A lot of people have e-mailed us, asking general questions about cycle touring, we therefore thought that an FAQ section might be useful to anyone considering taking up or are new to cycle touring. Obviously these are our opinions based on our own personal experiences, remember there is no right or wrong way to cycle tour, do it your way and be happy!
- How much distance can you cover in a day?
- How fit do you have to be?
- What sort of bike do you need?
- How do you pack your gear ?
- How do you go about planning your route?
- Cycle security whilst sightseeing?
- Have you thought about using a trailer instead of panniers?
- What do you do about washing clothes and personal hygiene?
- Have you considered taking a GPS instead of paper maps?
- France is a "cycle friendly" country, so why not include it?
- Would you take a three quarter or a full length Thermarest?
- I am considering fitting SPD's and using cycling shoes, how much of a difference do they make?
- Are the 'Giant Expedition' touring bikes you ride still available in the UK?
- What do you do with your bike bags when you are touring?
- If you're on a camping site living in a tent, what do you do with your bikes?
- How do you clean and lube your chain on tour?
- What cameras do you use for the photos on your website?
- Can you take fuel bottles on planes?
- Most airlines usually allow only one hold bag and 1 cabin bag, how do you get around this issue with 4 panniers each?
If you have any questions that are not covered on this site please feel free to contact usand we will try and answer your questions.
Well this very much depends on your philosophy of cycle touring, your physical fitness and the terrain that you are cycling through. My wife and I see cycle touring as a means of exploring a country and therefore don't tend to hack it along, we like to take in the sights and enjoy the ride. Therefore we average 35 - 40 miles in a day, with an average speed of about 8-9mph. This is about 4-5 hrs in the saddle, we aim to get away from the campsite at about 9-9.30am and camp around 4 - 5pm this gives us plenty of time for stops and sightseeing. The terrain and weather will play a crucial part in the distance that you can cover, in Holland on the flat cycle routes, you can easily cover 50+ miles in a day with an average speed of 12-13mph especially with a tale wind!, however if the wind is strong and against you you can easily be down to an average 5mph! In Eastern Germany we were only covering 25 - 30 miles a day due to the cobbled roads.
You don't have to be super fit to go cycle touring, you need to be of an average fitness. Obviously the fitter you are the easier and less tiring it will be and the more you will enjoy it. We don't do any specific training before we go, apart from a few day bike rides at weekends and a practice fully laden over nighter a couple of weeks before hand, just to make sure we have all the gear sorted.
This is always the big question, we have seen all sorts of different types of bikes used for touring. There have been road bikes, racing bikes, hybrids, tandems, mountain bikes, recumbents, even a group of teenagers with small wheeled shopper bikes! As yet I haven't seen anyone using a delivery boys bike or a converted ice cream sellers trike, but you never know! There are people who have toured on unicycles, so I suppose that you could say that you could use just about any type of bike.
However bikes are generally designed for particular type or style of riding, e.g. a racer requires a light weight frame with a tight geometry for power and high ratio gears to go fast, where as a tourer will have a more open geometry and lower ratio gears to shift a laden bike up hills.
Generally a touring bike would need to have the following:
- A relaxed comfortable riding position.
- A strong frame to carry the loads, complete with the fittings and bosses for mounting racks, mudguards and bottle cages.
- Reliable components.
- A good range of gears from low to high, preferably 27 (see our page 'Gearing for loaded touring').
- Strong wheels, spokes and rims.
- Good brakes that can safely stop a fully laden bike.
- A frame that is the correct size for you.
To work out you bike size go and discuss you needs with a good bike shop or have a look at Sheldon Brown's 'Theory of Bike sizing'.
These links below are worth a look, but remember
they are race orientated and a touring geometry
is less tight:
- Bikefitting.com : A Dutch enterprise which specializes in the development of measuring systems for the bicycle market.
- Wrench Science : They have a fit system calculator.
- Competitive Cyclist : They also have a fit calculator.
