Introduction to adventure cycling

[+] Choosing a bike

[+] Carrying your kit

Camping gear

Spares, repairs & tools

Where to go


Bikes on planes

Enjoying your tour

Safety and security




"Don't panic if things go wrong. Strangely, your most precious memories will be of hard hills, bad weather and equipment problems that some how came right."
Tim Barnes, adventure cyclist.

Fitness Take it easy Challenges
Food Drink Wild camping
Photography For women

Adventure Cycling Guide Cycle Touring Information Tim Barnes and Rowena Barnes


You don't have to worry too much about getting fit. This is particularly true for long tours, where you just ride yourself fit over the first two or three weeks. You may only do 50km a day for the first week, but this is no big deal. For shorter tours, it's a little more important to hit the ground running to make the most of your limited time.

Before you set off, just try and ride your bike as much as you can. Start with small runs and gradually work your way up. If you can get to a stage were you are reasonably comfortable doing runs of 100km unloaded, you will have done really well. (For the record, Rowena and I have never managed more than about 40km on training runs before our trips.)

Speaking from experience, if you want to avoid excitement, it's best if you don't spend the first day of your very first tour learning how to pedal a fully loaded bike. Before you set off, load your bike up and go away for a weekend as a shake down for the real thing.

Take it easy

Take it easy on your tour - it's not a race. Some people consistently manage 100+km a day. For the rest of us 70-80km per day is a more manageable figure. In the mountains or on very rough tracks this may drop to as low as 30-40km per day.

Do take rest days. About every 5-6 days is right for Rowena and I when we are on tour.

Don't be too reluctant to cheat. If it's taking longer than expected, or you are unwell, or you are just not enjoying the road, it's fine to chuck the bike on a bus or on the back of a truck and skip a 100km or so.


Listed below are some of the the main challenges you might have to face on tour, in rough order of increasing difficulty. While all of them can be tough, none of them are show stoppers. And in fact, these are things that will make your tour memorable - this is what adventuring is about:

Hill and mountains

Big hills can be daunting, but they're not that difficult to cope with. It's just a question of settling down in a low gear and grinding up them (don't use too higher gear - it's best to keep your pedals spinning). And it's not the end of the world if you have to get off and push. It may take a couple of hours, or in the case of a 4.000m pass in the Himalayas, a couple of days, but you will reach the top eventually. Then you get to whizz down the otherside. And the saving grace is that you are usually in stunning surroundings. Above about 2,500m you can expect to feel the effects of altitude and above 4,000m it can be very debillitating.


The problem with deserts is more psychological than physical - long miles of nothing at all and always a nagging worry about whether you have enough water. The heat is more of a problem when you stop - on the bike you always ahve a bit of a breeze to cool you. Pretty grim during the day, deserts can be very peaceful and very beautiful early in the morning and late in the evening.

Bad weather

Warm and wet is not much of a problem, you just wear shorts and a tee-shirt and dry out when the sun comes out. Cold and wet is a question of having the right gear - a good base layer, waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers. The main problem with a prolonged spell of wet weather is that after a couple of nights, all your camping gear gets wet and you really have to stay in hotels or guesthouses, which pushes up your costs.

Washboard tracks

Washboard tracks (gravel tracks that have become heavily corrugated bythe passage of vehicles) are a pain in the bum, literally, and are very hard work on a bike. There's no particular strategy for dealing with them, you just have to try and find the best line (often this is to be found at the very edge of the track). It helps if you have nice wide tyres and front suspension. After a day on washboard, I'm about ready to kneel down and kiss the next bit of tarmac.


A loaded bike is about as streamlined as a combine harvester, so headwinds are a real bette noir. Spending a day slogging into a strong headwind is mentally and physically debillitating. In fact, a really strong headwind is one of the few things that can stop you in your tracks on a bike. So, checking the prevailing wind direction when you are planning your tour is quite important.


Pedalling a loaded bike burns alot of calories. Cycling in the cold burns even more. After a few days on tour you rapidly appreciate that your body is a machine that you have to keep topped up with fuel. If you let it run out it simply stops working. This is known as "hunger knock" or "bonk" and it leaves you with barely enough energy to turn the pedals. At this point even roadkill starts to look appetising. To avoid hunger knock you just have to keep eating, a little and often. It doesn't matter much what you eat - you don't have to bother with expensive energy bars - anything you fancy will do. Keep some snack food handy in your bar bag.

In most places, getting enough food is not a problem, just a good excuse to sample the delights of the local cusine. In a few parts of Central Asia, Tibet, Russia and perhaps South America, getting and carrying enough food can be a problem. All you can do is stock up on what is available and make the best of it. Some of the things I have learned are: In developing countries you have to be careful about the food your buy from restaurants and cafes. Anything freshly cooked should be OK, but it's best to avoid any sort of salad unless you are sure it has been washed in safe water. You need to be equally careful with fruit, so water melon is OK, but grapes or cherries that have been washed in dodgy water aren't.


It is important to drink enough when you are cycling. If you are cycling in hot dry conditions or at altitude, it can be difficult getting enough liquid inside you to stay hydrated. When you take a leak, check the colour of your urine - it should be pale yellow. If it is dark yellow you are not drinking enough.

In developing countries, taking care over what you drink is a really important part of staying well. Bottled water is generally safe (check the seal has not been tampered with) but the plastic bottles mean it is not a very environmentally friendly option. Soft drinks (Coca-cola, Fanta) are OK, but they can be too fizzy and it can get expensive given the volumes you need to drink. Tap water may or may not be OK. So, for most of your drinking water you may have to rely on purifying stream water - see Water section of Camping Gear.

While coffee is pretty disgusting in most developing countries, tea is wonderful. One of the great pleasures of adventure cycling, is relaxing beside your tent with a large mug of tea after a long days pedalling.

Wild Camping

Wild or "stealth" camping is one of the great joys of cycle touring. In Europe, it's an essential alternative to expensive campsites. Else where it is often the only option.

Choosing your spot

I normally start looking for a good camp spot from mid afternoon onwards. The ideal wild camp meets three criteria:
  1. Out of sight of the road and any nearby habitation (particularly important in western Europe).
  2. Near running water.
  3. Plenty of cover - trees, bushes etc,
Try and pick land that nobody much cares about, e.g. communal woods, pockets of waste ground, large road verges, moorland etc, rather than farmers' fields. If it is obviously someone's land and they live nearby, ask before you pitch your tent.

Leave no trace

It should be a point of principle that when you leave your camp ground it should look as if you had never been there.
Dos and don'ts of wild camping are:


Here are the few things I've learned about photography and biking:

For Women

Blokes look away now.

In certain countries it can be difficult to obtain tampons and sanitary towels and in remote areas it can be difficult to dispose of them responsibly (they are quite difficult to burn). It's therefore worth considering using a Mooncup - see www.mooncup.co.uk.

Another problem is urinating in very open areas, where there are no trees, bushes or rocks to squat behind. The Shewee www.shewee.com is a funnel contraption that allows women to urinate standing up.

Copyright © Tim Barnes 2007