Biking Scenery
Physical Preparation for a Bike Tour (for Beginners)
Biking the Midwestern United States

I am in no way qualified to give medical advice. I have no experience as a trainer. The following information is based on my personal experience.


On my last trip, several people asked me if you have to train in order to go on a multi-day bike tour. While I'm sure this can improve your comfort and performance, I don't think that it is necessary. A tour is not a race. Be willing to go as slow as you need to.

In other words, if you want to start touring, start. Training can be a form of procrastination. Although I was comfortable with a 40-60 mile trip before my first multi-day bike tour, these were leisurely rides. If you're not enjoying yourself, you're pushing too hard.

Preparing for the Physical Eventualities

Before you embark on a multi-day bike trip, you should give your bike, clothing, and equipment a realistic test. Set up as you would for your tour, and bike at least 40 miles. Any physical ailments you notice will be exacerbated as days pass on the road. Look for the following:

Get a Tune-up

Before you go on a multi-day ride, get your bike tuned up at a good shop. I go to Mikes Bike Shop in Palatine, Illinois. Even though I no longer live in the suburbs, I make the trek from Chicago. This is a great shop with competent, helpful people, and a center of cycling activism.

Tell the person who will be working on your bike that you are planning to go on a multiday ride, and point out anything that you think may need to be adjusted or replaced. How old are your innertubes? How old is your chain?

Wayne Mikes of Mikes Bike Shop also recommends that you get your bike fitted at a bike shop. Arrange to do this when you pick up your bike. Getting your bike fitted (largely the arrangement of the seat and handlebars) can prevent or minimize many potential bike pains.

Don't Get Flats

I cannot recommend Mr. Tuffy strips highly enough. These are hard plastic strips that are installed between your tire and your innertube. I bought a set when I got my bike about six years ago, and I have not had a puncture flat since. I still have to look out for leaks that form around the valve from when the valve scrapes against the rim, but I have never been stranded due to a puncture. You can take this as further evidence that I don't care how fast I ride; increased weight under your tires will make your bike a little slower.

Update: recently, several bike store mechanics tried to convince me to throw out my Mr. Tuffy strips. They told me that if your tires get just a little bit underinflated, your inner tube can get pinched between the strip and the tire and pop. This hasn't reflected my experience yet, but they also suggested that the safer bet is to buy a new kind of puncture-proof tire and avoid the strip. I plan to try this as soon as I can afford it.

Know How to Change a Tire

Even Mr. Tuffy strips aren't perfect. (Actually they are, but if you rely on them completely and can't change a tire, lightning will strike your innertube.) Carry a spare innertube, patches, tire levers, and pump, and know how to use them. Make sure that you partially inflate the innertube and check for pinches and alignment before you fully inflate it-- I can tell you a funny story about what happens if you don't. I prefer to carry an innertube rather than patches because it can be really hard to find the leak in a punctured tube.

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All text and images copyright of Caden Howell - © Caden Howell 2009. All rights reserved. Images may be used with credit, please ask about any text.