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When planning a tour the best place to start is to ask yourself why you want to tour? Is it to see someplace you’ve never been before or to ride in familiar territory? Are you seeking adventure or do you just want a leisurely ride in comfortable surroundings? Do you want to challenge yourself physically and mentally, or ride 30 miles/day and end each day snuggled in a Bed and Breakfast? The questions are many and you should try to answer them all so you can understand your motives.

Often one of the hardest questions to answer is where you want to go. Most of us have limited time to spend on a vacation so weighing your time available against possible destinations should be one of your first considerations. If you have a short amount of time avoid burning too much of it in getting there. Do your homework and weigh your options. Check out websites like ADVENTURE CYCLING.ORG and review their routes. There’s a lot to be said for leveraging the knowledge and experience of others. Adventure Cycling is a wealth of information and has many routes mapped all over the U.S. with distances from 4,500 miles to a few hundred. Their maps are excellent and information very reliable. I have used their map sets to ride coast-to-coast and from Jasper, Alberta to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and especially appreciated their topo maps and services listings.

Another great resource for planning a tour is CRAZYGUYONABIKE.COM. This is a huge database of information related to tours and touring. Check out the trip diaries to help you pick a destination and get tips for riding there.

If you want to create your own route choose carefully. Maps do not tell you the width of the shoulder, the traffic count, the slope of the road or where food and water is available. Consider contacting local bicycling clubs in the areas you plan to tour to understand the specific bicycling conditions. Avoid seeking information from non cyclists as their perspectives are skewed towards driving, not riding. Many, many times while I’m on tour a driver will offer up information regarding the distance to the next town or the steepness of the next climb. They are rarely right and often times absurdly wrong.

One of the other early decisions you should make during the planning process is to decide how many miles per day you want to average. Conventional wisdom will tell you 40 – 65 but this is only a rough guide and should be based on many personal variables. For example:

  • How many hours are you willing to be in the saddle each day?

  • What is the terrain and elevation you will be traveling in?

  • What kind of weather can be expected?

  • How much weight are you going to carry?

  • What is your fitness level?

  • How many rest days are you planning each week?

  • Are there things you want to do/see along the way off of the bike?

If you have toured before you should have a pretty good idea as to what your daily limits are. But if you have not, the tendency is to be over confident. For example, 8 hrs each day in the saddle does not seem like a big deal, especially if you take several breaks each day. But 8 hours, day after day, in the mountains, in the rain, with sore knees….. you get the idea. Be realistic and aim low. It’s infinitely better to find yourself with a few short days at the end of a tour than having to pound out back-to-back epic mileage days just to catch a flight so you can be back to work the next day. I’ve had to do this and it is not that fun!

I recommend that you schedule at least one full rest day each week. If you decide to ride an extra twenty one day so you can camp on the lake instead of the dirt lot, by all means do it! But listen to your body and make the next day a short one.

Pushing too hard, especially if done too early in a tour, can have disastrous affects. Not only does it notch down the fun factor but it can also hurt you physically.

My first long tour was coast to coast with a good friend. We were young and planned to do 3,500 miles in 40 days. The first day out, from Reedsport, Oregon to Eugene, I pushed too hard and strained my knee. It almost cost me the tour and I had to ride on a very painful knee for a month.

Start slow and easy and increase your daily mileage as your body adapts to the stress of touring and your fitness increases. Force yourself to take rest days. Even if you are feeling strong, get off the bike for a full day or go light for a day or two. Include these days into you touring schedule. You can thank me later.

You should also plan for unscheduled days off of the bike. One of the great things about touring is the flexibility it allows. You never know what you are going to see, who you are going to meet, or a side trip that you may find to pursue. If you schedule for the unforeseen you increase the odds of having an awesome ride.

And finally, always keep in mind that it’s supposed to be fun. While I understand that we can derive much satisfaction from pushing ourselves to our physical and mental limits, the bottom line is that if you are not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.