Five Things I’ve Learned from Bicycle Touring

riding bikes in new englandI am not the most experienced touring cyclist. If you want expert advice from a seasoned veteran, I’d only be able to offer up tips from my three or four tours over the past six years.

However, I love cycling, and I’m a critical thinker. While I might not be able to tell you from personal experience how to tour the alps or what to bring on a trans-Siberian journey, I can tell you what I’ve learned from touring.

When you’re touring on your bike, you have a lot of time to think. Your fellow bikers will be far ahead or behind sometimes, and it’s just you and the road. In these moments, you might learn a lot about yourself.

Of course, touring is all about learning. You’ll learn about new places, new cultures, new cycling methods and you might even gain a new outlook on your own body and physical ability.

Additionally, there are a few principles you might think about on your trip that you can apply directly to other areas of your life. While you might have heard some of the relatively common themes of human nature before, you might see them differently after experiencing them firsthand on the road.

What I’ve Learned From Bicycle Touring

Here are the five most important things bike touring might teach you about life.

It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination

Before I rode my first tour, I was tired of hearing people tell me this. As a snarky 18-year-old, I tagged along with friends on Bike Ride Across Georgia (BRAG). I was always moving fast and hastily making my way through college in Boston at the time, and the weeklong tour certainly took my mind off of things.

For the first few days, I had the destination in mind. I felt as though I was working on an assignment or sitting through a movie, where the conclusion is the major payoff.

At the end of day three, I realized that I was riding through a state I had never visited previously, and I decided to take in the scenery a bit and stop focusing on where I would end up.

Take it from me (and all the old people who would agree) – enjoying the scenery is the most important part. At the end of the tour I felt a sense of accomplishment, but only because I had actively enjoyed the journey for what it was. Now, I apply this to my life every day.

Everything is Temporary

The longer you’re your, the more this principle will apply. Whether it’s an especially hot day or an especially steep hill, the challenges on your journey will ebb and flow and you’ll simply have to deal.

When you’re forced to deal with hardship, you can only look forward. That’s when you realize that everything is temporary. Each challenge you face on your tour will soon be replaced by a new situation or environment, and you have to keep going to reach it.

As in life, no situation is permanent, and sometimes you have to keep pushing through to get to a better place.

Love Thy Neighbor

Especially in the United States, we live as an individualist society. We only look out for our own best interest and that of our immediate family. However, on my first tour, I experienced a sense of community that I had never even witnessed before.

People riding BRAG and organized tours like it are so kind to each other without any expectation for a returned family. I grew up as an only child, and although my childhood was enjoyable, I never had the big-family experience—until I started touring.

When you’re out on the road and away from the usual comforts, you’re vulnerable. For that reason, it’s important that your group sticks together. If someone needs help, you should stop what you’re doing and help him or her.

Without doing so, their life could be on the line. Most likely, it will be your instinct to help, and you can only hope that someone else would do the same for you.

Money Can’t Buy Everything

Whether you’re on your first tour or your hundredth, there will always be the guy decked out in the most expensive gear. Or, maybe you’re that guy. Whoever it is, that guy spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars in preparation for this one trip.

He’ll be the guy who is:

  • Wearing only the most expensive gear
  • Frequently talking about his gear
  • Practically falling over with the weight of his unnecessary camping and survival gear
  • Trying to stay ahead of the group

Will he be more comfortable in unexpected conditions, such as rain? Yes, his Gortex insulated high-tech cycling jacket will be perfect. Does it mean he’s a better cyclist? Absolutely not!

It’s easy to go overboard when you’re getting ready for a tour, but remember that spending a lot of money on unnecessary items will not make it more enjoyable. Being in shape, having the right attitude and challenging yourself are the best ways to have a good time.

Pack light, and never get discouraged by the guy in the fancy clothes. 

There’s No Place Like Home

At some point in your tour, you might wish you could click your shiny red heels together and wake up comfy in your own bed at home. When the daydream is over and look down at your muddy clip shoes and aching legs, you’ll realize you still have a while to go.

Use this moment to inspire to move forward at the time, but also use it to really appreciate the comforts of your home when you return.

A warm bed, a stocked fridge and fresh water are luxuries. We tend to take them for granted, but a nice, long, strenuous bike tour can help us remember our roots.

No matter what level you’re at in your touring, spending so much time alone on a bicycle will really get you thinking. Biking is a beautiful thing, and many of its principles can be applied to other areas of your life.

These are the five most important things I’ve taken away, but I’d love to hear about yours. Share int he comments below!


About Leanne

Leanne is a writer and musician living in Boston. Her interest in cycling was born when she realized how convenient biking in the city was, and it has evolved from there. Whether biking down the street for dinner or across the city for band practice with a bass on her back, Leanne has become an avid urban biker.

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