Bike Tours for Beginners

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 5, 2001 -- Whether you take to your 10-speed to raise money for cancer research or join a comparatively luxurious private bike tour group, road trips lasting several days are a great way to see the world and get some exercise.

It may sound grueling. Truth is, however, properly prepared, almost anyone can participate in a multiday biking tour.

It's easy to get on board with an organized bike tour. Virtually every state sponsors a multiday biking tour, such as the BRAG, or Bicycle Ride Across Georgia. Many not-for-profit foundations also sponsor biking tours as a way of raising money and awareness of their causes. For those who prefer the luxury of having their details planned, their luggage carried for them, and the option of hopping into a van if they get too tired, private companies like Backroads, of Berkeley, Calif., offer ready-made biking tours all over the world.

Jason Conviser, PhD, FACSM, is an exercise physiologist who is vice president of clinical services for Bally Total Fitness at its headquarters in Chicago. When his clients approach him with an interest in participating in a multiday biking tour, he encourages them to go for it and to be sure they're properly prepared, so that they can enjoy the trip instead of merely surviving it.

"You're there to have fun," he says. "Quite often, there's so much anticipation and so much desire to do well that fun is forgotten."

According to Conviser, if you're going to have fun on your biking trip, you need to train for weeks in advance, about twice as hard as how you'll be biking on the trip itself. So, if you're going to be biking 10 miles a day on your trip, get pedaling 15 or 20 miles a day during training.

Also, be sure to mimic the conditions you'll be under as closely as possible. If you train on a stationary bike in a gym, for example, see if you can adjust the resistance to simulate hills and mountains.

Adding weight training really builds endurance, so include it in your workout. If you'll be biking at a higher elevation than where you're training, remember that you won't perform as well on the tour because there's less oxygen in mountain air.

Make sure you know your route (hopefully, it won't be thick with cars and traffic) and be certain you are familiar with the planned rest stops. Keep in mind, you'll be doing more than resting, as you'll need to replace lost fluids, stretch, and check yourself to be sure no injuries are developing.

And when body and mind are set to go, take some time to learn how your equipment works and what it takes to keep it in good running condition, too. Meg Lynch, a trip leader and consultant for Backroads, says that the most common mechanical pitfalls are flat tires and chains falling off. You can fix both of these mishaps on the road if you have the know-how and tools.

During the trip, you might need to do a few repairs on yourself as well. The most common injuries are "road rash" on your knees and legs from falls. If you're not with an all-inclusive tour, be sure to bring the equipment you need to take care of minor mechanical problems and injuries.

Both Conviser, and Lynch agree that the most important thing to remember while on a biking tour is to keep drinking water. No one ever seems to hydrate enough. You need to drink water continually before, during, and after a ride. Lynch suggests using a water bladder, where fluid in a flexible bag and holder is strapped to your back, and a tube from the bladder is conveniently located next to your mouth while you ride.

Some other key things to bring and use on a bike tour include the following:

  • A helmet;
  • A baseball cap to wear under the helmet or sun visor to wear over it;
  • Sun block;
  • A buddy;
  • A rain jacket and pants;
  • High-energy snacks;

Conviser adds that if you want to feel good after a bike tour, you need to make sure you recover properly. After resting for a day or two, get back on your bike for some gentle riding, to make sure your muscles don't stiffen up. This is also a good time to begin a new sport, like running or swimming, to start exercising your muscles in a new way. Don't think of a bike tour as a one-time event but as one piece of an overall healthy lifestyle.