Zen Bicycle Travel Tips

Inspired by a recent cycle trip to the Valley of the Moon in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, we’ve been thinking a lot about just how fun cycle touring can be. Among other cycling adventures, we’ve spent a blissful six day cycling adventure through the Penedès wine region in Spain, and circled the beautiful Mexican island of Cozumel on a bike.  During these adventures, we’ve learned quite a few valuable lessons about how bike travel can pose some unique challenges when compared to more traditional journeys. The following are some tips for travelling by bike without losing your Zen.

Bicycling at Valle de Luna in Chile
Bicycling at Valle de la Luna in Chile
 

How to Pack for a Cycling Trip

The most important lesson we’ve learned is to pack light! Everything you bring with you will need to be carried either on your back or on your bike. Even minor excesses in weight can slow you down so it’s best to be strategic when packing.

Consider the Weather

The first way to be strategic about packing is to check the forecast for where you are going. Understanding that forecasts can change at any minute, it is still a worthwhile exercise to familiarize yourself with the local weather. If it rains a lot for example, you’ll want to bring waterproof bags to protect your electronics and a rain jacket to keep the water off you as much as possible. If you’re using roll-top panniers like the ones we used in Spain, be sure to get a few good rolls in before embarking on your journey. They’re only waterproof if used properly!

If you’re really concerned about getting your stuff wet, consider double-packing it in some black garbage bags or dry bags like these.

A great app for local weather is Weather Underground which pairs data from conventional weather radar stations with user-submitted information so you can get a real time idea of whether inclement weather is heading your way or not.

Consider the Terrain

Another thing to consider when packing is terrain. If your ride takes you through some serious elevation changes, you may want to pack something with a good warmth to weight ratio like a down jacket or synthetic mid layer. During a recent trip up Highwood Pass in Alberta for example, people were donning their lycra for the steep ride up then bundling up with scarves, gloves and puffy jackets for the windy summit and fun, lightning fast descent.

 

Cycling to the top of Highwood Pass
Cycling to the top of Highwood Pass

Dress for Success!

With weather and terrain in mind, the next trick to packing light is to find some multi-functional, pieces in neutral colours that can be worn interchangeably. Technical fabrics are life savers on cycle trips. Clothes that dry quickly can be washed in the evening after a ride and hung up to dry for the next morning. Tights that provide warmth on cool mornings can be dressed up with a tunic or long sweater in the evening for a street-style look. Also, anti-odor fabrics will keep you feeling and smelling fresh long after your rides are over which will make you and whoever is around you happy!

 


Not only does packing light simplify your life, it also should leave you with extra room in your bags to pick up goodies along the way. For example, we made sure to leave room in our bags for cava, chocolate, and fresh market fruit in Spain.  We also loved our Timbuk2 Panniers while cycling in the Okanagan Valley as they had lots of room to carry delicious Okanagan wines back from the wineries.

Okanagan views
This view, wine, and cycling – what’s not to like?

Don’t Underestimate How Much Water You’ll Need

When you’re cycling you’ll be working hard and it’s easy to underestimate the amount of water that you will need to stay hydrated.  We like to carry a reusable water bottle with us and when travelling somewhere that you can’t trust the water supply, a filter bottle will come in handy.  The Katadyn BeFree is our pick as it has a fast flow rate, is convenient, lightweight, and reduces your impact on the planet.  The Pristine water bottle is also a good option, but it is harder to draw water from and weighs a little more than the Katadyn, but it is still a sturdy and affordable option.

If the place you’re biking doesn’t require a filter, something like a Hydroflask is perfect as it’s hard sided and will keep your water cool for the entire ride.

 

Biking along Cozumel shoreline
Cycling in Cozumel with a Pristine filter bottle to keep us going.

Track Flights for the Best Deal

Having covered packing, if you’re looking for flights for a cycle trip, we can’t recommend Hopper enough. Put your desired route and dates into the app and it will provide historic pricing data for the flight and advise you if the current price is likely to go up or down. If you use the flight tracking option, you will get a notification if the flight is predicted to drop in price. For more information on how to score cheap flights using points and rewards programs, check out our post on “travel hacking“.

