it is all about being comfortable; if you’re not, you won’t choose to ride.


Live in a place where it rains for 70 percent of the year? Get a bag that can withstand that climate. You do not want your laptop or anything else important you have stashed in your bag getting wet. Some backpacks come with a waterproof cover that you can put on; there are also bags made out of 100-percent waterproof material, similar to a dry bag you’d use while camping or boating.


They are called messenger bags for a reason, and you’ve probably seen a lot of people ride with them. It’s important that the bag be designed to stay in place behind you, often with the help of an additional strap; otherwise you risk having the bag slide around to your front while you’re riding, which is both uncomfortable and unsafe if it catches you off guard.


The benefit of panniers is that they keep weight off your back and shoulders. With panniers, you are letting the bicycle do the heavy lifting. Panniers hang on a rack that sits over your front or back wheel, or both. They tend to have the same shape—sort of a triangle, with a flat section at the top that sits above the bike wheel; the panniers clip into the sides of this flat section and then hang down on either side of the wheel. These can be purchased in any bike or sporting goods shop and can be installed at home, or you can get a bike mechanic to do it for you. Panniers come in a variety of materials; just like with backpacks, consider the weather in which you are going to ride.


What exactly does it mean to be in good cycling shape? It depends on what kind of riding you are doing. A bike commuter and a pro racer are two totally different animals. But let’s assume that you’re an everyday cyclist, riding your bike to work and maybe doing a few weekend rides here and there.

Let’s get one thing straight: being a healthy cyclist is the same as being a healthy human being, and the benefit is that if you are cycling, you are already doing a great job of ensuring that you are getting in physical activity every day. What else comes with being a healthy human being? Eat well. Stay hydrated, and eat your vegetables, please, but don’t feel bad about the occasional beer and burger, especially after a long ride!

Simple yoga poses for cyclists

Most people who bicycle a lot forget, however, that while you’re getting regular physical activity, it’s good to be taking care of your body in other ways. The repetitive motion and fixed posture of cycling can lead to a lot of stiffness and tightness, and an easy way to counteract that is to incorporate a little yoga or stretches into your everyday routine. A yoga practice that focuses on flexibility, core strength, and balance can do you a lot of good when you get back in the saddle. Cyclists are usually particularly in need of hip openers and any type of muscle lengthening exercises. Restorative poses are also helpful, like lying flat on your back and extending your legs straight up against a wall. You can easily do this after you get home from your bike commute; it’s a nice way to relax after a day at work and on the bicycle.


This pose, which is easy to do every morning when you wake up to get you going, helps to lengthen the spine and relieve tension from riding.

Come onto all fours in a “tabletop” position. Focus on your breathing, and as you inhale, lift your head and sit bones to the ceiling, letting your stomach go toward the floor so that there is a concave arch in your back. As you exhale, reverse this arch, drawing your stomach up away from the floor and tilting your head toward the floor.


This classic yoga pose helps to lengthen back muscles and hamstrings.

Start on your hands and knees and lift your hips so that you are in an upside-down V shape. Press your palms against the floor and focus on flattening your back. Bend your knees if you need to.


Release the tension in your lower back and open up your chest with this pose.

Lie flat on your back and bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Walk your heels as close to your glutes as possible. Make sure your feet are hip distance apart, then lift your hips off the ground. Roll your shoulders back under your body and clasp your hands underneath your pelvis, then lift your hips a little higher so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for thirty seconds to one minute.


Ever feel like you get hunched over on the bicycle? This is the pose to counteract that.

Sit on the floor in a kneeling position and extend your toes under your feet so that your feet are flexed. Place your hands on your lower back, with your fingers pointing down toward the floor. Lift your chest upward and let your neck release back to get a supported backbend. If you are a more experienced practitioner of yoga, you can take this further by bringing your hands to your feet, your palms resting on the soles of your feet.


This is an easy restorative pose that feels great after a long ride and is good for loosening those tight hip flexors that cyclists are known for.

Lie on your back and bring both knees to your chest. Hold onto the outside of each foot and spread your knees farther apart, slightly wider than your torso, then bring them down into your armpits. Gently push your feet into your hands at the same time that you use your hands to pull down in order to create some resistance.


One thing that’s magical about bicycles is that even if you are not specifically riding one for a sport, whenever you pedal you’re still getting in a bit of physical activity. That’s why so many people get hooked on bike commuting; not only are you getting to work, but you’re getting in a little workout in the process. Our bodies were meant to be active, and bicycles help us do exactly that.

If you’re a sports lover, however, you can take your bike riding to a variety of levels.

