Learn, test skills for self-supported bike tours

Learn, test skills for self-supported bike tours

Steve Hankel’s favorite way to travel is on two wheels, carrying what he needs with him and enjoying the scenery as he pedals past.

In the past 12 years, the Savoy man has done at least one self-supported long-distance bike trip each year. He’s ridden across the United States and across the Australian Outback, as well as on numerous shorter trips.

He’s learned a lot about how to plan and pack for self-supported bike trips, and Hankel will be sharing his knowledge in a three-part seminar series for people who want to do bike touring, with a focus on self-supported rides. The series is supported by Prairie Cycle Club and Champaign County Bikes.

The bicycle travel teaching seminars are scheduled for Jan. 30, Feb. 27 and a yet-to-be-determined date in March. They will cover route and trip planning, gear and bike maintenance. The cost is $10 per seminar, and online registration is available at http://www.prairiecycleclub.org/2019-bicycle-touring-seminar-registration/.

Blog PhotoParticipants can test the skills they learn with a bike camping weekend April 13-14 at Walnut Point State Park or with a weekend bike trip in May or June to Kickapoo State Recreation Area.

“People can try it out if they’ve never done it before, and it will give them some experience to boost their confidence. We’ll provide information and resources, so they feel confident in their ability to plan it and carry it out,” Hankel said.

Among the topics that will be part of the seminars are the types of lodging available, including motels, hostels, camping or staying in the homes of people who will host touring cyclists; and the different types of bike touring experiences, from a fully-supported tour with a group to a self-supported tour with a guide to a fully self-supported trip.

Choosing a supported trip with a company means a cyclist doesn’t have to do all the route planning and may not have to carry gear, Hankel said, but a self-supported trip offers more flexibility in the daily mileage and agenda.

“I thoroughly enjoy (the planning). Other people can’t stand the idea of trying to make all those arrangements on their own,” he said. “I’ll talk about the difference between a self-supported trip versus something that’s supported.”

Blog PhotoThe planning seminar will review factors such as daily mileage and flexibility for sightseeing. When Hankel cycled Australia, he failed to take into account the amount of daylight available. He cycled in June -- winter in the southern hemisphere -- and the days were shorter than expected. That factor, combined with serious headwinds for much of the trip, meant he and his companions didn’t get in as many miles each day as planned. They had to cut out some side trips and sightseeing they’d planned to do at the end of the ride.

Ellen Hedrick of Champaign helped organize the seminars. She’s done self-supported trips on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails in 2016 and on the Natchez Trace Parkway trail system last summer.

Hedrick learned cyclists can’t always count on finding a restaurant along their route. She and her fellow cyclists had to leave the Natchez Trace trail and go out of their way if they wanted to eat at a restaurant.

“There were some food deserts,” Hedrick said.

The presentation on gear will cover types of bicycles, how to carry gear so that the bicycle is properly balanced, and what equipment is needed or not needed.

Champaign Cycle will help with the mechanical clinic. Topics will include replacing a broken spoke, changing a flat, truing a wheel, and adjusting the brakes and the derailleur.

Both Hankel and Hedrick said one of the most important factors in planning a self-supported trip is deciding who to ride with. Hankel said cyclists should acknowledge that they are going to have bad days when they are tired or frustrated. Riding with others who have similar expectations and work well as a team makes those moments easier.

“You’re in close quarters for quite a long time. Choose good riding companions,” Hedrick said.

While Hankel has learned from his own experiences, he also avidly reads online cycling websites and blogs, where cyclists write about their trips all over the world and make recommendations.

“You can learn from other people’s mistakes, not just yours,” he said.


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/


Photos: Top, Steve Hankel stands with his bike in 2012, cycling just east of Glacier, Mont. Bottom: Ellen Hedrick rides on the Natchez Trace Parkway trail in March 2018.



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