Paco’s primer on bicycle touring

Does anyone else want to do bicycle touring? If you read all the way to the end I will conclude with a trip suggestion for novices.

Bicycle touring is done all sorts of ways. My friend and mega-hiker Whit Rummel says: “we all do our own journey.” I have been doing overnight bike trips since about 1972. The two Consolvo brothers and I rode from San Francisco to Virginia Beach in 1974, the summer after I graduated from high school. We slept in ditches and underpasses. Way before 2021 I grew out of that. Bicycle touring with camping gear has a huge following but that is not what I currently do. I practice what others call “credit card touring”; i.e,. I stay in hotels and eat at restaurants, sometimes expensive ones.

I firmly believe that my journey must be unsupported (no chase car) and point to point, with an origin and a destination. It is NOT a meandering series of day rides. I dig the edgy feeling that I have no idea where I am going to sleep tonight, fantasizing that I am somehow Outlaw Josey Wales. I do my trips either alone or with just a couple of other friends, especially my buddy Lyman. I have posted reports of 240 trips on my blog since 2011.

Where do I bicycle? My ideal trip is small towns and urban areas connected by gentle residential streets and country roads. I also use rail trails and other bike paths when they are available. Especially when cycling alone, I think miles and miles of a rail-trail through the woods can get boring. I love looking at interesting buildings without having to fight car traffic. Such a compromise is sometimes possible. A list of shorter rides that I really treasure:

Downtown Chicago to Milwaukee (95 miles, 2 -3 days); there is a paved bike path fronting Lake Michigan, then miles and miles of a residential street for the wealthy suburbs north of the city, then a combination of bike trails and country roads. See and experience Kenosha WI and Racine WI. Return to Chicago by Amtrak from Milwaukee.

Key Largo to Key West FL (100 miles, 2 -3 days), there is a bike path or large shoulder along US1 as it connects islands crossing the Caribbean-like blue water. Be sure to check which way the wind is blowing before setting out. Rent a car one way to return.

Fernandina Beach FL to Jacksonville Beach FL to Ponte Vedra FL to Daytona Beach FL (116 miles; 3 days); The state of Florida has done a wonderful job of accommodating bicycles along Route A1A.

Palm Beach FL to Fort Lauderdale FL along A1A(47 miles, one day); do this as part of a South Florida trip.

Santa Monica (near Los Angeles) CA to San Diego, along the beach.

Many areas of northern France, bike trails along the canals.

Lyon to Nimes, France along the river Loire (158 miles, 3 -5 days). Cuisine Provencal

Rural England, although I still have lots to see there. There are country roads the size and scale of driveways. Great pubs with frequently less great food.

Anywhere in the country of The Netherlands. Their bicycle route system is unsurpassed, cycling there is totally stress free.

Puglia, Italy.,

I can be really A.D.D. and I would do better if I planned more. I often drive to some distant place, leave the car somewhere, and ride off. I have to often find a way back to my car or to my stored bicycle suitcase. Enterprise rent-a-car has offices in many small towns and I have used this many times in recent years.

I like Amtrak. Taking a full size non-folding bicycle on Amtrak is sometimes easy, sometimes not, depending on the route. A folding Bike Friday is doable on any Amtrak train. When taking Amtrak northbound from the Raleigh/Durham area it is faster to drive 2 – 1/2 hours and leave your car in either Richmond VA Staples Mill or nearby Ashland VA.

Many bicycle fanatics own a massive stable of bicycles; buying a new bicycle whenever something hits their fancy. I put my energy into bicycle touring, not the bicycle itself. I pretty much do most of my riding on just one bicycle, currently a Bike Friday model New World Tourist.

There is a lot of personal preference involved here. I like skinny hard tires, not soft knobby ones. I like downturn handlebars. The small twenty inch wheels perform quite similarly to conventional size wheels. This bicycle has an eleven speed rear cog and no front derailleur. Its folding feature is not my primary concern. I cycle on this bicycle for months without folding it. The bicycle does come apart to fit it in a plastic Samsonite suitcase that allows me to check it as luggage on an airliner.

My buddy Lyman and TWO Bike Fridays in suitcases, on the streets of Chicago

The Bike Friday will also fold quickly without a suitcase so as to fit in a car trunk, or to carry onto Amtrak or other types of public transportation

I currently use pedals with a Shimano SPD clip-in on one side, and spikes on the other side. Lyman thinks clip-ins are unnecessary and potentially dangerous. I partly agree but I just like being clipped in, it make me feel faster. I try to not clip in when I am in traffic or populated areas.

Shimano pedal with clip-in on only one side.

