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Guide to Planning a Bike Tour

Posted on June 19 2020

Cycling Touring where to go ConnalKit


Cycle Tour Planning Guide

We have recently had to cancel a 5 week bike tour to Europe, meant to begin 20th May 2020, due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We were due to fly in and out of Prague with our trusted road bikes M1 & M2. Our cycling tour was to take in a circuit route from Prague-Dresden-Berlin-Frankfurt-Sonthofen-Prague, with one train section in the middle.

The planning was a good exercise, one that we warm to when the trip is a good one…. a bit like getting into a good book, the plot has to thicken. Each trip is different, however for us there must be a reason, which dictates the planning and what we take and how we do it.

Our reason for choosing this route is family history and an Olympic link with 2020 due to be an Olympic year. Jen’s mum competed on the British Team in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and spent time in Germany immediately after World War II as part of the British Control Commission. Jen’s Czech born father also spent time in Germany after WWII with his role of heading the British CIO’s (Czechoslovak Intelligence Office part of Britain's Secret Intelligence Office SIS) branch in Frankfurt and later in Austria during the Cold War and working with his contacts behind the iron curtain in the then Czechoslovakia. Frankfurt was the start of a family love affair where these two people met.

Our intended destinations included more time in our beloved Prague, also Dresden, Berlin, the Berlin Stadium, the Berlin wall (both Jen & Greg had visited Berlin prior to the downing of the wall in 1989 and have memories of crossing through Check Point Charlie into what was then East Berlin), Frankfurt, and Sonthofen where we have friends, then the route over the German-Czech border being the undercover crossing for Jen’s Dad when he was in working in surveillance during the Cold War.

We planned the trip daily based on distances for riding, rests in places of interest and our history, and the terrain profile.  Our bike bags and some extra clothes we were to leave at our bike friendly hotel in Prague, but for the travel time between we were to carry all our clothes & gear in the front roll bag, frame and seat post bags.

We will keep this trip on hold for when we are able to do it post COVID-19.
The planned details of this trip and the accommodation we had chosen can be viewed here at Tour Plan.

Many people ask us how we go about planning our bike tours so here is our basic guide to get you started. If we can do it, you can do it. Be inspired to plan a bike tour and see the world in a different way - it is so rewarding.

Cycle Touring Scotland back roads Connal Kit
Dreams become plans that become adventures.
The roads are not always smooth.


Your 13 Step Basic Guide to Planning a Bike Tour
The questions that need to be considered.

Step 1: Why this Journey?

Have a reason for this journey. Is it about scenery, nature, discovering other cultures, tracing history, family connections, exploring historic trading routes, cycling iconic rides (eg. Tour de France routes), following passions for architecture, food, wine, art, history, following movie or book locations? A special event to attend, visiting friends along the way, meeting new people, sharing a unique experience with loved ones, creating wonderful memories, or a mental or physical challenge? It gives purpose to the planning and to the tour. Make it your story.

Step 2: Where To Ride To?

Choose a destination based on your answer to the Why question. Home country or overseas.  Narrow it down to regions, towns, destinations based on your reason from above. Make a list of desired destinations that can be linked together to create a route and follows your 'Why' theme. It should be people, places and things you are passionate about and are excited about visiting. 

We usually start with a general idea from the Why question, then get the large Atlas/RoadMaps out and pour over them for days to see what is in the general area. Then we start on the internet looking at specific areas and towns and finding out what else is nearby that would be interesting.

Bike Tour Scotland  choosing the route ConnalKit
Choose the lesser road and leave the traffic on the busy roads. Here we cycled on a gated stock road and left the traffic queue on top road. Much more fun. 

Step 3: How Long Will The Ride Be?

Obviously very different planning is required for 1 year versus a day trip. Can you go for a single day, days, weeks, months or years? Are you circumnavigating the world or doing a wine tour in the Barossa for 2 days? Depends on your commitments and your finances. Consider your physical fitness and start with shorter rides to test everything out. 

Step 4: How Much Will It Cost?

