Touring Tips for Cycling Across Canada

There are plenty of great articles on how to plan a bike tour which focus on route planning, gear, nutrition, training and other sensible things like that. But many of them are free of the nitty-gritty of what it’s actually like on the road, especially over such a long distance.

The best tip I found before setting off on my tour was from a guy who had fielded questions about all of the sensible logistical aspects of a tour mentioned above;

Take chilli sauce for flavour, and popcorn as a small quick and lightweight snack.

The following ten tips are advice in the same vein, taken from my own meandering experience across Canada last summer. I’d have given myself this advice before I set off if I could.

Don’t Underplan

It’s possible to point your bike in a direction, and to figure out the route as you go based on what piques your interest. This means a starting point is technically all that’s needed for a tour. But this approach won’t suite most people, so an end point and a route between the two are the minimum. Knowing roughly where you need to be and when, and what the route might look like to get there is a good way of avoiding stress.

Don’t Overplan

You’ve got to allow for spontaneity and unexpected demands on your time, because they’ll happen. Sometimes these will come in the form of a closed road or a fallen tree blocking a bike path; other times it will be wanting to spend a couple of extra days in a particularly beautiful place, or to stay with a good host just that little bit longer.

Use Warmshowers

Warmshowers™ is ‘A community of bicycle tourists, and those who support them’. Just shy of 65,000 people around the world are willing and ready to host cycle tourists passing through their hometown.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of going-off-grid-with-only-a-tent-and-a-tin-opener to spending-each-night-in-a-motel-with-an en-suite-and-a-hot-tub, Warmshowers will have something that appeals to you. Home comforts, good company, people who share the love of bike touring and won’t ask questions like “you’re doing what?” or “are you mad?!”.

Occasional Maintenance

Nuts and bolts have a distressing habit of gradually loosening themselves, especially ones on pannier racks. Taking an allen key and a spanner and checking all your fittings once every few days or so is a great way to nip problems in the bud. Problems like your pannier rack falling off in the middle of a town and distributing your belongings all over the road.

Respect the Elements

I ride topless whenever the weather allows. It’s liberating and the tan becomes a badge of honour; the bronzer you are, the more miles you’ve ridden. I also consider sunburn a rite of passage that comes with this approach, because I forget to buy sun tan lotion until my gently sizzling skin reminds me to at the end of the first sunny day.

Keep your helmet on when you go into shops

People talk to you when they see you with your bike. You’re novel, you’re intriguing, and you might even be a physical manifestation of their subconscious urge for adventure.

These conversations are always fun; you swap stories from the road for their local knowledge, and sometimes for offers of dinner or accommodation. I found these chats were more likely and frequent while near the bike or when wearing a helmet, so I made the decision to keep it on in shops most days.

Allow yourself some downtime

That said, you don’t have to talk to every person, or appreciate every view. Some days you’ll feel like hiding behind a book in your tent, or recharging your batteries in whatever way works for you.

One day, fifty days into my tour and after a lot of punctures in a short space of time, I caught myself getting annoyed with people for talking to me, then realised a rest was probably in order. The next day I felt fine again.

A place for everything and everything in its place

I think being on tour is the tidiest and most organised I’ve ever been. Tidy bags and good camp routine mean mean everything feels slick, and you have all the time on the road to refine your setup.

By the end of our tour the process of setting up camp and cooking dinner was seamless, and I could find everything I needed in my tent in the dark in the middle of the night, if I needed to.

Track your miles

Seeing a line on a map get longer and a tally of miles getting bigger, gives a sense of accomplishment like nothing else I’ve experienced. I used a Garmin for specific mileage, but a red line drawn on a map with estimated distance is just as motivating.

Be humble

Your ride is primarily for you. Enjoy it, don’t boast about it, and be proud of it. It’s an accomplishment whether you rode 20 miles or 20,000 miles.

Chris LeeAnd a bonus eleventh tip; enjoy yourself.

As you tour you’ll notice things about your gear, your bike, yourself. These will build into confidence and routine, and will put you in a position to share your own tips with other people, whether they are would-be tourers or seasoned pros with thousands of miles under their belts.

What you’re almost guaranteed to find is a community of kind, curious and generous people who want to share their passion for what they love.