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Training for a Bicycle Tour

There was no way I’d be able to keep up with the incredibly fit women who were going to be on my bike tour in southern Utah. I knew that they would all be very experienced riders who would leave me in their dust every day. After all, this was my first tour and the first year I’d done any real cycling. How could I possibly keep up?

Of course, my fears were for naught. The women in the group varied widely in age, fitness and experience, and I was usually near the front or middle of the pack. After the first day (when I suffered more from altitude than anything else), I was never left in anyone’s dust. It didn’t hurt however, that my fears and insecurities caused me to train harder than I ever had before. Prior to leaving for the 10-day, fully supported, paved-road tour I rode over 750 miles on my knobby-tired bike, usually pulling my daughter in her trailer. I was ready.

One nice thing about multi-day bicycle trips is that you ride into fitness. Each day you ride makes you stronger and makes the next day easier. That said, you’d still be wise to do some training before you start so that your first few days aren’t too painful. How you train will depend in great part on the trip you have planned, but there are a few areas to consider no matter what your trip is.

Distance
Perhaps the first thing a cyclist looks at when considering a tour route is the mileage, both overall and daily. While riding into fitness will help on a long tour, if the trip will be a week or less, or if it starts out with high mileage days, increasing your initial fitness is imperative.

To get ready for tour miles, you need to practice riding those miles. Try to ride daily (as you would on a tour), gradually increasing the number of miles you ride each day. On weekends, work up to riding the same number of miles as you’ll ride on your longest tour day.

How long it will take you to get ready depends on your current level of fitness, and the difference between what you ride now and what you’ll need to ride on tour. If you currently ride 10 miles a day, three days per week, you may need several weeks to be able to ride 80 miles per day. If you only need to ride 40 miles per day, training will take less time.

Hills
Scarier than long miles are big hills, especially mountain passes. It pays to review your tour route carefully to determine what level of hill climbing you’re committing to. Again, training ahead of time will make the task easier.

Just as with miles, practice riding hills to get ready for hills. If you live in a flat area, this can be difficult. The key is to find situations that force you grind in your lower gears. Riding into a headwind is one way to do this, as painful as that is to contemplate. Work up to being able to ride the kinds of hills you anticipate on your tour before you go.

Weight
No, I’m not telling you to go on a diet. The weight I’m talking about here is cargo weight – the gear you’re carrying with you on tour. If you’re going on a fully supported tour during which you’ll only have to carry your camera, lunch and rain gear, no problem – no additional training is likely needed. However, if you’re planning to carry camping gear, food and clothing for a week or a month, you’ll need to get used to both the way you plan to carry it (panniers or trailer) as well as the way the gear affects your bike.

It’s well worth your time to research the latest in light weight gear and theories on how to best pack the gear on your bike. The balance of weight makes a huge difference in how your bike handles. Once you’ve determined what you’re taking and how you’re going to carry it, load up your bike and do a few practice rides. These rides will not only get you used to pedaling with the additional weight, but will also help you trouble-shoot any handling issues. Try to do the first practice rides early so that if you need to spend more time riding loaded, you have the time to do so.

Weather
No matter how much we’d like all our riding days to be sunny and warm, a little rain must fall. On the other hand, it may be that extremely high temperatures in the desert are in your future. Either way, plan ahead and be prepared. Make a point of riding in all weather conditions while you’re still at home, and that first cold, rainy day won’t be such a shock to your system. Likewise, ride in hot, dry weather if that’s appropriate to figure out how much water you need to carry with you to stay adequately hydrated.

These conditions are just a few of many which might affect your performance, and fun, on a bicycle tour. After you’ve decided when and where you’re going, review the route and itinerary carefully to determine which elements are out of the ordinary for you, and then plan ways to prepare for them. A little time spent up front will make for a much more enjoyable trip.

Ride safe and have fun!

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