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The World on Two Wheels

Travelling by bike guarantees a fantastic adventure and allows you to discover much more than on a regular holiday… By OS Maps

When you’re planning your next holiday, why don’t you consider something new? Cycle touring.

There are lots of reasons why it’s a great idea. To start with, riding a bike is incredibly good for you. It’s a low-impact form of exercise, which means anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can do it for day after day. There really is no better feeling than being
out on the open road, even if it is blowing a hoolie – it all adds to the adventure. And you’re burning so many calories that you’ll need to keep yourself fuelled, which is why cycle touring is great if you enjoy coffee and cake!

Then there’s the fact that you’ll see far more of the world. You can stop and admire a view whenever you wish, and you’re likely to meet some interesting and helpful people along the way. Finally, cycle touring allows us to reduce our carbon footprint and save a lot of money. Once you reach your start point, there are no tickets or fuel or travel costs required (apart from the occasional ferry ticket, some bike oil and tools), so travelling by bike can cost you practically nothing, especially if you explore from your front door. Or if you prefer, you can stay in luxury hotels and eat at restaurants: you’ll still be saving money on transport!

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Choosing your route

Which to opt for? A long-distance trip or a beginner-friendly microadventure?

While you’re thinking it over, it’s worth reading up on other people’s cycle touring adventures (especially if you’re thinking of going abroad). Search for the routes you wish to take, and read what other people have to say, so that you get a better idea of where to go, what to avoid, what to take, and what you can expect. You could also sign up to a cycle touring forum, such as the CTC Forum or the Cycling UK Forum and get tips and advice.

Plans and preparations

If you only have a certain time frame for your trip, it’s important to have a rough itinerary and schedule before you set off. This will give you an idea of how far you need to cover each day to stay on course and will allow you to arrange your accommodation in advance if that’s what you’re planning.

However, the beauty of cycle touring is that it’s incredibly flexible, especially if you cook and camp along the way. Sleeping under the stars gives you a real sense of adventure and a huge amount of freedom. You can also use sites like Warmshowers, where generous cyclists across the world offer shower facilities, bed and meals. If you do camp , please remember to do so responsibly and leave absolutely no trace behind.

If it’s your very first time heading out on a long-distance cycling tour, and you’re looking for a more relaxing trip, it might also be worth looking into guided and semi-guided tours. These are run by cycling experts who can help you with route planning, accommodation and restaurant booking, and also support you while you ride.

Young man on bicycle
Senior Woman Biking

Essential kit

You’re not going anywhere without your two[1]wheeled friend, but how do you choose which bike will serve you best?

The most common type of cycle touring involves a touring or hybrid bike. A steel frame is incredibly robust and will handle the weight of your luggage well, while an aluminium frame will be much lighter and easier to manoeuvre. Most cycle tourists carry all their own gear with them (in their bike panniers), but you can also arrange to have your luggage transported, so you won’t be weighed down by it and you’ll also travel further and faster. Also, while most cycle touring is done along roads, with the occasional gravel or off-road section, ‘bikepacking’ is a type of cycle touring that uses off-road routes, so a gravel bike or a mountain bike, along with lighter, more compact luggage, would be more suitable.

When it comes to other equipment, of course here at Ordnance Survey we would argue the most important items are your map or route. On a bike, people may prefer to follow a digital route. This could be on a GPS device, or via OS Maps app on your phone, but we’d always recommend a backup paper map as well. would be more suitable. When it comes to other equipment, of course here at Ordnance Survey we would argue the most important items are your map or route. On a bike, people may prefer to follow a digital route. This could be on a GPS device, or via OS Maps app on your phone, but we’d always recommend a backup paper map as well.

You’ll also need various other things, including your bike pump, tools (including a spare inner tube) and a water bottle, and if you’re planning to camp and cook along the way, you’ll have more to pack. And as with any other holiday, you’ll need to pack for the weather and time of year. In summer, you’ll be carrying less – though cycling in the heat can be harder work and there may be more cars on the road. Cycling in winter through heavy rain and wind is equally challenging, and you’ll need good kit to keep you warm and dry. Even if the weather forecast looks good, it’s best to cover all bases and pack waterproofs and warm clothes just in case.

An incredible adventure

Above all, do give it a go. If you stay in the UK, there are so many incredible cycle routes for you to choose from. When you’re choosing your cycle touring route, consider the parts of the country that you’ve never visited; is there a way that you can string together as many of these destinations as possible? Get yourself a map suitable for cycle touring, such as an OS Landranger map (for longer distances) or an OS Explorer map (for shorter distances), to help you devise a route; or else plan your journey online. You can search from thousands of tried and tested on and off-road cycling routes in OS Maps or have a go at plotting your own. OS Maps also has a Sustrans National Cycle Network layer, helping you to easily view the UK’s wide network of signed on and off-road paths and routes, which is handy for those wanting to explore this country by bike.

Or if you’re tempted to venture further, one of the great things about cycle touring is that it can take you anywhere! Some people enjoy the challenge of cycling across a country or island, while others take on the epic challenge of cycling around the world. If you are inspired by a global adventure, then OS Maps now offers standard mapping across the globe, with topographical mapping also available in Australia and New Zealand, with more countries to come soon.

Cycle touring really is the greatest adventure! So, whether you’re thinking about swapping four wheels for two on your next holiday or just pedalling out for a night under the stars, dive into the world of bike travel and you’ll never look back!

Basic kit list

How much you take is down to personal preference; it all depends how much you’re willing to carry. Here’s a suggested kit list which is relatively low in weight and will be suitable for most spring or summer cycle tours.

  • Paper map, GPS, phone for mapping with OS Maps, plus power bank for charging
  • Bike and luggage bags – can often be hired if you don’t have your own
  • Bike tools, pump, spare tubes, helmet, water bottle
  • Spare clothes – to save weight, have just one on-bike outfit and one off-bike outfit for the evenings or if you get wet. Two pairs of socks and underwear are a must. Padded shorts highly recommended!
  • Gloves, hat, Buff – even on summer trips in Britain, these will help you keep warm if the weather does turn
  • Toiletries – take the basics: sunscreen, toothbrush and toothpaste, wet wipes, tissues, deodorant
  • First aid kit along with any medication you may need
  • Mini towel – perfect for washing/drying your face in a river!
  • Sleep system if you’re camping – sleeping bag, liner, mat, tent or bivvy, tarp
  • Cooking gear if cooking on the road – stove, pot, gas
  • Knife, spork, lighter – even if you aren’t cooking, these come in handy for preparing supermarket food
  • Sandwich bags – often come in useful, from transporting leftover pizza to taking your waste with you
  • Bungee, electrical tape and cable ties – can fix just about anything
  • Emergency snacks – peanut butter, flapjacks and isotonic tablets make great fuel

Visit osmaps.com, or download the app free on iOS or Android, and unlock unlimited mapping and discover existing routes for inspiration and planning.

Visit shop.ordnancesurvey.co.uk for paper maps and a range of equipment to help with your next adventure.

Don’t forget CSSC members receive a 10 per cent discount on OS Maps premium subscription and a 10 per cent discount on any OS Explorer or Landranger paper maps.

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