I love, LOVE my Keen brand bicycle sandals with screw-in type Shimano SPD clips. No socks required. These shoes are no longer being manufactured and my current pair will obviously be my last. In cold weather I use Keen mountain bike shoes, also with SPD clips. Each of these type of shoes allow for conventional walking so I only take one pair of shoes on any of my bicycle tours.

Who wants to look at an older grown man dressed in a tight bicycle “racing” outfit (MAMIL, Middle Aged Men in Lycra)? I have adopted the contrary loose look. In warm weather I frequently cycle in a polyester Club Ride brand bicycle shirt. From REI I buy Bontrager brand bike shorts that come with a second pair of loose covering outer shorts which have lots of convenient pockets.

This is what I cycle in; Keen sandals, Bontrager shorts, Club Ride shirt

Since I stay in hotels I take very little luggage on my trips. Even on tours of a week or more I take a total of two sets of clothes. Each night in the hotel room I wash the sweaty bike shorts and shirt in the shower and dry them tightly with a towel and hang dry, so that I have fresh clean cycling clothes at the start of each day. For walking around after cycling I carry one set of nice looking clothing that is light and folds into a small space; one pair of nylon Patagonia street long khaki pants and one street shirt, one pair of boxer shorts and a light t-shirt to sleep in. Even in the summer I take a Patagonia nylon jacket that collapses smaller than a fist. With toilet articles and a few spare parts that’s it! The total of my luggage weighs less than five pounds.

Because I carry so little I do not use bicycle saddlebags “panniers.” I like trunk bags; I have had several brands.

trunk bag of the brand Axiom Laurentian; I used this for seven years

I switched to a slightly larger trunk bag of the brand Vaude; it has side pockets that hang down.

I also have a small front bag that hangs from the handlebars.

My most important advice is NOT to carry anything of any weight on one’s body. Do not use a backpack. Everything should be strapped to the bicycle.

I love my seat, made by the company ISM. I never have a problem down there.

There are other types of bicycles would be suitable for the kind of touring that I do. Particularly suitable are “hybrid” bicycles, those with fatter tires and a more upright position than a road racing bicycle, but with skinnier tires than a mountain bike.

Bicycles like the Surly Long Haul Trucker are billed as touring bicycles, in that they are built to carry heavy loads of camping gear. I find many “touring” bicycles so heavy that the bicycle is not as much fun to ride.

Cheap bicycles and expensive bicycles look pretty much alike to the untrained eye. With bicycles you generally get what you pay for, at least for the first two to three thousand dollars. Bicycles with expensive components just ride and feel nicer than bicycles with identical looking cheap components. Any bicycle that sells new for less than four or five hundred dollars is likely junk.

I would try hard to buy from a local bike shop. Having the bicycle put together professionally and adjusted to the buyer’s needs is a huge part of the purchase. (Yes, Bike Fridays are an exception to this, and that is a negative of Bike Fridays, they are shipped to the buyer disassembled in a box from Oregon.)

I hardly ever cycle intentionally in the rain. Whenever a shower appears imminent I seek shelter. Nevertheless I sometimes I get caught in the rain and get wet. At temperatures over sixty-eight degrees I do not attempt to put on a raincoat. I would rather get my clothes wet than sweat inside a supposedly waterproof jacket. On colder trips I carry a raincoat but I am not satisfied with my rain protection; that is something I am still working on. I have plastic fenders on the bicycle to keep my body and bicycle from the mud and rain that stay on the road long after the rain has stopped falling. Since I carry separate sets of “street” and sleeping clothes in my trunk bag, I spend a lot of effort to insure that my spare clothes stay absolutely dry.

Since it is currently summer I have trouble thinking about the winter, but I do have a whole list of practices about cycling in the cold. Simplified: gloves for your hands and a stretchy balaclava for your head under your helmet, are key. You should bring several layers of light nylon and take off clothing as you warm up.

My bicycle trip for newbies, especially those in my part of the country: Get up very early one morning and put two bicycles in the back of your car; drive to BWI airport, Baltimore MD. Park somewhere near the airport, the BWI Airport Rail Station parking garage might work well. There is a paved bicycle path that goes around the BWI airport property in both directions. You can follow this on Google Maps, be sure to turn on the “bicycling” function. After the bike path loops around the airport this connects to the short John Overstreet Connector which connects to the seventeen mile long Baltimore and Annapolis Trail. This former rail line heads in a straight line through residential suburbs and brings you to the bridge that connects to downtown Annapolis MD. The bike ride is twenty something miles each way.

Annapolis MD is a lovely eighteenth century city with nice bars and restaurants. Stay in central old town Annapolis in a hotel and have a nice dinner somewhere. Bicycle back to your car at BWI the next day. You will have a wonderful one night getaway.

One response to “Paco’s primer on bicycle touring”

  1. Nicely done. I’ll never do this, but I appreciate your expertise.

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