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For many cyclists, the most enjoyable riding is when you put your camping gear on your bike, leave the car behind, and take off for a weekend, week, or maybe even longer. I have been doing this type of bicycle touring since the early '80s, usually for just a weekend, but occassionally for a week. It has always been amazing to me that so many people seem to think that bicycle camping is difficult, when it is actually quite easy.
The only camping gear you must have is a tent & a sleeping bag. Other items like a Thermarest pad are nice but not required. To transport these items and your other essentials, you will need a rear rack, some panniers (saddlebags), and a couple of bungee cords. If you are planning on purchasing a bike for bicycle camping, make sure to get a touring bike instead of a racing bike. Touring bikes have a slightly longer wheelbase so that your heels will not contact the rear panniers while pedaling. Put the tent & sleeping bag on top of the rear rack & secure them with the bungee cords. Carry clothing, rain gear, bike tools, spare tube, and other items in the panniers. Another possibility for carrying gear is a trailer. These are becoming more common, especially with folks who ride tandem or recumbent bicycles.
The only problem I had when I first started carrying camping gear on my bike was getting onto it. The weight on the rear caused the front wheel to twist up into the air when I leaned it over. Once on the bike, It was not much of a problem, although I could tell that there has a greater percentage of weight on the back wheel. Many people who do a lot of bicycle camping eventually get a lowrider rack for the front, and equip these with a set of smaller panniers. This helps restore the balance and makes the bike feel more stable.
Carrying gear on flat terrain is only marginally more difficult than riding the bare bike. You will definitely accelerate more slowly (Newton covered this in his laws of motion - something about F=ma), but your normal cruising speed should be only slightly slower. When you get into hills, it is definitely more work, but that is why touring bikes have low gears. If the hills get too tough, don't be afraid to get off your bike and walk it up the hill. One experienced touring cyclist I knew always said "I'll walk today so I can ride tomorrow," which is the proper attitude. Never push yourself too hard going up a hill. Recovering from knee injuries is very difficult.
If you are going out for more than a weekend, I highly recommend that you get some quality rain gear. Experienced bike tourists know that it just doesn't pay to skimp on this. Sooner or later your luck will run out and you will encounter several days of rain. Riding in the rain is never pleasant, but good protection can make the difference between a tolerable experience and a completely miserable one. There is also the peace of mind factor. If you know you can survive the rain without too much discomfort, you won't always be looking over your shoulder at the dark clouds.
The Central Indiana Bicycling Association (CIBA) has about one bicycle camping ride per month from April through October. These rides are free to anyone, including non-members. Camping rides are an enjoyable way to bike. You get to see scenic and historic areas of Indiana. Don't let anyone tell you Indiana is nothing but cornfields. People who say that usually have not been anywhere in the state that isn't on an interstate or a highway. We usually eat at small cafes, hardly ever at chain restaurants. I always like to sample the cobbler or pies at these places.
Most of the rides cover about 50
miles each day. If the daily mileage is longer than you want to ride, the route
can always be shortened. Just start closer to the campsite. Call the ride
leader to get recommendations on alternate starting points.
If you have any questions about these tours, or about bicycle camping in
general, feel free to contact me at
If you need to borrow panniers on your first ride,
I may be able to scrounge some up for you.
The camping ride schedule is listed on the
CIBA web page.
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