You like travelling right? Of course you do, you’re on ballsouttraveller.com! You’re a cool kid. Have you ever considered travelling the world by bicycle? It’s cheap, easy and you get to see a side of the countries you’re in that you will never experience in a tour bus or a train plus you meet some amazing locals and feel like a real adventurey explorer type, Balls out style!
Setting off on a big trip for the first time can be a daunting and scary prospect, so imagine how worrying doing it by bike might be! Don’t fret my sweet Ballsout travelling friends, I am here to help! It may seem terrifying at first, but I shall gently massage your brains with my words to sensually relax you and get you to give into the massive of appeal of travelling the world on two wheels!
Can't afford $150 Ortlieb handlebar bag? Simply use your mad arts and craft skills on a 6 pack cooler bag and attach it to your handlebars! everyone's a winner!
Where will I sleep? What if my bike falls apart? Where will I get water? Am I going to freeze? What if I’m attacked by meth addicted sea otters? Who will mourn my death? Does Jesus own a bike? Can he ride it on water?
All these questions and more pop into your head when you’re planning a bike trip and sometimes it can seem like a truly impossible task; the thought of riding a bicycle across multiple countries and carrying all your possessions on a piece of metal between your legs with two wheels on it.
Fear not gentle reader, I had all these concerns and more before our trip from France to China and quickly learned to overcome them through use of positive thinking, yoga and heavy binge drinking. No not really, but we survived our trip in one piece anyway and learned how to deal with some situations that had me seriously worried and stressed before we set off on our adventure.
In the following group of words strung together in sentences I aim to help dispel some of your fears and apprehensions about setting off on a trip and make you realise that it’s really not as scary and daunting as it seems. If a simple minded shiny headed clown like me with no knowledge of bicycles and little in the way of basic life skills can do it, then you sure as shit can too!!!
One of the main concerns people have is how can I physically do it? In the first part of this series I will tackle this meaty subject head on and wrestle your fitness fears into submission.
Training for a cycle trip is a pretty good idea….but we didn’t do it.
Our trip started from a small ski resort village called Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise in the French alps, it was winter time so obviously there was a fair amount of snow around which made cycling slightly difficult! To embark on a cycle trip was not a part of our plan before coming to France to work a ski season and we were not exactly in peak physical condition after several months lounging around in ski chalets munching our weight in stinky cheese and guzzling liters of beer daily.
It was not physically possible for us to train on the bikes due to the snow and for Kelly the fact that she had suffered a torn meniscus in her knee while skiing made it extra impossible.
We had only decided 6 weeks before our work contract ended and the season was over we were going to ride to China so there was not a whole lot of time to plan and train for this silly adventure…I think we managed to borrow a car twice in the lead up to going to drive to a lower altitude and ride for about 20km around a lake as ‘training’. Pretty grueling training sessions huh?
Improvise! our nescafe tin and peanut butter jar made pretty dandy coffee cups for the whole trip, and when our takeaway containers cracked we rinsed out our fake nuttella tubs to make bowls.
In an ideal world it would have been nice to get in regular long rides to get us physically and mentally prepared for the task we were about to undertake, but ultimately it did not matter that we couldn’t train. We had only purchased our bikes maybe 3 or 4 weeks before we set off and as I said earlier only ridden them twice and had never ridden them fully or even partially loaded!
I will admit it was pretty terrifying rolling down the extremely steep and still slightly icy hill from the ski station on the first day of our trip with the panniers and backpacks fully loaded strapped to the bikes for the first time. Having never had weight on a bike while riding before it was quite a shock and probably a fairly dangerous introduction to cycle touring. One piece of advice I would give is definitely do at least a few rides carrying weight just to get used to the way it changes the handling and responsiveness of the bike.
We had a really low budget and had opted for very cheap ($20) rear panniers off eBay and a 70 liter backpack on my rear rack and a small daypack on Kelly’s with homemade handlebar bags made from 6 pack coolers that I’d stitched buckles and straps to so we had a whole lot of junk in our trunk! Extremely heavy at the back and basically nothing up front, I would not recommend this set up. I definitely wouldn’t recommend not at least going for a few test runs with this set up….but we survived!
Kelly's panniers actually fell apart before we even left on the first day! she managed to keep them going for the entire trip through! Gaffa tape is your friend.
In the end it would have been nice to have had more time to get in better shape and get used to riding the bikes (loaded or even unloaded), but ultimately it did not matter as we still managed to do what we set out to do, ride to China.
The first day we rode roughly 65 km and felt like we’d really achieved something great…this was by far the furthest either of us had ever ridden a bike before. I remember laying in our tent on the side of the road that night feeling absolutely high and giddy thinking ‘we can fucking do this!’
That first day was training for the second day, the second day was training for the third day and so it went on and on. Everyday we felt slightly more comfortable and confident riding long distances and got used to the bikes and the quirks of riding them weighted down with stuff. The first few weeks were admittedly very tough physically due to our bodies just not being used to it, but like I said everyday it got easier and gradually we were able to push on to greater distances.
I’m sure there is a wealth of information and training tips out there for how to get in peak condition for a tour and if you have plenty of time up your sleeve to train it would be a great idea to check them out and see if anything appeals to you. For me personally I found reading some of the blog posts and info about training scared me and made me more nervous about the trip as I knew that it was not possible for me to undertake any of these training regimes. Sure we could have done training without actually being on a bike like body weight exercises and whatnot…but just kind of never got around to it.
Little known fact; you can actually replace a bicycle wheel with a sunflower. FACT. Try it, go on!
So is it essential to train? Absolutely not! The point I want to get across in this section is that anyone can go cycle touring, it’s as easy as…well as easy as riding a bike! Even if you are not the fittest person out there, you can still do it and eventually your fitness levels will get higher and higher and the cycling will get easier and easier!
If you do not have time/access to a bike pre trip or whatever, don’t sweat it! It really is quite a simple task; hop on a bike and just ride! Don’t get discouraged by reading posts about how hard you need to train or worry about the fact that you don’t have a $4000 bike with all the latest gadgets and fanciest German made gear, just hit the road and go! You will learn along the way, get better at it everyday and come to realise some things that you would have maybe done differently, but ultimately you will be able to do it!!
Believe in yourself and you can achieve anythi….no I’m not actually going to say that…just get on that bike and fucking go my friend! Fully trained with legs of steel and years of riding experience or a total novice with no clue what you’re doing and calves that look like broomsticks, it doesn’t matter you can do it and ride wherever you want in this world!