Article 05 July

Advice for first-time cycle tours

Inspired by the Tour de France? Andy Moss, cycling expert at tour operator Exodus, gives the low-down on overseas cycling tours

From money-conscious commuters to weekend hobbyists and fitness fanatics, it seems the whole world has taken to two wheels.

It’s no surprise, then, that many of us are now looking to enjoy a spot of cycling when we travel – and even planning a whole trip around it. After all, it's cheap, easy, environmentally friendly and fun – what's not to love? But making that progression from occasional Sunday rides to a week (or more) touring by bike can seem like a big step. Will you be fit enough? How will you get your bike there? What kit will you need?

We asked Andy Moss, cycling expert at tour operator Exodus, for the answers…

Why do a bike trip?

You get a totally different experience seeing a place by bike. The locals are much more interested in people arriving on two wheels, especially as in some countries the idea that visitors from more affluent places choose to get around by bike is incomprehensible to them – if they could afford to go by car, cycling is the last thing they would do!

Also you see more of the real place. When travelling by coach, the only locals you tend to meet are the ones that approach your tour bus when you arrive, trying to sell you souvenirs. On a bike you tend to stop at smaller villages – which buses can’t get to – allowing you to get a more accurate sense of the country and the people.

Wanderlust tip: If you're inspired by your destination, you'll be more motivated on the trip, so do plenty of research before you go to check the itinerary (as well as the fitness scale) is right for you. Take a look at our 10 great cycling destinations for ideas...

Will I be fit enough?

Tour operators offering guided trips will use a grading system [usually from easy/beginner to challenging] – this will be a useful indicator of what level of fitness you need in order to get the most out of your experience. Make sure you read exactly what the requirements are, so that you don’t sign up for a trip you can’t manage. Obviously you must be able to ride a bike, but as long as you cycle a bit, the trips recommended for first-timers shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

Wanderlust tip: Not sure you can manage over a week in the saddle? Why not sign up for a short cycling trip instead, to get a feel for things? How about easy cycling city routes in Asia, some simple cycles around London (on the iconic 'Boris' bikes), a leisurely loop of Scotland's Loch Katrine, or a colourful ride around Buenos Aires?

What if I get there and find I can’t manage?

If you’re cycling on a group trip, there will likely be a support vehicle that can scoop you up if you need it. People don’t sign up with the intention of spending time in a van, but it’s comforting to know it’s there.

In practice, most travellers start off nervous or worried but then surprise themselves. For instance, many don’t notice the distances they’re covering. When you cycle at home, you go out for an hour or two then stop; when you’re riding on a trip, you have the whole day to do that same distance – it’s not just riding from A to B, there’s lots of places to visit en route. Whether it’s for lunch, a good photo op, to sightsee – if you cut a 50km day down into shorter rides, suddenly it’s not so hard.

Will I be too slow?

If you are heading off on an independent cycle trip, this won’t be a problem – you can go at your own pace. Just don’t be over-ambitious with your distances when you’re planning your itinerary.

If travelling on a group tour, there will naturally be cyclists of different levels. You’ll usually find someone who is a similar speed to you, and there are often two guides – one at the front and another at the back (or in the support vehicle) who will help you out if there are any problems.

At the end of the day it’s not a race or a training camp. If you go too fast then you miss the highlights and sights en route. It’s all about taking your time and enjoying it.

Should I hire a bike or take my own?

If you’re an experienced cyclist going on a harder grade trip over more technical terrain, you are more likely to want to take a bike you’re familiar with. Most airlines will charge for transporting bikes, a service you must pre-book. Prices vary but expect to pay £20-30 for each leg of your journey.

Before travel you will need to package your bike properly, which means dismantling it. You can get a company to do this for you but bear in mind you will need to be able to rebuild it yourself at the other end. Remember that you will be responsible for any problems with it – take a basic tool and repair kit, including spare inner tubes in case you get a puncture.

Hiring a bike is the easier option, involving no excess baggage charges or re-assembly. Also, if something goes wrong with the bike, it will be replaced/repaired by the hire company. Expect to pay between £50-150 for a one- to two-week loan.

What kit will I need?

Helmet Even if a helmet looks OK, if it’s been dropped or knocked, it can still be damaged and will not offer you the protection you need. For this reason, you should always take your own. Make sure it meets the British Standard and that it fits you properly: snug and positioned just above your eyebrows, not tilted back or forwards. The straps should fit securely and not be twisted; when fastened, there should only be enough room for two fingers between your chin and the strap.

Cycling shorts Consider padded ones if you’re biking for a week or two.

T-shirts Avoid cotton – it holds sweat close to your skin; instead, choose high-wicking fabrics. You can spend a lot on top-notch gear, but any technical top that’s breathable and moves moisture away from your body will be fine.

Gloves Very useful when cycling longer distances in hotter countries, when hands get sweaty – you’ll have a better grip.

Shoes You don’t need cycling specific shoes, but multi-activity shoes (sometimes called approach shoes) are a good option; some even have a bias towards cycling. You’re looking for footwear with a stiffer sole, as your feet will have to work harder with a bendier one; stay away from sandals – if you need to put your feet down to stop yourself, you don’t want to hurt your feet.

Bag It’s best not to take a rucksack as they can be uncomfortable and affect your balance on a bike. Opt for a bumbag containing just the essentials: money, camera, insurance details. If you have a support vehicle or baggage relocation service booked, they will carry the rest. Independent cyclists will need good panniers.


Image: Silhouette of a man cycling (Shutterstock)