Independent adventure travelers have a unique opportunity to discover new places, meet new people and face new challenges wherever they are. It is hard to find a better feeling than riding down a mountain at a snail’s pace, while the sky turns blue and the wind blows loud. Bike touring is not all downhill. It also presents many unique challenges for the adventurous traveler. Bike touring is not for everyone. Here’s a quick overview of some of the advantages and challenges that come with riding a bike around the world.
PROS: Bike touring is one of the best ways to see the world
Bikes are relatable and approachable. Nearly everyone in the world has or is currently riding a bicycle. More universal than buses and cars, bikes are more accessible than cars and bikes. Everyone remembers the freedom they felt riding their first bike without any training wheels. You can expect to be welcomed with joy and wonder every day you go on a bike tour with Colonia Aktiv. People will be curious about where you are, what you’ve done, how heavy the bike is, and many other things. Behind every question will be a mix of admiration, disbelief, and the sometimes unspoken thought “I wonder how I could do that?” Bicycling is a great way for people to get to know each other.
My own travels have taken me to lunch with truckers, farmers and bikers. I was attracted to them by my touring bike outside a restaurant and my helmet on the table. Bicycle touring is a great way to meet people and see the world.
Bicycle travel is extremely affordable. There is a joke among tour cyclists that we are poor candidates for would-be thieves. Everyone “knows” that nobody with much money would want to ride a bicycle that far. It is mostly true. You can save money on gas, insurance, maintenance, and rentals when you bike. Low cost hiking/bike campsites and touring cyclist networks make housing costs much less than those who travel by car. A bike is the best and cheapest way to travel if you are on a tight budget.
You can travel where cars cannot by riding a bicycle. Bicycle travel is becoming more popular every year. Many European cities and countries are well-suited for bicycle travel. Even in the car-centric US, there are many bike trails and bike friendly routes. The Rails to Trails Conservancy works to transform old train tracks and canal grades into multi-use trails that are suitable for cyclists. The Katy Trail in Missouri, and the GAP/C&O Trail that runs 350 miles car-free from Pittsburgh to downtown Washington DC are two of the most popular.
You’ll see more and go slower: Bicycling is a great way to travel in a world that is too fast for cars and too slow for walking. You can see the world at 10 mph, which allows you to take in all the details that are lost in the chaos of a car. It’s possible to see more, smell more, and hear more when you are driving at 10 mph. If you come across something truly amazing, you can roll off the road and stop and observe them for a while. Everyone wants to slow down and take in more of life. With a bike, you can.
You might even be able to get fit. You can expect to ride 40-60 miles per day on a tour. If you’re feeling the groove, you might even go further. And even if you don’t bike, you’ll spend more time walking around. You will sleep better, get more fresh air, burn hundreds of calories and have guilt-free dinners at the conclusion of each day.
Bike touring is an amazing way to travel the world. Be aware that there are some drawbacks to biking. Before you pack your panniers, though, you should think about these.
CONS: Why biking is so bad.
You’ll cover less distance each day. If you’re in a rush or are looking for the best way to see the world, biking is not the right choice. Bicycle tours are more about the journey than the destination. Although some cyclists may put in a lot of mileage, most bike tours are about the enjoyment of riding and taking in the sights at a leisurely pace.
You might do less: Short tours will likely result in you taking in less “touristy” items. This is partly due to the fact that it takes longer to get from one place to another, and partly because you might be tired at the end. You will feel less tired if you’re already in great shape for cycling. However, since the purpose of a bike tour’s main objective is to ride a bicycle, you’ll have less time to do ‘normal’ tourist activities.
You will have to be more cautious about security. Bike theft is a fact of life. If everything you need for your trip is in your bike, you are more susceptible to thieves. It is less common to steal in rural areas than it is in cities. Even in towns, a fully loaded touring bike with all its equipment is a poor opportunity for thieves who are often looking for quick targets. While mismatched gear and locks are effective in deterring theft, a part of your brain will still wonder if your bike is safe when it’s not visible.
There are not always roads that can be used for bicycle travel. While many trails and bike routes exist in the US, these roads are still not designed for them. Cycling in rural areas can be difficult because of the distances between cities and traffic congestion.
Bike touring can be more difficult than motorized travel. Sudden storms, hills and road closures all have an impact on your day. Delays that cause car travel plans to change by an hour or so could cost you an extra day. Experienced cyclists learn to just “roll with it” and accept that sometimes the unexpected can be part of the joy of a trip. However, if time is limited, a long detour or foul weather could drastically alter your plans, or even stop your trip.