As you start to enjoy riding around your neighborhood or through the park, you may want to take cycling to the next level. Many cyclists plan entire vacations, or at least day excursions, as bike trips. Bicycle touring is a great way to combine all the health benefits of exercise cycling and the physical challenge of sports riding, with the fun and discovery of travel and sightseeing. On a bike, you're able to cover more distance than you would on foot, and you can enjoy the scenery more than you would in a car or bus. Whether you are taking in the gorgeous views in the world's most exciting cities or in the country's national parks, bikes can be the perfect vehicle for adventure.
While there's something to be said for the spontaneity of touring without a plan or destination, some degree of planning is usually necessary to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. For instance, without proper planning you could get lost or you could wind up riding through rough terrain—or worse, uninteresting areas. You don't want to push yourself to do more riding than you can handle, nor do you want to ride during unpleasantly cold or hot seasons. At the very least, planning ensures that you'll have enough supplies—particularly water and food—to get you through long days of riding. You'll need to consume a lot more food and water than usual on days that you spend more time riding. To help you plan your bike trip, a huge amount of information on touring is available through bike clubs and organizations, which we'll discuss throughout this chapter.
You have a number of options when planning a bike tour. Some bike tourists choose to sign up with tour operators, who often take care of all the arrangements, from food and lodging to support vehicles and routes. Others prefer the flexibility of going it alone. Some independent tourists carefully map out each day's routes and accommodations beforehand, and some just wing it. How you go about bike touring depends on your ability to plan effectively and your tolerance for surprises.
Once you're out touring, remember all the riding techniques and safety guidelines you learned in other chapters of this book. But if you're on vacation, don't worry about improving fitness or bike skills. Relax and have fun; everything else will come along naturally in time. Just keep in mind how far you'll be riding. Serious bike touring often involves up to 50 miles a day of riding. Make sure you're prepared for that and pace yourself throughout the ride. Ride in low gears that will allow you to spin and join pacelines whenever possible. Protect your body—particularly your rear, knees, back, and hands—from the strain that intensive riding can cause. Also, be aware that for extended tours you may need to carry a minimum amount of clothes and supplies in bike saddle bags, which will weigh you down and make riding more difficult (and braking less effective).