In the 4 years Mike Deme has been leading road tours for Adventure Cycling (406/721-1776, MT), he’s seen his charges make lots of mistakes. Some errors were minor, but others ruined a long-planned vacation. All were avoidable. Here, Deme outlines the most common goofs, then offers solutions.
MISTAKE #1/ON-TOUR TRAINING
“Some people figure they can get in shape on the first week of a road tour. They find out pretty quickly that they should have done it earlier.
“The best approach, if you haven’t been riding much, is to start training 2-3 months before the trip. Start by riding 15 or 20 miles a day, 3 times a week. Raise your mileage 10% per week. The slow, gradual approach is always best.
“Look at your trip itinerary and find your longest day. If it’s 90 miles you should work up to about 70 miles in training. While touring, you can ride about twice as far in a day as you’ve ever ridden while training. But do some long training days anyway to see how your body reacts.”
MISTAKE #2/SAME-SPEED TRAINING
“Don’t just do distance. You need some variation. Intervals are great once you start getting in shape. Try riding all out for 2 minutes then rest for 3 minutes, ride hard for 2 minutes, and so on. Mix it up or you’ll get bored silly.”
MISTAKE #3/IGNORING THE MENTAL
“Be mentally prepared. I’ve seen a lot of people quit a tour because they let things get to them. It’s not a physical problem. You have to be prepared to face difficult times and work through them. You have to convince yourself that you’ll keep going.”
MISTAKE #4/NOT GETTING LOADED
“If you’re going on a camping trip, do at least 2 training rides with the bike fully loaded, especially if you’ve never ridden with panniers. The extra weight changes your bike into a different beast, stability- and handling-wise.
“You have to brake earlier because your bike’s heavier. And you have to stay on top of the bike more in turns. If you lean the bike too low, your front panniers can hit the ground. Also be careful on rough roads, because the initial shock on your wheels is greater with the added weight.”
MISTAKE #5/NEGLECTING BUTT AND HANDS
“Get a comfortable saddle, even if it’s heavy. Chamois salve works for some people, but baby powder is great, especially at night, to keep yourself dry. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing to do but struggle through a miserable break-in period. It usually lasts about 3-4 days. If you’ll be renting a bike, take your own saddle.
“As for hands, padded gloves are great, but moving your hands around on the handlebar is the key. I advocate a drop handlebar, but a mountain bike with bar ends or an aero bar works, too.”
MISTAKE #6/RIDING THE WRONG BIKE
“A touring bike is still the best, although we’re seeing more mountain bike-style frames. Hybrids are not so good. Their geometry tends to be too racing-oriented and they don’t necessarily have braze-ons for racks.
“A 3-chainring setup is a necessity. With 2 rings, you just can’t relax on the climbs–you have to stand. Smooth-tread tires are a must, too.”
MISTAKE #7/CARRYING TOO MUCH
“Take as little stuff as possible. Using something once in a month isn’t a good reason to take it. On a 2-week self-contained trip, 35 to 40 pounds of gear should be all you need. Once you’re packed for 2 weeks, you’re packed for 3 months. You just reuse stuff.
“People tend to take too many clothes, overcompensating for the weather. You don’t need a windbreaker, a rain jacket, and an in-between jacket. Just be ready for heat, rain, and cold. With advances in clothing, especially in underwear, you can get away with carrying a lot less.”
MISTAKE #8/DIET OBSESSION
“Eat well, because you’re cranking. But don’t get anal about the whole thing. I’ve seen vegetarians ride strongly and I’ve seen people who eat total garbage ride strongly. A lot of it’s mental. If you’re convinced your diet will affect your riding, it might.
“Don’t tour to lose weight. You need a lot of carbohydrate. But you also need fat and protein. Your body burns through carbohydrate fast and then goes right to fat. You’ve got to replace it. Also, carry 2 large water bottles. You can never have too much water. I bring a powdered drink mix, too.”
As a veteran tour guide for Western Spirit Cycling (800/845-2453), Steve Fenn has led off-road trips in Baja, Mexico; the Klamath National Forest in Northern California; Moab, Utah; and other places. Here’s his view on avoiding the mistakes that mar off-road vacations.
MISTAKE #1/POOR WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION
“People tend to sit on their butts and lean on their hands too much, so I tell them to keep their pedals level and rise 6-8 inches off the seat for tricky terrain. Bend your elbows and knees, and get your weight over the rear tire for descents.”
MISTAKE #2/TENSING UP
“Relax. Riders tend to put too much pressure on their hands. You have to keep a light grip. I demonstrate by cruising along, removing my hands, and showing that I don’t fall forward. Keeping a tight grip also lessens the shock to your elbows and shoulders.”
MISTAKE #3/HEAVY SHIFTING
“When mountain biking, you need to avoid crunching the gears. Do this by lightening the pedal load before a shift. Don’t hit an uphill and expect the gears to change when you’re applying a lot of pressure to the pedals. The best tactic is to shift before you get to a hill, not after. And you must avoid cross-chain gears (large chainring/largest cog or small ring/smallest cog).”
MISTAKE #4/FRONT-BRAKE PHOBIA
“Many people are told never to use their front brake going downhill, but that’s just not true. The front brake supplies the majority of your stopping power. It’s very powerful. You need to use both brakes. Particularly in a straightaway, you can use both confidently. An exception: In a loose corner, lighten up on the front brake.”
MISTAKE #5/SLOW CADENCE
“Don’t be afraid to use first gear. Ned Overend uses his all the time. If you’re working hard and you get to a flat spot, don’t always feel that you have to shift up. Use it as an opportunity to spin and recover. When you’re on a tour, you’ve got to look at the big picture. Pace yourself so you’ll survive the whole day. Spinning helps promote blood flow and makes it easier to recover. You’re not in a race.”
MISTAKE #6/IMPROPER CORNERING
“Lean your bike but keep your body upright. Push down on your outside pedal, and push the front tire directly into the ground. That really helps cornering traction. It’s like skiing, where you’re trying to carve a turn and put your weight into the edges.”
MISTAKE #7/POOR UPHILL STARTS
“Starting on a hill can be a challenge. Put the rear brake on to prevent going backward, then put one pedal up in the power position–between top center and horizontal. Release the brake and apply pedal pressure slowly, not like a piston, so you won’t spin out. Don’t worry about getting the other foot into the pedal or clips until you’re underway.”
MISTAKE #8/NOT DRINKING AND EATING ENOUGH
“Drinking a large bottle per hour is a good rule of thumb for mountain biking in the sun. A CamelBak drinking system is even better. People always tell me, ‘I know my body and I just don’t drink much.’ But it’s not true. They need more fluid than they think. I always carry extra bottles for guests who run out. On tour don’t worry about the weight as much. Always carry more water than you think you’ll need.
“Some people aren’t used to eating on the bike to get through a day of touring. They think it will produce discomfort. But if you’re out longer than 2 hours, you must eat. Practice it ahead of time so you know what your body will tolerate. Breakfast is absolutely essential. It starts the fire going.”
MISTAKE #9/POOR BIKE FIT
“Women have proportionally smaller upper bodies, so they may need a shorter top tube or stem. Also, some people want a wide, soft saddle for a long off-road tour. But once you’re on a hill or in technical terrain, a big saddle will prevent you from using body English. You’ll be more efficient with a narrow saddle that enables you to move around.”
MISTAKE #10/LEAVING THE TOOL KIT BEHIND
“Touring companies generally carry equipment, but you should carry the essentials anyway: pump, patch kit, tube, and multitool. Make sure everything works. And carry identification.”