I am currently on my second bike tour ever. There are numerous things I wish I'd known before the outset.
Tip One: You can do it.
Belief in yourself is the number one thing that will allow you to tour by bike. If you want to do it and you back yourself, you can. You are the Little Engine Who Could “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”
Tip two: Travel light.
Trust me, you don't need that extra pair of casual shoes. You don't need that frying pan or that rad belt. You will need one change if clothes you feel human in (meaning don't just bring crocs and shorts to wear) two sets of cycling clothes and minimal useful-only gear. If you can throw it out, throw it out. We thought we'd packed light, supremely light and yet we've already sent home two boxes worth if stuff. If something has a double use, throw out the other thing. Lighter is better.
Tip Three: All about riding with your touring partner or partners –
Listen to the advice the more experienced person gives you, they will be right 90% of the time. Tell someone when you're in pain/upset/tired/want to stop, it is much better than having to spend three weeks holding up the trip because you blew up on the bike. When you get to your destination split up the jobs between you and your travelling buddy/buddies have a roster if need be.
Tip Four: If you can, get a proper set up on your bike.
Many bike shops do 'Bike Fits' to check everything from the hight of your seat post to the length of your stem. This means you will be able to ride with your whole body – riding strongly and remaining comfortable and strong. Of note, any bike can be used for touring (depending on the length and severity of the trip). You need to be comfortable on whichever bike you're on, that's the most important part. If you can get a touring bike, they hold the advantages of being much stronger and better balancing the extra weight you're carrying – making riding a loaded bike more manageable.
Tip five: Train before you travel.
This involves increasing your fitness if you can and more importantly practising riding in all conditions: on unsurfaced roads, sand and rocky gravel. Try riding along the white line on the side of the road, maintaining your balance as long as possible. Ride in the rain, wind, bright sun and twilight. Allow yourself to adjust.
Tip six: Set out with a positive attitude every day – this is huge.
Smile if you can, talk out loud to yourself positive reinforcement goes a long way. If you're feeling and acting positively, the day will feel shorter, easier and better. It will be easier for your companions too. Think Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”
Tip Seven: Use all of the gears on your bike – that's what they're there for!
Please, please use the lighter gears when you're going up a hill. There is no reason to be a hero and try to reach the top first. There will be another to climb and then another… Spinning you legs faster in a lighter gear is better for your knees and muscles than slowly grinding in a harder gear.
Tip Eight: Make realistic goals:
Break up the day into manageable chunks, use meals or tourist attractions along the way as designated rest stops. Give yourself enough time – Allow yourself all the time in the day, there's no hurry. If you are riding to a schedule, try to leave by a relatively early time in the morning instead of pushing on into the night.
Tip nine: Act like a cyclist.
This mean three things – clothing, nutrition and body care. Firstly, Wear proper cycling gear – padded lycra shorts 'knicks', lightweight top and breathable socks – you'll sweat less and feel more comfortable on the bike. Secondly, keep your thirst quenched and your hunger satisfied – drink more water than you think you need – once you've had a good swig, drink that much again. Eat healthy energy-rich snacks such as bananas and scroggin throughout the day. Finally, Stretch after every ride – active stretching is the best but any stretching you do will contribute to tomorrow's ride being more manageable and enjoyable.
Tip Ten: OPTIONAL BUT ADVISED. Ride together (when riding separate bikes).
This might seem a bit hard if there is a huge discrepancy between your ability levels, but in my experience it means both or all parties can take turns riding into the wind, you can talk or sing or stop to pose for a photo, and it makes the trip the both of yours. Of course there can be a mix of riding at your own speeds for a day here and there if someone wants to extend themselves or live life in the slow lane, but I whole-heatedly recommend riding as a team.