If there is one thing that will get discussions going on the touring sections of cycle forums is the question of 'What is the best bike for touring?, should it have a Steel or Aluminium frame, should you use drop, flat or butterfly handle bars etc. All I will say is remember that you do get what you pay for, our first bikes cost us £199 each. We weren't sure if we would like cycle touring and couldn't afford a large outlay at the time but they got us started. However the low specifications of the components meant that they weren't up to the rigours of touring and we spent a lot of time on tour in bike shops getting them repaired! There are some very good touring bikes out on the market these days and I wouldn't like to single out one particular bike or manufacturer, if you are paying some where around £700 - £800, you should be getting a good touring bike. Obviously there are more expensive models but then it's probably like the difference between a VW Passat SE and a Rolls Royce! Remember it's not the bike you ride but the fact that you are out there touring that counts!
We hope this page will give you an idea of how we pack our gear.
Well this is an interesting one. There are some I know who plan every last detail from the start knowing exactly where they will be on day 7 and day 14 etc., this is fine and good idea if you are short of time or on a tight budget. For us we tend to be a bit laid back in our attitude to route planning and prefer a more flexible approach.
Before we go, we will start by deciding on the area that we wish to tour in and sort out either a ferry crossing or flights to get us there and back. After that we generally do a bit of homework by buying either a 'Lonely planets' or 'Rough guide' to do some general reading up on the areas we will be touring in to see which places of interests we would like to visit. We then decide on a rough idea of a route with a start point and an end point, but then leave the finer points of the route to be made up each day as we go along.
We like this flexible approach, as we can vary the route according to the weather conditions, stop for several days if we find the area interesting or put the bikes on a train or a bus and move to a different area if the area is either uninteresting or unsuitable for touring. If you do take this approach then you do need to have at the back of your mind a 'what if?' back up plan - e.g. when we did the Poland tour we thought it would take us only one week to cross northern Germany, it in fact took us two weeks because of the cobbled roads. This left us with less time in Poland, we therefore changed the plan from cycling all the way back to Hamburg to catching a train from Frankfurt Oder, obviously this had a cost implication and this needs to budgeted for when you plan.
We have often left our touring bikes and gone off shopping or sightseeing and had no problems with the bikes being interfered with or anything been stolen. May be we have been lucky! Depending on the location and country you can take some simple precautions which to a certain extent are common sense:
Park your bikes in full view in a busy street, preferably a pedestrian area where there is a constant passing of people and lock them to something solid.
Keep all the really valuables money, passports, cameras etc. in a barbag which you can take off and take with you.
Remove temptation, pop anything easily removed such as pumps, lights, milo's etc. inside your panniers. Don't make them look inviting, our rear panniers are used as washing lines and usually have our towels or socks drying on the back, a couple of rank smelly socks might do the trick!
Panniers are quite quick to remove, therefore buy a couple of wire locks (you can find them on the stands in shops that have holiday stuff,travel plugs etc.) these are quite light in weight, it wont stop someone opening them but it might stop the opportunist casually wandering off with them.
In Holland in the larger towns there is usually secure parking places for bikes, just ask at the tourist information office. Some museums, Art galleries have cloak rooms where for a small fee you can leave luggage while you visit. In some cities you could use the left luggage lockers at railway stations to store your panniers, we did this in Helsinki and then use the bikes to tour around the sights un laden.
Lastly make sure you have good insurance, so that you can leave them with some peace of mind and enjoy your sightseeing!
Yes we have considered it, there are a lot of cycle tourers who use them and swear by them. As far as carrying heavy loads they are very good and it does mean you could use a road or race bike. We decided against using one for the following reasons:
- We had panniers already and it would be one more expense.
- We like to have the option of using buses, trains and small ferries, all the weight is concentrated in one loaded item which isn't easy to lift and load onto trains etc. especially with my wife's back problem. Our panniers are easy to remove from the bikes for loading.
- We have come across some interesting features on cycle paths which would have been difficult to cope with with a trailer. The incredible amount of sheep gates on the Denmark, Germany Holland section of the North sea cycle route immediately spring to mind, here are a few more:
Although we have no experience of towing trailers, we think if we were to go for a trailer we would opt for the the single wheel type such as the Bob Yak trailer. Simply because if you did have to cope with obstacles, being narrower it would be easier to manoeuvre. Also there is only one wheel to have a problem with!