Road biking

Road cycling is where most people enter the bicycle sports world. That’s because all you really need is a bicycle and, well, a road. Here are some other things you may want if you’re going to get into road biking:


If you already have a bicycle and access to a road, then you can go on a road ride. That being said, certain types of bicycles will make this a more enjoyable activity than others. Don’t let the type of bicycle that you have stop you from going out on a ride, but if you are looking to do more road riding, then you may want to consider investing in something more than your twenty-year-old single speed.


While road cycling can be a solitary activity, and some people like it that way, it can be even better if you can get together a group of friends. Don’t have friends who ride? It’s time to make new ones, with the help of a cycling group. Ask your local bike shop if they organize group rides. There are many bike clubs and organizations all over, which can be a great way to get into the world of cycling.


The beauty of road riding is that you can go anywhere a bike is allowed, far out into the countryside and away from everyday life. But that means that you may not be too close to a bike shop. So bring a patch kit and a portable pump. These are essentials for any road cyclist who isn’t being followed by a support vehicle, and they can be life savers.


There are no absolutes when it comes to what you wear for road cycling; it’s all about what you feel comfortable in. Cyclists often wear padded shorts, which add a little extra cushion that makes your backside happier during long miles. A cycling jersey isn’t necessary—a T-shirt works well, too—but one nice thing about a jersey is the pockets on the back. Situated so that the pockets are on your lower back when you wear the jersey, this is where you can stash an extra clothing layer, snacks, and some money for that bakery stop.

Going on longer rides

At some point, if you like riding a road bike, you may want to get into doing longer miles. After all, the point of being on a bicycle is to ride, and it’s amazing how far you can get and how much you can explore simply by using your own power.

But heading out on a sixty-mile ride is a little different from doing a five-mile bike commute. Here are a few things to consider.


How do you go about training for long rides? There’s no right or wrong way, and it all depends on what kind of ride you’re doing. But there is one essential to training for any length of ride: time in the saddle. You can be as fit as a marathon runner, but if you haven’t spent some time on your bike seat, your butt is going to suffer, the more miles you do. So when planning your training sessions, be sure that you are putting in miles and, in the process, training that rear of yours to get used to the saddle.


Serendipity can be a good thing, and some of the best rides are the ones where you just let your wheels guide you, but it’s also important to have a general idea of where you are going. Plan your route ahead of time, factoring in which roads are highly trafficked and which ones are not. Remember: the point of a long ride isn’t to get somewhere fast, it’s to enjoy the journey. This is your chance to take all those scenic routes you have never gotten around to exploring in your four-wheeled vehicle.


In this day and age, it’s easy to depend on smartphones and smartphones alone, but if you are riding in an area that you aren’t familiar with, it’s smart to carry a paper map. No need to carry a lot of extra weight; you can easily make a photocopy of a larger map or atlas and simply carry the section of the map that you need.


Running out of water on a ride is simply bad planning. Always carry extra, or know where you can go to refill your bottles.


You don’t need to pack a three-course meal, but some snacks are nice. Plus, when you find a scenic outlook you’re going to want an excuse to take a break and enjoy the view. Take food that’s easy to pack, that you can just stuff into the back pocket of your bike jersey or a small handlebar or under-seat bag.


Don’t be weighed down by nonessentials. Don’t bring your entire wallet; grab your ID, a credit card, and a little cash. Don’t take your whole wardrobe; if the weather is questionable, take a light extra layer for wind and rain protection.


When you’re out on the road, you have to be ready to change a flat, because chances are you won’t be in proximity to a bike shop, and you probably don’t have a support vehicle following you. A spare tube, a patch kit, and a hand bike pump are essentials, and you can’t go wrong with some tire levers. And remember: it’s much easier to master tire changing at home than on the road, so practice before you head out (see “How to Change a Flat”).

Going on organized rides

Bike clubs and organizations put together all kinds of rides. From crazy themed rides to charitable rides, there’s something for anyone. Distances will vary, as well as how many people participate, but in general, you can expect the following:


You’re paying for someone else to organize a ride for you. Fees will depend on the type of ride and how many “extras” you get, like a free water bottle or T-shirt. If it’s a charitable ride, then part of your donation may be going to the sponsoring organization or foundation.


What’s great about organized rides is that someone else does all of the route planning for you. Ride organizers work hard to plan good routes, taking into consideration traffic, hills, and how often you need a rest stop to refuel. On an organized ride you will usually be given a route map, and the route is clearly marked along the way, with either arrows painted on the road or signs.


