The tour that you are joining has been planned by one of the CTC Cycling Holiday’s experienced and approved tour leaders. The purpose of this page is to help you to prepare yourself for your trip.
There are a wide variety of holidays available, so the tips are of a general nature and your tour leader will have more specific details.
Cycling holidays can vary from a low cost camping weekend, to a three-week tour on the other side of the world but, broadly speaking, you can choose options from two categories:
Fixed centre or Moving on - with
Accompanying vehicle or Luggage transfer or
Carry your own luggage.
Fixed centre holidays offer rides from a single centre. Moving on tours involve cycling to a new place almost every day, though there are usually some ‘rest’ days included. Accompanying vehicle implies a support vehicle, which carries your luggage and meets you during the day, whilst Luggage transfer and Carry your own mean just that.
The level of fitness required, and the amount of equipment that you need to pack, varies tremendously between a fixed centre holiday and a moving on tour carrying your own luggage.
Preparing your body
If you are not accustomed to doing the distances planned for your tour, you should start a training programme well in advance, perhaps three or four months, and build up to the required distances. As a rough rule of thumb, when training, you should be able to double-your-distance. Thus, if you have cycled 10 miles recently, then you should be able to manage 20. If you feel comfortable with 20, you might try for 40. But if 20 was hard work, try 15, on several occasions, before your next increase.
If the tour involves carrying your own luggage, the rough rule is to halve-your-distance on the tour. Thus, if you have recently cycled some 40-mile days, without luggage, you should be comfortable riding 20 laden miles day after day. In this case you should also include riding a loaded bike in your training. With luggage, your bike will handle differently than usual, so it is essential to try out your bike fully laden before you leave. Find a quiet road for a trial ride and make sure that you feel comfortable.
Preparing your bike
Your local bike shop should be pleased to service your bicycle but it is important to describe your holiday so that the mechanic realises that your machine needs to be in top condition. Remember to visit them well before your departure as parts may need replacing and, if work has been necessary, your machine will need a ‘running in’ period.
Wheels should be true (ie not buckled) and have no side-to-side play in the hubs. Check there are no slack spokes.
Tyres should have plenty of tread and no signs of damage or serious wear, inner tubes should have no patches as these can lift in very hot weather.
Brakes should be effective with good brake blocks. Brake and gear cables should move smoothly and not be frayed or rusty.
Gears should work perfectly. If the chain tends to come off when selecting high or low gears, have this checked out and rectified.
Fixing nuts and bolts on mudguards and carriers should all be tight.
You and your bike
It is not a good idea to buy a new bike immediately before the tour. You need time to get used to a new machine and to make sure that everything is functioning perfectly.
As you prepare for the tour you should pay special attention to your riding position. Make sure that your saddle is at the correct height. It is important that there should still be a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is at the bottom of its path. A good way to judge this is to place your heel on the pedal and then, with the pedal at the bottom of the stroke, your leg should be straight without being stretched. Check your handlebars too: they should be about level with (or just a shade lower than) your saddle - and not so far from the saddle that you have to stretch. Try a few different positions until you feel comfortable.
The gears on your bicycle should be suitable for the terrain you will encounter. There is no enjoyment in struggling up hills. It is preferable to have a low gear in reserve than a high gear that you rarely use. Roughly speaking, if your cycle has a front sprocket and a back sprocket with the same number of teeth then you have a good low gear. However, your tour leader will advise you of the gear ratios you will need and your local bike shop should be able to fit these gears to your bike if this is necessary.
If your holiday uses air travel, the minimum you will have to do to your bike for the flight is to remove your pedals and turn the handlebars through ninety degrees. At least a week before you leave home make sure that the pedals can be unscrewed (the left pedal has a left-hand thread) and that the handlebars turn easily. To travel on European Bike Express you will also need to turn your bars. Your tour leader will give you more packing information if required.
Group riding skills
If you are not used to riding in a group you will need to be aware of other riders and be ready to shout out "Stopping" so that someone riding close behind doesn't ride into you if you need to stop. It is good practice to point out potholes or grids so that the person behind can avoid such obstacles. Be ready to ride in single file on busy or narrow roads and to form smaller groups if necessary.
Do keep your kit to a minimum. If you are carrying your own luggage then you will need your bags to be as light as possible. Even if your luggage is being transferred, you may still have to load and unload it yourself. Soft-shelled, waterproof bags, such as cycle panniers, will pack together easily, if space is limited, and protect your possessions, if open-topped vehicles are used.
If this is your first cycle tour, you are more likely to pack too much than too little. In this situation the remedy is often to have a good sort out after the first few days and to post the unneeded items home. Many items, such as shampoo, can be transferred to small plastic containers for travel.
Some panniers are guaranteed waterproof and if they are properly fastened then they will be. For other types, that don’t have integral rain covers, the use of strong plastic liners is often essential. Vulnerable items such as cameras and maps need their own plastic bags.
It is useful if at least one item of your cycling and evening clothing has a large secure pocket so that you can carry your passport, money, credit cards and insurance documents with you at all times. The alternative is a bum bag.
Remember to let your tour leader know if you are on any regular medication and to consult your doctor as to whether injections or tablets are advised before travelling to your chosen destinations.
Dept. of Health Health Advice for Travellers.
Foreign Office general advice on overseas travel.
Below is a sample kit list for a summer European tour which includes both hot Mediterranean and cold Alpine terrain. Extra kit will be needed for youth hostel or camping tours, or when you will be self-catering. Your tour leader will advise you of any special requirements for your own tour. If you are travelling with friends or family you might consider sharing some items.
sturdy pannier carrier
2 small panniers (or a large saddle bag)
rack bag &/or handlebar bag
lights for front & rear
zip ties, elastic bands
spare gear & brake cables
spare brake blocks
tool kit: (ie tyre levers, puncture repair outfit, adjustable spanner, allen keys, spoke key, chain link extractor)
2 new inner tubes
spare folding tyre
oil &/or grease
penknife with screwdriver and corkscrew
cycling top (jersey/T-shirt/shirt)
cycling shorts (lycra or loose-fitting)
socks & change of socks
underwear & change of underwear
2 pairs of thin gloves
light waterproof jacket or cape
(cooler climates: waterproof overshoes, trousers, hat)
thin windproof jacket/pullover/fleece
evening long sleeved top
evening long trousers
light shoes (sandals/trainers)
tooth brush & paste
sun block stick or cream
hotel list with phone numbers
pencil or pen
emergency phone numbers
cash & credit card
abroad: passport, E111 & holiday insurance
abroad: dictionary or phrase book
(spectacles/lenses & spares)
spare films or memory card
spare camera batteries or charger
plug adaptor for any electrics
mobile phone and charger
reading material and/or playing cards
emergency rations (peanuts/dried fruit/energy bars)
Strong plastic bags for vulnerable items
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