Category Archives: A – Z of planning a tour

Time to get cycling again

It has, as they say, “been a long time between drinks” on this blog site. The last post was just over a year ago. This has not been due to any tardiness, simply that the events of life took over and this blog had to be temporarily put on ice.

I hope to now reverse this situation and get regular posts going again. There is so much to tell, and so many questions to ask of you cycling fraternity out there, it is difficult to know where to start ūüôā

Perhaps it is appropriate to have a quick review of where our cycling adventures have taken us, the things we have learned and what we would like to try next. We have completed 3 major biking tours and have learnt so much from each of them. Each one has been remarkably different in some way.

Waiting for a train in with our loaded bikes. Let our French adventures begin!

Waiting for a train in with our loaded bikes. Let our French adventures begin!

For our first, somewhat timid foray into cycle-touring, we booked ourselves into B and Bs along the beautiful Loire Valley in France, and then rode avidly from one to the next for 4 weeks. It was a superb trip, but on reflection, we spent far too much time in the saddle, trying to cover as much distance as we could.

All things wonderfully French!

All things wonderfully French!

There was not enough time to explore unexpectedly lovely spots, and not enough rest days. And we went too late in the season and got cold. Frosty cold! But at least the rain stayed away, and we had fine weather for almost the entire month.

The take home message for this trip¬†was not to be in such a hurry to “get there”.

Our second trip took place in the  UK. It was a cyclo-tour with a family history flavour in that we tried to visit a number of the places where our ancestors had lived.

Having learnt not to pack too many kilometres into each day, we took a bit longer to cover the same distances, but then got the train, so moved around the countryside very quickly, while still being able to do a lot of cycling. This plan worked very well, and we were able to ride in the lovely Cotswolds, the Scottish borders and highlands, around Bath and London, and along the south coast of England. Accommodation was a lot easier (and cheaper) because we stayed at Youth Hostels in most locations.

Cycling in the lovely green English countryside.

Cycling in the lovely green English countryside.

The weather was a bit more of a problem on this trip and we got drenched a number of times (there is nowhere for cyclists to get out of the rain in the UK!). One particular evening stands out in this regard: it was pouring rain (and had been for most of the afternoon) and we arrived at our destination absolutely soaked. Once we were dry, there was no way we were going to voluntarily go back out into the wet to find a meal!

Our third trip took us back to France.

One of our Hubba Hubba tents which were a breeze to carry, erect and pack.

One of our Hubba Hubba tents which were a breeze to carry, erect and pack.

We had enjoyed ourselves so much the first time, and loved all things French, especially the people. This time we packed two tents¬†and¬†enough camping equipment to give us some basic comforts and headed to the Rh√īne Valley to see what this area had to offer.

We wisely started in the north and cycled southwards, so had the Mistral (wind) helping us most of the way. The area had some amazing surprises for us, with N√ģmes and the Pont du Gard being the highlights. A train trip later and we entered the Albi area which also had a few surprises in store. The highlight for me was the incredible Millau Bridge and the fun times riding through inky black tunnels on our bikes.

The amazing, 4 lane Millau Bridge, France.

The amazing, 4 lane Millau Bridge, France.

Admiring the spectacular Millau Bridge from a distance.

Admiring the spectacular Millau Bridge from a distance.

The camping lost its appeal when the weather turned wet, but it was not a problem when things were fine (I am not fond of mud!). We did find that many of the campsites where we stayed were quite expensive, and a more comfortable (dry) bed could often be found at a local three star hotel or F1 hotel.

What you can see when you cycle through one of the tunnels between Millau and Albi.

What you can see when you cycle through one of the tunnels between Millau and Albi – it was bright daylight outside!

So what is next? We think a hybrid trip, using busses and trains to go longer distances (since this worked well on both the last two trips). But getting bikes on and off trains can be rather nightmarish, and some buses refuse to carry them altogether. So we are planning to take two Brompton folding bikes, which pack down so nicely into compact bundles with wheels. The tents will probably be left behind and a greater reliance placed on finding reasonably priced hotel accommodation. Such are our tentative plans.

A Brompton folding bike can be carried on and off trains and easily  put on a bus.

A Brompton folding bike can be carried on and off trains and easily put on a bus.

The challenge now is to figure out how to get a folded bike and all my gear into a single bag or suitcase. Ideally, the case needs to have wheels and be “inversible” When the bike is airborne, it needs to be inside the bag, but when the bike is unpacked, its bag needs to be able to fold up somehow so that it can travel on the bike racks i.e.¬†“invertible”. ūüôā ¬†Does anyone have any helpful suggestions?

Keeping a travel diary

One of the things I did not do on our tour of France was to keep a diary. Normally I am quite diligent in this regard, but I found I was tired at the end of each day and decided not to bother – simply to enjoy the riding and to rely on my photos for a recollection of the trip. This approach was not as successful as I had hoped as new experiences were numerous and I simply did not take sufficient photos to capture everything I needed.

