Tools for planning a bike trip
One of the most memorable pieces of advice I gleaned when first announcing our plan to bike across America was most bikers who quit their tour do so in the initial two weeks. It’s worth pausing to reflect on why that might be — and what can be done during preparation to make things go as smoothly as possible once you’re on the road.
Tour veterans such as Bicycle Touring Pro have covered why people quit tours, but let me add a few completely avoidable reasons to quit to the list:
- Hitting the road and finding out preparation was not adequate
- Stacking too many miles too early in the trip
- Trouble with gear, such as waterlogged clothes
- Failure to circumvent preventable bike problems
How to prevent these:
- Create a training plan and keep it up to date. Make the thoughts, feelings and emotions swirling through your head explicit. Worried about your ability to bike in the rain? Build rainy trips it into your ‘six weeks out’ plan. Analyze your performance in the weeks leading up to your trip, and adjust your plan accordingly. If you plan to bike 300 miles two weeks prior to leaving, but you only manage 120, you’ll want to cut your milage WAY down until you have time to improve your strength as a biker.
- Be sure to ride in conditions that will actually resemble your life on the road. Keep learning off your bike — the great part about pitching a tent in your living room to practice start-to-finish gear packing is that its your living room — nobody can make fun of you!
- Break down your trip into ‘legs’ that look feasible to you.
- Trace out some alternative routes or plans. Don’t forget about them — write them down. You might need them.
- Volunteer in bike shops and learn as much as you possibly can about bike repair.
Advice aside, Liz and I have found some tools simply indispensable for our own planning. We’ve shared our go-to tools below.
When we first sat down to plan, Liz and I accumulated lists of Google Maps URLs faster than we could sort them out. We scrapped the Maps-heavy approach and began culling important info back into a spreadsheet. Tips on how to set it up:
- Day and Date columns. Helps you reason about your physical and emotional state on a particular day (i.e. “will we really want to stealth camp on Day 48 when we expect days 42–47 to be the most humid leg of the tour?”)
- Start and finish. We chose to do this by town or campground, but if you opt to get super granular, power to ya!
- Mileage AND Elevation.
- Locked? In other words: are you 100%, absolutely certain you have a plan to sleep somewhere tonight? If not — stick with No until you get there.
- Alternate plans
Organizing info in this manner helped us avoid common pitfalls:
- Stacking heavy days at the beginning of the trip, before your legs strengthen to the added load
- Inadvertently book multiple hundred mile days in a row
- Neglecting elevation
- Forgetting to follow up with a WarmShowers host or a distant friend.
This final one can be killer. Who wants to put hours upon hours into planning a bike trip, researching places to stay, only to drop the ball at the very end? Lock down a place to sleep each night, and if an acquaintance is hard to follow up with, move on and find an alternate place to stay. Be consistent and follow through with each step of your planning.
Trello, a free organization tool by Fog Creek Software, is the perfect way to break out all of the activities you’ll undertake in the weeks leading up to your trip. Liz and I wrote separate cards for each task we needed to knock off in the four weeks we’ve spent planning our trip: one per week.
Our Trello board has been a great resource for aligning our expectations during preparation, and making sure we had visibility into what the other person is doing, or has just done. Coordinating in this manner saved us a few extra trips to REI. More than anything, it kept us at ease in the planning phase. Something on your mind in the middle of the night? Put it in Trello. You’ll sleep better knowing it’s there to return to.
As essential as lists with titles like “47 tips for bicycle tourists” and YouTube videos have been, we found it absolutely indispensable to read actual testimonials of riders taking on the routes we plan to take. There’s simply no replacement for an in-depth, day by day recounting of a recent tour. You’ll pick up route recommendations, restaurant and rest station tips, and important details about seasonal variances. Best of all, you’ll benefit directly from the misfortunes of others by learning what to avoid!
Crazyguyonabike helped us plan cautiously to tackle a difficult stretch of sand south of Virginia Beach that may involve pushing our bikes for up to ten miles.
Now we know what to expect…but how will we actually fare? \_(ツ)_/¯
I searched keywords like “Atlantic” to hone in on tours similar to the leg I was planning. It appears 99% of the posts were issued by a single person named “ray”, so let’s go with a single hat tip to ray to suffice for the posts below: