Embarking upon a big cycle tour can be a little intimidating, especially if you are doing it by yourself. Solo cycling can be dangerous if underprepared; usually you would have your peers to rely on for advice or to lend a hand in the case of a mishap. However if planned well, the experience that you will have will be second to none.
This article provides some insight upon undertaking a big solo cycle ride around Europe; reducing the chances of your bike ride being spoiled by things you may not have thought about. For those who would rather not think about it quite so much, guided or self guided cycle tours provide that little extra suport and security when you need it, and not when you don’t.
Pre Journey The Plan
Think about it like this; the more you do pre journey, the better. In other words, plan everything so that when you are cycling all you really have to do is cycle. Your plan of attack should consist of:
Route Where are you going? Google maps proves very useful in this instance, so that you can plan your journey to the specific road and you can see exactly how far you are travelling. Google Maps offline navigation mode is pretty helpful if you have a smartphone and a bicycle mount – you can use free wifi (more common than youd think) to update your data. Regardless, never trust technology and write all the roads and sub roads along with what day you plan to tackle them. Eurovelo showcases continuous cycle routes across the whole of Europe for those interested in seeing more of the scenery up close. Accommodation Where will you actually be staying? Will you be camping or be staying hotels or hostels? This is an important factor that you will need to decide upon. In either event, it is best to phone up and book your place especially if you are travelling in the height of season. There is nothing worse than finishing a hard day of cycling with no-where for you to stay; and rough camping isnt all that fun. Remember, you dont always have to stick to the places you plan on travelling to but its best to have at least some hostel stopovers planned for. Write down where you will be staying each night onto the plan, along with any useful information (such as telephone numbers). Having a plan is essential, especially when cycling around countries you are unfamiliar with. The best thing to do is to type your plan, or at least some options, out in detail and laminate it (trust me). This protects it from one of the elements, at least.
Pre Journey – Equipment
Now, equipment is all subject to the type of cycle that you are undertaking. The main question is, are you camping or staying in beds every night? This will considerably affect the amount of weight that you are going to put on your bike. If you are intending on staying in a bed every night, the equipment that you will need to take with you will consist of:
2 x inner tube 1 x multi-tool 1 x puncture repair kit 1 x bike pump 1 x compass 1 / 2 x water bottle fixings OS Maps of the country you are in. 1 x phone charger 1 x first aid kit 1 x toothbrush/toothpaste 1 x waterproof bike lights 1 x bike helmet
You can fit these in a small bag attached to your bike, and some in the back of your cycling jersey. The less weight you are carrying from bags; the better. If you are staying in hotels, you will be able to use their washing facilities for your clothes cycling gear tends to dry very quickly.
However, if you are deciding to camp your equipment list and weight will change dramatically. For a start you will need to invest in some decent waterproof panniers (not just water-resistant). In them you will need to put your camping equipment along with the above equipment. You should select the lightest equipment you can get away with; there is nothing worse than a heavy bike against a headwind.
One man tent. Sleeping Bag Roll mat / blow up mat. (Pillow if you are feeling luxurious)
On top of this, you need to think about the clothes you are bringing do not bring heavy garments as they take up a lot of room and space; especially when wet.
Now, this probably (certainly) wont happen to you, but a friend of mine spent some time cycling the length of Italy. He was several weeks into his trip and camping on a quiet stretch by the side of the motorway. Asleep in his tent, a car pulled up and the occupants stole his bike and backpack. Out of spite, they also took the majority of his clothes that were hanging on a washing line. Although hitchhiking to the British consulate in Rome in your trainers, underwear and a dirty t-shirt makes for a good story, youll probably want to avoid it. Also bring:
An amazing bike lock
Preparing your BikeYou need to fully service your bike before you depart. This will minimize the risk of something going wrong whilst going about your cycle ride. Replace all your inner tubes so that they are all new, if you need new tyres replace them, and most important of all check that your brakes are functioning to full capacity. Brakes are perhaps the most important thing you need to check, so if you are unsure; take them into a shop and have an expert look at them. Let them know what youre planning to do. Ideally get yourself on a one day bike mechanics course. Knowing how to fix basic problems could be invaluable.
Preparing yourselfMake sure you are prepared for the amount of cycling youll be doing. Before your journey youll want to increase the amount of daily cycling you do on the bike youll be using. This will help you to get used to it and any quirks it has. Youll also need to be very fit so consider investing in an exercise bike for the evenings a few months before you leave. You may also want to consider a few long weekends cycling in your own country, or a group cycle trip (where youre in a much better position should something go wrong) before attempting to cycle Europe solo.This amount of preparation outlined may seem restrictive to some, but in the event of something going wrong (which you can bet on) you will be best equipped to deal with it.George writes for Sixt.co.uk (and usually on other topics). Hes eagerly preparing for his next cross country foray in the spring, and wondering how hes going to keep a decent camera intact the whole journey.
Top left image: Chris Juden