Now let me get one thing straight: I’m not a cyclist. But I do like cycling holidays. As well as keeping you fit along the way, cycling is an amazing way of exploring a new country. You can cover a lot more ground compared to hiking alone, yet you still feel 100% connected to your surroundings.
And you don’t have to be super fit. I’m certainly not and I’ve never felt challenged beyond my capabilities. You do, however, have to be in reasonably good shape. I go to the gym twice a week and walk to work and back five days a week.
I’ve cycled from Venice to Porec, Croatia, and I’ve spent two weeks cycling around the central and western parts of Cuba. From my experiences on these two trips, here are 5 things to know before you go.
#1 The most important two items you will need on a cycling trip are a decent helmet and a comfortable, sufficiently padded pair of cycling shorts.
The first is self-explanatory: don’t compromise on your safety. Having a helmet is also a legal requirement in many countries and something that most reputable tour companies will stipulate that you must wear. Don’t order one online – unless you have actually tried on the exact same make and model in the shop; it needs to fit you well enough to be comfortable even after 7 or 8 hours in the saddle.
Secondly, invest in several pairs (depending on how many days in a row you’re cycling for) of decently-padded cycling shorts. I prefer those that have elastic around the legs too, as it stops them riding up while you’re cycling. These are the ones I wear, but it’s all about which ones you find comfortable.
#2 If you’re cycling in a hot climate, cycling gloves are a must!
Ok, so they won’t do much for that nice even tan of yours but they will stop your hands slipping off the handlebars and will therefore help to prevent any potential accidents.
#3 Rehydration tablets are your friend
These are tablets that you dissolve into your bottle of water, and help to – as the name suggests – keep you hydrated. I didn’t even know such a thing existed until my last cycling trip around Cuba, when one of my fellow cycling companions offered me one.
They contain vitamin C and 5 electrolytes, including sodium, magnesium and potassium, and the difference between drinking plain water and drinking water with one of these in it is incredibly noticeable. If you’ve been to South America, do you remember what it was like the first time you hiked at altitude with the aid of coca leaves? Yeah, it’s like that.
#4 As are energy bars
Ok, so if you’re on an organised cycling tour you’ll probably find that your guides will provide all manner of snacks for you on a regular basis. However it is possible to book self-guided cycling tours (as we did when we cycled through Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia), where there is no group to speak of (although there may well be others booked on to the same trip, cycling the same route) and no tour leader; just a series of maps and route notes to get you from A to B.
If you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, or get horribly lost and lose invaluable time (time that may have otherwise been spent searching out somewhere to stop for lunch or an afternoon snack), having a few energy bars on hand will help to keep you going until a point that you are able to stop for food.
#5 Always pack a mac; you never know when it might rain
It’s all too easy, when you’re travelling to somewhere hot or to somewhere that rain is not ordinarily forecast at that time of year, to omit a waterproof jacket from your packing list. Hey, it takes up space in your backpack and you probably won’t need to use it!
Well, I’ll let you into a secret – I needed mine on both my recent cycling trips. On my trip to Cuba during what is supposed to be the driest month of the year and when I cycled along the Adriatic coast at the end of May, when rain is rare and thunderstorms are unheard of. We experienced both in the space of 7 days.
You can buy pac-a-macs that roll up to the size of a small t-shirt, so you have absolutely no excuse not to pack one!
Have you ever been on a cycling trip? What else would you add to my list of tips?