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  • Writer's pictureLauren O'Bryan

Self Doubt, Trip Planning and Tyre Levers

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

I wrestled with questions and the doubt whizzing around in my head for the best part of a year or more before I finally committed to serious trip planning. I would constantly find myself daydreaming about cycling back to Australia but hit those ‘what-if’ mental roadblocks, obliging me to push the idea aside.

In addition to worries, you can spend a lot of money on a cycle touring setup, and I didn’t even know if I’d like it. But as time edged closer to UK visa expiry, I needed to make the decision to take the leap, or not at all.

Wise words. Planning is important.

Those that know me will know that I’m a compulsive list writer. So, I did what I do best. I made a list and I made a plan. I did my research – I read tonnes of blogs, watched countless videos, and joined cycle touring Facebook groups for advice.

Some of the best advice I found from this research, and that has really stuck with me ever since, was:

  1. Identify the risks

  2. Plan but don’t over plan

  3. Do a test run

*Actually, I think you’ll find these are the basics of project planning for pretty much anything.

Developing Strategies to Overcome The Worry

I needed to put my anxieties at ease, because those ‘what-if’ mental roadblocks were still there. I was honest with myself and noted all the possible risks and things worrying away at me, then I developed solutions to them. The Adventure Junkies also go through the worries and risk management process they went through.

There will always be something that worries you, and for everyone those worries are different. But when it comes to women cycle touring, those worries can be enormous, and very legitimate. The worry only escalates when you’re planning that bike trip solo. I found that this strategy of identifying fears and risks, and then establishing potential solutions is really useful. It helps you to relax, and once you have a clear mind, you can put others’ fears at bay as well.

I made a rough plan which included:

  1. The countries would I travel through

  2. Visa restrictions

  3. Estimated time frame and the month I would be there

  4. Likely weather conditions

Contrary to popular advice, I did not tell everyone about my plans. Some people feel that telling anyone and everyone their plans holds them accountable. It puts pressure on them to ensure they can’t back out. It probably does work very well for some people, but this tactic didn’t sit well with me. It made me anxious, and I needed to stay focused and not have anyone else in my head.

So, I kept my cycle touring plans between me and some close friends and gradually expanded out from there over time, once I felt more confident. In fact, I got so wrapped up in trip planning, I forgot to tell my mum. It wasn’t until about a month before I was due to leave that a friend asked me “Lauren, have you told your mum yet?”. Oops.

Cycle Touring: Project Management 101

I got my project management skills down to it, and set myself a timeline for purchasing the required kit and gathering the skills I would need for cycle touring Europe and beyond. I wanted to have sturdy, good-quality equipment, but not pay a fortune. I aimed to get as much as possible secondhand. My theory was, if I made it to Istanbul and decided I hated it, I wouldn’t have spent too much money and could easily sell everything and change my plans (I totally knew I was going to love it, but I always like a backup option.

I had never been cycle touring before, in fact, I wouldn’t even consider myself an experienced cyclist. In Australia, I had a beat-up old bicycle that I used mainly as an alternative to driving short trips. When I traveled I would often hire a bike to sightsee, but this is the extent of my cycling experience. I had only ever changed a bike tyre once – and I used a spoon, because I didn’t know there were such things as tyre levers. I was most certainly out of my depth.

In this project plan, I had essential points like ‘buy a touring bike’ and ‘waterproof panniers’, but I had also included ‘take bike maintenance course’ and ‘join a cycling club’. Obviously, a touring bike is essential to a long-distance cycling trip, but having the confidence to fix and maintain my bike during the trip, was an equally important part of my preparation.

I took a couple of bike maintenance courses. In the UK many boroughs offer free or low-cost bicycle repair courses, so I did one of those to get started. Then I upgraded to a more detailed day-long course specific to cycle touring. Soon enough I was reasonably confident that I knew the basic mechanics and could get myself out of trouble, at least until I found a professional.

Physical Preparation

People are constantly asking me about my training routine before I started the bike trip, saying “you must have been pretty fit” or “but you cycle to work every day or something right”. They were often surprised when I would explain that the physical preparation is of less importance, what’s more important, and much harder to prepare for is the mental challenge.

In saying that, I didn’t completely forget about the physical element. I joined a social cycling club, the London Clarion Cycle Club, and would ride with them most Sundays.

These guys aren’t the kind of group who are out at Richmond Park every weekend doing time trial laps in matching lycra. Nope, London Clarion will meet for breakfast at a Wetherspoons (an iconic English pub chain), cycle at a steady pace incorporating a sightseeing stop, and sometimes we’d have a pub lunch. Then finish the ride, at the pub. Sometimes in matching lycra (note – some matching lycra in the image below).

A Sunday ride with the London Clarion Cycle Club via Richmond Park en route to our pub finishing point.

Excellent training, but not for fitness. What I hoped to gain from joining these rides was a greater confidence cycling in traffic and some like-minded and supportive cycling friends and, I certainly found that.

Once I had the necessary equipment, some basic mechanical knowledge, and some confidence. It was time to do a test run. Just a short weekend trip, enough to find out what doesn’t work and what does.

I had yet to tick off the Jurassic coastline from my UK travel list, and it was close enough to London to do it on a weekend with the bike. I could get the train out, cycle for the weekend, and get the train back on Sunday night. It definitely wasn’t the easiest route for my first ever bike trip. The weather on the first day was cold and rainy, and the terrain is super hilly, but I had a blast. More importantly, it left me with an ‘I got this’ feeling. I also gained an insight into some of the usual struggles of those with heavy cycle touring bikes – large flights of stairs.

After a few finishing touches and alterations to my bike and gear, that was it. ‘Project’ completed, it was time to pack up my London flat and leave the UK. I didn’t feel completely ready, but I don’t think you ever do.

Packing up my flat in London. Using the ‘it WILL fit’ mantra.

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