Long Bike Trips - What Should I Know?

Sometime within the near future I am planning on taking a bike trip to and through the San Juan Islands, which is about 70 miles away. Granted, this is not an enormous bicycle trip. I know somebody who has biked from Eastern China to Thailand, zigzagging back and forth just in case he might miss any third world countries along the way. However, it is long to me because I am completely new to the field of bicycle-only travel.

I don’t mean to ask such a vague question, but, to anyone who has taken large bicycle trips: What should I prepare for? How should I prepare? What should I devote my precious backpack space too? You get my drift.

Thanks in advance,

Slight correction: I am going to take this trip with a friend of mine, Sam. Just in case that is relavent.

You need to take tools in your backpack, in the event of a breakdown. V. important, nothing would suck more than having to walk your bicycle miles and miles because its broke. I typically take one or more spare inner tubes, bike pump, patch kit and a multi-tool. The last item is very small and contains approx twenty mini tools that are useful for bike maintenance. This is the bare minimum really, a cellphone is also good to take in the event of an emergency.

As well as taking the tools, you need to know how to use them :slight_smile:

If you’re riding on the roads and things are fairly flat then a seventy mile trip will be no problem. If you’re in good overall shape you can do this in a day at sightseeing pace, if you want to. If you’re out of shape, or the route is particularly hilly, then you will probably want to spread the trip across two or more days.

One other thing to think about is hydration. I’ll show my ignorance by saying that I have no idea where the San Juan islands are; they sound hot. Riding a bike for hours in the sun is a serious proposition, and making sure that you have enough water on board is a* top* priority. If we’re talking about scorching temperatures then its probably best to get an early start, rest up under the midday sun then get back in the saddle for the afternoon/evening.

Besides what Myler has already said, my main advice would be not to take a backpack at all if you can avoid it. Instead, buy, borrow or rent a pair of panniers instead. If you haven’t seen these, they are a pair of saddle bags that mount to a luggage rack on either side of your rear wheel (or your front as well, if you have to carry a lot of stuff). Getting the weight off your back will increase your enjoyment and endurance tremendously.


Are you doing something like the Trek Tri-Island? Or are you just going to bike around the San Juans on your own (with your friend)?

Here’s a biking in the San Juans web page, that includes maps and some info about public facilities.

Also, cell phone service can be spotty, weather can be iffy, and people will drive on narrow, windy roads, way too fast. Make sure you’re as visible as possible. I’ve tried to bike in the San Juans twice. Admittedly, I’m a horrible cyclist, but the first time involved crying (closer to sobbing, loud, pained sobbing). The second time, I made it 5 minutes, saw the hills on all sides of me, thought “I’m not going to do that,” and turned around. I drove instead - it was hard for the car to make it up those things.

Good luck.

Training. 70 miles isn’t very far, but it will make you absolutely miserable if you’re not used to covering distances of, say, 20–30 miles comfortably. Especially if there are hills.

I second and third the advice about using panniers instead of a backpack, for safety as well as comfort. Keeping as much weight as possible low on the bike will increase your stability and lessen your chances of a fall.

Basic first aid kit. It’s a real nuisance to get a small cut or a blister and not be able to do anything about it until you’ve biked another 25 miles to a drugstore.

Make sure your bike is in good condition and properly adjusted for you. Again, advance training will help you work out any issues before you set off on your trip.

Mindset issue: Think of the trip in terms of expanded distances—when you’re traveling non-motorized, it takes longer to cover the ground than you’re used to in car culture, and everything is effectively farther away. I recall at the end of the first day of a bike trip in upstate NY, I called the friend we’d been staying with the previous night to check in, and said “Guess what—they have [chain name] supermarkets out here too, just like where you are!” His response: “Well duh, you’re only about forty miles away.” But I had been traveling all day, watching the miles roll away as we moved away from the city out into the small towns and villages, and it just felt as though I’d completed an immense voyage.

Finally: WEAR A HELMET!!

A little bit north of Seattle, actually. Not as tropical as the name would suggest, but it can be a bit warm in the summer.

The Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle has a lot of organized group rides. It might be a good idea to try a couple of those; you’ll get some experience on longer rides with people who know what they’re doing, and you might even find some advice from people who’ve done the same trip you’re planning.

I did a ride from Vancouver to Friday Harbor, with a couple ferry trips there and back.

Getting off and on the ferry is pretty nice. You’ll have to take the car lane, but you get to go right to the front of the line. You’ll want to lock your bike up to a railing, because your kickstand isn’t going to keep it upright during docking. Decide now if you want to leave your gear unattended or want to lug it around the ferry with you.

