3 Grand Biking Experiences

Biking through the fall in Minneapolis

Biking through the fall in Minneapolis

For those with limited biking experience as an adult, just taking a few mile spin around town can be exhilarating. Going downhill at top speed brings out the inner joy of childhood in even the most jaded office worker. But what about seasoned cyclists who zip to work each morning never dropping below 25mph? Here are 3 grand bike adventures to get you into the next stage of your biking journey. These can be done in a day or weekend, and shouldn’t require much extra biking equipment to get started.

#1: BIKE TOUR

Think of a tour as a race without the competition, “touring” the area as you go along the route. You can plan your own route and be riding by the weekend, but many towns organize tours as well. The benefit of an organized event is that the route will be predetermined, possibly sectioned off from vehicle traffic, and likely will include organized rest stops with food and water. Doing your own tour will take more planning, but there will be no crowds or sign up fee.

Here in Minnesota we have many causal bike tours to choose from, including my favorite: the Saint Paul Classic, which I do every year. They have great snacks, coffee, and live music at several rest stops. On the tour I get to explore parts of town I rarely go to and get a fresh perspective of where I call home.

Length

  • The average is 30 miles, very doable at a touring pace.

How do I start?

  • To find a pre-organized route, do a search such as: “(your city/state) bike events”. The top results should give you an idea of what is available. There will also usually be fliers on community boards in various shops.

  • Find a map that shows bike lanes and trails (or use Google maps), and plan your own route. A circuit will be more enjoyable than going “there and back”.

  • If you bike to work you should be in good enough shape for a moderate length tour. Even simply being able to go on a several hour walk with minimal difficulty is a good gauge of ability, biking is the most tiring when pushing for high speeds. Plan for a slow pace and many rest stops if at all concerned.

  • If you need to drive a significant distance to the starting point, go the night before and stay somewhere close by overnight. Getting up early and driving a while the morning of the tour may put a damper on your spirits otherwise!

  • Make sure to bring water and a snack, unless it is being provided to you by the event.

  • Sign up early, the fee is often lower.

Extra gear needed:

  • Helmet if required by event.

  • Bike rack if driving to the starting location.

#2: BIKE RACE

Those with a competitive flair may ask “Why tour if you can race?”. Ask and you shall receive: there are many different options if looking to bicycle race, but they all boil down to going fast and trying to win (or beat your target time). They can all be a great challenge, and a good goal to work towards. Here’s a few different “styles” of bike race:

  1. Standard “Tour de France Style” race: Begin at the starting line and end at the finish, easy enough right?

  2. Triathlon: A three part race: running, swimming, and biking. A triathlon is great if you are looking for a wider training challenge.

  3. Alley Cat: A typically informal race that involves racing to different checkpoints with no set course, making your own route. Beer consumption is often involved.

To get started look for a large event that both beginners and experts participate in (alley cats, while fun, may be a more intimidating start).

Length

  • Varies quite a bit, look for a race that suits you!

How do I start?

  • Again, search online or ask at your local bike shop for upcoming events, and sign up.

  • Train. Racing is all about speed, and to be competitive you need to bike a lot and have a lot of stamina.  Even if racing non-competitively, be sure that you can comfortably bike the distance you are attempting at a good pace before entering.

  • Conversely, alley cats rely as much on knowing the area well as speed alone, which can be a benefit if you don’t feel like a particularly fast biker. They often consist of people who work as bike messengers or mechanics, and are often organized by bike shops.

  • Alley cats are frequently “secret”, but often posted on social media anyway.

Extra gear

  • A road bike in ok shape is needed, a rusty old mountain bike unfortunately won’t do for racing. Unless it is the Rusty Old Mountain Bike Race, which someone should start.

  • For very serious races the super-cyclist uniform may be needed (i.e. skin-tight lycra), but I’d start with a more casual race where normal athletic wear is appropriate*.

Cost

  • Varies a lot, from free to over $100. Some races are also fundraisers, which will impact the sign up price.

My bike has carried me through many adventures. Don’t worry, I recently installed new grip tape!

My bike has carried me through many adventures. Don’t worry, I recently installed new grip tape!

#3: BIKE CAMPING

As the name suggests, this involves biking to a camping spot, carrying the gear you need on your bike, and spending a night or two. This is certainly a step up in difficulty from a bike tour, but it is also very rewarding. Challenges are carrying all the weight from the camping gear and finding a good route. For many of us it will require careful planning to find good roads to bike on, try and find quiet country roads with large curbs.

Completing a bike camping trip will show yourself what you’re able accomplish without machines, living with just your bike and your tent. It’s shocking to escape the fast pace of travel that we are accustomed to, but who doesn’t enjoy a quest?

Length

  • This depends a lot on where you live. In an urban area you may have to bike a good distance to get to a camping spot. Here in the Twin Cities I’d have to go at least 15 miles to find an official campground. However, even in New York City you could find something within about 30 miles**.

How do I start?

  • Look for a campground or an appropriate camping space within biking distance. Plan a shorter distance for a first trip.

  • Find a local map that shows bike lanes or trails, or use Google, to scout a good route.

  • Ideally, have both camping and biking experience before combining the two.

  • A lot of weight will be on your bike, which will make the miles seem longer. Do a test run with the weight close to home if worried about stamina.

  • If possible, be familiar with the road conditions and how bike friendly they are. Take a drive on them if there’s uncertainty, looks at the width of the curb and how much traffic you see.

  • Make a campsite reservation if needed

Extra gear

  • Bike with rack and panniers

  • Camping gear including tent and sleeping bag

  • Snacks and water for the trip

  • Food for camping, unless buying upon arrival


Biking is a gift that keeps giving, there are many more ways to get active on your bike beyond these three. Consider mountain biking, BMX, or even simply traveling across the country. I hope this list gets you off your training wheels and into adventure!




*Unless you’re REALLY itching to buy some lycra.

**I don’t live in NYC, so I can’t back up the integrity of the route I planned for this claim. I’d love to be proven wrong (or right)!