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Cycle Touring – A beginners guide

Russell CuttsComment

Are you looking to dig yourself out of non-cycle touring cycle rides and learn the ropes of cycle touring rides? In this guide, I’ll show you that cycle touring at home can be fun, quick, and a lot less expensive than cycle touring out. 

The cycle touring beginners guide takes the intimidation out of cycle touring and helps you start cultivating your cycle touring prowess in no time. Questions? Answers (yes). Punctuation! This guide uses all of those and other language devices to create concepts and ideas in your brain that give you the knowledge you need be knowleged on. Read on for more content.

The following guide is informed by my recent cycle touring trip. The trip was the first time I have toured by cycle. However, I’m confident my knowledge is well founded. Also, as a regular cyclist I am more than happy to tell you how to do things and lecture you.

Comical interlude – Cycle Thoring

Comical interlude – Cycle Thoring

1. Bags

Bags have been used for many years and were invented before a certain percentage of the population were even born (remember that one for your next dinner party!). They have been known to carry items ranging from solids to liquids, and also other things that the first two example failed to accurately describe. It is impossible to deny that bags exist.

One person who famously purchased a bag, all the way back in 1966 was Mr James Newton Brown (bag not pictured).

One person who famously purchased a bag, all the way back in 1966 was Mr James Newton Brown (bag not pictured).

Radicalised cycle tourerists are infamous for their usage of bags to carry their belongings. Who can blame them! If you want to be like them then you need to do the same. However, before you rush out into the big bag world of bags and bag yourself a new bag you need to learn a bit about cycle touring bag specific jargon. Unfortunately, you cannot stroll into your local high street container merchant and request any bag, you need to ask for what cycle tourers call “paneer bags”.

The Indian Historical Quarterly defines paneer as…

A fresh cheese common in South Asia, especially in Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, and Bangladeshi cuisines. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice, vinegar, or any other food acids.
— Indian Historical Quarterly

Success! You have bags. Now you have successfully read the words above it is time for the words below.

Bags in action! No finer sight!

Bags in action! No finer sight!

2. Circles

Another beginners tip. Circles are a big part of cycle touring. They are everywhere. The success of a tour is based solely on its circularity. So keep it circular out there!

We were unable to find a circular house. I never claimed to be a pro at this.

We were unable to find a circular house. I never claimed to be a pro at this.

All routes must be loops. You need to loop the land only ever gazing forward and seeing the landscape from one perspective. Don’t look back. This isn’t space travel, you can’t just go up and down. If anybody told you that cycle touring was like space travel, kick them out of your circle (or line in their case) of friends.

Cycle touring normally involves riding with other humans too. Therefore, conversations naturally take place. If you are embarking on a multi-day cycle tour (which you probably will be, as a one-day cycle tour is just a bicycle ride) then you will no doubt be spending a large amount of time locked down in the word exchanges. You must master the art of circular conversation. Taking in loops about the same stuff. Leaving socially acceptable gaps before re-broaching familiar topics. Holidays, boats, cereal, hats, cats, the futility of life and the human race etc.

3. Maps

Good old maps, where would we be without you! It would be impossible to say. If cycle touring were to be represented as a Colossal Squid, then the map would be likened to the humongous tentacles guiding it through the dark depths of the ocean on it’s quest for fishy blood. If maps were to be represented as a map, their actual identity, then they would be likened to a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, etc. That would be an accurate description.

We cycled around Wales, therefore we used a map of Wales. Similar to the above.

We cycled around Wales, therefore we used a map of Wales. Similar to the above.

So I guess the beginner’s tip here is to come to terms with the existence of maps. If somebody mentions the word ‘map’ in conversation you need to be able to associate that with a physical object or experience in your minds eye. Touch a map. Feel a map. Smell a map. Get to know maps as a concept and an object, because they will no doubt be around. Maybe learn to use one too…

This is Thomas Hunt Morgan’s Drosophila melanogaster genetic linkage map. It may or may not be useful for cycle touring.

This is Thomas Hunt Morgan’s Drosophila melanogaster genetic linkage map. It may or may not be useful for cycle touring.

4. Expectations

Time for the fourth and probably most important beginners tip for top touring on bicycles. Manage your expectations. This applies to the weather, the enjoyment factor, and the scenery.

Expectation vs Reality

No doubt you will come across adverse weather. You should expect this. Expect it and the worst that will happen is you will have an increased feeling of social apathy, constant impending sense of discomfort and serious emotional disconnect from and hatred towards your riding buddies (captors). However, when it does turn out as bad as you expected you will have a lovely smug sense of bitter satisfaction.

Told you so...

Told you so...

Another tip is to re-align the expect-o-meter on your fun-dials (that’s not a euphemism). Cycle touring is often described as a “mammoth expedition into nature, powered solely by your biological prowess and limited only by your stunted imagination” Bike-bro Mag, 2016. If you expect this then you may be disappointed. Cycle touring is more like commuting to a far-flung destination where good times are promised, but instead of ever making it there you just end up back at the start of your commute then go home.

Now you have read this beginners guide to cycle touring you cannot ever get that time back. Get used to that feeling and welcome to the world of cycling.