You will also want taillights, headlights, and spare batteries. The roads on the San Juan islands are not lit, and it’s easy to forget just how incredibly dark it can get after the sun goes down. You may not be planning to ride after sunset, but it may happen, and the last thing you want is to be pedalling in pitch black darkness.

Will it be an all-weather trip? Then make sure you have proper wet weather gear and sunblock.

Will you be staying at hotels on the islands or camping? Make sure your tent fits in your panniers. Cooking out or restaurants? Buying food on the way or packing everything? You’ll probably get verrrry hungry, so make sure your snacks and water are easily accessible.

One last thing: when you stop, do everything you need to do-- change clothes, eat food, consult your map, go to the bathroom. If you have to stop every half hour for an adjustment, your trip will be much slower.

You need to change your mindset from thinking about distance, and instead think about time.

Car drivers don’t appreciate the distinction, but, if you can ride easy at 10 mph, you are looking at 7 hours riding time, so you need to think about what you would normally eat and drink during that time, and probably double the fluids.

If you are not used to riding 20-30 miles once or twice a week, I would get some practice, not speedwise, just for being sat on a cycle for an hour and a half at a time.

You would maybe expect your legs to hurt a little, but you may be surprised to find that over 70 miles and not used to it, your arms and neck will most likely suffer too, and the neck pain might cause you a headache if you are susceptable to such things.

Wear cycling gloves, think about a hat with a peak, crash hats make you very hot indeed, meaning you will need more fluids, I personally would think twice about the crash hat, especially if you are not fit.
I know the arguments for and against crash hats, but a newbie in heat and not too fit may find the extra demand of overheating too great.

Depending upon the terrain, a newbie should budget around 9 hours in total including stops, more if there are significant hills.

Do not be decieved by the number of gears available on your machine, you should be pedalling around 50-60 rpm (fitter riders will pedal around 80 rpm when time trialling and up to 140 rpm when in a chase of a breakaway), and change gear downwards until you can find one easy enough to pedal at that rate, newbies often try to ‘save’ gears for when they think they will really need them by riding in too big a gear, your pedalling rate should be fairly constant and the gears determine your speed - pedal faster means going to a higher gear pedal slower means go to a lower gear.

If you don’t follow this advice, you will be blown out within 40 miles.

If you are likely to get a lot of direct sun, you may need to think about heatstroke and sunburn protection, always carry some plain water with you as well as plenty of other fluids as the plain water is good for washing flies out of eyes and rinsing cuts and grazes.

Am a full-time cyclist (don’t have a car) and have done some very long rides (including one all the way across the US).

I would say the rack-and-panniers are an absolute necessity. Not expensive and you’ll find them handy for use around town. Water also is an absolute necessity; figure you’ll need a gallon for the day, but maybe you can pick up part of that along the way. There are plenty of tools worth carrying, but a patch kit and pump are essential. I would say gloves are dispensible, but halfway through the trip is a bad time to find out you really need them. (You’ll know if your hands start going tingly and numb.) The better-safe-than-sorry answer is to get the gloves. FWIW, I use 'em. As for the helmet, as you may know, there’s a long-running debate over the question. Having finally had the crash from which I wouldn’t have gotten up without my helmet, I won’t ride without one.

Bike Fit. Many, many inexperienced cyclists have their bikes set up all wrong. The single most common thing I see is seats that are way too low. It hurts my knees just looking at some people. Basically your seat should be high enough that with the ball of your foot on the pedal (with the pedal in the lowest position), your ankle should be just slightly extended and your knee not quite straight. If you have to rock your hips to pedal, you’re too high.

Many inexperienced cyclists don’t like having their seat as high as they should because they feel unstable, or that they will not be able to put their feet down when they stop. But you get confident of this very quickly, and you will never go back once you’re used to it. And if your seat is high enough, you won’t be having knee surgery in a few years time.

There are other aspects of setting up bike fit, but seat height is the most important. There are some good websites that give you a whole step by step process to go through to get best fit, if you want to bother.

I don’t understand this comment. Here in the sub tropics it’s hotter in winter than on a nice summer day in West Yorkshire where you are. Helmets are compulsory here and I wear one whenever riding. I’m sure it’s warmer to wear one than not, but it’s not a problem by any means. Perhaps helmets sold in the UK don’t have as much ventilation?