On larger rides, this fee also pays for pit stops, where you’ll usually find plenty of bananas and chocolate chip cookies to keep you happy, even though your butt is sore from all that time in the saddle.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking isn’t as accessible as road cycling simply because it’s dependent on having access to trails that you can ride on. Urbanites may have to drive a ways to access a trail; rural dwellers may have one right outside their back door.

When it comes to mountain biking, there are different categories.


Ever seen a video of someone jumping off of huge dirt hills on a bicycle? You know how the neighbor kids spend every afternoon in the forest building a series of jumps? They’re aspiring dirt jumping competitors. You’ll find that these bikes are similar to BMX bikes, with low seats, and they’re made for doing all kinds of fancy tricks.


This is the stuff you see on extreme sports channels. Literally going to the top of a hill and riding down it—fast. Without injuring yourself, of course.


Up, down, up and down again. Sort of like the bike version of cross-country skiing. The style of bikes made for cross-country riding is what you will most commonly find in bike shops as well; it’s essentially the “classic” version of mountain biking.


Yes, there are those crazy enough to ride up and down hills on just a single speed—that is to say, with only one gear. Talk to a single-speed mountain biker, though, and they will rave about the simplicity. It’s grueling riding, that’s for sure, but you never have to think about switching gears.


Cyclocross sometimes gets put in the mountain bike category, but it’s an established enough sport that it deserves its own section. Essentially a cross between road biking and mountain biking, cyclocross is a form of bike racing on bikes with frames that look a little like a road bike’s and the knobby tires of mountain bikes, all ridden on muddy trails. Because in cyclocross mud is a good thing, the race season is fall and winter. It’s a grimy sport that has developed a cult following, and there are competitions, both amateur and pro, around the world.

There also tends to be a lot of beer and oatmeal involved, and there are often way more spectators than racers, because there are lots of people who like to watch people on bicycles falling in the mud. Just be sure to wear your rain boots if you ever go to watch a race. Things get real muddy.


There’s no reason that biking, whatever kind you are doing, shouldn’t be a family affair. Whether you contemplate just a short Saturday trip to the market or you want to plan a long family bike tour, getting the whole family on bikes is just a matter of practice. Nancy Sathre-Vogel of knows a thing or two about riding with children. She, her husband, and their two sons spent three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina, a total of 17,300 miles. For anyone who has ever thought that bike touring, or just a two-wheeled lifestyle, is for singles only, Sathre-Vogel is proof that enjoying cycling and making it a part of your routine is for everyone, even families with young children. Here are a few of her tips for getting children on bicycles—even for longer tours—and embracing the two-wheeled lifestyle as a family.

Ride—a lot

Nothing is going to get you and your kids used to riding miles like time in the saddle. The more children ride bicycles, the more used to it they get, and when it comes to gearing up for a bike tour or just getting kids into a routine of biking regularly, this is essential.

Start slow

Start with short distances and find a nice comfortable pace. Sometimes with children this can take work, as they are prone to spurts of energy, and often require regular breaks. But teaching them to maintain a constant pace will allow them to ride longer miles. And if you gradually build up miles over time, instead of all of a sudden going on a hundred-mile ride, your child will barely notice the small incremental gains, but he will be building strength all the time.

Make a child sandwich

Not literally, but with your bicycles. Having one adult in front of the child and one adult behind is a great way to teach a child the rules of the road. The adult in front leads the way and sets an example of good riding behavior, while the adult behind can watch the child’s back (figuratively and literally). The hardest part for kids to grasp is that they, alone, are in their particular spot in time and space. Just because the leader can safely pull out for a left turn doesn’t mean the child can.

Pick interesting destinations

Who doesn’t want to ride to go get an ice cream or to go see a movie? Pick interesting destinations so children get excited about riding. Eventually, they’ll be so excited about the riding itself that the destination won’t matter.

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”



Just as your bicycle is an excellent tool for getting from point A to point B, it can serve the exact same wonderful purpose elsewhere. We’re talking about bike travel.

Say the words “bike” and “travel” and most people immediately think of bike touring. We’ll get there, but bike touring isn’t the only way to incorporate a bicycle into your travels. Even if you are traveling by more conventional methods—airplane, train, and so on—a bicycle can still be an essential component of your trip. So let’s take a look at how to incorporate a bicycle into your general travels.

Should I bring my bicycle?

Whether or not to take your bike on a trip will depend on what type of cycling, and how much of it, you are planning on doing. For a weeklong trip in a big city where you just need your bike to get around, renting a bicycle may be a better option than bringing your own with you. But let’s say you’ve booked a cabin in the countryside and you want to have your own bicycle to explore the region. Then you are probably going to want your own set of wheels with you.