We often go on cycle tours of 4 week duration, so we understand the problems of washing clothes and personal hygiene. For most of the time we use campsites with facilities and therefore things aren't too difficult to cope with. We usually carry 2 pairs of cycling shorts and tops, which we usually make stretch for 2 days or so. If the weather has been hot and we have sweated a lot, then after our shower on arrival at the campsite we would wash them out in a sink and hang them up to dry in the late evening sun and then hang on a line in the inner tent over night. We use 'Argentium' tops as these dry out quite quickly, and are usually dry by the morning, if they haven't dried over night we put them over our rear panniers under the straps and they dry as we cycle along. We do wear underwear with our cycling shorts and change them on a daily basis. Then after 4 or 5 days we look for a campsite with laundry facilities that includes a dryer and give everything a good wash.
If you are wild camping and you are organised you can still wash clothes and yourselves without too much bother. We carry a folding water bucket made by Ortlieb and a small 9"square off an old travel towel which we use as a flannel. You only need to heat up a small amount of water enough to add to the bucket of water to take the chill off it, we then have what my mum calls 'an up and a downer' strip wash with the flannel (we have a fairly large vestibule awning to our tent which makes this easier). This is enough to freshen us up and wash away any sweat from the days cycling. We also use the bucket to wash out the cycling tops if necessary. If we do wild camp it is generally only for about 2 nights on the trot and then we find a campsite for a good shower.
There are shower attachments made by manufacturers that fit to their water carriers. I personally haven't fancied this as it does require you to heat up a lot of water, find a suitable tree to hang it on, a secluded spot to bear all (although you could wear a swimming costume) and cope with possible mosquito attack and cold winds, which if you wet your whole body and with any sort of wind chill factor, could make you very cold indeed!
As far as towels are concerned we take a pack towel, ordinary towels although effective at drying, are too heavy to carry and take too long to dry out. We have tried various makes and types and the best we have found so far are the Lifeventure softfibre trek towels. They feel nice, dry you well, dry reasonably quickly and don't go rank as quickly as some of the others do. When we shower we try and shake of as much water as possible before using the towel. If there are hot air dryers in the wash areas, we use them to dry our hair. The towels are hung up in the tent over night to dry, when we use them again in the morning, we thread them through the straps on our rear panniers to dry as we cycle along and put them away once they are dry.
Up until 2009 we hadn't used a GPS on tour but after having had several cycle computers fail to record our distances and times correctly and with the possibility of geotagging photographs we decided to invest in one. Have a look at our page on 'Using a GPS for cycletouring' and 'Electronic Mapping'.
As far as France is concerned we haven't included it in the site as we haven't as yet actually cycle toured there. We felt it right that we should only put information on the site from the countries that we have actually cycle toured in. The reason we haven't cycled in France is that we used to go there a lot mountaineering and skiing, therefore when we started cycle touring we decided to tour in countries that were new personally to us. Certainly France is a great touring country and we will at some stage do a tour there. Grace from Australia has some information on touring in France on her page 'Bicycle Camping in France'.
Well it's whether you want comfort or to save weight, some might say that you sleep slightly curled up and therefore your can get away with a three quarter length thermarest. It also depends on how tall you are, personally I'm 6'2" and have used a three quarter length thermarest and still found my feet were off the bottom and I had to put spare clothes under my feet to keep them off the cold ground. Another consideration for us is that we carry the Exped chair kits and the full length Exped mats make better chairs! To some it up, it's comfort over a bit of extra weight and personally a good night sleep is very important, therefore I'd rather carry that little bit of extra weight.
Certainly I would recommend them for cycle touring as they can help tremendously in making the most efficient use of the thrust from you legs as you can deliver power on the up stroke as well as the down stroke. Also cycling shoes are that that bit stiffer in the sole and can also help transfer the force from you legs to the pedals. The whole system means you are being more efficient in your cycling and that helps to stop you from getting cycling fatigue too early in your journey.
We have been using the SPD system for the last 10 years and we wouldn't cycle without them, certainly we wouldn't have got up some of the hills in Norway or Ireland without them.
The version we use are the Shimano PD-M324 SPD, this has a SPD on one side and a normal recreational pedal on the other. The advantages of this combination are, that sometimes in congested traffic in towns and cities where you need to continually put a foot down, you don't have to be clipped in and also it means you can use shoes or sandals that don't have cleats.
