Bicycle touring is one of the most enjoyable ways to see the world. Slowing things down, you get to take in the world from a completely different perspective writes Ruth O’Connor
If you’re thinking of venturing off around Ireland or further afield, here are a few tips to help make the trip a lot more enjoyable.
Weight – When I think about the gear that I packed when I first started bicycle touring, I’m both horrified and amazed that I managed to cycle up 22% gradients. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m much more streamlined in my approach to packing. When I say streamlined, what I mean is I am ruthless. That extra pair of socks, the spare shoes “just in case” – all of these things add up and before you know it, you’ve a fully loaded monster.
Sun Protection – I still have tan lines from our first bicycle tour. That was 4 years ago and my skin still hasn’t recovered. We were far too relaxed about it, putting on Factor 20 in the morning, cycling for at 10 hours in 40’C heat and not reapplying once. Fools, I know. Apart from the obvious dangers of skin cancer, imagine lying in your tent in the sweltering night time heat trying to get some sleep, but unable to think of anything but your roasted skin. Factor 50 for me from now on, thank you.
Menstrual Cup – If you’re planning on going on a long tour and get periods, I’d recommend you consider switching to a menstrual cup (eg .Mooncup, Diva Cup). No pads or tampons to pack and no worrying about disposal. Not only are they better for the environment, but they make touring life a whole lot easier.
Fancy Pants – With all the useless gear I packed on my first tour, the one thing I didn’t think of was ‘something nice’ to throw on if we were going for dinner or a beer. Obviously, our cycling clothes were very functional and also had a pretty constant smell of sweat off them – not exactly the kind of clothes you want to wear to the local pub. Within a week of leaving on our first tour, I had picked up a basic jersey dress that I could throw on and wear in the evenings. Be practical in your choice though and make sure it’s something that you can also cycle in.
DIY Basics – If you’re a bit green when it comes to maintaining your bike, I can’t recommend strongly enough the benefits of asking a savvy cycling friend or your local bike shop for a crash course in the basics. You will be so much more comfortable knowing that if you get a puncture, adjusting brakes, replacing brake pads, removing/installing pedals (crucial if you’re flying with your bike) … learning how to do these things yourself will save you time, money and stress. And finally, you’ll be amazed what you can do with cable ties when you’re desperate so always have a few packed in your panniers!
Keep a Journal – If you’re heading off for a few weeks or months, I’d definitely recommend keeping a journal. That remote café you found that had the best cake you’ve ever tasted, the family that washed all of your filthy laundry without batting an eye, the time you blagged your way on to a private yacht with your bike … these are all memories that can quickly fade but it can be a pure joy to sit down with your journal and reminisce. You’d be amazed at how much you forget. Just remember to be honest and record the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s what makes for good reading years later!
The beauty of bicycle touring is in its simplicity so try not to overthink things. Don’t be afraid to just go for it and figure it out as you go. You’ll very quickly learn what kind of tourer you are and what works for you. A tour can last a weekend or several years, it’s what you make it.