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    What is bike touring?

    Robert Ferri
    Robert Ferri
    Apr 19, 2024 9 min
    What is bike touring?

    Bike touring is a great way to explore the world on two wheels. It is not always about where you are going but what you see along the way. Escaping the normal to explore the world at a slower pace, taking your adventure in your direction. Where does bike touring originate from, and is it still a prevalent practice today? Who are the modern cyclists embarking on adventures with their bikes? What essential equipment is required for such journeys, and what are the benefits of undertaking this type of travel? Let's discover that together.

    Robbie Ferri, our copywriter and bikepacking expert, holds the world record for the number of countries crossed in 7 days by bikepacking.

    What is bicycle touring?

    A simple definition of bike touring

    Bike touring essentially involves a long journey on your bike. This could last a few days, a couple of months, or, for some, even years. It is a way to enjoy life on the road and travel wherever you want with everything you might need.

    We also have a comprehensive article on what a touring bike is.

    bike touring bags

    Where did bike touring start?

    Bike touring started in the late 19th century as bikes became more available for people, and the style changed from a high-wheeler to a safety cycle, making cycling safer and much more comfortable on longer journeys. 

    As the popularity of bike touring grew amongst the upper and middle classes in North America and Europe, more routes and equipment became accessible. Roads improved, and more routes were created spanning long distances, greatly improving the situation and getting more people on board with a cycling holiday.

    To this day, it continues to be very popular and has become more accessible for many cyclists. We have much better cycling infrastructures in modern times, and many more people are trying to get away from typical holidays that require planes and automotive transport.

    What about some epic bike touring adventures?

    One of the first recorded bike tours was by Thomas Stevens, who traveled around the world from 1884 to 1886 to demonstrate the potential of the bicycle as a means of long-distance and adventure travel. His writings changed the concept of cycling for many.

    thomas stevens
    Thomas Stevens, a pioneer of bike touring

    This was followed later by Annie Londonderry, who took another round-the-world trip. This trip was not only an incredible journey but also challenged gender norms and hugely promoted cycling for women at the time. It got a lot of media attention and was just incredible for much more than cycling.

    After this, Scottish John Foster Fraser and friends took another round-the-world journey, covering over 19,000 miles. Fraser published a book about this journey, Round The World On A Wheel. 

    bike touring in camping
    Camping is a great shelter option for bike touring

    Why we bike tour

    Years ago, before aviation travel and commercial motor vehicles were available to everyone, bike touring was a great way to go on holiday. The purpose of bike touring is to enjoy the journey of getting somewhere, not to race to a certain destination. That is the first reason to start bikepacking or bike touring.

    Pros and cons of bike touring

    Bicycle touring is your adventure, and you can take it wherever you want. Some cyclists choose to go to big cities and embrace culture, while others choose to head to the wilderness for peace and quiet and to be hidden in nature. 

    Pros of bike touring

    • It is cheap to do
    • You can travel anywhere
    • It is eco-friendly
    • There is a great community
    • Lots of amazing routes worldwide
    • There is no rush. It is about the journey.
    • You can stop whenever you like to visit places along the way
    • It is faster than walking, but slow enough to see the scenery

    Cons of bike touring

    • You might never want to come home
    • Generally, it is a slower form of cycling compared to bikepacking
    • Your legs might hurt at the beginning
    • You are vulnerable to the weather

    When going bike touring, you take everything you need and have to be completely self-sufficient. You would stay at a campsite or, where available, might choose to wild camp. You might even choose a hotel every so often to enjoy a warm bed and a long shower. 

    In recent years we do not hear about bicycle touring as much as we used to even though it still is incredibly popular. There are many clubs and organizations that discuss bicycle touring and continually build a community of more and more riders.

    A lot of cyclists have gone across to bikepacking, which is another loose term for a bike touring, but instead, you go away for shorter durations, carry less gear, and typically use a mixed terrain bike over a touring bike.

    You will still see hundreds of thousands of people take bike tours each year, often spending a few months on the road to escape daily normality. These are people from all over the world, and the bike-touring community is huge and very welcoming.

    Have a look at this other article to learn how to plan the perfect route for your next bike tour.

    What kind of people are bike touring?

    There is a very wide variety of people bike touring, from lone adventurers to couples and families going away in groups. Bike touring is enjoyed by all people, lots of different ages, and who want to go to all different places. 

