Bike tour planning advice
Here's a list of questions I get asked frequently by people planning bike tours:
How much was food and accommodation?: This really depends on how much you are willing to slum it. When I cycled across America with my friend Harry, we only paid for one night of accommodation in a motel in Vegas, so our living costs were just food, which we could get for about $5/day. In Asia, food costs are probably half this and in Europe, about the same. Again, this very much depends on if you want to eat fancy stuff or not but you can get a balanced diet including meals with meat for this price. In countries like China, it's just as cheap to eat out - you can get a meal for 50p-£1 quite easily.
What's a ballpark figure for costs: Very dependent on how much you can slum and where you travel, but here's an estimate based on a trip similar to mine (9 1/2 months round the world):
- Flights across Atlantic and Pacific: £1,100
- Visas for 10 countries: £500
- Living cost per day (based on living pretty cheaply): £4
- Accommodation allowance (for the days where you need comfort and for the times you'll need to spend a few days in cities): £10 per week
- Bike repairs: £250
- Bike and equipment costs before you go (you may already have some of this): £2,000
- And a bit for the unplanned expenses you're bound to encounter: £500
Total cost = £1,100 + £500 + £4 x 300 + £10 x 42 + £250 + £2,000 + £500 = £5,970
People have lived on less than this, but most people would probably spend a bit more, so this is just a guideline!
What about visas?: Visas are a significant expense if you travel in Asia. Check out the Notes on visas page on this site for information on the countries I went to (note that this is about 2 years old now). In general you'll need to budget at least $80 for Central Asian countries and China with a European or US passport - Turkey is cheaper, or free - depending on your passport. Most Asian passport holders will have to get visas to enter Europe and America. The lonely planet thorn tree forum is a great source of information. Bear in mind that just because I (or someone else you know) managed to get a visa, doesn't necessarily mean that you will because it's very much up to the official that you see on the day. Also political situations in places like Central Asia change on a weekly basis so keep an eye on what's going on, again the thorn tree forum is a good source, or try and find blogs of people you are travelling where you want to go.
How far should I plan to go each day?: Depends on your fitness and how much of a rush you're in. In general though if you're going to go on a long tour, you'll be pretty fit after a few weeks of riding. I reckon it's best to plan a few weeks of relatively short days at the beginning and then build it up a bit. Here's a guideline of possible distances and how much time you'll have (based on an average day - obviously big climbing days or days spent on terrible road surfaces will be less than this).
- 50 miles: A pretty easy distance on a bike for a fit person to cover in a day. If this is your average target, you'll probably have enough time to stop when you want, look around, have longer evenings off and not get up at the crack of dawn.
- 70 miles: A very do-able distance but a difficult average. This is about what I did and if you plan it well you'll still have time for evenings off and lunch in a cafe or two. You may do an 85 mile day one day, then a 55 mile the next. This is a good target for someone who doesn't have an unlimited amount of time but wants to see the places they travel through.
- 90 - 100 miles: Possible for very fit people. I did these distances a few times on a few days back to back, but it isn't really sustainable for a long tour if you want to take time off, sightsee and relax. If you're just up for racing through a country though, it's possible for sure.
- 100 miles + per day: You have to be a bit of a nutcase, prepared to spend a bit more on food and accommodation because you wont have time to cook and you'll need comfort. You'll also need a lightweight bike and you'll have very little time to see anything other than the main roads you'll have to ride along. Either that, or superhuman... It's possible though, and many people who've gone for the round the world record have done it for months on end.
What time of year should I go?: This depends very much on where you are, what equipment you have, and how uncomfortable you are prepared to be. It is possible to go pretty much anywhere at any time of year but obviously good planning can make your progress a lot easier. People have cycled across Siberia in winter (Al Humphreys + Rob Lilwall) and across Central Asian deserts in the middle of summer (me and many others) but it isn't pleasant. In general though, I would say it is easier to deal with very hot temperatures than very cold ones, providing you can get water. Here's a rough guide:
- Europe: possible pretty much at any time of year, although high mountain roads are closed in winter.
- Asia: High roads in Himalayas, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China... definitely best to avoid in winter although if you're a nutcase, you may get through some of them, if they're kept open. The deserts of Central Asia and China are passable in mid-summer but expect midday temperatures approaching 50 degrees Celsius and take a hat! People have passed these deserts in the winter too but I imagine that to be very tough. Watch out for sandstorms in the Gobi desert in spring and autumn. In general, you'll need at least 4 months to cross Asia - most people take longer than this - so if you can plan to start in spring and end in autumn, that is probably the best timeslot.
- America: The southern states are possible to pass any time of year but the high altitude bits, like in Arizona, will be cold - expect freezing nights and snow. If you want to pass through Yosemite, then Tioga Pass shuts at the first big snowfall of the year, usually late October - November time. Death Valley is very very hot in the summer, so if you want to cycle through then make sure you plan properly and take enough water. I didn't cycle through the northern states, but the snowstorms can be very serious and you wouldn't want to be caught up in one. In general, I'd say go for a southern route in winter and go anywhere in summer.
How did you get sponsored: I basically just sent out a few hundred emails to various companies, offering them my photos and telling them that I'd mention them in any interviews/articles that I was in during the ride. I wouldn't spend ages doing this, just get some email addresses and copy and paste an email body asking telling them what you're planning to do, offering to review their product and mentioning specifically which product you would like and why it would be good for you. I wouldn't waste your time asking for money. You have to be doing something that will have a lot of coverage if you want money, which means you need to be a celebrity or doing something very unusual, like being the first or fastest person to do something. Get a letter together and email it off - I wouldn't bother posting it, because most companies won't even reply and those who do will mostly say no. If you get 1 in 50 yes replies, you're doing well.
Is it easy to get a bike on a plane?: Yes! Just go to a bike shop in the city you're planning to fly from and pick up a cardboard packing box - they get loads when the bikes are delivered. Take the wheels and handlebars off and put it in the box. If you have disc brakes, make sure you wedge something between the pads, otherwise they're a nightmare to separate. Also DEFLATE YOUR TYRES, otherwise they may blow up. Some airlines allow bikes that aren't packed away on board, but check with their website on that.
How much planning did you do?: Not a huge amount, I had a route planned, but it changed quite a bit due to visa difficulties. There's only so much you can do. You should work out which borders you can cross and where, which visas you need and roughly how long it will take to cross each country. Also plan in detail the "critical" stages, such as high mountains or desert crossings. Give yourself a bit of time in hand for getting to flights and crossing borders before your visa expires. Consider overlapping visa start and end dates if you can to allow a bit of flexibility.
Did you train much: No. Unless you're planning to break a record, your body will learn on the job! Just get a reasonable fitness level before you leave and make sure your knees work OK!
Anything else I should know?: Learn how to fix your bike - it's important you can fix anything that might got wrong and work out which tools you will need to take. Go and speak to your local bike shop if you're unsure.
That's pretty much it... my book is full of tips, so why not treat yourself to a copy!
Please feel free to ask me any other specific questions by email and I will answer them pretty quickly: