Don and David’s Suggestions for future trips:
1. Pack only what you really need and then discard some. This is especially true if you are using panniers. Use Ziplock bags to pack most items. Roll clothing and press out the air. Clothes will be more accessible and wrinkling is minimized.
2. Everything should be washable. Wash often and make sure every article is fast drying. A small, plastic bottle of dishwashing liquid or shampoo in a sealed bag usually works better than facial soap for laundry.
3. Bring something warm and something waterproof. They will be used. Be comfortable and be sure to have a comfortable pair of shoes. If they are not waterproof, treat them with a commercial spray. It helps. David brings a lightweight Merino wool sweater which easily fits into a zippered bag (expel the air) which he carries in his bike bag when riding.
4. Carry good tools, spare tube, pump and patch kit. In most places you can buy replacements but not always easily, so be prepared to fix things. Keep your bike in good shape and get it tuned before you leave.
5. Carry two water bottles at all times. Drink frequently. Carry snacks that will provide energy. Hard candy that won’t melt is ideal as is peanuts or carbohydrates. Apples ride well.
6. Wear a kerchief or bandana under your helmet. Keeping it wet really helps to keep you cool on hot days and it protects from the sun on your neck.
7. Keep and use good maps. Topological maps are best even though they cost more. It really helps you to plan your routes and this is a big help if you are too tired to do lots of climbing. A suitable GPS is very useful.
8. Be sure to be in shape before you go. Practice. If you can’t, then take easy rides for at least one week before you try something hot and strenuous. There is a big difference between bike touring and auto touring. Ten miles out of your way is not a big deal by car (10-15 min) but on a bicycle, that probably means an hour.
9. Don’t be too macho. Be willing to stop frequently for rest breaks especially if you feel your hands and feet begin to tingle or go numb.
10. Be sure to eat a good lunch. Don’t scrimp if you intend to continue riding a long distance. Don’t feel the need to rush. This is a vacation not a test.
11. Stop early enough to find your place to stay. Around 4-5 pm is best. If you see an interesting place, stop and visit and then make plans to come back that night or the next day if you like it. On weekends you may need to book ahead. In high season you will ALWAYS need to book ahead.. Online booking services can be utilized if you are planning ahead. I have had very good luck with www.airbnb.com.
12. Your local host usually knows everything about the area so don’t be afraid to ask. Stop in the local Tourist agencies, they will help too. They can also help you to make reservations for your next stop. This can be critical if you do not speak the language.
Often one B & B can give you advice on others. Take their advice. They usually know best. Book dinners if they offer it. It is usually much cheaper than a restaurant and often as good or better. If you have any special needs or allergies let them know.
13. Be careful not to leave your gear unattended when you are sightseeing. Take everything that is removable from your bike with you. Pumps, bags, etc will be taken if you are not careful. Even lock your seat to the frame if you can.
14. In France, buy or obtain a touring book on Gites and Chambres d’ Hotes for each area you travel in. They are often free. They list places where English is spoken if that is necessary for you. Similar touring books exist in Italy especially for Agritourism accommodations.
15. Check your bike frequently and lubricate regularly one or twice a week depending on conditions but don’t overdo it because your bike will become yucky. Always check brakes, cables, and tire pressure before starting to ride.
16. Pack a small camera if you can. You’ll wish you did if you didn’t.
17. Relax. It’s a vacation. You don’t and shouldn’t have to see everything. There is always another trip .
Additional concerns and suggestions:
For me, the bike seat is of major importance. I can use any number of bicycles but if the seat is not comfortable, it becomes torture. Invest a few dollars in trying different saddles. I once bought an inexpensive, used Raleigh three-speed bicycle just to get the Brooks saddle on it. If you can afford it, a better bike has a better ride.
Put extra dollars into the tires and tubes, you don’t want flats. They can be both lightweight and sturdy. Some tubes are now made with a liquid goop inside which supposedly cures minor tube penetration preventing flat tires but also adding weight. When renting a bicycle in Santa Fe, NM, the owner of the bike shop told me that he has been injecting a special goo into his inner tubes. “Does it work?” I asked. He claimed that in 3,000 rentals, he had only one customer who got a flat after the goo was in the tube. Unfortunately, his goo is not yet on the market.