What is your budget? Start with a total amount available, then try to fit as much as possible into that to achieve your reason for going. In Europe you may need to travel sections by train rather than fly. Often the alternatives chosen because of budget end up more fun. Begin with the essentials that are non-negotiable – your bike and cycling gear needed for the tour, airfares, trains, hire car fees. Then what is left can be calculated to create your daily budget to include accommodation, meals, extra fees for ferries or train connections, extra excursions or events – entry fees, event tickets, special adventure costs along the way and shopping. This will determine the level of accommodation you will be looking for. Don’t forget your travel insurance.

Step 5: When Should You Go?

Consider the weather at your destination – What are you prepared to endure? Heat, cold, rain. Time of travel can impact your budget if choosing peak times. Consider the busyness of roads and accommodation (check for local school holidays, public holidays and festivals). If you can jag a local festival on your tour it will add a highlight. Have a Plan B in case of extreme weather. Consider your level of fitness and any training time required prior to the tour. Ride as often as possible prior to leaving. Go as soon as you can - don't leave it too long. 

Step 6: Who Should You Tour With?

Will you travel on your own, as a couple, a group, or with a guided or self-guided tour, or a combination? If taking the guided tour option much of the planning will be done for you. As a cycling couple we happily cycle our own self supported tours but have also done self guided tours with other friends. Don't wait too long for other people to make a decision to join you. Choose your travelling companions carefully. Be prepared to go your own ways if it doesn't work out. 

Step 7: What Bike to Ride?

The bicycle - touring bike, road bike, gravel bike, mountain bike, e-bike. Do you need to purchase a bike for your planned tour? Are you using your own bike or hiring a bike when you arrive? This will impact on the route you can plan. On road or off road? Do you need panniers or frame bags to carry your gear? If hiring a bike take some basic tools so you can make adjustments to the bike if needed. A badly fitted bike can be painful. It is worth having a good reliable bike that is comfortable for your style of cycling. 

This important decision of what bike to ride will be determined by your answers to the other 12 points mentioned here. Where you plan to ride, how long you will be spending on the road (days and hours in the day), what road surfaces you will be riding on and how much gear you choose to carry.

Bike Touring set up Connal Kit
Recently we have relied on our Merida Road Bikes and changed to 32mm tyres.

 

Step 8: How to get to the START?

How are you travelling to the starting point of your cycling tour or between cycling sections? Do you need to transport your bike by air, car, train, bus, boat? Do you hire a car, take your own bikes and base yourself at several destinations to ride out from? If arriving by air with your bike, where do you keep your bike bag whilst riding or will you use a disposable box to be left at the airport? We choose airlines with a 30kg luggage allowance which allows us to pack bikes and most of our gear into the one piece of luggage. We then take a carry-on backpack with any extras. This is quite manageable in and around airports and train stations.

Do you need airport shuttles to your first point of accommodation? It is a good idea to book a larger vehicle ahead of your arrival, as a normal taxi can’t fit 2 large bike bags plus 2 people. We have on occasion had to show a driver how to fold his rear seats up as he had never had to do it before. He left with a smile on his face and we got to our accommodation. If driving/cycling with a hire car make sure it is a hatch back, station wagon or van and big enough to hold bikes plus bags.

Bike Touring Bikes on Planes Connal Kit
Airline check in. Bike bags count as 1 piece of luggage. Check your allowances. 
Bike Touring Ferry crossing Loch Lomond Connal Kit
Crossing Loch Lomond, Scotland, thanks to Cruise Loch Lomond. 


Between cycling routes, if travelling at any point by train – check ahead as not all trains have bicycle allocations. One occasion we had booked a train from Krakow to Prague plus 2 bikes. On the platform we were informed this train has no bicycle carriage. So the bikes had a booking with a whole compartment to themselves, much to the annoyance of all subsequent passengers looking for a seat! We had the compartment next door. Another train we travelled on had a separate wide doored goods carriage with plenty of room for bikes. We happily sat on the floor, played cards and shared a drink and a laugh with the locals rather than sitting in our allocated seats further down the train. Another time we had booked a train to relocate from Edinburgh, Scotland to St Bees for the start of our Coast to Coast ride in England. There happened to be a train strike on the regional trains, so we were only able to go so far on the train, then transfer to a bus to arrive in Whitehaven with no further links available. Thanks to a kindly local who was being picked up in a sizeable van, we managed to get to our hotel in St Bees. There were 3 of us with 2 bike bags plus luggage at this stage so we needed more than a taxi to take us the final leg of our journey for the start of our bike ride. 