The SPD system is quite easy to get used to, it just takes a slight twist of the foot to release the cleat. After a short while you soon get used to doing it automatically when you stop. You can easily adjust the amount of force that is required to remove the cleats and as you will be touring and not racing I suggest that you set them fairly slack (certainly to begin with) as this will still give you the benefits but they will easily pop out should you forget! Having them slack also allows the shoe to rotate slightly, which can help to remove any potential knee problems that could be associated with having the foot locked in one position for a long length of time.
One thing to remember is that on some cycling shoes the cleat can stick out from the sole and this can make for interesting walking and people can certainly hear you coming! As we like to 'play tourist' on occasions and go for the occasional walks without the bikes, we use a touring shoe that has a reasonable tread, is fairly comfortable to walk in and where the cleat is set fairly well into the sole. For general riding my wife has a pair of Shimano MO21 touring shoes and I have a pair of Carnac Free rides.
For ourt tour to Iceland in 2007 we wanted to do some hiking in the interior, so we both took the Shimano MT90's and we highly recommend them as a very comfortable cycling/hiking boot with a good grip on rocky terrain. The MT90's have a Goretex lining which makes them very waterproof as we found when crossed shallow river crossings. They also have a vibram sole which gives good grip when walking, the soles have a removeable section which you can see from the picture where you can fit a set of SPD cleats. As this is held in place by a couple of small socket head cap screws it is easy to remove the SPD cleats and replace the rubber grip piece. We found this most useful in Iceland as the gravel roads in the interior were sometimes either quite rough or loose sand and it was quite easy to loose grip on the back wheel and you needed to get a foot down quickly to prevent a fall, therefore we removed the SPD cleats. It also helped not having the SPD cleats when we were out walking over rocky terrain in Iceland.
We have also found that the Shimano MT90's being of a padded leather construction are much warmer than our normal cycling shoes. We did think it would be odd to cycle in boots but to honest the boots are not that heavy and you don't really notice them. The MT90's have now been updated to a newer MT91 version which is very similar.
Sadly Giant have stopped production of the 'Expediton' which is a shame as we have found them to be excellent bikes. Ours are now 16 years old and the AluxX 6061 frame is still going strong and we have lost count as to the number of miles that we have done on the bikes but it must be in the region of over 20,000 miles over some tough terrain. However Giant do still make some touring bikes you can view the range on the Dutch site here you will need to click on 'Fietsen'.
You may find a UK Giant dealer who may be able to import them for you or you could take a trip to Holland to get one. There is a good bike shop in the Hook van Holland called 'Tweewielers & Sport Profile' who used to stocks them! Tel: 00-31-174-382318
Bike bags are always a bit of a problem, there are some who prefer not to use them and you have probably read our bit on the advantages and disadvantages on this page. Our bags are rather cumbersome and there is no way that we could contemplate carrying them on the bikes.
When we flew to Helsinki for our Finland tour and to Bodø for our last Norwegian tour we stayed our first and last nights at an hotel which we had booked in advance. When I booked I managed to negotiate that we could leave our bike bags at the hotels, this they kindly agreed to at no extra charge (they were stored in a locked room usually set aside for luggage).
The Helsinki hotel was an airport hotel and had it's own courtesy transfer minibus which took us and the bike bags to and from the airport. At Bodø the hotel was in town and didn't have it's own courtesy transfer minibus so I just went out to the taxi rank at the airport and found a taxi firm with a minibus to take us to the hotel.
Using a hotel to store your bike bags does mean that you will need to arrange a circular tour and it does mean incurring the extra expense of a couple of nights in a hotel. However we do look at these as our bit of luxury, as after so many nights camping it is nice to have the luxury of a comfortable bed and a shower with fluffy clean towels!
If you don't want to use an hotel you could also try using a local campsite, as when we were at the campsite at Bodø one of the German lads we met had stored his bike bag with the campsite owner.
