How to plan the cycle tour of a lifetime

This is what you need to know if you’re thinking of going off on a bike adventure around the globe.
A view of all the items you need start planning a cycle tour adventure abroad
Planning the cycle tour adventure © Drew Collins/Unsplash
By Rajiv Desai

Have you looked enviously at those people who've taken a punt and decided to embark on a trip of a lifetime around the world by bike? If so, you've probably wondered how you plan for such a trip, and whether it is realistically possible.

This isn't a spur of a moment decision; you can't just take your bike out of the shed and ride off into the sunset. With that in mind, we've put together a quick guide to the things you should consider if you plan to go cycle touring around the world.

Argentinian adventure cyclist Nicolas Marino cycling in the Gobi desert in Mongolia during his world cycling tour
There’s always a road, even in deepest Mongolia © Nicolas Marino

Funding

Everything costs money, and even though you may choose a country or region where it's relatively cheap to get by, you'll still need cash to fund your trip. Apart from saving like mad, one way of funding the trip is by company sponsorship or doing the journey in name of a charity. You could also fundraise from family, friends and your wider community.

Ask clothing and bike companies or technology firms to donate equipment by agreeing to write about them for an internet blog or mention them in a vlog. Once you've got the trip funded, make sure set up a budget for the trip, weekly or daily, and stick to it.

Garett Buehler crosses a river for "Chasing the Incas" in Peru on 8 May 2014.
Expect the unexpected on your trip © John Wellburn/Red Bull Content Pool

Don’t overcomplicate it

Got a route in mind? Then keep it simple. Get out a country map and look at the easiest way to get from A to B or see if you can find routes already taken by cyclists. Download maps to your phone or purchase a GPS computer with maps installed. Make sure where you're going is safe to travel in and make note of any political or cultural issues in an area that you plan to go through. Don't get stuck on how many miles you should ride per day unless you have a specific challenge to conquer.

Rebecca Rusch relaxes at camp before a long ride on the mountain trails in Sun Valley, Idaho, USA on June 23, 2015.
Sleep anywhere you can © Josh Glazebrook/Red Bull Content Pool

The practicals

Being free to cycle where you want is one of the main attractions of cycle touring, but sadly the reality is that you still need permission to be in places on your travels. You'll have to get visa clearance to be in some countries and this has to be sorted before you enter the country.

If you want to stay in touch with people back home  consider taking a satellite phone rather than a fancy smartphone. A small tablet device should satisfy internet needs

Travel insurance is another thing to consider. If you fall ill, get injured, robbed or suffer some other issue, protection can be a godsend. Money-wise, US dollars always opens doors. Additionally, a payment card that you can load your native money on to can also help when trying to get cash from ATMs or local banks. 

Bikes lined up against a wall during a cycle adventure tour
Find the right touring bike that suits your needs © Phillippa Stewart

Picking the right bike

When you're spending months on end on a bicycle, it's critical that you're as a comfortable as you can be. Your route choice may determine what sort of bike you choose, road or off-road.

A good starting point is to go for a specialist touring bike if taking the road route. A steel frame is good and comfortable over long distances, wide gearing is a must and the ability to fit pannier racks is critical.

A flat handlebar is good for long trips, and if you're going out into more remote regions an expedition tourer with 26-inch wheels and fatter tyres is a good choice. Make sure your bike has components that can be easily replaced. A MTB is a good choice for an off-road trip though disc brake-equipped gravel bikes are now more abundant and worth looking at.

Ryan Sandes packs his backpack in Chamonix, France on July 27, 2016
Only pack what you need © Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool

Travel light

A life on the road necessitates that you should travel with only the essentials. Weight can be a burden, especially if you're planning a trip to anywhere mountainous, so anything that's lightweight has you at an advantage.

Clothing should be practical for the conditions where you're travelling, but bear in mind that weather can be ever-changing so kit that helps you in all-conditions is a plus. A tent and sleeping bag are essential too. Two panniers on the front and back wheels and a rucksack on your back should comfortably hold what you plan to take.

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