How to train for a cross-country bike tour

The secret to preparing for a bikepacking adventure is really, really simple. Do you want to know what it is? Have you figured it out yet? Okay, I'll tell you the secret: RIDE YOUR BIKE! Very simply put, the more miles you ride, the more prepared you will be for your long distance bike tour.

My Bike Tour Training Chart

I rode more in the first month of my bike tour than I did the preceding six months

I rode more in the first month of my bike tour than I did the preceding six months

In all honesty, I was not sufficiently prepared for my cross-country bike tour when I left in April of 2016. I put on more miles in the first month of my bike tour than I did in the preceding six months. That was not good. I should have ridden more. Had I put in more miles on the road then I may not have struggled as much as I did while riding out of Pittsburgh or traversing the hills of Western Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, I was able to make due with the training that I completed and successfully make it to the West Coast.

The purpose of training is to learn from your mistakes before you are at the mercy of the open road. During my training in and around Washington, DC I got dehydrated, rode in freezing temperatures and got stranded without food. It was much better to have had those things happen to me in a familiar environment rather than an unfamiliar one. After getting through those slip-ups, you better believe I did not make any of those mistakes again.

And so, it is with the aspiring touring cyclist in mind that I present...

Six tips for training for a bikepacking adventure

1. Put on the miles

Ride your bike to work, take some laps with your buddies at lunch, ride your bike home, do long distance rides on the weekend; ride as much as possible. Your intensive training should begin months before departure, a good window to start would be three to six months out. During that time period try to grow accustomed to rides of 40 to 60 miles in length. It is keen to do back-to-back long distance rides, since bike touring usually entails riding 60 miles a day, riding 80 miles a day, even riding 100 miles a day, and all back-to-back.

2. Ride fully-loaded

Strap all of your panniers and camping gear to your bike in the month or so leading up to your departure. The experience of riding a fully-loaded touring bike is very different from speedy road cycling or relaxed commuting. You will find that your fully-loaded bike handles and feels different as the additional weight of equipment makes peddling more strenuous and the bulky panniers cause additional wind resistance and affect handling. The differences do take some getting used to, so do yourself the favor of gearing your rig up for your training rides.

3. Get used to sub-par riding conditions

When you are on top of a mountain in Colorado or in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, you will be at the complete mercy of the elements. If the weather gets extreme then you should not be on the road, but very often during a bike tour you will find yourself in sub-par riding conditions. For that reason, it is not a bad idea to have a few rides in the rain or on a cold day to make sure you know what to expect and be sufficiently prepared.

4. Ride on a variety of terrains

Most overnight bike tours involve a combination of road riding and bike trails, with each presenting a unique set of challenges. Road riding involves speeding vehicles, potholes and traffic signals, whereas bike trails often involve pedestrians and unpaved routes. Each take some getting used to. As you familiarize yourself with the feel of different terrains, you may realize that you need to make adjustments to your bike. I, for example, realized that, given the amount of road riding I was doing on the tour, it made sense for me to have more narrow tires, so I swapped out my Knard 41mm tires for some Shwalbe Marathon 35 mm tires.

5. Join some group rides

Group rides are a great way to develop as a cyclist. Nothing is more motivating than wanting to no longer be the person in the back of the peloton. Riding in a group is a good way to pick up on the ways that more experienced riders communicate with other cyclists and, more importantly, automobile operators while on the shared roadways. Plus, you're bound to meet other cyclists who share in your passion for bike touring and can provide you tidbits of knowledge from their own experiences. Local bike shops often regularly hold group rides. In DC, my hometown, I got a lot out of joining rides at the Bike Rack DC.

6. Supplement your riding with spinning

It is hard to keep up a busy cycling schedule, especially if you are living a nine to five lifestyle. Spinning classes offer a way to complement your road rides and keep your muscles well-worked. I will admit that bike touring and spinning are completely different beasts, as the former is a practice of physical endurance and the latter is high intensity. What they both have in common, however, is the use of similar core muscle groups and the test of your mental endurance.

In Winter of 2017, Natalie Chwalisz, the Biking Migrant, and I gave a talk at the Bike Rack DC about our respective bike tours in Europe and the US, with particular attention given to how we prepared. Below you will find the video of that discussion.

Disclaimer: Bikepacking, cycling and bike touring are inherently risky activities. Following the above suggestions offers absolutely no guarantee that the reader's journey will be "safe". By embarking on a bike tour, individuals assume full responsibility for their actions and any associated consequences, particularly those pertaining to their personal health.