Tips for the novice cycle tourist

I was cycling along an English country lane and this post started to form in my head. It was so insistent that I had to pull over, take out my notebook, and write it all down. So here are some tips for intrepid novice cycle tourists:

  1. Carry 2 spare tubes. You have a 47 percent chance of puncturing again if you’ve already punctured once. How do we know this? No idea, but I have had 2 punctures so far on my trip around the Cotswolds, so I am not going to argue.
  2. Following on from 1, don’t even think of cycle touring if you can’t fix a puncture (by that I mean removing the front or back wheel and getting the tyre off and on, the new tube in place without pinching it, pumping it up and putting the wheel back on correctly. I am rubbish at it, and without the kindness of cycling strangers (warning: English, male, non-cyclist strangers run in the opposite direction when they see you struggling) I would still be sitting at the side of the road covered in grease.
  3. If camping, carry a solar battery charger to keep your devices working. This avoids the blank look you get from campsite managers when you ask where you can charge your phone. One woman very reluctantly agreed to unplug her kettle for me. Catastrophe!
  4. Know where you’re going. If you plan to Couch Surf, or look for Warm Showers hosts, you need to give them at least 2 days’ notice, sometimes longer. Most will not respond to last-minute requests. Hence the camping idea…
  5. If you do camp, take a stove with you. A rainy morning following a freezing cold English summer night is only bearable if you can brew a hot coffee.
  6. Take your GPS with you but don’t rely on it. Your batteries will go flat at the wrong moment, or it will mysteriously lose its signal. Carry Ordinance Survey maps, the latest release of which show cycle routes, both with and without traffic.
  7. Talk to other cycle tourists. They know all this stuff already and will give you lots of tips. Plus, they love talking about their gear.
  8. Even in England in summer don’t expect to be warm in an 11 degree sleeping bag if camping. Silly me… oh, and do carry a pillow.
  9. Take a friend or partner with you. It can be lovely on your own, but how do you explain the awesomeness you have experienced?
  10. Always carry bananas. Instant energy. You might be surprised how many English villages have nowhere to buy provisions.
  11. Don’t be too ambitious with your distances – have you heard that cliche it’s about the journey not the testosterone… oh sorry, I meant the destination?
  12. Get a computer for your bike. It is disconcerting not knowing how far you’ve cycled.
  13. You don’t need to carry a towel, just a kikoi. Google it.
  14. Motorists are generally miserable and want to kill you, especially truck drivers. You’d be miserable too if cooped up in a tin can on a gorgeous sunny day. Be kind to them.
  15. Take the B roads… they’re prettier. They are also slower, but apart from the odd raging BMW or Audi-would-be-Formula-1-driver, much quieter.
  16. Keep a notebook handy, and a camera. Record your trip. Otherwise you will forget where you went, and you will feel like such a twat when people ask you where you’ve come from and where you’re going.
  17. People will also ask you if you are riding for charity. I haven’t worked out a completely satisfying response to this ridiculous question. The best I have come up with so far is “No”.
  18. Look at the birds, animals, flora, and smell the scents. Listen to the wind in the trees. You are privileged to be able to travel in this manner.
  19. Dont get despondent when things go wrong (which they will, no matter how well you plan). What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Another cliche. Sorry.
  20. You don’t need lots of gear. You need a bike that fits you properly, a saddle that is comfortable… and panniers are fabulous.

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