The only technology that we had with us was a single Netbook which belonged to KJ. This was able to log onto the internet if we were able to get access to a Wifi network, which was not often.

English: Lenovo IdeaPad S10

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia). This is identical to the one I won.

I found it very frustrating to be so limited in my communication capability and eventually I gave up altogether. I also decided that we could not rely on one device for both of us for future tours. Shortly after we returned from this trip, I won a lovely Netbook of my own, so I was set (or so I thought!).

Then Apple released the iPad and I was immediately captivated by this new device. A lot smaller, lighter and with such potential for planning, executing and capturing tours! Netbooks could not help track or plan routes and give reports on terrain and weather at a touch of a button. In addition, Netbooks were too bulky and somewhat overpowered for what we needed.

English: The iPad on a table in the Apple case

English: The iPad on a table in the Apple case (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now my iPad is a fundamental touring tool, as is my smartphone (which gets mounted to my handlebars to provide a live map – how incredibly convenient, no more paper maps to get wet or blown away ūüôā ).

Using these tools, it is now possible to write, photograph and make audio visual records of anything in real time and back them up to the cloud for safe keeping until you are ready to use the material. This makes diary entries so much easier and less time consuming at the end of a long cycling day. Photos can be captured from the SD card of one’s camera, providing an instant backup, and I have an attachment which lets me tune into local TV stations using my iPad. So we can keep up with what is going on in the world while we are away.

iPhone mount

iPhone mount (Photo credit: ryumu)

If you are considering getting a tablet device to use on your trip(s), I suggest you get it well before you go. Not only are they wonderful for capturing your tour information, they are also great in the planning stage. You also need to be familiar with using the device well before you leave home. This will give you time to find out which apps are suitable for what you want to do and give you time to learn how to use them properly.

With the latest upgrades and models of iPad and/or iPhones, it is possible to create a local internet hotspot using wifi. So all is needed is a local internet (SIM) card for either a recent model phone or iPad and all your devices can get internet access. I do not use Android or other non Apple devices, so do not know if this possible with them as well.

If you are interested in using technology on your cyclotour, I have two other posts on this topic as well:

C: Deciding on a specific route

Part of a series on how to plan a cyclo-tour from start to finish. Check out the “A – Z of planning a tour” on the menu at the right of this page to find other articles.

Part C: deciding on a specific route

So you have decided on a broad destination for your cyclo-tour. Now the fun starts, especially if you really have no particular preferences about where to ride.

The criteria we used with our tour in France was simple. Since it was our first tour and we really did not know what to expect or how we would cope with the loaded bikes, we would start with a landscape that was relatively flat and easy to  ride. (In fact, to my way of thinking, this sounded like a great philosophy for the whole tour!) We were a bit nervous about starting off in Paris, not knowing what the traffic was like, the general attitude of drivers towards cyclists and how we would cope with riding on the wrong (right!) side of the road without having practised this for a bit first.

Assembling the bikes in a convenient area of the hotel in Dijon.

Assembling the bikes in a convenient area of the hotel in Dijon.

I had always liked the sound of Dijon, and so we chose that as an alternative starting point for our ride. But we could just as easily have gone anywhere else that was easily accessible by train.

For more about our stay in Dijon, check out the post Dijon revisited.

When it came to actually planning the route, we decided to first follow a canal along a river, then to branch off onto the roads. You can read more details about how we went about this process with the Challenges of planning a ‘Tour de France’.

When it came to planning our second major tour (in the UK) we took a somewhat different approach to many things, mostly because of what we had learned in France.

Knowing which way you are headed is essential. Good signposting makes it easy.

Knowing which way you are headed is essential. Good signposting makes it easy.

We started cycling from a hotel near Heathrow airport (London) and returned there at the conclusion of our tour. In France we were worried about doing this and did not get the bikes out until we were (safely ūüôā ¬†) in Dijon. However, by the end of the tour we were quite comfortable on the roads and cycled all the way back to Charles de Gaulle airport just prior to our departure. I have written previously about planning our UK trip in two posts:

What Comes next?

The next part of this series will explore options to get yourself and all your cycling goods to your starting location. This can be quite a challenge if you intend to use coaches or trains.

B: Where and when to cyclo-tour

This post is the second in a series on how to plan a cyclo-tour from start to finish. Other parts of the series are listed in the A РZ of planning a tour on the menu to the right.

Part B of Planning a cyclo-tour – ‘A to Z’.
Covering where to go and when to go.

where to go?

Deciding where to go when you want to cyclo-tour is actually a very difficult question to answer because it really depends on what you enjoy and how much money you have to allocate to your trip.

I would not be comfortable cycling in many African countries for example. This is not to say that there would be nothing to see (quite the opposite!), or that there is anything wrong with those destinations. However, the cultures are very different to mine and there is a lot of poverty and related social issues in many places. Consequently, I would be uncomfortable – feeling as if I had to be on the alert constantly. This is not my ideal way to cyclo-tour.

