From time to time, when I mention bike touring, I get a question: Why bike tour?… Why travel by bike?…
One could quickly think of an exercise that the cyclist gets when touring. However, it might appear that motorized mode of travel is a lot better. You travel faster, so you cover more distance and see more. It is safer. You are protected by car’s body and all the safety features like seat belts and air bags. When you travel by bus or train, you don’t have to worry about driving, directions, etc.
So, on the surface, it appears that car, or other motorized travel, is a lot better than bike travel.
However, there are not so obvious benefits of bike touring that make it very enticing to travel by bike.
Obviously, you need to be in decent shape to do it. (And I don’t mean – you need to be an Olympic athlete.) Otherwise, you will not get any headway, or you will arrive at your daily destinations dead tired. And unable to do anything else.
Some bike touring blogs suggest that you don’t need any training. That you get in shape while you progress on your tour. However, I think they are written by young people, or people who are quite fir because of their lifestyle.
When you are young, you can get away with it. You get in shape quickly! Your body recovers quickly! For middle-aged and older people, I would advise doing some training before the tour. Especially, if you are not a life-long cyclist.
But let’s get to the benefits of bike travel…
Increased Human Contact
One of them is contact with other people. When you travel by bike, you get to talk to many more people than you would if you traveled by car. In some areas it is because people there do not see too many cyclists bike touring through their area. So, when they see one, they are curious, where you are going from and to… Why are you traveling by bike?… How can you fit all your gear (kit) in “those small bags” attached to your bike?… For many, it is such an alien, to them, difficult and hard to even imagine way of travel, that they have to ask about it. On the other hand, I’ve run into people, who just want to share their, usually much smaller, bike adventures.
In many popular areas, the locals, simply hide inside, when the hoards of car tourists arrive, but an unusual bike tourer will spark their curiosity.
So, when you bike travel, you will have a greater human interaction, than during car travel.
You can often ride your bike, where cars are not allowed. Often, when touring in the vicinity of one of the Great Lakes, I ride my bike straight to the beach. I don’t have to worry about crowded parking, or long access trails. Usually, there are no restrictions for bikes. Once, I hit sand, I have to walk it. But I can park it right by the water and don’t have to worry about my stuff.
In Europe, you can ride into, often, closed to motorized traffic city centers. In many countries, there are dedicated bike paths or trails, which often go through some scenic areas. Usually, the scenery is more interesting, that the one you see from a car’s window while driving on a freeway.
Often, in the cities, bike trails go through parks, along the water front. (Detroit, Chicago, Traverse City, etc.)
If your budget is limited, traveling by bike might be the right choice. It, definitely, is cheaper, because you don’t need fuel. The bike is much cheaper than a car (or car rental).
Just “google” some world bike touring blogs, and you will read stories of people bike traveling for months on a small budget.
Most money is spend on accommodations and food. You can make it really cheap if you camp in the wild, or stay at WarmShowers accommodations or hostels and avoiding hotels, motels and campgrounds. You cook your own meals instead of going to bars and restaurants.
Now, you might think that this is great when you tour in some third world countries, where everything is cheap. However, I found some blogs where cyclists toured some expensive areas of the world like California. When I looked at their expense report, it seemed unbelievably low and hard to believe. But when I looked at their itemized expenses, I realized that the numbers were correct. So, it can be done!
When you bike travel, you definitely get the daily dose of exercise. You burn a lot of calories. Even at moderate amount of daily riding, you can expect to burn 3,000 – 4,000 calories. After a while, you will have more energy. Your contact with natural environment will increase, and your stress level will go down.
Clean Living and Environmentally Friendly Travel
Traveling by car definitely adds to global pollution levels and global warming. On the other hand, traveling by bicycle is environmentally friendly. No exhausts, no carbon emissions. Reduced noise pollution, congestion in the cities and traffic on the road. So, if you are environmentally conscious, if you are concerned with global warming, you might want to consider travel by bicycle.
Support Local Economy
So, if you think about it, bike travel supports local economy. When you travel by car, the stops are spaced further and are not as frequent. It’s not only food that you consume, but also the accommodations where you stay overnight. It could be a campground, motel, b&b. It all depends on your preferences and budget. Even if you are on a budget, you still have to eat, and you probably eat a lot more than your car traveling counterpart, because your burn a lot more calories.
See More World
When you travel by bike, just because you are moving a lot slower than in a car, you have more time to observe the surroundings. So you see more. I have noticed it even when riding in my neighborhood. I notice more details about familiar neighbors’ houses. Things that I did not see before, even though I drive by them everyday.
Also, there is something about not having that piece of glass between you and the world, that connects you more to it, and let you see more.
This should not be the reason to get out and travel by bike. But, once you do, you’ve earned it. One of my bike touring partners worked in a small office, where the rest of the co-workers did not do anything adventurous, or close, to her bike touring escapades. Even though our bike tours were nothing extreme. On the contrary, they were weekend, or week long, moderate in efforts and moderate, as far as location is concerned, tours. However, she was viewed in the office as an adventurer.
After all, it’s all relative. If you told, a group of Mt. Everest climbers that you just bike tour some steep hills in the Finger Lakes area of Upstate New York, they would not think much of it. However, when you tell it to people, who usually spend their vacations on one of the local or distant beaches, or resorts, they might be impressed.
Now, I have to warn you here, that bike travel is addictive! Most people that I know, who got into bike touring got really hook on it! Sometimes, some of them initially even think that it is not for them. They think that they won’t like it. But then after a one or few trips they cannot stop doing it.
Let me bring an anecdotal story here. I was organizing a week-long tour in Quebec, and was trying to convince a friend to go. She was reluctant. She liked biking, but hated any hills. I, not knowing yet much about our route and how hilly it will be, told here that it will be pretty flat ride. She decided to give a try. The route proved to be quite hilly. She completed the tour and got hooked! Since then, we rode many other trips and climbed many other hills. When I go on local bike tours, she is most often my partner.
So, be careful! In the beginning, it might be painful! It might be uncomfortable! But soon, if you can tolerate some fatigue, sweat, dirt, you will get hooked. Then, once you finish one tour, you will start dreaming about another!
If you are on your way there, or if you are already there, happy riding! And maybe we run into each other one of these days somewhere out there!
If you are considering it, or already went through and are seasoned bike traveler, please, share you experiences and comments below.
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If you are interested in reading more about gear needed for bike touring, here are the links:
I you would like to read about my recent bike touring trips, the links are below:
- Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Beaver Island
- Bike Touring Upstate New York – Finger Lakes
- Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Grand Rapids – Holland – Muskegon Loop
- Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Tip of the Thumb