Bikes can easily be checked on airplanes, but that service does come at a cost. Different airlines charge different amounts for checking a bicycle, but in general, the rules for checking them are the same: you’ll need to box up your bike.

Bikes can be boxed in both cardboard boxes or, if you’re a traveler who regularly takes your bike along with you, a hard-sided box. Packing a bicycle in a box that’s appropriate for travel requires taking the bike apart; if you’re not comfortable doing that, a bike shop is happy to do it for you at a cost. They’ll also have plenty of cardboard bike boxes lying around.

If you want a hard box for your bike but aren’t sure if you want to make the investment, ask your local bike shop or bike club. Often they have hard boxes for rent specifically for this purpose.


If you want to ride just a few times to explore, then bike rental is probably your safest bet, but you’ll want to know what’s available before you go. Identify what kind of bike rental programs there are at your travel destination.


If you are traveling with your bicycle, chances are at some point you will need to travel on something other than your bicycle, be it from the airport into a city, or from one town to another. Here’s where things can get complicated. If your trip requires any kind of public transportation—buses, trains, boats—try to do as much research as you can to find out the logistics of taking your bicycle with you on these modes of transportation. Different countries have different rules and regulations for bikes on trains, for example, and sometimes you need to buy a special ticket in advance if you want to be able to be in the carriage that has space for bike storage.


Because of their transportability, some people swear by folding bikes. As these fold down to a smaller footprint, they can be brought inside a building instead of being locked up outside. They are practical for train travel, too, as you don’t need a train carriage that can accommodate bicycles. Having a night out on the town, and you just can’t imagine the ride home? You can fold that bike right up and throw it in the trunk of the taxi. And for the tiny urban apartment dweller, they take up a lot less space than a conventional bicycle. So what are the cons? It’s not the preferred vehicle for long or fast rides (although a good option for an around-town bike), some are easier to fold than others, and they aren’t always cheap.

Tips for Riding in a New City


See if the city you are visiting has a map available that identifies bike paths and bike lanes. This will make exploring much easier. If there aren’t any bike-specific maps, take some time to study a general map of the city. Having an idea of approximately where certain landmarks are and getting a general understanding of the city layout is helpful before conquering the streets on two wheels.


Getting lost is totally fine and nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s part of the fun. Just as wandering a city with no predetermined destination can be a great way to explore, allowing yourself to ride without worrying about exactly where you are gives you the chance for travel serendipity. Who knows what you will find? Also, if you are constantly referring to your map while you are riding, you become a safety hazard. Pull over when you need a reference; don’t pull the one-hand-on-the-handlebars-one-hand-holding-a-map card. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.


A new city means new streets, new drivers, and new rules—not to mention, if you’re traveling abroad, often a new language, which can make signs much harder to read and understand. All of this makes for a very different cycling routine. Ride more slowly than usual and be extra attentive to your surroundings.


Since you’re not going to know the streets, and getting from point A to point B may take a little longer than usual, why not enjoy the process? You are not a bike messenger who needs to speed through traffic; you are an adventurer taking in a new place. Take all the time you need to do it well.

Bike share

For another way to bike while traveling, take advantage of bike share. More and more cities are implementing these types of systems, where bicycles are available for use on a short-term basis. You’ll find them in cities around the world from Paris to London to New York to Mexico City. Research in advance so that you know how to get a ticket; some machines may not take foreign credit cards, for example, and you will need to buy your ticket online in advance.

Bike share systems may each function a little differently, but the concept is the same: borrow a bicycle to get from point A to point B. Many of these systems have time restrictions, which means you are not taking the same bicycle out for use all day; you are meant to pick one up, ride it to your destination, and drop it off.

When using bike share, remember to check the bicycle before checking it out. Use the tires, pedals, brakes method. Check first that the tires are fully pumped, then lift up the back wheel so that you can push down the pedal and see if the crank and chain are in working order. Shift a couple of gears and push the pedal again to make sure that the gears actually work. Test the brakes (both of them!) to make sure that they function. You can also test whether the bell and lights work. Once everything checks out, you’re off and running.


Bike touring is about thinking small and simple. It’s about getting down to the essentials: you, your bicycle, a few pieces of gear, and some provisions. It’s about exploring on two wheels: choosing a destination and getting there by your own power.

If you can ride a bike, then you can go on a bike tour. There is no specific length or type of trip that classifies bike touring; it can be for one day or it can last several years. But there’s one thing that all these trips have in common: it’s just you, your bike, the road, and your destination(s).