However, I would jump at the chance to tour in many places in south eastern Asia, the Pacific basin, the USA, Canada or Europe, the UK or Ireland. That leaves me a lot of options and I am sure I will run out of time and money before I explore all of these!

But many people have cycled all around the world and hundreds of their stories can be found on the web. So if you are not sure where you would like to go, then start reading and see what appeals to you. A good place to start is the Crazy Guy on a Bike website, where you will find forums, lots and lots of tour diaries (you can add yours there too if you wish!) and many other useful articles. You can also do a search for bike touring blogs and follow the ones that appeal to you.

If you can’t make up your mind about where to go, then select one of your most favoured destinations and go with that!

When to go

This question will be answered by a few determining facts. Firstly, you will need to select a time that fits with your personal commitments. Then the second thing is to have a look at the climate of the place where you wish to tour.

Beautiful warm weather at the start of our French tour in  2009. (Chateauneuf, not far from Dijon)

Beautiful warm weather at the start of our French tour in 2009. (Chateauneuf, not far from Dijon)

You may prefer to cycle in the cooler weather or you may be like me and relish the warmer months. I would far rather be a bit hot than cold! (Actually, I should ‘fess up here – I really hate being cold, and I feel the cold more than most people ūüė¶ ). A cooling breeze on a bike is lovely, but on a cold day, that same breeze is definitely not as welcome!

Riding along the Loire River, the days getting cooler and we had to wear jackets.

Riding along the Loire River, the days getting cooler and we had to start wearing our jackets.

On our first tour – the one to France, we left the trip a bit too late, and Europe had a very cold winter that year. The first few days were glorious, but after that, it got colder and colder and it got me a bit down in the end. We rode on some days when the temperature did not get over O degrees C (32 F). I got a bit grumpy on those days! In future, we plan to go earlier – in late summer/early autumn, irrespective of the destination.

weather-icon-set_500x500

weather-icon (Photo credit: Shmector)

The other thing that cyclists have to deal with is rain. I was intrigued to find that even though it rains a lot in places like England and Scotland, there are almost no places to shelter from the weather. Buildings front directly onto the street without any porches or covered awnings. This is very different to Australia, where you will find verandahs of some sort on almost every building, covered shopping mall areas and so on.

We did get wet on our rides in Scotland and England, but mostly it was not a major problem. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done if one strikes a few rainy days – just don the wet weather gear and brave the elements! If you select the time of year when rain is less likely, that is about all that you can do!

Foggy morning in Orleans.

Foggy morning in Orleans.

The internet is a great resource for finding out what the weather is most likely going to do while you are on tour. Once you know what to expect, you can get the right gear to deal with the weather.

What Comes next?

The next part of this series will explore ideas for deciding exactly where to tour and how to get yourself and all your cycling goods to your starting location.

A: Planning a cyclo-tour from A – Z

What this series will be about.

I have written quite a number of things on this blog about cyclo-touring, but when chatting with a friend recently, it occurred to me that I don’t have an A to Z on how to actually plan a tour. Given that KJ and I intend to tour a lot more in the future, this could be good as a checklist for us too.

If one is considering touring with a tour operator, it makes the whole process considerably easier as you simply select the tour you like, pay your hard earned cash and go off and enjoy. Some tour operators will take your luggage for you too, which makes the whole thing very easy to manage! The downside of these tours is that you are constrained to travelling with a group and you have no flexibility to chop and change en route.

Morning tea break in a shady forest. It does not get any better than this in my book.

Morning tea break in a shady forest. It does not get any better than this in my book.

KJ and I like to have some flexibility with respect to where we go, but we have been a bit apprehensive about going the full flexible option and camping.

So I am going to provide some guidance on how we have planned previous trips and what we anticipate will be required for a camping tour. If you have cyclo-toured, please feel free to add your advice and opinions in the comments – there are lots of options out there and our approach will not suit everyone. You may have also come across some great gear and ideas that we have not discovered.

I will post a series from A to Z (if I can think of that many things!) which will describe how we go about planning for a cyclo-tour from start to finish. Where I have previous posts that are relevant, I will link back to those and where I find other blogs that have information I have used, I will add them as well.

Exploring villages and towns at a rate that suits you best.

Exploring villages and towns at a rate that suits you best.

Hopefully, if you are considering a tour yourself, this will give you some hints on where to start and how to go about it. Often, the hardest part is getting started.

In the very early stages, getting to your destination (where you wish to tour), figuring out when to go and the big question when you are free touring – where exactly to go are the main questions that need answering. So Part B of the series will start with the first of two of these and Part C will give you some ideas on deciding where exactly to ride.

I hope you will enjoy the series and will add to it if you have information that will be beneficial for other touring folks. I thought of creating an index, but maybe the search function and/or the menu at the top of each page are sufficient.