When your long-distance rides just aren’t long enough, it might be time for you to tackle a multi-day bike camping tour. But be warned, there’s far more to touring than just crushing mileage. In fact, many cyclists, even extremely athletic ones, struggle with the transition. You’ll have to adjust your equipment, your riding style, and even your mind in order to conquer this challenge. Here’s our advice:
Preparation is Everything
While the notion of waking up one morning, picking a direction, and riding off into the sunset is a romantic one, bike tours aren’t road trips, and you’ll need to start planning far ahead of even the most fastidious car-camping excursion if you want your tour to be successful. Before you even pick your destination, start by deciding the timeline of your tour. Most intermediate and even advanced riders embarking on their first out-of-town journey should really consider starting with a trip lasting 3 days or less.Now it’s time for some tough introspection: How many miles are you willing to subject yourself to per day? Most seasoned tourers recommend a window of between 40 and 70 miles per day in about 5–7 hours of on-bike time, but that comes with a pretty steep caveat. Do not, under any circumstances, underestimate the toll that consecutive days of high-mileage riding can take on even the most athletic rider. Push yourself too far past your limits, and you could find yourself injured and stranded in the middle of nowhere. Do your best to train with a realistic amount of miles in-town in more controlled conditions, and if you can, try to train on back to back days to familiarize yourself with the endurance you’ll need. Don’t forget to consider terrain—while Minnesota is fairly flat, hillier rides will reduce your overall mileage.
After you’ve roughed out a daily average that feels safe for your skill level, congrats, you are now permitted to start choosing your destination. Some of our favorite shorter tours from the Twin Cities Metro include Willow River State Park in Wisconsin, Red Wing (Beware, the terrain gets very hilly), and Taylors Falls. Many campsites in state parks will make it a priority to help bike campers out, some even will allow you to camp when their site is full for car campers, but make sure you check with park staff in advance and reserve your site whenever possible. Some parks, such as Carver Park Reserve will even have reservation-free, bike-only camp areas for a discounted rate.
With your destination in mind, it’s time to draw up a route. We favor a hybrid approach of starting with digital tools like Google Maps (make sure to switch the settings so you’re using their bicycling directions) and then copying that route onto an old-fashioned paper map (laminated maps are better) as a backup plan for areas with poor cell service. Going the wrong way for several miles is considerably more taxing on a bicycle. Touring for any significant distance will necessitate a lot of miles along the shoulder of country roads and two-lane highways, but do your best to utilize Minnesota’s robust state trail system whenever possible. While these trails won’t always be the most direct routes, they’re safer and more scenic.
While you’re building your route, make sure to include as many rest stops as your timeline allows for, roughly one stop of at least 30 minutes for every 90–120 minutes of ride time. Give your legs time to recharge, see the sights in the in-between places, and give yourself something to look forward to when the miles get monotonous. Every time you’re off your bike, go through a stretching routine to keep your legs, back, shoulders, and core limber and loose.
Ride Your Own Ride
Armed with your route and your destination (and your fully packed bike, see gear guide), you’re ready to embark. Consider a mental check-list on the week before your ride: Is my gear 100% ready to go? How has my body been feeling during my training? Have I coordinated my ride goals and daily distance with my companions? Have I checked the forecast for any intense weather? If the coast looks clear, get plenty of sleep, get an early start, and head out on your route!
Riders who spend most of their time biking for the sake of fitness should try to make a mental adjustment here and attempt to slow their roll by about 10%. This is a marathon, not a sprint. As the day progresses, your energy will go through ebbs and flows. Have snacks and water at the ready to ensure that you’re hydrated and well-fed. Headwinds that resist your momentum and jerk your handlebars will become your worst enemy. Push through the adversity, because you want to make it to your campsite well-before sundown.
As you near your destination, make sure to make any final supply stops you’ll need before settling in. Stretch thoroughly, then make camp as you would while backpacking, starting with shelter. Wipe down your faithful steed, taking extra care to clean the shifting components, and if you’ve been riding on a lot of gravel, as gravel dust can cake on like concrete. Once cleaned and dried, try to lean your bike up against a tree when possible, but laying it on down (drive-side up) on dry ground is fine in a pinch. Wherever you rest your bike, try to protect it from the elements with a rain fly or tarp, and do the same with your dry gear. If your panniers contain food for the next day, make sure to hang them or secure them away from your campsite. We like a fire and a beer at the end of a long day of pedaling, but the truly hardcore bike campers tend to make do without it just fine. Enjoy some much-needed rest in whatever way suits you best, you’ll get to experience all of the joys and pains of your first touring day tomorrow.
Packed with flavor from chilis, citrus, and fish sauce, this spin on a cold Vietnamese noodle salad is trail-ready for your next bike camping trip.
Freewheelin’ Mock Duck Noodle Salad
Recipe by James Norton
Serves two; can be scaled up depending on size of crowd and appetite
½ cup hot water
¼ cup sugar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice from 1½ limes
¼ cup fish sauce
½ small chili (jalapeño, Thai “bird’s eye”, etc.),minced
Whisk water and sugar to dissolve. Add and stir remaining ingredients, taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Store in an airtight, road-ready container.
8-ounce package of vermicelli rice noodles, cooked, cooled, and packed for the road
2 10-ounce cans of mock duck, drained and sliced if necessary to roughly 1” pieces
Small pinch of hot pepper flakes
Vegetable oil (peanut preferred)
1 tablespoon soy sauce plus 1 tablespoon of brown sugar (optional glaze)
Preheat pan over medium heat, and drizzle oil in pan. Saute mock duck with pepper flakes and soy/sugar glaze (optional) until nicely browned, 8–12 minutes. Pack with the noodles and refrigerate.
½ cup cilantro, chopped
½ cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
Chop and mix all topping ingredients and pack for the road.
When you’re ready to eat, mix noodles and mock duck with dressing to your taste, and serve with chopsticks or forks. Garnish to taste with topping. Bring some Sriracha and/or hoisin for extra flavor kick.