The one assured way to get into bike touring is simply to start. People don’t just magically wake up one morning on a bike trip; it all starts with one pedal stroke, just like every other ride. The more touring you do, the more you will get used to it. Start small and work your way up. Along the way, you just might find that you have a new preferred way of travel.

Five things to get you started on bike touring

Packing everything that you need for a weekend and taking it on your bicycle? For anyone who has never bike toured before, the thought of it may be intimidating. But don’t let that stop you. Ellee Thalheimer of is the perfect advocate for bike touring. She has explored many places by bicycle, from Italy to her home base in the Pacific Northwest, and she is the author of several guidebooks on the topics of bikes and travel. She believes that anyone who can ride a bike can do a bike tour; you just have to be equipped with the right information. Here are her general tips for getting started.


Just because you get along with someone in normal life doesn’t mean you’re going to get along on a bike tour. Go with someone you don’t get annoyed with easily, and before you commit to going, sit down to talk about your expectations and communication styles, as these are crucial to a good bike touring relationship. Talk about what it looks like when one of you gets really tired or hungry, and then how you’d want the other person to deal with that situation. Talking about these things before you go can help to avoid conflict. You still want to like the person after your bike tour is finished, don’t you?


When a bike trip is on the horizon, it can be really easy to get excited about doing big mileage. But start easy and allow yourself a relaxing trip that isn’t going to push you to the extreme. Beyond miles, also think about elevation; a low-mileage trip with lots of hills isn’t the same as a longer but flat ride. If you overshoot on mileage, chances are you won’t have fun. The point here is to have fun, not to break any world records. Not up for camping out? Pick a route where you can pop into a B&B. Get used to traveling by bicycle, and you’re sure to want to push yourself farther next time.


For people thinking about bike touring, it seems only natural to start researching bike touring gear online. But start doing a few calculations and you may be quickly put off by the prices. Most people already own gear that will work well—rain gear, helmets, water bottles, etc.—but there are some bike touring specific items that you might need to invest in, discussed in “What about gear?”.


It may seem like tossing a little thing into your pannier isn’t going to make a difference, but if you keep tossing in those little things that you think won’t make a difference, pretty soon they will—a big difference. Take the opportunity to be a minimalist; think about what your essentials are and what you really need in order to function. And feel free to allow yourself two luxury items: Ellee’s are mate tea and a travel hammock.


Sure, we live in a smartphone world, and these days people are quick to turn to their devices, but in some respects you can’t beat the hard copies. They don’t break down, you can view the big picture all at once without scrolling around, and if they get wet, they won’t die on you. You’ll want a good map that has your route clearly mapped, and be sure to bring a couple, in case you forget one along the way.

What kind of a bike do I need for touring?

If you’re just starting out, don’t feel like you need to go and drop thousands of dollars on an expensive touring bicycle; you want a bicycle that fits you well and that you are comfortable on. Here’s the thing: usually, whatever bike you have in your garage is going to be just fine for doing preliminary bike tours. A mountain bike or commuter bike that you can put racks or a trailer on is perfect. Most bicycles (unless you’re on a BMX or a tall bike, that is) can be easily adapted to turn into a good touring setup. The important thing is outfitting the bicycle so that you can carry your gear, and that means installing pannier racks (covered shortly).

What about gear?

What gear you need simply depends on what type of bike touring you are doing. A two-day, thirty-mile round-trip at the height of summer is much different from a five-day winter excursion in the snow (yes, people have been known to do that!).

The essentials, of course, are your bicycle, something to carry your gear in, weather-appropriate clothing, a sleeping bag (if you are camping), provisions, and a map. Even if you set out in the middle of summer, on the hottest day of the year, it’s also essential to prepare for inclement weather, because you will deeply regret being caught off guard. Remember: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. This means maybe carrying emergency rain wear, as well as a spare set of socks. Not to mention that you want whatever you are carrying your gear in to be waterproof. The same thing goes for hot days; water and sunscreen, my friend.

Beyond that, some good humor and a sense of adventure will take you far.

Once you have decided what you are bringing, you will need something to bring it in. Here are options for transporting your gear:


Just like for bike commuting, panniers can be used for bike touring; all you have to do is outfit your bike with racks. Remember that panniers are top loaders, which means that it’s smart to pack your things in stuff sacks or plastic bags for easy organization.


For longer bike touring trips, when you need to carry more gear, some people opt for a trailer. This can also be great if you are transporting a child, or even your dog—as long as Fido is smart enough to know that he is not allowed to jump out of the trailer when you are pedaling! Of course, trailers can be expensive and certainly add more weight. Most bike tours can be accomplished with a good pannier setup, so whether or not you choose to invest in a trailer will depend on your particular bike tour needs.


