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A how-to guide for bike touring with Scouts

SCOTT STOLL BIKED around the world, cycling a whopping 25,742 miles in four years. He wrote about his continent-hopping bike trip in the book Falling Uphill (The Argonauts, 2010). Living as a two-wheeled nomad, Stoll took off from America and pedaled through 50 countries. (Stoll is shown above cycling the road to Everest Base Camp. Photo by Edwin Tucker.)

Planning a bike-touring trip with Scouts doesn’t mean you have to think global (it could be as simple as cycling to an adjacent town). Yet Stoll, a former Boy Scout who grew up in Wisconsin, encourages Scouts to dream big. “Don’t let planning overwhelm your dream; just go for it,” he says.

Scott endured a wide range of weather conditions during his journey, including 18 inches of snow at Sani Pass in Lesotho (located in southern Africa).

A spirit of adventure is required — and that’s not hard to find among Scouts. You’ll also need a tuned-up bike and a means to carry some gear. But planning a bike tour does not need to be a major feat.

Building up to his big trip, Stoll says he trained in the San Francisco area with several 30-mile overnight trips to help determine essential gear and nonessential items. “I brought basic camping gear and rode to the closest grove of giant redwoods in the Bay Area for the night,” he says. Add a round-the-world journey to his cycling résumé, and it’s not hard to see why we sought out his expert advice.

Apply Stoll’s suggestions to your weekend bike overnighter or, perhaps some day, a multi-week bike adventure of your own.

Sturdy, Durable Ride
Stoll has toured on different bike types, from mountain-bike models to a custom-frame build. He said road-hybrid models and touring-specific bikes are the best for the long road. A balance of comfort, speed, and durability to roll through a variety of terrain is key. Durable wheels, longwearing tires, and comfortable handlebars and seat are crucial. Finally, make sure your bike can support multiple water-bottle cages and has a braze-on (permanently attached) rear rack for hauling your gear.

Ride Light, Ride Fast
Weight is an enemy of forward motion. The lighter your bike and gear weigh, the farther, faster, and more comfortable you’ll roll. “Eliminate the things you don’t need,” Stoll says. He noted many bike tourists bring too many clothes. “Buy multifunctional clothes you can wear in a range of weather,” he says, noting a jacket that can provide warmth but is also light enough to wear on warmer days to protect from the sun.

Map My Ride
Maps and a GPS device are basic navigation tools that you and your Scouts can use on a bike tour. For more remote areas, Stoll says he’d often bring at least two maps in case one had more detail on a route. Don’t forget old-fashioned personal contact that can save a lost rider, too. “Ask for directions; it’s simple,” Stoll says. “The locals will know which way to go.” He also notes that getting off route is not the end of the world. “Some of my best adventures were the result of getting lost.”

Miles to Go Before You Sleep
“How many miles should we bike every day?” This is a common question from first-time bike tourists. Stoll says 35 to 50 miles a day is a good goal if you’re in moderate to good physical condition. It would also depend on the age and endurance of your Scouts. “I find 50 miles is a really good number. You can usually get to the next city or campground on the route but still have time to see the sites and talk to people along the way.”

Must-Have Gear
Stoll recommends a leather bike saddle for serious bikers. But make sure your seat is comfortable and broken in— you’re going to be sitting and pedaling for hours on end. Another thing: Rear wheels on bikes are problematic on rough roads or long tours where your bike is loaded with a lot of weight. “Get a strong rear wheel so your spokes don’t pop,” he says.

Rack and Go
Most bike tourists use a rear rack with pannier bags. Stoll recommends a rack from Jandd, specifically the company’s Expedition Rack ($89). The reinforced aluminum rack was designed for large loads and survived 25,000+ miles on Stoll’s journey. His panniers of choice are from the Back Roller Classic duo by Ortlieb ($180). These waterproof saddlebags can be crammed with enough gear for a multi-week trip.

Get Fit Before You Go
“You don’t need to be a super athlete,” Stoll notes. Get in basic biking shape, and you’ll be set. Ride at least a few times a week to prepare, perhaps up to a cumulative 100 miles or more a week while in training mode. Do a few long rides (30+ miles) with your bike-touring rig loaded up to practice. If you’re planning on camping during your tour, then camp during your training. Nix the nonessentials and work to reduce the load carried on your bike, thus allowing you to pedal easier. Using your approximate cycling pace during training, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect (how long it will take you to cover a set distance) during your trip.

Then go for it!
Stoll says on longer tours your fitness level and endurance will improve as the miles roll by.

All images courtesy of Scott Stoll.