Some of us look out our car windows at cyclists on touring bikes and think, “Man, that’s impressive, but I couldn’t do that.” If that’s the case, it’s time to grease the brain gears and go on an overnight bike tour.
Joergen Trepp, a well-versed bicycle tourist and director of operations at the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective touts the life-changing nature of bike touring. “It only takes one bike tour for people to be hooked—or hate it,” he says. “But, oh man, that first bike tour is the coolest thing ever.”
The most important thing is the bike. “The fit on touring bikes is super important,” says Trepp, who rides a Univega Viva Touring bike. “You do want your bike to be a little bit larger so you can be upright.” Since you’ll be riding for several hours, length is important for comfort and correct leg extension.
The good news is that many bikes can serve as touring bikes. However, there are preferable features. Bikes with mounting holes—or braze-ons—on the seat-stays and front-fork make attaching front racks and rear racks easy. Having more gears makes going up hills less of a struggle. Bikes with one or more waterbottle cage make quick hydration simple, although you can keep water in your panniers. Steel bikes are sturdy and easier to repair.
If you’re going on an overnight tour, you can most likely call someone to pick you up if something goes awry. However, being prepared with basic bicycle maintenance can prolong your trip and boost your confidence. “On a short tour, likely the only thing that’s gonna happen is … a flat tire,” Trepp says. And, he says, anyone who wants to learn how to fix a flat can go to the Bicycle Collective at any time. He suggests calling ahead (801-328-2453) to volunteer.
No bike tourist should leave without a few essential tools and accessories that can be found at a local bike shop: a hand pump, tire levers, 5mm Allen wrench, a multi-tool (not essential, but handy), patch kit, lube and an extra inner tube. A mirror for checking traffic behind you can add to your security. Don’t forget regular essentials like bike lights and a U-lock. It’s also a good idea to bring along a water purifier for streams or campgrounds without potable water.
Get your bike tuned up before you head out, and make sure it’s equipped with good tires and fenders to keep water from flying in your face. “Without fenders, it’s pretty terrifying—I mean, it’s pretty gross,” Trepp says. Touring tires with rain veining, he adds, “provide just a little bit of grip.”
For stowing your stuff, you can get away with two rear panniers and a handlebar bag for easy access to your wallet, camera, etc. As Utah tends to be on the dry side, you can find cheap canvas panniers for sturdiness, and should waterproof your inside gear with plastic bags. If you have more money to dispense, Axiom makes reliable water-resistant saddle packs.
Speaking of a saddle, it’s important to choose a seat that’s comfortable. Although expensive, Brooks leather saddles are “definitely worth saving up for,” Trepp says, as leather conforms to your rear end, allowing “your seat bones to move ever so slightly.” Avoid highly cushioned seats, which, over time, condense and don’t allow your seat bones to move.
After you’ve packed in your sleeping bag, comfortable clothes (they don’t have to be Lycra), tent, food, water and tools, it’s time to choose where to go. The magazine Cycling Utah (CyclingUtah.com) has a useful article titled “Overnight Bike Tours from Salt Lake City,” by Lou Melini. For more detailed packing lists, maps and general tips, visit online sites for cyclists like AdventureCycling.org, WarmShowers.org and CrazyGuyOnABike.com. Now get out and get pedaling.Â