Plastic buckets are an excellent budget-friendly—and waterproof—option for packing. They can be adapted to hang on a bike rack, just as a pannier would; then just pop the lid on to keep your gear covered and ride on your way.


You’ll find that in the bike community there’s a lot of ingenuity when it comes to packing gear on a bicycle. That can include putting your goods in a stuff sack and using a bungee cord to strap it to the back rack. It can involve sewing your own panniers. It can involve packing as lightly as humanly possible and traveling with barely anything. How you bike tour is up to you, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little.


Laugh all you want, but some people do this. Got a few friends who want to go on a cool trip but won’t ride a bicycle? Pack your stuff in their car and have them meet you on the other side. You can rest assured that you will be the one telling the good stories over the campfire.

Rural Communities Are Great Bicycle Travel Destinations

In 2009, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of The Path Less Pedaled ( sold everything they owned to travel by bicycle, pedaling eighteen thousand miles across the United States and New Zealand over the course of three years. Their experiences as travelers informed the work they do now: advocating for bicycle travel as a welcoming, mainstream activity. They actively document and promote the benefit of bike travel to rural communities, for both the local community and the bike traveler. If you’re willing to route your trip off the beaten path, you’ll often find your way into small communities that you might not otherwise discover. Here are Roca’s reasons why rural bike travel is awesome for you and the communities you’ll visit.

QUIET ROADS → In rural areas, it’s not uncommon to pedal down roads that see only a handful of cars in the course of a day. Here, you don’t have to worry about blocking traffic. Instead, you can ramble down blissfully empty country roads—enjoying the quiet, watching the birds, and taking in the otherwise-unseen vistas.

SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES → Whether it’s the diner in town or the taco truck by the campground, you’ll get to enjoy the local cuisine, and a small business owner will reap the economic benefits. The same can be said of the local stores, coffee shops, and bars.

COLORFUL HISTORIES → Each small town has a unique character and heritage that makes it different from anyplace else. Taking the time to wander down Main Street or visit the county museum, you can learn about and explore the local history.

REGIONAL TRADITIONS → Besides the experiences awaiting you in the small-town shops, imagine the delight of stumbling onto the annual town parade, crawfish boil, or firefighter pancake breakfast. These events happen regularly in small communities, giving you an opportunity to be a temporary resident and appreciate what life is like there.

NEW CONVERSATIONS → There’s something about arriving by bicycle that breaks down the traditional barriers and lets you instantly start chatting with someone from a completely different background. This can be a meaningful opportunity to help break down some of the urban-rural divide.

How do I plan a route?

The easiest bike trips for first-timers are the ones that start from your own doorstep. Unfortunately, not all homes are created equal, and you may feel that you need to get farther away from where you live to start on a good bike tour.

If you are starting a bike tour somewhere other than where you live, the first thing you need to think about is transportation. How are you going to get to your starting point, and how are you going to get back? Can you take public transportation? Do you need to drive a car? If you drive a car, can you park it, or do you need someone to drop you off and pick you up when you are finished?

Because most of us are city people, we often think of a route in terms of being able to access city amenities. We think of a trip as going from one big town to another. The benefit of being on a bicycle, however, is that with the right setup, you can carry all the gear you need for an extended period of time so that you don’t have to be anywhere near a metropolis. If you are willing to go off the beaten path, there is a whole world out there to be explored, and what better way to do it than by bicycle?

The Beautiful S24O

In the bike world, S24O (pronounced “ess-two-four-oh”) stands for sub-24-hour overnight—in other words, a short trip that gets you out on the bike and sleeping somewhere else but back in time to hit work on Monday morning—perfect for the weekend warrior. The term was coined by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works ( For anyone who wants to get into bike camping but may feel a little intimidated by the time and planning commitment of it all, this is a great place to start. All you have to do is pack your bag, get on a bike, pedal to somewhere cool, eat, sleep, and pedal back again. These take much less planning than a longer bike camping tour—it can even be a spontaneous Friday afternoon decision!


Sleeping bag

Sleeping pad


Tent, for the rain, wind, or bugs


Headlamp and book

Toothbrush kit

Extra clothing for sitting around camp after the sun sets and it gets cold


Food and, if you want it hot, a stove

Bowl or plate, and spoon or fork

Bandanas or paper towels for cleanup

These are, of course, the basics; there are other things that you might want to take along, like a camera, a journal, or a travel hammock. What additional clothes you take with you will also depend on where you are going and when. Rain wear might be smart, depending on the elements.

