How to prepare for your first cycling holiday

cyclists enjoying a coffee at an art studio

You’ve booked a cycling holiday – now what do you do?
If you book a cycling holiday, as motivation to get more cycling done or more exercise in general, it will make all the difference if the plan works. Time can slip by and before you know it there are only a couple of weeks before you start your cycling holiday. No worries, you have booked an e-bike so that will make it easy, right? The answer is not really. There is no substitute for preparing to enjoy your e-cycling holiday, rather than endure it.
What do you need to do to prepare to enjoy your cycling holiday?

  1. Spend some time cycling. There is no substitute for spending time in the saddle. You don’t need to set off on a three hour ride every time you want to exercise. Start with short rides and if you can get out a couple of times a week that is a great start. Any amount of time spent cycling is better than no time, so don’t feel it’s not worth it if you don’t have a lot of time to get out there. Ideally building up the number of times you cycle and the length of time you cycle for should increase over the weeks. Most people book their cycling holiday months in advance, so if you can focus on a gradual build up over several months, that will work best. Ideally your motivation to get out and cycle will shift from having to get out there because you have booked yourself onto a cycling holiday, to wanting to get out there as you realise it makes you feel better, and your fitness is improving. Persisting over the first few weeks will pay off and a habit gets formed. When you get to the point when you want to cycle and hate missing a ride, you have made the transition to including a healthy activity into your lifestyle. By that stage, the cycling holiday will be an enjoyable reward and something you will look forward to and enjoy participating in with your newfound fitness.
    A pre-holiday target could be to have a mini-cycling holiday from home. Go cycling for 2 or 3 consecutive days. Think of a couple of different routes you could do from home and work up to 3 hour rides for each day. Riding for 3 hours may take most of the day when you factor in coffee stops etc.
  2. Use correct kit. This may mean you have to invest in some cycling gear. You don’t need to adopt the look of a professional cyclist, head-to-toe lycra is not necessary…..unless you want to. Owning some key pieces of kit will make a big difference. Padded shorts is one of the pieces of kit that will keep you comfortable for longer. They can’t make up for time spent in the saddle before your trip, but they will go a long way to enjoying your day and then being able to look forward to the next day. Padded shorts can take several forms and it comes down to personal choice what suits best. Lycra shorts is only one version. You can also buy short liners that can be worn under everyday shorts or specific loose fitting cycling shorts (that can look like everyday shorts and are known as baggies in the cycling world). Many companies sell shorts that have compatible liners, but you can also mix and match. Groundeffect is a local NZ company that sell liners and loose-fitting shorts. There are others too. Unfortunately, Groundeffect can only be purchased online, so sizing and fit can be a bit if a guess first time round. Liners and shorts are a personal choice and just like shoes, you won’t know how comfortable they are until you spend some time wearing them. They may also take a few wears to you forget you are wearing them. You can also reduce saddle soreness by using gel saddle covers. They can be put on most saddles to act as an extra layer of padding. They are inexpensive and are easily packed, so you could take your own if a tour company doesn’t provide them.
    The other point of contact with your bike, are your hands. Cycling gloves have some padding where you hold the handlebars to provide cushioning. They come in full-length finger style or fingerless, which means they have a short length of fabric along the fingers to as far as your knuckles. They are suitable for warmer times of the year. All types of gloves also act as protection from the sun (not all have a UV rating) and if the worst should happen and you fell over, they would offer some protection against ‘road rash’.
    The third point of contact with your bike is your feet. You don’t have to wear specific cycling shoes. Most cycle tour bikes are fitted with flat bed pedals which means you can wear walking shoes or trainers. Jandels or loose flimsy shoes should not be worn as you could loose contact with the pedals. Footwear with a good sole not only gives you good,stable foot contact with the pedals, but over the course of the day, your feet would have more cushioning and feel less tired.
  3. What should you pack? If it is your first cycle tour, you are likely to have chosen to have your luggage moved between your overnight stop points. This means you can cycle with a small amount of stuff in your pannier bag (that most operators provide as part of the service). What you would take is similar to what you would take on a day’s walk, except you may not have to take any food as café stops are likely. Drinking water, small snacks, sunscreen, a hat which you might wear under you helmet to offer more protection from the sun, or to wear when you have stopped and have removed your helmet. A clothing layer system works best, with a light waterproof jacket which can also act as a windbreak on cooler days. Keep in mind that you would feel cooler when cycling than walking and if there is a breeze, the wind chill factor will be more noticeable than when walking. The opposite is also true, in that cycling uphill could make you feel warmer than if you were walking uphill. Also consider if you are going to be using an e-bike or a regular bike. If you are riding an e-bike you may not pedal as hard and therefore you may feel cooler than when cycling a regular bike.
  4. As with any trip, the better you have prepared, the more enjoyable the holiday. You don’t have to turn into a semi-pro cyclist to enjoy a cycling holiday, be realistic about your fitness level and don’t attempt to cycle at a faster speed than you are comfortable with. It’s your cycling holiday and it’s yours to enjoy in a way that suits you.
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