a person kicking off a bike on a busy city street at night

Training for a Long Distance Bike Ride: Everything You Need to Know

Adventure travellers and adrenaline junkies alike have made one travel trend boom with popularity in the last few years: cycling tours. From week-long trips through the French countryside to weekend expeditions across stretches of Route 66, bicycle travel seems to be on the rise. And for great reason!

Travelling a country by bike allows you to connect more deeply with the country: the landscape, the locals, and the culture, as well as with yourself. It takes commitment, adaptability, and a love for physical endeavours that leaves you feeling nothing but pride and accomplishment. Of course, some bicycle trips are harder than others, but they all present unique challenges and moments of awe that you’ll remember for a lifetime.

If you’re considering a cross-country bike trip, there’s a lot to consider. From destination to training, you’ll come to learn that there’s a lot more to think about than you likely thought.

Travel on: a cycling tour

How to prepare for a cross-country bike trip

Once you know where you want to go, it’s important to train your body and mind for your upcoming cross-country bicycle tour. Unfortunately, unlike other tours or travel styles, a bicycle tour requires training. Some require more training than others, but you’ll likely have to train at least a little bit regardless of your destination. The last thing you want is to get on the bike and have a miserable time because your body wasn’t prepared, so don’t take it lightly and get yourself in shape.

When it comes to preparing for a cross-country bike tour, here’s what you need to do:

Ride your bike

This should be the most obvious point of training for a bike tour. Riding your bike is crucial for ensuring a successful bicycle tour and, unfortunately, trying to prepare without a bike will be extremely difficult. The more you ride, the more prepared you are for long distance biking; it’s really as simple as that.

Ride with gear

Some cross-country biking trips will require you to come with heavy gear, such as camping bags, extra water and snacks, and your luggage. Needless to say, it all adds up in terms of weight. So, remember to practise biking with the heavy gear on board so your body can adjust to the added baggage.

Ride in the rain

Weather isn’t always cooperative. Unfortunately, there’s always the possibility of rain, heavy winds, fog, and extreme temperatures. Of course, if the conditions are very treacherous you shouldn’t be on the road biking, but it is a good idea to bike in sub-par conditions so you’re not caught off-guard if it does start to rain.

Ride on various terrains

Not all bike tours are on perfect roads 100% of the time. Perhaps one day you’re on a nicely paved road, and the next you’re on a bumpy trail through farm country in the middle of the Irish coast. Regardless of where you’re cycling, you’ll want to be prepared for different terrains. Compliment your road training with some off-roading and you’ll be more confident if things do get a bit bumpy.

A bike sits against a yellow wall
Get to know your bike inside and out before you embark on your journey | © Vadim Misyuchenko/Unsplash

Take a spin class

If you’ve got a busy schedule or the weather isn’t cooperating, a spin class can be a great way to stay on track with your training. Of course, a cross-country bike tour and a spin class are two different levels of activity, but the practise in physical endurance remains the same. Both activities work the same core muscle groups, along with your mental endurance, so no excuses – if you can’t bike outdoors, get to a spin class.

Review your itinerary

Knowing your itinerary can help you develop a more accurate and helpful training routine. You should know how far you’ll be biking each day, when you’re going uphill, and a rough idea of what the terrain will be like. It’s also a good idea to know what altitudes you’ll be biking at. Once you know these elements you can put together a training routine that will help you reach your goals and limit surprises during the actual bike tour.

A man rounds a corner on a road in Yablunytsia, Ukraine
With some simple training, you’ll be on the road in no time! | © Victor Xok/Unsplash

What to pack for a cross-country bike trip

As mentioned earlier, all bike tours are different. Some involve nighttime campsites, pitching a tent, and cooking your own food. Others include hotels, nightly dinners, and backup transport. But regardless of where you’re going or what type of bike tour it is, there are a few essentials you should always bring:

  • A great raincoat: The weather can change quickly, and you need to be able to stay warm and dry. Look for something that’s bright so people can see you, and one that allows for a bigger sweater to fit underneath in case it gets cold.
  • A high-quality helmet: Most tour companies won’t allow their riders to hit the road without a helmet, and for good reason. Get professionally fitted for a helmet and make sure it’s comfortable before leaving for the tour.
  • Cycling shoes: Lots of people wonder if they should purchase cycling shoes for their cross-country bike trip, and the answer is yes. These shoes are equipped to help make your ride more comfortable and increase your performance ability.
  • Bike saddle: Everyone’s preference for bike saddles is different, but most riders agree they make the ride more comfortable. Go to a bike store and test them out, but make sure you find one that’s just right for you.  
  • Biking gloves: Not only will biking gloves protect your hands from sun and cold, they’ll also help you keep a better grip on your handles and prevent soreness. It’s a simple thing to remember that will make a huge difference on the roads.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen: Don’t take the sun lightly. Sunburns can seriously ruin an otherwise awesome day and sunglasses help keep your vision clear in the bright light. Invest in both to protect yourself.

Where to go on a cross-country bike trip

This is the biggest thing to consider when planning a cross-country bike trip – where are you going to go? There are dozens of countries that are perfect for bike trips; from the weather to the terrain, it’s as if they were made for this method of travel. But where do you want to spend your time biking? Here are some of the top-rated destinations for cross-country bike tours:

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi

In recent years, Vietnam has become one of the most popular destinations for cyclists. The landscape is lush, the people are welcoming, and the food is delicious – so it’s really no wonder travellers have begun touring the country by bike. This style of tour allows you to connect deeply with the stunning Vietnamese landscape, so take your time and enjoy the never-ending views.

Iceland: Route 1 (or parts of it)

Iceland is a popular destination for more than just bicycle travel. However, thanks to the excellent maintenance and simplicity of the Route 1 highway, the island has become a popular destination for cyclists. With campgrounds and facilities around the entire country, amazing waterfalls, and charming villages, Iceland is an up and coming hotspot for cyclists. Plus, as one of the safest countries in the world, it’s ideal for every traveller.

A man rides a bike alone on a hilly road in Romania
Hitting the road on a cycling tour is an extremely rewarding experience | © David Marcu/Unsplash

Ireland: The Kerry Peninsulas, Cork to Tralee

If rolling hills, ocean mist, and stunning cliffs are appealing to you, a cycling tour through the dramatic landscape of Ireland might be your perfect fit. From beaches to castles, there’s no shortage of beauty or history throughout the Irish countryside. Not to mention the beer is fresh and you’re sure to make a friend or two in the charming local pubs or cobblestone streets. The cities have great nightlife and the countryside offers a relaxing getaway, so it’s a win-win.

Italy: Tuscany, Florence to Pisa

There may be nothing more relaxing and beautiful in this world than the Italian hillsides and historic vineyards of Tuscany. With endless amounts of wine, stunning museums, and cafes with the most delectable treats in the world, a bike trip through some of the most beautiful cities (and countrysides) of Italy should definitely be on your cycling bucket list. Great food, great wine, great sites to see – what more could you ask for?

For anyone considering a cross-country bike tour, you’re one adventurous traveller! Not only are you in for the trip of a lifetime, but you’re also taking on a challenge that very few people can say they’ve accomplished. As long as you do your research, pack the right gear, and train properly, you’re sure to have one of the best experiences a traveller could ask for.

Jesse is a blogger and content creator who loves travel, the outdoors, and her dog, Molly. When she isn't planning her next trip, she can be found watching Netflix documentaries, enjoying time by the water, or eating soft-serve ice cream. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or check out her blog.

A man cycling at sunrise or sunset along the Danube River in Budapest
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