Where to stay

If your bike tour is more than one day, then you will need to overnight somewhere. This can be anything from a hotel or B&B, to a tent, to the barn of a farmer who lets you sleep in it for the night. Where you stay will depend on your comfort level and your budget. If your route passes by hotels or B&Bs, then credit card touring is an option—this means paying for all of your overnight amenities and having a real bed to sleep in. Camping will satisfy your wild side, but also requires bringing a bit more gear—unless you are a true minimalist and sleep under the stars without a sleeping bag (night temperatures permitting).

The important thing about lodging is to think about it in advance, particularly if you are just starting out. Plan out your route so you know where you are staying each night, as well as a backup plan if the shit hits the fan, as it often does. It doesn’t work very well to suddenly decide to camp and then realize you don’t have a tent or a sleeping bag or a camp stove to boil water for morning coffee.


Camping while traveling by bicycle is an excellent option if you really want to embrace your freedom. Even camping offers several options.

Tents → You’ll want a tent that’s as lightweight as possible, but also suited to the seasons that you will be camping in. If you’re planning on bike camping mostly in the summer and fall, then you probably don’t need a four-season tent. When you’re carrying a tent, also consider carrying a little repair kit, just as you do for your bicycle. A spare pole, a stake, and some elastic cord can be incredibly useful in a pinch.

Bivy bags → A bivy bag is a lightweight alternative to a tent. It’s a waterproof shell designed to slip over your sleeping bag—in other words, a cozy little cocoon to sleep in. Not the best option if you want to cuddle up at night with your cycling partner, but a smart choice if you’re looking to cut weight.

Hammocks → Is there anything better than lying in a hammock after a long day in the saddle? Hammocks may not always be the most practical sleeping option—particularly if you’re cycling in a barren landscape with few trees—but in the right situation, they can be a dream come true. As with all bike touring gear, weight is key; do not bring your garden hammock. Opt instead for a camping hammock.

Planning longer trips

Yes, there are people out there who save up their money and then take off for months, even years at a time. This, of course, requires a little more planning than your average weekend trip. And a bit more adapted gear than just your commuter bike with a rack on it. But it’s easier to pull off than you may think.

If you think longer tours are up your alley, your best bet is to start on some short ones and work your way up. Plan weekend trips with friends where you escape to a campsite and sit around the campfire and tell stories. Bike to a new city and explore. Pick a place you have always wanted to visit and bring your bicycle. Take a summer off and bike through Europe. See, you’re already dreaming of cycling from Alaska to Argentina, aren’t you?

Organized bike tours

If you’re not up for planning your own bike tour, there are plenty of organized ones, from two-day trips to month-long endeavors. These will cost you, of course, since you get to hand off all the planning and organizing to someone else. If you are going on an organized bike tour, be aware of what will be provided and what won’t. Are you staying in accommodations or do you need to bring your sleeping bag? Will there be food? Even if there is food, it’s always smart to have your own supply of snacks, because you know what you like, and you know how much of it you want. Plus, when you pull out that bar of dark chocolate, all those other riders are going to want some, and you’re going to magically make a whole bunch of new friends.

Eating and drinking

Eating is an essential part of our day when we are not on a bike trip, so imagine how important it is when you are clocking many miles a day.

Just as your diet differs from everyone else’s, there is no standard Bike Trip Diet that you need to follow. You get to decide what you eat. You can bring all of your own food, or you can plan to eat at restaurants, cafés, bakeries, roadside produce carts, and so on along the way. Or both.


If you’re bike camping and bringing along your own food, you’re going to want to be comfortable with your culinary setup before you go. That means cooking a few meals on your camp stove before you go on your trip so that you know how it works and which utensils, pots, and so on you may need.

Multipurpose is your best friend. As always, you don’t want to be lugging your entire house with you on a bike trip. This is the opportunity to be minimal. When it comes to cooking and eating accessories, you want stuff that you can use for a variety of things. This can mean a pot that doubles as a bowl, and a thermos that can be used for drinking hot tea as well as storing leftover soup.

Durability is important. When selecting gear, always choose durability over looks. There is no reason to bring stuff that might break. Chances are you already have a few things in your kitchen that will work; that slightly bent fork is now your camping fork. If you are in the market for some new stuff, choose items that are going to last, and not just for the duration of your trip. Choose titanium, stainless steel, and aluminum over plastic when you can.


Dan Powell, co-founder of Portland Design Works and Wildeor, is a longtime veteran of the cycling industry and a big-time bike tourer. He recommends the following as bike touring food essentials.

