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Four Things You Must Know as a Female Solo Bike Tourer

January 23, 2020

Four Things You Must Know as a Female Solo Bike Tourer

There are several vital aspects of solo bike touring that females should understand before embarking. Here, we’ll discuss the top four tips from a longtime tourer.

I embarked on my first solo bike tour in 2016.

It was my first bike tour ever, actually. I’d never even completed an overnight trip. But somehow, I got it into my head that flying to Iceland and riding the perimeter of the island for three weeks was a good first step.

I realize that not everyone is comfortable diving headfirst into solo bike touring and that most (perhaps much saner) people will benefit from building up their mileage during weekend trips before tackling more extended tours. In hindsight, I’d recommend the same to my naïve self!

Based on my experience as a female solo tourer, there are several other important tips I’d like to pass along. I believe these will benefit anyone, regardless of gender, and make your bicycle tour the best experience possible.

1. Be Prepared

First things first: choose a comfortable bike and ride it … a lot.

Cycle around the city or town where you live. Ride fully loaded. Ride to a campsite, camp overnight, and then ride home. Make sure the bike becomes an extension of your body. Be confident on it.

Then, make a list of everything you plan to pack for your tour. Lay it out somewhere. Check it twice. Pack it all into your panniers. Unpack it. Re-pack it again. Double-check that everything is organized and the weight is relatively balanced.

While solo touring, I learned that knowing where everything was and always putting things back where I found them saved a considerable amount of time. It also helped mitigate the possibility of losing any of my belongings.

My friend Andrea didn’t follow this advice, and she ended up forgetting all (and I mean all) of her essential documents (e.g., passport, ID, credit cards, cash) in the town she’d left hours earlier. Even worse? She didn’t realize her mistake until 2 am.

Her only option? Cycle back the way she’d come, ride the wrong way through one-way tunnels in the dark, and then wait in front of the café for it to open the next morning.

2. Be Safe

I understand that biking solo through a foreign country can make you feel vulnerable. But I promise: if you take the same precautions and use the same street smarts as at home, you’ll be fine.

But, when solo bike touring, safety isn’t necessarily about crime. For example, I didn’t know a lot about Iceland before I embarked, but I did know their crime rate is virtually nonexistent. 

I didn’t, however, fully appreciate the insane number of tourists that invade Iceland each summer, each seeking to enjoy those few short months of endless daylight—most of whom rent cars and drive the Ring Road.

The same road I was biking. A road with no shoulder. In the rain. With 18-wheelers whizzing by, their tailwinds whipping me back and forth for seconds after they passed.

I became so overwhelmed that I stopped in the next town (I was still in the more populated southern part of the country) and cried. “What on earth had I gotten myself into?” I wondered.

Keeping my safety (and sanity) at the top of my list, I decided to take a bus farther north to a much less populated (and touristy) area of the country, and then continue my tour from there.

Did I feel like I’d let myself down? Was I embarrassed? Did I wonder what kind of cycling tourer I was, taking a bus on only my second day? Was I worried what others would think of me, or that I’d somehow already ruined this experience? You bet.

Although those thoughts initially crossed my mind (with some even lingering throughout the tour, in retrospect), I said to myself, “Who gives a shit?”

I didn’t feel safe on that road, so I did what I thought was best within my power to change the situation.

Bottom line: Do whatever it takes to feel safe on your bike tour.

Along these same lines ….

3. Be Flexible

Whether related to emotional, physical, or meteorological challenges, some days will be harder than others while touring. As you encounter and overcome these challenges, remain flexible, giving yourself leeway to make changes.

Furthermore, because most of us don’t have the option of extending our tours indefinitely, it can be easy to lose focus and allow flexibility to suffer. Don’t let that happen.

Some days you may want to go fast, others more slowly. I’ve had days where I’ve ridden 100 miles in headwinds (a bit masochistic I know), and others where I stopped after 20 miles and drank beers in the sun for the rest of the day. Allow yourself to enjoy the time on and off the bike. 

Whatever your reason for your tour, remain flexible with your schedule and know that you will always make it to where you need to be, either by your own badass power or by other means. Trust the process.

4. Be Open to New Adventures & Possibilities

Given the potential for danger while riding alone as a female bike tourer, it can be easy to close yourself off. Instead, remain open to meeting new people, going on new adventures, and experiencing new possibilities.

Bicycles offer such an immediate visual connection to another person, and you shouldn’t pass up these opportunities.

Even for a naturally outgoing person like myself, there are so many factors that feed into who you meet along your bike tours, including language, culture, and how women are viewed. Factors like how hot, tired, sweaty, hungry, and lonely you are after a long day on the saddle also play essential roles.

But regardless of the circumstances, remaining open to people is precisely what makes bike touring the greatest way to travel.

In fact, this mindset has gifted me with some of the best advice I’ve ever received. It was from Spaniard bike tourer after we’d arrived at the road where we planned to go our separate ways. My route way had a very steep, sunny climb ahead while his presented a gentle downhill slope that led into a shady forest.

I said to him in Spanish, “Ugh, I wish I were going your way to avoid that climb.”

He responded, “No, no. You have your path, and I have mine. Don’t judge yours from such a distance. Wait until you get closer, and you’ll probably see that it is a much easier climb than you think.”

Of course, he was right, and his advice has allowed me to remain open to tougher challenges ever since.

There was also Stefano from Italy, who’d just mountain biked through central Iceland. Three Spanish guys whose laughter was contagious and whose friendship was enviable. Florenz from the Netherlands, who helped me celebrate my 36th birthday with crappy coffee in front of a gas station in Höfn.

Many of the individuals I’ve met while solo bike touring will be lifelong friends. So take it from me: don’t close yourself off while touring solo. Talk to others. Ask for advice. Give recommendations. I promise you won’t regret it.

The Bottom Line About Solo Touring as a Female Cyclist

When I talk with others about my Iceland or Taiwan trips or my upcoming Japanese tour, so many say, “Oh my god, I could NEVER do that!”

Which is fine. I totally get it. Long solo bike tours aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But women should never allow fear to hold them back from solo bike touring.

Was I ever scared during my tours? Sure! But good scared. Like, this-is-gonna-be-life-changing scared.

And I hope that your desire to feel the same will lead to solo bike touring, and all of the incredible insight into the world it can provide.

Elizabeth Franczyk is a cyclist who competes in gravel endurance, cyclocross, and road races, and has traveled extensively both on and off her bike. She teaches Spanish at Milwaukee Area Technical College, works part-time at a local bike shop, and recently completed a solo bike tour in Taiwan.
One Comment
  1. Kate

    This is awesome! I’d love to read more articles about traveling solo

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