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Choosing a Bicycle Touring Companion

Choosing a Bicycle Touring Companion

If you decide to tour with someone else then there are very few more important decisions that you can make then determining who that someone else should be.

Some things to consider include:

  • Are your personalities complementary or do you feel within a short period of time that you are likely to want to avoid this person as much as possible?
  • Do you respect the other person?
  • Are their conversational habits compatible with yours? In other words do they like to talk while you like to listen or are you both in for some intensely quiet staring contests?
  • Do you have anything to talk about together?
  • Will you be able to trust them?

It’s not enough to simply like the other person. You must also share similar goals when it comes to the tour otherwise what should have been a great time could quite easily descend into the depths of despair.

Questions to consider include:

  • What time do you both believe is a reasonable time to hit the road in the morning?
  • Do you or your partner expect to ride alongside each other throughout the day or will there be a lot of independent riding opportunities?
  • Are visits with people that you encounter ok or will one of you believe that it’s just an example of wasting time?
  • How are rest days going to be handled? Rest every six days, take a rest day after a vote or just skip rest days entirely?
  • Lots of roadside cooking on a stove or meals in restaurants?
  • Stealth camping opportunities desired?
  • Camp grounds or motels or both?
  • Everything mapped out in advance or just follow a general heading?
  • Strict adherence to a preplanned router or recognized ability to shift routes when something new appears?
  • Are your daily distance expectations agreeable to both of you?
  • Camp site chores rotate or fixed?
  • Are the hopes that you have for the tour compatible with those cherished by the other person?
  • Shower frequency expectations match? (Daily showers versus every couple of days or a shower versus a simple wash cloth in the woods)

In reading these questions it is easy to see that they are similar to the types of questions that you would consider when getting into a dating situation. A tour is actually a more intense experience in many cases because you will likely be spending close to twenty four hours a day with this person until the tour completes. The longer the tour the more intense the experience.

Last year I toured around most of Lake Ontario with one of my best friends. We had already been friends for years and had actually short toured together once before very positively. When the opportunity arose to ride around Lake Ontario together it seemed like it would be a perfect experience for us both. The reality was that although there were many, many moments that we still talk warmly about today, there were also a few others that weren’t what we had hoped for.

In looking back at that tour I believe the major reasons for the experience going the way it did were as follows:

  • My friend had preplanned the route that he wanted to follow to go around the lake. I like to route my path relatively free form when on my longer tours so the rigid adherence to a fixed route was at first amusing but eventually suffocating for me.
  • Originally we had planned based on a two week tour including three weekends. I had important work committments that made us leave on a weekday morning forcing the loss of an entire weekend and part of the next week. I was comfortable with the extra distance requirements based on my previous successful tours but my friend was coming into this with no long tours behind him. The extra daily distance likely played a major role in the fatigue that he experienced towards the end of his part of the tour. More time to rest may have made a tremendous difference for him.
  • My friend looked forward to the tour as an opportunity to go for a long bike ride. I saw this tour as a major part of my five year quest to go around all five great lakes. While he was happy just to go as far and long as he could, I wanted to circle the entire lake so that I could have another great lake adventure completed. These differing goals and mindsets were behind most of the differences we experienced.
  • I enjoy stealth camping when the opportunity arises. This was something that my friend definately didn’t want us to do to the point that I purposely left behind all of my stealth camping gear with the exception of my hammock. This reinforced the sense of losing freedom of action and after we parted later in the tour I seriously regretted leaving the gear behind.
  • I love stopping and exploring historical sites. This is not something that my friend was interested in. Rather then get into a potential conflict I simply ignored my desire to visit places of interest. For me this is a major part of my tours so it wasn’t an insignificant decision.
  • One of the most important problems was that we got into a habit early on of riding together continuously. While this led to many great conversations it also meant that I stayed back at a speed of 17 km / hour rather then my typical 22 km per hour touring speed. This may seem trivial but at the end of a 140 km day this translates into roughly 8.25 pedaling hours versus 6.25. During the last two days of our shared tour we found that meeting up from time to time at preplanned locations worked much better for us. He no longer felt like he had to pedal like mad all the time and I no longer felt like I had to pedal more slowly. (The difference in speeds was likely more the result of the differences in our touring setups rather then fitness related).
  • Rest days are something that I think are very important to help prevent injury as well as something to look forward to. As the tour progressed my friend consistently kept trying to move up the end date rather then take planned rest days even though we were riding extra distance to give us a bonous rest day. I ended up with an injured ankle that led to more pain then I liked on the tour.

In reading this list it would be easy to think that this tour was the tour from hell for me but it really wasn’t. As I mentioned earlier I enjoyed many great experiences with my friend and we still talk about those good times today. We are even talking about another tour sometime and I believe we will eventually set out on another tour. A major difference the next time will be that we will start from the same place both on the map physically and from an expectations viewpoint mentally.