Always carry bite-size snacks and make them easy to reach. Seems like a no-brainer, but jerky, dried fruit, and almonds can be cheap and easy ride foods that will keep you rolling. You never know what you’ll feel like eating, so try to pack some choices.

Freeze-dried foods will surprise you. More and more companies are upping the freeze-dried food game. You don’t have to settle. Look around and you’ll find some delicious choices, like Good To-Go and Patagonia Provisions. Variety is the spice of life, and you don’t need to spend an entire trip eating freeze-dried foods when you can explore local restaurants and stores, but it’s always smart to travel with at least one or two extra packages of freeze-dried food, just in case. Emergency provisions will ensure that no matter what, you won’t go to bed on an empty stomach after a day of long miles.

Take a snack break. On a hot day, when you chance upon some welcome roadside shade, stop and treat yourself to a snack and a cold drink. Take off your helmet and shoes, lean against a tree, and let the world pass you buy for thirty minutes. It’ll be awesome.


If you’re not a coffee lover, feel free to skip to the next section. If you are a coffee lover, however, pay extra attention. The joy that coffee brings you at home is going to be increased exponentially on a bike trip. There’s something about drinking coffee outdoors that is simply unmatched by any other activity. So this is not the time to mess around. You want coffee-making tools with you. I don’t mean the espresso machine, but you do want some type of transportable coffee-making device. No, instant coffee will not cut it. Preground will work, and for the true coffee aficionado, whole beans and a hand grinder. You want to be drinking good stuff, don’t you?

Coffee-brewing devices. The goal here is something that is lightweight, doesn’t create much waste, and gives you the coffee you want. A travel French press is a practical and simple option. The good old paper filter and cone brewer combo is another good option, as long as you make sure that the cone brewer is made from a durable material, and that it fits on whatever cup or thermos you are bringing with you.


Even if you’re not an avid tea drinker, it’s so easy to throw a few teabags into your food bag. A decaf or herbal type makes a great end-of-day drink, the ideal thing to send you off to a sleep full of sweet bicycle dreams. Hot chocolate can be another life saver at the end of a rainy day.


A little beer and whiskey? Always a good addition to a bike trip if you’re a consumer of adult drinks. A stop at a grocery store for an ice-cold beer can break up a long day and even provide a little extra incentive to keep going. Want a little luxury? Carry a flask of your nightcap of choice. You’re cycling, so this isn’t the time to get blitzed, but it’s the perfect time to be enjoying the good things in life.


No one likes dirty dishes, especially when they’re stuck in a pannier all day. Bring some camp soap (the eco-friendly biodegradable stuff) and something to clean with. If you’re staying at campgrounds, most often you’ll have a water source to wash with.


Spoiler alert: there is no perfect meal. Because what you love to cook and eat may not be what someone else loves to cook and eat. It’s all about finding your way to what you love and what keeps you feeling strong on your bicycle. Here are some general guidelines.

Buy food along the way. Not packing food and depending on what you’ll find en route? Try to eat smart. Keep your body fueled with good things, but allow for a few treats here and there. When you’re staying active, your body will tell you whether it feels good or not with what you’re giving it. On tour, you also have the opportunity to explore the local food culture. Grocery stores, as well as local markets, can be full of opportunity for quick and easy snacks that you may never have encountered before.

Invest in good foods. Often a bike trip is the chance to do a budget-friendly adventure. Which means you can feel good about splurging on good food. I’m not talking caviar; I mean good, whole ingredients. An expensive hard cheese that will last a few days and you can eat a few slices at lunch and dinner? Perfect. Crusty bread? Yes, please. Expensive unsweetened dried cranberries from the health foods store? You’re on a bike trip; your well-being really does depend on high-quality snacks!

Get foods that can do double duty. Just as you want to bring multipurpose utensils, you also want multipurpose foods. Things that can work well for both sweet and savory, for breakfast and for dinner. If you are on a trip where you’re doing most of your own cooking, make sure that you are carrying ingredients that are good for a variety of meals, and plan out your meals ahead of time so that you are not carrying a bunch of unnecessary extra weight. A bowl of rice or quinoa can be done many different ways, and eaten cold or hot, in the morning, the middle of the day, or the evening.

Bring a spice kit. Spices will save any meal from being boring. Salt, pepper, cinnamon, and chili powder are good ones to start with. Buy small spice bottles at any outdoor outfitter, and pack them in a small bag. Old-fashioned film canisters used to be great for this, if you can find them, but any kind of small sealable containers will do the trick.