Cycling Tour Train transfers Czech ConnalKit
Bike Touring Bikes on train ConnalKit
Cycling Tour Bus Transfers ConnalKit
Trains and Buses all part of the fun. 

 

Step 9: How to Plan the Cycling Route?

The logistical planning. Plan the route you want to cycle – Based on type of cycling, how far you want to cycle every day and, with your when and why destinations in mind, look for cycle routes, paths, mountain bike tracks, minor roads and ways to avoid major highways to connect your chosen way points and destinations. Allow time in each day to stop and look along the way.

There are several apps to assist in pre-planning routes. We’ve used Bikemap, Komoot and Ride with GPS along with maps.me for worldwide offline mapping (make sure you download the required maps before you leave). Look at the routes offered by organised bike tours and popular routes on Strava. If staying in small villages check there are opportunities to purchase a meal or food supplies. If cycling in remote regions – how many days supplies will you need to carry? Choose where you want to go, where you want to stay and what you want to see because you want to be there, not because someone else said you have to go there. Make good use of the local Tourism Information outlets during planning via their websites and when you arrive to obtain more local maps and information.

Cycle Touring choosing a route Czech Connal Kit
Bike touring cycle routes ConnalKit
Just follow the signs and check your own route.
Step 10: Where to Stay when Cycling?

Do you plan to just wing it and see how far you get each day and then find a place to stay, or book ahead and have a destination each day? This will depend on your budget and timing. Do you want to camp in campgrounds or go wild camping? Stay with bike friendly hosts like Warm Showers, or visit family and friends along the way? Hostel or Hotel, basic to luxury?... or a mixture to add a treat occasionally. Check your accommodation is bike friendly and have somewhere secure to store your bike. Try to get accommodation on the ground or first floor for ease of access. Check the location of your accommodation in relation to your route or ongoing transport eg trains, airports, ferries etc. can make it easier on arrival and departure. The guided and self-guided tour options have much of this pre-arranged.

We usually opt to pre book accommodation, as at the end of an exhilarating day of adventure, it is nice to quickly get settled at the place, get your bearings and replenish with fuel (food).  We have found it useful to stay centrally to our planned destination to enable us to walk in the evenings, enjoy our surrounds and reflect on the day’s activities. We do most of our bookings through bookings.com as many we can cancel prior to arrival if we need to and you don't need to pay up front. 

Bike Touring accommodation Connal Kit
Bike friendly accommodation - a cosy shed or sharing your bedroom!
Bike Touring Shared Accommodation ConnalKit

Step 11: What to Pack for a Cycling Tour?

Your pack list depends on the type of touring you have chosen - how much you can take and how you are going to carry it; how long you will be on the road and where you plan to stay. Less is always best. Take time, make a list, lay it out, discard half of it and try again. Organised tours transport your luggage for you. Other options are panniers (the long term world travellers have multiple panniers), or frame bags (popular for shorter bike packing and bike touring holidays as they are more streamlined than panniers, work on road bikes and minimise how much you can carry).

Sections in our pack list include:

  • Bike, bike bags - seat post bag, frame bag, front roll bag, top frame bag; 
  • Bike accessories - lights, garmin, bell, mirror, bike-lock, pump, helmet, drink bottles, riding glasses, riding gloves, riding shoes;
  • Bike tools & spares;
  • Cycling clothes - Full kit - 2 changes of ConnalKit; 
  • Wet weather gear (gilet, rain jacket, shoe covers) and layering garments (wool baselayers, neck warmer, sleeves);
  • Off bike clothes - ConnalKit can be on and off the bike, lightweight pair of shoes;
  • Toiletries - keep to an absolute minimum – use mini travel bottles for the essentials, top up when needed. Don't forget sunscreen and mozzie repellant;
  • Medications - butt cream, anti-inflammatories, pain killers and prescriptions;
  • Phone, camera, batteries, cables, chargers & adaptors (these are all heavy so keep to a minimum);
  • Personal travel items - passport, tickets etc;
  • Small travel towel and clothes line;
  • Emergency kit - first aid, thermal blanket, poncho, pocket knife, matches, compass (personal locator beacon & solar chargers if cycling remote);
  • Food & water - quantity depends on distances travelled and availability of supplies;
  • Dry bags (to separate items and keep them dry);
  • Mini back pack for walking adventures or shopping, zip lock bags (good for breaking food down and not carrying surplus packaging);
  • Rags or wipes (for bike cleaning);
  • Ziplock ties and a pair of shoelaces (never know what you have to hold together);
  • Gaffer tape - handy for repairing shoes or other things; 
  • Tissues or toilet paper (not always supplied);
  • Cup and cutlery set for picnics;
  • Note book and pen, pack of cards or set of yahtzee dice;
  • We always take our mascot ‘Wolf’ to ride along with us; 
  • Ladies – a colourful feather weight silk scarf can help you feel a bit jazzed up in the evenings and will keep your neck warm too.