We have never done it but we have heard of people who when not doing a circular route have packaged up there bike bags at the point of arrival and send them 'Post Restante' to a Post office at the town of their departure. If you do wish to do this you would need to check up with the postal service of the country you intend to tour in to find out how long they will hold on to the parcels for before they are returned to the sender and the costs etc.
Well each tourer will have their own way, but this is what we do.
At the campsite each bike is locked by it's own Dutch style AXA frame lock and we then lock them using a long cable that goes through the two bikes usually through the frame and the front wheels and then to a immovable object like a large tree close to our tent. When we decide on our pitch we usually look for one near to something that we can lock the bikes to. We usually remove water bottles, pumps etc. and store these in the awning of our tent.
We also carry a light weight bike cover which goes over both bikes, essentially to keep the rain off but it also keeps them out of sight. You can see our bike cover on this image, although on this site there was so little to lock the bikes to they were just locked to themselves and being in a rural location in Norway there was little chance of them being stolen!
One of the reasons that we bought our Hilleberg Stalon GT tent was that it has a large vestibule that we could get the two bikes in. However In the 10 years that we have been touring we haven't felt that we needed to bother and have always left them locked up outside. My concern on bike theft would depend on the country and where the campsite is, if it was a campsite in a city I might be more concerned than perhaps a rural site.
If someone was determined to steal our bikes I know that the bike cable lock wouldn't last more than a few seconds with a pair of bolt cutters, however I think most professional bike thieves wouldn't think to go to a campsite to steal bikes, it just stops the opportunist thief. Yes we could carry a heavy duty expensive D lock, but an article in a recent CTC magazine showed that in the hands of a professional thief even these would only last 42 seconds, so I can't see the need to lug an extra couple of pounds of D lock about, the rig is heavy enough as it is!
We have our bikes insured and the AXA lock we use is on the insurers approved lock list.
The need to clean a chain on tour will very much depend on the conditions you are cycling through. If it is very dusty and muddy then you will pick up a fair bit of grit, grime and effluent along the way and you will need to clean the chain regularly to prevent stiff links and wear on the drive system.
There are some who say don't lube a chain as it will pick up the grit and form a grinding paste that will then wear the drive set, our feeling is do lube but in moderation. What lube you put on the chain should not only lubricate but should also repel moisture and prevent rust. Finishline Cross county lube does just that, but make sure that you don't apply too much and wipe off any excess. Don't use WD40, as although it repels water and is a rust inhibitor its lubricant is too thin to do any good.
Any cleaning of the chain we do on tour is with a rag and some solvent, usually a little bit of petrol from the stove we carry. Dry well and then lube from a small bottle of the Finishline Cross Country.
There is a good little video on how to clean and lube a chain on the BikeTutor site here.
Prior to our Norway trip in 2006 we carried a Canon EOS 100 SLR film camera. Photos were taken using film and the prints were then scanned. This was slightly laborious, didn't give us the best results and also we were concerned about the bulk and weight of carrying the SLR camera. Thus for our Norway trip in 2006 we went digital and compact and bought a Canon S70 7.1 mega pixel compact digital camera.
This has been a great little camera which has given us excellent results considering it's size. It has a very good 28mm wide angle and a 3.6x zoom. The zoom is OK but it doesn't get you very close for wildlife shots so we purchased a 'X2' converter. The camera has the usual automatic modes, exposure bracketing and a full manual control. The later I find very useful for more flexibility in poor and unusual light conditions. Most of the movies up until our Orkney tour were shot with this camera, the only disadvantage is that it has a 30 second time limit which is slightly annoying.
The Canon S70 has a panoramic mode which I find useful as the sequential shots can be lined up in the LCD screen and the images are also labeled differently from the normally images which makes it much easier to identify them later. I then use the the 'Photomerge' capability of Photoshop CS3 to create the panoramas and then 'Pano2VR' to create the finished VR movies.
The one feature on the S70 that we found was a bit hit and miss was trying to take close-up shots with the macro feature. Frank is very keen on taking photos of the wild flowers and birds that we come across on our tours. She also quite liked the idea of having her own camera with her on tour. Therefore we needed a camera with a much better macro feature and a better zoom. After seeing the quality of the macro and the 10x zoom features of the Lumix DMC-TZ5 on a friends camera, we purchased one to take with us on our Iceland tour in 2008. The Lumix DMC-TZ5 is a fully automatic 9.1 mega pixel compact but lacks the manual controls of the S70. The 10x zoom which effectively gave us a 280mm zoom meant that we could leave the S70 x2 converter behind. The macro and 10x zoom are indeed the best features of the Lumix DMC-TZ5. Therefore a lot of the wildlife shots and the flower shots on the Iceland 2008 and 2009 tour were taken with the Lumix.