[sub]I read through this thread yesterday and thought that the OP had been answered pretty nicely, and so I didn’t add anything. Then at about 5 am while lying awake waiting for the alarm to go off (to get up to go cycling, as it happens) I suddenly thought “wait a gosh darned minute, no one’s mentioned bike fit yet in that thread on cycling!” which only goes to show that I spend waaaaaay to much time here. [/sub]

Princhester: *I suddenly thought “wait a gosh darned minute, no one’s mentioned bike fit yet in that thread on cycling!” *


(Now that’s SDMB-obsessive. :))

Well, yeah, OK but no details!

Get, and wear, a bike helmet.

I would think the nature of the trip will be a major factor, to wit:
How many days is the trip?
Will you be camping or using motels/hostels?
Will you be cooking meals or using restaurants?

These issues have a direct bearing on how much stuff you’ll need to carry. As mentioned, on your back is not where to carry it (fatiguing and messes up your balance). A small waistpack is OK, but virtually everything should be on the bike itself. Start with a handlebar pack (not too big) for small things needed at hand – maps, snacks, etc. Don’t put much weight in it. Next is rear panniers for the bulk of what you’re carrying, in conjunction with a rear rack. Keep the weight low on these. If you need more room, add front panniers. You can also get frame packs that carry some stuff inside the frame’s central triangle, and seat packs that go behind and below the seat (good place for tubes and tools). Tent poles can be lashed to the seat tube or the rear rack, with the tent body inside a pannier. Keep in mind that you want the center of gravity for the whole package – you, the bike, and the gear – as low as possible.

If you’re carrying a full load, your progress will be slowed, especially uphill. Plan accordingly.

Little things that sometimes are much appreciated:
A speedometer/odometer.
A mirror if there’s much car traffic.
A map case on top of the handlebar pack.

First off about helmets, FTR where I ride we have a technical term for people that don’t wear them. We call them organ donors. In some counties of Washington helmets are mandatory.
Next I am going to go against the grain and suggest that you ride with a camelback, and skip the panniers. Seventy miles is a good day trip. I did a one week tour that averaged 75 miles per day. I carried a under seat pack with a tube, and tools. In my camelback I carried another tube, and a pump + 100 oz of water, and a few packets of Goo and snacks. On my frame I carried two bottles of Gatorade type drinks.
This ride was in California, if I were to do the San Juan’s I owuld add some rain gear (in the camelback or jersey pockets) and that is about it.
Of course if yo are planning a multi day trip and you are planning to camp then go with panniers or a trailer.
My other suggestion is get lots of seat time first. You need to be able to spend 5 or 6 hours in the saddle to complete 70 miles. I suggest several 3 hours rides to train.

I don’t understand. Where did you carry your clothes?

Hard-core cyclists don’t bother with clothing changes for a mere one-week trip, matt! :smiley:

Kidding. Yeah, unless Rick had sag wagon support, that does sound like a pretty scanty travel outfit. Never mind the change of clothes, what did he do for food?

Are you staying overnight and riding back the next day, or do you have alternate transport for the return trip? More to the point, do you need to carry clothes, camping equipment, etc.?

I’d recommend using a rack+pannier and a Camelbak (or similar hydration system). Unless your only luggage is a basic repair kit, snacks and a credit card, in which case it can all go into the Camelback.

You didn’t say what part of year you’ll be riding, and whether you need to be prepared for inclement weather. If you get to pick a sunny summer day, no problem - all you need is padded cycling shorts and a jersey (or T-shirt made of wicking material). If there’s chance of cold weather, I recommend Pearl Izumi leg warmers. Make sure you get the correct size - it won’t stay on if it’s too large. And a fleece of some kind, and possibly rain gear as well. I generally find that outerwear designed specifically for cycling are worth the extra cost.

Prepare a good map. A properly calibrated cyclecomputer is good too - the trip feels longer if you don’t know how many more miles you have to go. Or better yet, a GPS receiver. (But don’t depend on a GPS, take a paper map too.)

If you don’t use clipless pedals now, it may be worth it to buy a pair and learn to use them.

If you don’t have portable tools and pump yet, I highly recommend Topeak products, especially the Alien or Hummer multi-tool and the Road Morph pump with gauge.

That’s all I can think of right now…

I’ve been told that’s possible - it’s called “credit card touring”. That means staying at motels and eating at restaurants. Cycling shorts and jerseys are made of synthetic fabric, and if you wash them before going to sleep (naked, presumably) they’d be dry in the morning. The only luggage you need is a toothbrush and a wallet. And sunscreen and basic tools and cell phone and… Well, you can still fit it all in a Camelback, I think.