Our BikeTours.com travel ambassador Jackie Nourse has traveled around the world and back again, but never by bike.
She had a few concerns before embarking on our Castles and Wines of Portugal tour, but they were quickly dispelled as she hopped in the saddle and cycled through her first bike trip.
Read on about how she didn’t let her fears stop her from trying something new.
I am staring out a castle window in Portugal, overlooking the town of Estremoz. I just finished my first bike tour ever, and I am smiling ear to ear.
I never would have guessed that I would SO enjoy cycle touring, but then again, life is absolutely packed with surprises.
I am not even close to considering myself a “cyclist,” as I’ve never spent more than a few hours on a bike at a time, and certainly not for multiple days at a time. However, when the opportunity to participate in a bike tour in Europe presented itself, my courage kicked in and I felt overwhelmingly intrigued to explore the world of cycling.
I said yes, bought myself a pair of padded bike shorts, and showed up in Portugal ready to ride a bike. However, none of this happened without several concerns and cases of “What ifs.”
I was afraid of all sorts of pain, from my neck to my seat to my legs, I was concerned something would happen to my bike, and part of me was very concerned that I just simply wouldn’t like riding a bike that much. Like… really concerned.
Now that I can look back at the last week, I am blown away by how all of these fears and concerns actually played out. Let my experience be an encouragement to you if you’re in a similar position!
Fear #1: But my neck will hurt!
I struggle constantly with neck pain, and the thought of assuming a hunched over cycling position for days terrified me. Much to my delight and surprise, like… serious miracle status, this simply was not an issue on the bike.
Unfortunately, I think my neck issues are mostly a result of carrying my heavy backpack day after day for months on end as a nomadic traveler. This week, my luggage was transported from hotel to hotel for me in the support van, and I had bike bags to carry my daytime items, so I was completely daypack and backpack-free.
My neck actually felt better after spending a week on a bike. Unbelievable and A-mazing.
Fear #2: But my @$$ will hurt!
Saddle sore, anyone? Even after a few hours on a bike, my seat begins to hurt, so I really had no idea how I would deal with such pain for a whole week at a time.
The second day is the hardest. As soon as I got on my bike Morning 2 and tried to sit back on the saddle, crazy shooting pain went all up and down my body. I was shocked at how sensitive I was in the moment. As I bobbled down the cobblestone street, wincing and doing my best to stand on my pedals, I wondered if this pain were now my fate for the rest of the week.
I’m not going to pretend like I wasn’t singing that Linkin Park song, “I’ve become so numb” in my head for two days straight. But then, like a sock in the dryer, the pain just disappeared.
When they say, “you just get used to it,” they don’t mean you learn to live with the pain, they actually mean that the pain goes away. At least, it did for me. “Getting used to it” is breaking yourself in to your bike. As with anything else, you have to become accustomed to it, and then it’s just more comfortable and your body stops protesting.
Notes: Use padded bike shorts and get a gel seat cover to put over hard bike seats, they help a ton!
Important Tip: Avoid Chafing!
Figuring out the best combination of clothing/padding is super important and is going to vary from person to person. Everyone told me you’re not supposed to wear underwear under your padded shorts, but (sorry if this is TMI) mine are seamless, minimalist, and meant for physical activity, so they were completely fine to wear. The idea is to have as few seams as possible against your skin. In Portugal, it was cold enough for me to wear running leggings underneath my bike shorts, so chafing wasn’t an issue whatsoever.
The following week in Austria was much hotter, and I didn’t like having the padded shorts with the thick seams rubbing against my skin, even with the help of the anti-friction stick that I bought, so I wore my favorite workout skirt to have a layer of protection under the shorts, and it worked out because they hid the unsightly padded-ness over the shorts as well.
Fear #3: I’m not a cyclist. Will it be too physically difficult?
Like I said, I’m not a cyclist. I haven’t been on a bike in months and was concerned that it might be difficult for me physically. However, I do run and hike regularly, and this proved to be my saving grace.
I powered up those hills, leaving the guys in my dust. You don’t have to ride bikes beforehand, but it does help to be in good shape, otherwise you’ll probably be hurting.
I recommend a pair of recovery compression socks to wear each evening after biking, and taking nuun tabs or similar for electrolyte replacement. These are the same tricks I use when I’m doing multi-day hiking in Patagonia.
Fear #4: What if I have bike problems?
I was very concerned that something would happen to my bike. Let’s talk about this realistically for a moment though… I was on a guided tour, so if anything did happen, I’d have help. Even if I didn’t have a guide, I was on a supported tour, so if something did happen, I’d have a person just a text or phone call away who could help me.
Also, if you book a bike tour with a well-reviewed company or one listed in a pre-vetted collection like BikeTours.com, you’re going to get a great bicycle to ride for the week. My bike in Portugal was fairly new, and I LOVED IT. It was so smooth and comfortable and easy to ride, and even though I took it off roading a few times during the week, nothing ever went wrong with it. It was well-maintained and I was sad to part with it when the week was over.
Added after Austria trip: On my solo tour, I was given a list of all the bike shops along the way where I could take my bike if I had any issues, and I was supplied with a repair kit. Even if I didn’t know how to fix the bike, there were enough cyclists on the path that I know I could have sought help if I needed it, but I didn’t!
Fear #5: Will I even enjoy this?
This may seem like a silly concern, and it seems silly to me now, but it was an honest concern before I started. I had no idea if it would be too painful, too hard, or somehow too awkward to enjoy. I really wanted to like it, but I just didn’t know if I would.
I can only shake my head and laugh at this now, because I truly, truly, TRULY, enjoyed it SO much. And you know why? This makes perfect sense. It’s because I enjoy being outside in nature, I enjoy exercising, and I enjoy using my own two legs to get me from here to there.
I was doing all of these things, just faster! I got to spend hours outside, eat everything I wanted, feel the sun on my skin and the dirt beneath my bike. It was me in a new element where I really felt at home, and THAT is the most surprising thing about all of this.
After 15 years of international travel, I’ve uncovered another way to see the world that I had never taken an interest before. I’m not sure if you can grasp how exciting that is for me.
Concerns officially dispelled, I cannot wait to keep exploring this “new” world of cycling!