There are several basic ways to undertake a bicycle tour, each with its own strengths and weak points. Generally, touring occurs on a sliding scale of creature-comfort v. maneuverability, but as these are subjective qualities, it’s not quite as simple as that. While this page will attempt to categorize bike travel, it should be noted that most touring cyclists do not fit entirely into one of these categories.
Every rider has his/her own set of objectives, key elements, and theories when it comes to achieving the perfect bicycle touring trip. There is no wrong way to do a bike trip, except the way that is wrong for the individual or group doing said trip. Bicycle travel is a perspective-altering way of seeing the world, but who can say whether that change comes at a rate of 30 miles a day or 150 miles?
Credit card touring – Credit card touring takes very little touring-specific equipment, since the idea is that most things needed can be bought as the rider goes along. Usually, this means overnighting in hotels, but there are alternatives like hostels, rentals, and warmshowers.org. This touring style is ideal for those just looking to dabble a bit with touring, an overnight or weekend trip, without committing to equipment purchases. Organized long-distance cycling events such as randonneur brevets and audax rides are generally carried out in this manner, with riders buying food and drink along the way and sleeping for short stretches in hotels (although often the hotel accommodations are part of entry fees).
Fully-loaded touring – Fully-loaded touring is for cyclists who want to bring more of home along or may be traveling through more remote regions and need to be more completely self-reliant. Most anything can be brought on-tour so long as the rider is willing to lug it with them. Some touring cyclists who practice fully-loaded touring will carry half their bodyweight in supplies and conveniences. This style of touring is, by necessity, a slower-paced endeavor and can make certain terrain extremely difficult. In return, fully-loaded touring cyclists are less likely to find themselves short-supplied or without that extra camera lens to photograph the rare bird across the river.
Ultralight touring – Ultralight touring is for those who wish to travel at higher speeds and often over more challenging terrain. Typically, Ultralight touring means traveling with less than 10 pounds of gear, although some go with even less. Common ways of going “ultralight” are: packing almost no extra clothing, buying food and other necessities along the way, seeking out lightweight racks and packs, and limiting creature comforts and entertainment devices. While difficult to achieve, gear weights that low allow the touring cyclist to maintain average speeds close to that of unloaded riding on flat routes and only marginally slower speeds over more mountainous terrain. Often, there is a race-element to this sort of touring, such as long-distance races like The Transcontinental Race, The Trans Am Bike Race, and World Cycle Race.
Supported Touring – Supported touring is bicycle travel where the rider’s gear is transferred from location to location by a follow vehicle. Sometimes this support staff will also be sent out along the day’s route to resupply and otherwise problem-solve so that the rider may focus entirely upon the cycling. Commonly, supported tours involve hotel accommodations and/or organized meals and sight-seeing, but there are other examples, such as RAGBRAI, where riders’ camping gear is simply moved from grassy knoll to county park with rest-stops set up along the way.