Bicycle Touring 101 | How to Start

A beginner's guide to bicycle touring: what it is and how to get started.

Updated on September 12th, 2020
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Credit: @heybrotrip

Mention "bike touring" and most people think Easy Rider. We ain't talking about motorcycles here though. We are going to go over an epic mode of travel - manual bicycle touring.

What is Bicycle Touring?

Bicycle touring is a type of adventure travel that combines cycling with backpacking.

Unlike regular cycling, where you pedal for miles and return home later that day, bicycle touring allows you to travel from point to point and set up camp for the night. After some shut-eye, you pack up your tent, hop on your bike and head out for the next leg.

You can plan your own trip or join a guided tour which often offer food and lodging. A bicycle tour can last for as long as you want. Some people like to take off for a weekend cycling, while others enjoy a month-long break from life to cycle across the country. If you really want an adventure, there are year-long tours like the perfect weather tour, a continental US tour that is designed so you are always biking in 70-degree weather.  

Your daily mileage depends on your fitness level, your trip goals, and the terrain. As long as there are not too many hills and you are reasonably fit, then 50 miles a day is a good benchmark for most cyclists. Moderate mileage is the beauty of bike touring - it is not as slow as hiking and not as fast as road tripping.

Cycle Touring vs Bikepacking

"Cycle touring" and "bikepacking" are often used interchangeably. Both are long-distance forms of travel on a two-wheeled manually powered bicycle. Note these terms sometimes reference different modes of transportation though. It is the type of bicycle and the type of road the bicycle is travelling that sets them apart. There is obviously a lot of overlap and the differences are negligible. Just want to clarify the terminology nonetheless..

  • Cycle touring is generally more on-the-road with road bikes that have thinner tires. The emphasis is more on distance as you cycle from one town or landscape to the next, possibly for months at a time.

bicycle touring bike drawing

  • Bikepacking is generally more off-road on a fatter-tired bike, often a mountain bike with shocks. You'll climb mountains and follow dirt trails deep through the woods, possibly for a few days.

bikepacking bicycle drawing