A few years ago, I did the maths and realized that I had ridden my bike the equivalent of all the way around the world at the equator. The realization was kind of sad…all that way and yet I had only gone back and forth from my home to the office.
In this guest post, Peter Rice suggests that if you take your bike to work, the next logical step is taking your bike on vacation.
Enter Peter Rice.
Biking to work is—thankfully—an easier sell than it used to be. While the numbers are still small, most Americans living in cities probably know at least one person they consider reasonably sane who commutes on a bicycle, and they might even do it themselves once in a while. As the group expands, the stigma recedes. And while it’s too early to declare victory, it is high time for you, the normal, everyday bike commuter, take the next step: Touring.
This should be an easy sell, in theory. If you like biking to work, you ought to like biking to a vacation. But psychological and technical barriers quickly pop up. The stereotyped image of a bicycle tourist, after all, is a Spandex-clad expert mechanic super athlete doing centuries day after day, sleeping on the ground, taking down energy bars at an alarming clip, and riding a very expensive bike loaded down with gear.
Reasonable people look at this and think it’s a bridge too far. I’ve toured many thousands of miles and the tableau even scares me.
But this is a bit like labeling college as impossibly difficult. It would be, except you went to high school first, and middle school before that, so the transition wasn’t too traumatic. Likewise, touring is a spectrum, and there are many enjoyable way stations between the average bicycle commuter and the neon superbugs cranking across the continent.
So here, grasshopper, is your first touring assignment: Decide how much you’d like to ride in a day, be that five or 100 miles. Then take that distance as a radius from your home, and see if you can’t find a quiet town or hamlet with a tastefully appointed hotel or bed and breakfast (and some promising nearby restaurants) at the end of the line. You can ask if they’re cool with bikes but the answer is almost always yes. Use local bike-friendly transit to increase your destination flexibility.
Corral your spouse, family, friends, etc., or go it alone. Pack a change of clothes and a toothbrush in a backpack, or bungee it to your rack somehow. Wear your normal biking clothes, and take your normal repair supplies and tools. Again, you’re just commuting to vacation here.
On day one, ride there, check in, enjoy a meal, wander around. Observe how far away from your normal life you feel despite being a short cab ride away from your house. Biking will do that. Vacation is a feeling more than a destination, and biking is a cheaper way to get to that feeling than flying.
Biking will also make you feel really good. You knew that already because you commute. But those endorphins will help you appreciate the normal attractions at your destination even more. The small roadside diner, or that freight train trundling by—it’s all somehow more vivid, and more compelling, after a good ride. Wait for dark, go back to the hotel. Watch some trashy TV, then sleep. On day two, ride back to your house.
Congratulations! You have officially become a bicycle tourist. That sublime overnight trip was the only barrier to entry.
If you like, kick it up a notch from there. Switch out that hotel for a campground. Bring some food to cook instead of going out to eat. Make it a three or four night trip. This will necessitate some panniers for extra gear, and a bit more mechanical knowhow as you leave your town’s orbit, but it’s not hard—it’s just different. Walk before you run, and you’ll be a great bicycle tourist.
Peter Rice is the author of Spandex Optional Bicycle Touring: How to ride long distance, the cheap and easy way. Contact him via peterbrice.com.