If you choose to camp – another list is needed for required gear – just keep it as light as you can.

Bike touring what to pack ConnalKit
What and how to pack for a bike tour.
Cycle Tours packing to travel with your bike ConnalKit
Bike Touring packed for the ride ConnalKit
The layout, packed bike bag and on the road bags.

 

Step 12: What If My Bike Needs Repair or I Get Lost? 

The safety net. Be patient and calm and trust your own judgement. Be aware of emergency contacts in the countries you are travelling in. Be prepared to repair your bike, clean your bike, perform first aid if needed, navigate, ask for help, wash and dry your clothes, find nourishment. Keep everything charged up whenever you have the opportunity. Have access to offline GPS (we use maps.me for offline navigation). Stop to read the signs and check you are on the right path.

Look for the local Information Centres – they often have better local information than what you can find on the internet. Talk to the locals. When cycling in a country where you do not speak the language – try to learn some basic phrases for polite responses or essential questions. Sign language, pointing, sketching and a happy attitude will usually get you through. Just don’t raise your voice – deafness is not the problem. Research the local customs to avoid offending the locals with your dress, behaviour or actions.

Celebrate moments, picnic in the most beautiful places, and shelter where you can. Be prepared for mental challenges of being lonely, bored, scared, tired, exhausted and hungry. These are the times when you just need to push through to get the rewards over the hill. But most of all keep smiling and be in the moment whatever happens. Even the hard days become wonderful memories.

Bike touring shelter from the weather ConnalKit
Shelter where you can.
Bike Touring steep climbs England ConnalKit
Expect the unexpected and take up the challenge. 
Bike Touring bike repairs ConnalKit
Be prepared to repair!

Step 13: Plan well and Just Do It! Just Ride and Go Explore. 

Spend time researching and planning your trip. The more preparation you do the more enjoyable the journey will be. A bike tour can be physically and mentally demanding. Be prepared for both. If in doubt google it - you can find tips on nearly everything you need. Then just do it. You will learn what type of touring you like and how to best plan it. That is part of the journey. Enjoy your journey, have fun and smile.

Many people have written books and blogs about their bike tours. We write blogs about ours - you will find them on this site and more are in the making. We have listed some links at the end of this blog to get you started. Don’t forget to record in words or images the adventures you have. They make wonderful memories that are so good to look back on. 

Bike Touring Scotland meet the locals ConnalKit
Have fun meeting the locals!
Bike touring meeting the locals Scotland ConnalKit
Stock up at the local markets when Bike Touring ConnalKit

Local markets are always tempting.
Benefits of cycling - you need lots of fuel.
Czech Honey Cake and Coffee is a treat. 

Coffee and Honey Cake Czech Bike Touring ConnalKit


Our experiences have come from trying a number of bike touring options over the years – each trip required different planning, but every trip was special and memorable. Stories of our rides are being posted in our blogs - see the links below. Some of the journeys we have taken include:

Cycling Trips Within Australia:

Fly and drive with road bikes to Adelaide for self-guided riding with friends at several Santos Tour Down Under events. Cycling Adelaide City and the regions of the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. 

Road trip across Australia from Western Australia to Tasmania with riding stops along the way. Returning via the Red Centre and Alice Springs. This road trip included road cycles in all the states we travelled through. Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Northern Territory. 

And of course our regular weekly cycling within our home region of Dunsborough, Margaret River and Busselton with the odd excursion further afield into the delightful neighbouring countryside of Nannup, Donnelly River and the Ferguson Valley. 

