Around two years of lockdown, social isolation, and quarantines have taken a lot from our lives. Today, many of us are probably thinking that once this pandemic is over, we will do something totally new, totally out of character to claw back the lost years. I have a suggestion: why not try bicycle touring?
Bicycle touring (also called “adventure riding” and “bikepacking”) refers to riding a bicycle for days, weeks, months, or even years to travel across trails, villages, towns, cities, and countries under one’s own leg power. (One can certainly go to these places on motor vehicles, but that’s plain vanilla and lacks the benefits that traveling on a bicycle can offer.)
When COVID-19 hit the country, many of us turned to bicycles for exercise, leisure, errands, and commutes. Bicycles have become part of our lifestyle. The idea that we can move around the city using the power of our legs and without adding to greenhouse gas emissions destroying the Earth is a fulfilling experience. It makes us feel good.
Bicycle touring is educational. Cyclists meet people and learn about their local ways and culture. The traveler tastes local food without having to worry about the calories because cycling burns around 400 calorie an hour.
Bicycle touring can make us feel even better. Consider pedaling away from the big city, passing through wide open fields of green against the bluish mountains in the far horizon. Once you are on the roads, trails, and isolated coastlines minus the roar of trucks and busses passing by, bicycling becomes a meditative exercise. All you hear are the breeze, crashing of the sea waves, and the overall rhythm of the laid-back countryside. You achieve inner peace.
Bicycle touring is educational. One learns about the history of the old churches, town squares and historical sites. Cyclists meet people and learn about their local ways and culture. The traveler tastes local food without having to worry about the calories because cycling burns around 400 calorie an hour.
It can be a process of self-discovery. You’ll never know you have the patience, tenacity, and grit to pedal up the hills until you have tried. Completing even just a short tour, say a ride around Bohol or Marinduque, can give a sense of great accomplishment.
Anyone, young and old, can travel on their bicycles. There are only a few things to get started.
Do I need certain skills and training?
One major irritant in this activity are tire punctures. But once you have learned how to replace front and rear tires and patch the punctures, you are good to go. That’s all you need to start a bike trip within the country, assuming a competent bicycle mechanic has checked your bike before the journey.
If you are using tubeless tires, those small punctures from nails, wires, and sharp metal fragments from road construction that can ruin your day can be a thing of the past.
The rest of the skills like fixing the brakes, tuning the derailleurs, or fixing broken chains can be learned along the way. Mechanical troubles on well-maintained bicycles are rare. Unless you are pedaling to the ends of the earth, you don’t need to learn everything before embarking on a long ride. Also, every city or municipalities with higher income class (classes 1 and 2, the island’s economic centers) in the Philippines usually has a bike shop that can fix bicycles.
There’s no need to train for a bicycle trip if one rides regularly. Average level of fitness will do. Can you tolerate all-day exposure to sun and rain? If yes, you are good to go.
What bike to use and what items to bring?
What kind of bicycle to use? Any bicycle that can carry you and your cargo (camping gear, clothes, repair kit, water) comfortably over long distances will do. There are bicycles designed for long bicycle travel, but one can use whatever is available, provided it has low gearing for grinding up the hills and durable enough.
For a two- to seven-day trip, one needs to bring a change of clothes or two, a spare tube for the tires, basic repair kit and tools, a liter of drinking water, front and safety lights. No need to wear a professional cyclist’s jersey. Wearing casual clothes like shirts and shorts, hiking shoes or sandals makes the bicycle traveler blend in local communities.
Where to stay and where to go?
Where to stay at night? I always prefer to camp or stay a cheap beach resorts where I can sip cold beer and watch the sunset. Is it safe? It can be as safe as any other form of travel.
The possibilities for this kind of travel are endless.
Where to go? Currently, those who embark on bicycle trips are mostly small groups of friends who decided to visit tourism spots using their bikes. They use apps like Strava or Komoot to indicate origin and destination then navigate their way through these apps. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, enterprising cyclists might just think of doing organized tours.
Close to Metro Manila, among the favorite destinations are towns in Calabarzon where cyclists spend nights on the beaches in Laiya or Matabungkay, or the private campsites and resorts in Tanay and Cavite. Others ride following the highways around Laguna Lake (“The Laguna Loop”), around Taal Lake (“Taal Loop”), or around Mt Banahaw (“Bahahaw Loop”), spending their nights on camp sites, inns, and resorts.
Good circumferential roads and excellent touring facilities around Mindoro, Tablas, Panay, and Bohol are also increasingly attracting bicycle travelers. Today, several friends are on the road, doing the Philippine Loop, riding through provinces and towns from Luzon down to Visayas and Mindanao. The possibilities for this kind of travel are endless.