I like to plan bike tours. The two tools I use most are Airtable and RideWithGPS.
Airtable is a fantastic tool for planning anything. It is a combination of simple database and simple spreadsheet, coupled with calendars and to-dos.
The basic level is free, and you can do plenty with the basic version.
Every tour I have ridden for the last four years has an Airtable as part of the pre-ride planning.
I have even planned a tour that I did not ride – Lands End to John O’Groats in 2020. I was all set for six weeks in the UK in May-June 2020, but not even Airtable can overcome a global pandemic.
For most tours, the route comes first. I plan my routes in RideWithGPS. I plan out routes for each day’s ride, and join them up as an “event” in RideWithGPS.
My Airtable bike-tour planning template then takes over.
The most important table is the route plan – it is your bike tour at a glance. It takes the day-by-day routes from RideWithGPS, and presents them in a table with date, day, start and finish locations, daily distance, lunch location and distance, and links to the accommodation table. The table also tallies your total distance for the tour.
The accommodation table is a deep dive into your accommodation options. You can put in multiple options for each town or location, and link to the URL, note the tariff and whether you have booked.
Grouping by town is a good way of comparing options if there are several to choose from.
The packing list table is one that I have refined over many years. It helps me work out what’s important to take on this specific tour. I group the items by ‘location’, which in this context means where is an item stored on my bike.
The “locations” listed will change depending on which bike I am taking on this adventure: my 650B touring bike or my 29er hardtail touring mtb. And as I consider which items to take, and where there might be room to store them, I get a feeling for the set-up I will need.
Am I camping? Am I taking my stove? Am I taking an Aeropress for a delicious coffee each morning, or will there be somewhere to buy a coffee?
If I’m camping in remote locations (i.e. not in towns), am I taking a tarp or a tent? What are the predicted minimum overnight temperatures for this time of year in these places? If we are staying in towns, is it camping or pubs?
What is the mix of roads and trails that comprise this tour? My most recent five-day outing on the Central West Cycle Trail I took my 29er hard tail mountain bike, and I was happy with the choice, especially on the last day through some rough, rutted and bumpy forestry trails through the Goonoo Forest near Mendooran.
The mountain bike has different luggage carrying options than my touring bike (the Sholto). And for my next mini-adventure I’ve decided that the Sholto will do the trick. The gnarliest piece of road or trail that I expect to ride is the crossing of Yarraman Creek on Old Yarraman Rd, and If there is a little bit of hike-a-bike coming up from the creek bed that will be fine.
But with more than 200km of bitumen road as part of the tour, the Sholto bike is a clear winner over the 29er, because of the more road-oriented position, and smaller tyres. And of course this means that when sorting through my packing list, I have in mind the low-rider panniers and front bag system on the Sholto, rather than the bike-packing style luggage on the mtb.
So if one of the barriers to getting started in bike touring is a lack of expertise or experience … l invite you to grab my Airtable template, and just see where it takes you. Any questions, just ask.