With hundreds of outdoor trips under my belt as a tour guide, and as a solo adventurer, I’ve had a unique chance to see how group dynamics can be impacted by group size. Here’s my overview of the things I’ve found to be true about the best group size for bike touring with anywhere from one, to over ten people. If you have additional thoughts, please chime in below, and I’ll add it to this list where appropriate.
Solo Bicycle Touring: Excellent if you like solitude, but can become lonely at times if you aren’t used to keeping yourself company. The fun is up to YOU!
- You can do what you want, when you want, where you want, and how you want to.
- Very easy to find warmshowers hosting for a solo traveller.
- Solitude can sometimes be your best companion
- Keeps planning very flexible, and it’s easy to change your trip based on your personal whim.
- Nobody to watch your kit if you decide to take a break day, or go on a hike, or to the grocer.
- Can be lonely for some – if you are setting out on a soul search, be prepared for the mental reality of being alone in the world at times
- Smaller safety net/more dangerous if you get hurt or run into mechanical issues.
Two Person Bicycle Touring: Has great potential to be fun, but kind of like that caution folks give you about living with your best friend, there can be tension at times, and decisions are sometimes “Either – Or”. It can work for some, but I’d definitely recommend being very conscious about who you tour with and set expectations, and ways of decision making before you head on tour. Evaluation of group dynamic is important through the tour process as well, whether it’s talking about each day over a campfire during the evening, or taking an evening each week to discuss goals and expectations.
It may sound tacky, but communication is VERY important when you are riding with a second person for long periods of time. In my experience it can take over a month to truly fall into a natural “rhythm” with a second rider, even if you’ve known them for ages. (unless your trip is less than a week, in which case you won’t even have time to sort out the more persistent preferences of each individual over the course of the tour). This can also work to your advantage with riding partners you find while on tour, as often with no precedent, things go much smoother because both parties want to get along.
- Somebody to talk to, rely on, share stories with, feel safe with, and keep an eye on the bikes, if at least one member is female, I’ve noticed that folks are more approachable/will more willing to talk to you. (Don’t ask me why, this is just a pattern I’ve noticed time and time again)
- Shared food and lodging can help bring individual costs down. Still easy to find warmshowers hosting.
- Motivation to keep going, and explore often gives a good pace to the ride.
- A second person can be helpful for making difficult navigation decisions.
- Two different people, two different paces, and styles.
- “Personal Safety” standards may vary from your own (i.e. running yellows may feel fine to you, but freak out your touring partner. Definitely discuss pace, safety concerns, route/preparation preferences (will you both be flying by the seat of your pants? Or will you know and plan exactly where and when to make each stop/camp for the night, these things are important to discuss)
- If relationship and styles are not congruous, trip vibe can suffer, touring can really put relationships to the test, even if unintentionally.
- For potential romantic relationships I’d advise on being clear about expectations, for both parties to feel comfortable, and safe in their environment, I feel it’s best to not try to start a relationship while on tour, I have seen it, and it can end up being ridiculously awkward for everyone involved. (This last sentence applies to any group size 2+) Always safest and funnest to make wonderful friends, and if both parties are feeling good after the tour, to go from there. (I brought this up because I’ve seen it happen, and it’s a sad way to throw an un-needed stressor into the bike touring environment)
3-4 Persons: My FAVORITE group size, enough people to have a “majority” group flow, while still listening, and being respectful of individuals preferences. Enough people to create space for solitude, or ride safely as a group.
- This size brings a lot of really fun dynamics, it feels like you are really on an adventure with you and your friends (whether long time, or newly met)
- Safety in numbers, and excellent group cost savings for things such as food, and especially camping fees (if any).
- Plenty of eyes to watch your kit, or explore during town days.
- You can also have a “fast group” and a “slow group” where folks still have safety in numbers, and people to talk to while still being able to meet up and split costs at the end of the day.
- You will probably notice you move a bit slower, which is fine, you’re bigger. Paces may start to vary as group size increases, however with good communication and gear planning, if you put your repair supplies with the person in back, they can act as a “Sweep” and help everyone roll safely into camp towards the end of the day.
- As you get past 4 people, It becomes harder to use warmshowers to find hosting for all members under one roof. Depending on group makeup “Third Wheel” dynamic can come into play, just something that’s good to be aware of.
5+ Persons: “A Crowd” This is where I usually start to notice a lot of strain between different personalities in the group, it’s also really hard to keep everybody on the same page if the group is not lead by an organization or paid event, so don’t feel bad if groups of this size dissipate into smaller groups over the course of the tour. (especially if the groups occurred naturally with riders that happened to run into each other on the road)
- You (sometimes) feel like you own the road, safety in numbers in jubilance at so many bicycles on the road is an amazing feeling (just don’t get too overconfident!)
- Riding with 5+ people can be akin to herding cats, with so many different interests, and personalities, and ride styles, groups don’t tend to stay this big for long. The only exception may be for organized rides where people pay money and have a monetary investment in finishing the ride. (examples: Cycle Oregon ,RAGBRAI ) Campsites typically have limits of about 6 persons, so having over that number actually reduces your ability to occupy a single site and take advantage of the cost savings (to a degree)
Meeting other cyclists on the road is always a fun experience, and even if just waving an encouraging “hello” I’d encourage everybody to give bicycle touring a shot sometime!