Get a comfortable helmet and wear it. I personally know of so many cases where someone escaped serious injury thanks to a helmet that I never ride anywhere without one.
Toe clips make you more efficient but most non-collision accidents I have seen involve getting your foot stuck in the clips just when a quick release is necessary. I have started to use toe clips without the accompanying strap and prefer that arrangement.
For clothing, I wear an undershirt that is not cotton and a long sleeved shirt that is a cotton/polyester blend. My favorite undershirts are made by Patagonia. I have used one for more than five years and it still goes on all my bicycle rides. The trick is to wash it immediately after the ride to destroy bacteria and to rinse out the salts. There are breathable synthetics available that will dry so quickly that you only need two sets of underwear for a two week trip.
My rain outfit was a birthday present from Peggy fifteen years ago. It was expensive with a Gore-Tex liner and is bright red and silver with silver pants. I am very visible when wearing it. I also use a flashing red light attached to the rear of my bike which is now available for as little as $5.
By using a secure lock, I do not have to worry continuously about losing my bicycle (keep an extra key in a secure place).
For carrying items such as tools, food, camera, I prefer a handlebar bag that easily clips off. There are several now available in the $50-70 range. If you have a rear rack there is a very useful net that hooks over the rack available from R.E.I. and elsewhere (Delta Cargonet, $8, www.deltacycle.com).
My “water bottle” is actually a bottle of water since I find the heavier polyethylene type bottles render an off taste to the water. The cheap thin plastic bottles containing 0.75 liter or more fit into the bottle cages easily and can be recycled when they start to deteriorate. Usually sold for one time use, they never seem to leach plasticizers into the water. I continually refill them and have used some for weeks. Most recently, I have used a lightweight metal thermos bottle but it is only 0.5 liter capacity.
When in a country that marks distance in kilometers, change your speedometer and odometer settings to read “km”. The instruction card for your device gives the information, or call a bike shop.
Bring a roll of reinforced tape. It saved me when a bracket screw loosened and fell out. Taping the bracket temporarily allowed me to get to my hotel and then to a bike shop. I use a small role of Scotch 3/4-inch strapping tape.
If you are touring alone, take a small personal radio or listening device. I love listening to classical music when I ride. It is fine to use one when on a trail, especially if all other sounds are not blocked out. Also, I find it good company when having lunch alone. No one else can hear it and although having small headphones on while eating may be considered gauche, it is not nearly as invasive as a diner talking on a cell phone in a restaurant to no one within vision.
If you want to take your own bike, and are driving to your starting point, there are several excellent bike carriers available. Alternatively, your bike can be shipped to a bike shop near your starting point with instructions for them to assemble it for you. Your local bike shop can send it to them, the cost is reasonable. But you can save some money and do the packing yourself. Cartons from bike shops are designed to be space efficient and you will have to remove at least one wheel, the seat, etc. If you are taking the bike in an airplane, the airlines box is much larger (and costlier at $20 currently) and only the handlebar needs to be turned and the pedals removed. Alternatively, the same size bike box can be obtained from many Amtrak stations and is only $10. Very important: have a good, solid pedal wrench if you are shipping your bike via air. The airlines cannot help you on this. To remove pedals, the adage “righty-tighty, lefty-loosy” can only be applied to the right-side pedal; the left-side pedal must be unscrewed clockwise. If you have panniers, put them in the box to provide a cushion. Protect sensitive bike parts with bubble wrap, if possible. Tape the wrench to the bike and put all tools and any cutting instruments in the bike bag or panniers in the box.
Bike shoes: any comfortable shoe which is waterproof and has a stiff sole should work. I use a Rockport walking shoe and slip in a foam insert for more padding. Don uses a hiking boot and Arthur uses sandals! Use whatever works for you.
Snoring: As we age, we tend to snore more. Although you are accustomed to your spouse’s snoring, you may be disturbed when sleeping in the same room with a friend. Arthur suppresses his snoring by using a mouth piece produced for him by his dentist which is terrific. Don uses Breath Rite strips on his nose and convinced me to use them too. In general, I recommend that you take a sleep mask and good earplugs.