Airplane photo

Look for Rentals that Include Bikes

Taking your bike on the plane can be an enormous hassle, so we recommend looking to rent once onsite. Unless you need your bike finely-tuned to you for racing, a rental bike should suffice. For accommodations, we love using AirBnB since it provides you with a more unique experience than a hotel and can come with value-added extras like bikes. For example, some friends and we were able to find a wonderful house to rent in Austin, Texas that had a screened in porch and also came with bikes! The money we saved on accommodation and transportation went toward enjoying Austin’s unrivalled night life and we were able to see so much of the city on two wheels, which is the best way to travel.

Another option is to look for self-guided all-inclusive tours where bikes, accommodations, some attractions and gear like panniers, gps and maps are included in the price of the tour. This is what we did in Spain with a great company called Terra Diversions and it was so nice to be able to spend our days biking around at our own pace without having to worry about making reservations for lodging after our rides.

Cava Tours while Cycling in Spain
Cava Tours while Cycling in Spain

All that said, your local bike shop is still probably one of the best resources for what places are the best to cycle to, as well as which routes are the safest and are the best suited to your cycle travel style, so it may be worth stopping in and chatting with local bike lovers.

Apps for Cycling

Maps.me

This is one of the best offline map options out there  because the user generated maps work consistently offline which is perfect when you’re travelling.

Google Maps

Although it’s considered one of those standard apps that every traveller must have, Google Maps sometimes lacks the functionality of Maps.Me in certain places. That said, it is a good backup if you need to find your trail, hotel, or the nearest restaurant and you have cell service.  If you won’t have data where you’re going, make sure to download the area you’re travelling to as an offline map before you go.

Strava

Strava is the definitive app for tracking your cycling adventures.  With it you can track your distance, speed, and compare yourself to others that have biked the same route.  There can also be valuable information in the trip reports section too; for example, you may learn that a popular trail is currently covered in debris, or that there is construction and the reroute takes you into more car traffic than you’re comfortable with.

Keep Energized

Cycling is an incredibly good workout and you will need more energy than you realize while travelling by bike. We’ve already covered water bottles, but if it’s a particularly long and/or hot ride, consider bringing some oral rehydration salts to replenish your fluids that you lost while riding and stave off exertion headaches.

In addition to planning on staying hydrated while cycle touring, be sure to bring some high energy snacks as well. We love dried fruit, nuts, and Cliff bars when travelling by bike. Chocolate of any kind is always a good motivator too!

Stay Comfy

Welp, it goes without saying but if you’re cycle travelling for a long time you’re going to chafe. One way to address it is to bring your own  bike saddle, as in if you have one that your butt is used to, consider bringing just it along on your trip instead of your whole bike. Also do not hesitate to make micro-adjustments to your seat and handle bars throughout the day so that you don’t end up unable to sit or move your wrists after a long ride.

Wearing padded bike shorts and cycling gloves will also help as will applying chamois cream before leaving for the day. But most of all, you’re just going to have to keep cycling until your undercarriage callouses form. If you can, try to stay with the same bike for as long as you can during your tour and try to ease into it, especially if it’s a longer cycle tour. Take a day or two of rest to recover if you need to, there’s no shame in going slow, that’s actually what makes cycle travel so great!

One last thing that can help make cycle travel more comfortable is a Buff or a scarf to cover up your mouth when the air is dusty or polluted. It’s undeniably gross to breathe in dirty air while cycling, and you will be taking deeper breathes than usual, so a little bit of a barrier will make the journey more enjoyable.

Bicycle Travel - the death road in bolivia
Cycling the Death Road in Bolivia

So there you have some of the best cycle travel tips we’ve learned so far and we’ll update this post as we learn more. We hope that you’re now feeling inspired to get out there and try travelling by bike, it’s one of the best ways to find a little Zen while travelling!

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