We were a little disappointed with the quality of the Lumix DMC-TZ5's video even though it was HD quality, the automatic focus tends to hunt in and out when panning or if there is any movement within the shot. The Lumix DMC-TZ5 also tended to produce slightly less pleasing landscapes when at wide angles as we find they tended to be a little underexposed and therefore needed some post processing. Having said that on occasions the Lumix DMC-TZ5's tendency to under expose can be beneficial as it captured the colours of the mountains at Landmannalaugar far better than the Canon S70 did on that occasion.
Unfortunately the Lumix DMC-TZ5's flash failed on us just after our 2009 tour. As Frank was getting much more into her photography she really needed a camera that had manual features so she could be more creative and that still had good close up ability as she does take a lot of shots of flowers. We decided on the Canon G11 which had some very good reviews. She is really pleased with it and loves the flip out and rotate LCD screen which makes it much easier to get shots of low lying flowers etc. The video although not HD seems so much better than the Lumix and the landscape shots are also much better exposed than the Lumix. There are times when she does miss the 10x zoom on Lumix as the G11's zoom is only 5x but with a lensmate adapter she can add a (1.4x) telephoto conversion lens which does extend the zoom range and also means she can fit a polarising filter something that wasn't possible with the Lumix. The G11 is a little on the heavy side for touring with but that is a small price to pay as the G11 is a great fully featured camera.
After our Hebrides tour in 2011 we decided that we needed a camera with a much better video capability than the Canon S70 and the Canon G11(we wanted full HD video) and a much better zoom lens to try and capture some of the bird life on our tours, but still have manual camera controls. We still didn't wish to go down the full SLR route with additional special zoom lenses due to the weight and bulk of carrying such equipment. Having looked around at what was on the market at the time I came across the Canon Powershoot SX40 HS. This really fitted the bill although larger than the S70 it is still compact and light enough. The HD quality video is excellent and the 40X zoom coupled with the image stabilization is absolutely brilliant for bird shots. On its full zoom range it does help if you have some sort of support, such as leaning on a wall or against a tree but I have managed some reasonable shots of birds using it hand held. It has a much larger LCD than the S70 and one real plus for me a viewfinder with a 'Dioptre Correction' so that I can use it without glasses, which is great to capture a quick shot on the move.
I spend too much time in front of a computer as it is, so I'm not that keen on spending any more time post processing photos, therefore most of the pictures on our site have no post processing at all as I'm quite happy with the results direct from the camera. Only occasionally do I do any post processing using PhotoShop and this is usually either cropping, enhancing the shadows slightly or changing the exposure of photos shot in tricky light conditions. PhotoShop is such a capable piece of software that it is so easy to over process if you are not careful. Some photographers use PhotoShop to post process photos which certainly have a 'Wow factor' but unfortunately in my opinion are not true to the scene as the colours are often over saturated and the contrasts are unnatural.
We have had no problems at all in taking fuel bottles on planes. Obviously they need to be empty and well aired so that they do not have any residual fuel inside and they need to be placed in your hold luggage not your cabin baggage. The only airlines that we have heard to be a bit fussy about fuel bottles were the American airlines and that was soon after 9/11.
To get around this problem when flying we have purchased a couple of large nylon tote bags made by Exped which are big enough to fit 3 panniers and 1 racpack each, we take one front pannier on as hand luggage. They are reasonably light weight but still quite strong and fold away into a small pocket at one end. They are small enough that you could carry them if you had to but we either ask at a campsite or hotel where we might be staying and returning to at the beginning and end of a tour if we can leave them and pickup them up on our return or else we have posted them on to a hotel that we have booked for the night before our flight. If you are flying with a bike and using a box or bag you will probably need to leave them somewhere so the tote bags can stay with them.