Tuesday, 1 July 2014

10 Tips and Lessons Learned From Long Haul Bike Rides

A post by Ed Arsenault

Having recently fulfilled part two (part one here) of the “could I bike home in an apocalypse scenario” with a 90 km ride from Toronto to Alliston, ON, I have learned even more about long haul riding. So below, in no particular order, are some quick tips to ensure you have a good ride.
John overlooking a lake in Palgrave
John (riding partner) looking at a lake in Palgrave on our ride from Toronto to Alliston, ON.

Sandwiches – Sandwiches will be your saving grace, your hero, your lifeline; well, not really, but they sure do hit the spot. I brought four mini sandwiches along for the ride and I have to tell you, my pit stops were never better. Sweet turkey hitting my hungry lips fueled me up for the ride to come.

Rest and don’t push any injuries – Five days before this ride I tweaked out my back at work being a dummy lifting without my legs. Even stupider was that I still did the 90 km ride. The first half was fine but the second half had me stopping frequently to relieve the sharp pain in my back. Never push yourself too hard, reschedule if you have to.

Panniers and a rear rack – These are life savers, but make sure you ride with them a few times before a long haul. Fresh off of the winter thaw I ran to MEC and purchased a rear rack and panniers (literally three days before the ride) and had zero ride time with them. While they took the weight off my back, they added weight to the bike which required a bit more leg power on hills and threw off the balance I was used to.

My bike set up (rear rack, panniers and cell phone mount)
My bike set up. Rear rack and panniers and a cell phone mount.
Basics are more than enough to get you through – Do you really need a fancy GPS? Spandex short shorts? $4500 bike? Of course not. My partner in this ride was rocking a mountain bike he got for the low cost of a bottle of wine. I was riding a Canadian Tire road bike that I grabbed on sale. Both of us were clothed in pants and sweaters, no skin tight spandex suits for us. Unless you are on a mission to go fast, dress comfortably. “Need Less, Be More.”

Train small and work up - Don’t just jump into a long haul without some prior riding. Start small, do a 20 km run, then try a 30-50 km run. If your butt can handle being on a seat for that long and your legs can power through, then you are ready to challenge yourself.

Time is not as important as you think - Unless you are in a race, there is no need to go into overdrive. The real reason I do these bike rides is to appreciate my surroundings and to humble myself about how lucky we are to have access to cars and other forms of motorized transportation. Take your time, soak up the sights and sounds, and most of all: enjoy the ride.

Understand the basics of bike repair - You never know what can happen on the road. You could be 15 or 35 km from the nearest town and have something go wrong. It’s important to understand the basics of bike repair. I would recommend familiarizing yourself with changing a tube, gear calibration and brake lines. These would cover most of your common issues.

Fixing a bicycle tire
Photo Courtesy of Flickr
Have a rough estimate of where you are going as well as a timeslot when you should arrive - This is just basic safety. Let someone know where you intend be. That way, if you go missing, someone has a relative idea where to find you.

Charge up your phone - If you have it, bring an extra battery. There is nothing worse than losing contact when you need it the most.

Stay Safe – Don’t get killed or injured on your trip. If you aren’t comfortable on a road, get off of it and onto another one. Have lights for night or dusk rides and a bell to warn others that you are around. Never sacrifice your safety for anything.

These are the things I have learned by doing two long haul rides and I hope they help you out in the future. If you have ever done any long rides and have any tips to add, please comment below. Happy riding!


  1. The cycling attire might not be necessary, but it looks bad-ass! -- Solid post.

  2. Riding is just bad ass in general! Thanks for reading Mike!