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Using Trails

How to Be Equipment-Ready for Your First Long-Distance Trail Ride

By: Tom Sexton
March 13, 2018

Female young technician looking at the camera in her bicycle repair shop | Photo courtesy RTC
Female young technician looking at the camera in her bicycle repair shop | Photo courtesy RTC

Este contenido también está disponible en español.

If you’re planning a long-distance ride spanning several days or even a week—you’re probably hitting the trails to get in tip-top physical shape. But fitness is only one part of the equation—as the shape of one’s bike and gear can also help to determine one’s overall experience.

As Rails-to-Trails Conservancy prepares for our 2018 Pennsylvania Sojourn, we wanted to provide a few tips on how to be “equipment-ready” for your first big biking trip. These are helpful for anyone who is heading out for the first time on a major trail adventure, and wants to be prepared!

1. Tune up that bike for the trail.

Many people bring their own bikes on long-distance excursions because they’ve ridden them many times (some daily) over the course of months or years and know what to expect. And while that familiarity is a plus, it’s still very important to make sure one’s bike is in tip-top shape before heading out on a major trip. Chains, tires, breaks, frames—no matter what condition they were in once upon a time—they’re all susceptible to wear and tear.

RELATED: How to Get Your Bike in Tip-Top Shape in Under 10 Minutes

You might pop into a bike-repair shop for a tune-up or possibly explore if there are any local bike co-ops that can take a look and give your bike a green light to go (some even have bike maintenance classes!).

2. Consider tire width and surface type.

For long-distance rides over a variety of surfaces, RTC recommends hybrid bikes with 35-millimeter tire widths. This size generally will not impede riders on asphalt or smooth surfaces (which accommodate road bikes and racing bikes well) and also provides some shock support and control for bumpier routes (crushed sandstone or packed dirt, for example). FYI— provides surface and route information for more than 22,000 miles of rail-trails in the U.S.

3. Learn how to fix a flat.

Last year, more than 20,000 people celebrated Opening Day for Trails. | Photo by Barry Bergman
Last year, more than 20,000 people celebrated Opening Day for Trails. | Photo by Barry Bergman

This is key. Some people—particularly if they are hard riders—can be more prone to flat tires. And sometimes the conditions of a section of trail (or various unknown forces—nature, animals, people, etc.) can cause random unwelcome mishaps.

If you are on your own, or with just a few friends or family members, it’s recommended that at least one of you is prepared with a tire repair kit and the knowledge of how to use it! But over the years, I’ve found that even with a group like RTC’s—where many knowledgeable riders and a volunteer service team are there to lend a helping hand—it’s still best to be prepared! (Being the hero is never a bad thing, right?)

RELATED: RTC’s 2017 Pennsylvania Sojourn Is Going to Be Awesome. Here’s Why.

4. Do an inventory of your body—after a long ride.

Take a series of long rides. How do you feel afterward? Is your backside burning or getting sore? Do your joints or shoulders hurt—which could be caused by where your seat is placed? Knowledge is power, and understanding how you feel after a ride provides you with the power/ability to make small changes such as switching out your seat (or readjusting it), buying (or borrowing) a pair of padded biking shorts, or simply just working on building some muscle to serve as better cushion for your behind!

And with that said …

5. Be prepared with the essentials.

In our recent blog, “How to Prepare for a Long-Distance Trail Ride,” we talked about the importance of water, water, water. A good water bottle (or two) and a sturdy bottle cage (mounted to your bike) are important for all riders.

Another lifesaver: sunblock! Many people underestimate the power of the sun during even a mildly warm day. (Even if you’re riding on a trail with lots of tree canopy, it’s always good to be prepared!)

You also want to make sure that your clothing and apparel (footwear, rain gear, sunglasses, etc.) can hold up under the elements. Don’t wait until the last minute! Whether you’re borrowing or buying it—test it over a period of time before your trip to make sure it’s right for you.

Advice for people like me who are 60 and older: Try compression sleeves for your calves or arms—which really help with blood flow (and block the sun).

Originally published: 04/11/17
Updated: 03/13/18

Tom Sexton | Photo by Anthony Le
Tom Sexton

Tom Sexton is the Director of the Northeast Regional Office. A native Pennsylvanian, Tom has worked for many decades toward conserving and improving his state's environment and communities, and building trail networks throughout the northeast.

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