Cycling Trips to Europe and UK:

Prague to Krakow – self planned, travelled as a couple, took our own road bikes, flew in and out of Prague, used the train to return from Krakow to Prague, pre booked accommodation, carried all gear on bikes with frame bags, left our bike bags in Prague. Pre booked airport pickups to ensure bike bags could be fitted.

Scottish Highlands & Isle of Skye – self planned, travelled as a couple, took our own road bikes, flew in and out of Edinburgh, left surplus gear with friends in Glasgow whilst doing a circular route, pre booked accommodation, carried gear on bikes for several weeks. Hired a car and travelled by train and bus between other activities and the next cycle trip a bit further south.

England Coast to Coast (followed on from Scotland) – self planned, travelled as a couple with another friend (he hired a bike) – booked luggage transfer for surplus luggage to be delivered to end point, pre booked accommodation, carried gear on bikes for a week.

Spain & France – Pyrenees circuit – self planned, flew in and out of Barcelona, Spain, with our own road bikes, travelled as a couple, pre booked accommodation, combination of hire car to move between regions and cycling circuit routes from places we stayed. Good option to cover a bit more ground.

France - Brittany. Hired bikes which we almost had to rebuild. A week of cycling from our base in Quimper in the south west of Brittany. 

Switzerland – Self Guided Cycling tour of a week with a group of 8 friends. Tour company provided hire bikes, accommodation, luggage transfers, maps & information. This route also took us into Liechtenstein and Austria. 

Germany - Sonthofen - hired mountain bikes for one day cycle to Giebelhaus and Schwarzenberg in the mountains of the Overallgau region of Bavaria. With another couple who live in Sonthofen. 

Vienna to Prague – Self Guided Cycling tour, 2 couples. Tour company provided hire bikes, accommodation, luggage transfers, maps & information.

Kitzbuhel, Austria – Self guided one day ride with hire bikes.

Beaune, Burgundy, France – Self guided week of circuit rides from one central location. Hired bikes, Accommodation pre booked in one location, hired bikes & obtained local information & maps from local bike store.

Františkovy Lázně & Cheb, Czech Republic – Self guided one day ride with hire bikes.

 

Cycling tours England Coast to Coast ConnalKit
Starting the coast to coast in England - making memories. 


More Resources:

A few resources to get you started:
For Europe and UK these two sites are a good starting point.

Cycling UK: Cyclists’s Touring Club (CTC)

EuroVelo: The European Cycle Route Network

We do most of our accommodation bookings through bookings.com where we take the free cancellation option to maintain some flexibility. Some areas are good to use Airbnb but payment is usually needed up front and not so flexible for cancellations. 

A valuable itinerary tool we use is an app called Tripit (by Concur) which can be shared between travellers. It will keep all your bookings in one place on your phone with full booking details. Saves carrying around paperwork.

These cycling route planning tools are all subscription based. Some work better in certain countries and lack coverage in others. An amount of basic functionality is usable without joining up.

BikeMap (Austrian based) – subscription based. User generated routes.

Komoot – subscription based bike route planning.

Ride with GPS – subscription based.

We hope this gets you started and is of help in planning your cycling adventure. 
Let us know where you have been.

Regards Jen & Greg

ConnalKit

What to wear when Bike Touring ConnalKit
 The Silk Scarf Trick. Out to dinner wearing layered wool and the silk scarf. 

2 comments

  • Paul: May 09, 2021

    Hallo Jen and Greg,

    I saw your names 🤓

  • Paul on his Bike.: May 09, 2021

    Hallo and well done with your trips.

    I’ve been living on my bike for the past 18 months. Having covered 11,000kms between lockdowns and doing voluntary work during the winter months.

    Why do we need a reason to cycle? Over planning things, ties you to a schedule and takes away the freedom to be spontaneous.

    For sure I know where I want to be, in a certain amount of time. For example in May last year I wanted to see friends in Berlin, and I knew that it would take me about five weeks from Huvela (Spain). The exciting part of the trip was not knowing where I would be each night. I often switch my phone off for days and use only my compass for navigation. Or if I see a road that has good energy, I will go many kilometres out of my to travel it.

    Being free to ride is reason enough to travel by bike.

    Namaste,
    Paul

    PS I didn’t see your names mentioned in this article.

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