    With many people now working remotely, many bike tourers live on the road full-time, stopping at a hotel to work for a few days before continuing their journey. It is a nomad way of life.

    bike touring adventure
    Some cyclists travel around the world for months, years

    Find your future touring bike on the buycycle App!

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    Essentials and preparation for bike touring

    For the best bike touring experience, using the correct bike and equipment goes a long way. Over the years, surprisingly, bike touring equipment has not changed a huge amount. There was very little that could be improved, and what we have currently works great. 

    What makes a bike a touring bike?

    Although touring bikes might resemble road or hybrid bikes like gravel bikes, they have lots of unique characteristics. They are generally made of steel or other durable materials, come with racks or rack mounts for you to add your own, have a wide range of gearing for carrying heavy loads and climbing, come with a relaxed geometry for comfort, and the components equipped are very reliable and easy to work on. 

    A balance between comfort and weight

    Surprisingly, there is not a huge amount of essential equipment you are going to need when it comes to bike touring. It more comes down to what you want. With most bike tours being quite long in duration, you need to take enough to stay as comfortable as possible. The key is to strike the perfect balance that allows you to feel comfortable on the road without overburdening your bike. Comfort is often the defining factor distinguishing between bike touring and bikepacking for many enthusiasts.

    We have a huge selection of touring bikes for purchase on our shop.

    Our bike touring essentials

    The essentials you need to take on a bike tour are:

    • Spares and tools in your saddle bag to repair your bike
    • Camping equipment (obviously, only if you decide to go camping)
    • Cooking goods
    • Clothes for riding and general day-to-day activities
    • Water bottles and food to ensure that you are able to fuel yourself when traveling

    These are generally kept in bags on the bike, such as frame bags, panniers, and sometimes even bags that attach to the handlebars or the front forks. Evenly distributing this weight is important for a good experience and helps you know where your bike touring kit is.

    bike touring essentials
    You can also choose comfort over lightness

    Is bike touring for you?

    The best cycling holiday

    If you already are a cycling enthusiast, then a bike tour is a fantastic way to have a cycling holiday. If you are not one yet, then it is the opportunity to discover the joy of cycling. Not just for the experience you get but also because it is better for the environment, promotes tourism in places far away, and opens your mind to enjoying the destination and the journey. 

    A healthy way of traveling

    The process of taking every day as it comes and focusing only on pedaling and eating is a wonderful way to clear your mind and is amazing for mental and physical health. For some, this is not just a holiday but a lifestyle with a huge amount of freedom. 

    Not only do you get all of this but the feeling of bike touring is very special. The endorphins from  the exercise, the sense of adventure, and knowing that very few people are going to ever share that experience that you are getting. 

    An eco-friendly form of travel

    Bike touring is an incredibly eco-conscious way to travel, and it is close to our heart for its minimal impact on the environment. When we are on our bikes, we feel a sense of freedom and connection to nature that is hard to replicate with other modes of transportation. Pedaling through scenic landscapes without leaving behind a trail of exhaust fumes allows me to truly immerse oneself in the beauty of the outdoors. This direct interaction with the environment fosters a deeper appreciation for the natural world and inspires me to tread lightly on our adventures. Whether it is cruising along tree-lined paths or conquering challenging terrain, each pedal stroke reinforces the commitment to sustainable exploration and adventure.

    bike touring camping
    Bike touring is a good way to go back to the basics

    A positive impact for the locals

    Beyond its ecological benefits, bike touring also brings about social and economic advantages. Cyclists often traverse small towns and rural areas, supporting local economies by spending money on goods and services. This influx of tourism can bolster community livelihoods without the need for large-scale infrastructure development, promoting sustainable growth and preserving local cultures.

    Gear up for your next cycling adventure!

    For many, bike touring is an unforgettable experience. Unlike many other holidays you seem to retain the memories much better and the trips you go on can inspire others to do the same. As ancient as the bicycle itself, bike touring has evolved significantly with modern advancements in equipment, making it accessible to everyone and remarkably easy to begin. With just a bike and a few panniers, embarking on a thrilling adventure on two wheels becomes a reality for anyone eager to explore.

    To learn more about the preparation of a future bike trip, you can also read our guides on how to choose a bike for bikepacking or what are the best bicycles for long-distance touring. We also have a selection of the best gravel bikes for bikepacking.

    bike touring
    You can discover the world on a bike