Ride a S24O: The Quick and Easy Bike Tour

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"Just Ride” is a manual for the “unracer” — the rider looking for a reason to shuck the click-in pedals and uncomfortable bikes and grueling rides, without feeling like it’s throwing in the towel. It’s full of suggestions and recommendation on riding your bike outside the strange and often dysfunctional influences of racing, and having a better time on the bike because of it.  
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Enjoy bike touring by breaking it up into brief outings as short as 24 hours.

A reformed racer who’s commuted by bike every day since 1980 and founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works, Grant Petersen shares a lifetime of unexpected facts, controversial opinions, expert techniques and his own philosophy in Just Ride (Workman Publishing, 2012), a collection of 89 short essays on bike culture and practical cycling in everyday life. In this excerpt, Petersen explains how to take on short-and-sweet rides called sub-24-hour overnights, or S24Os.

You can buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Just Ride.

The most fun I have with my bike is during overnight bike-camping trips in the local hills. I call them Sub-24-Hour Overnights, or S24Os, and mine average sixteen hours, typically from about 5:30 in the evening to 9:30 the next morning. I’ve gone on several solo, but the best ones are with good company. I go with one to four of the guys from work, and sometimes local friends.

We load up the bags and baskets with what we need for the night, and leave in the afternoon or evening, and after one to three hours of riding we find a place with a good view and settle for the night. It doesn’t matter if there are city lights and hustle-bustle a few miles away and visible in the distance; there may not be any way around that. You don’t want to hear boom boxes, but even just one mile of pavement-free earth between you and city lights and noise is enough isolation to let you pretend you’re in the boonies.

The great thing about the S24O is that it minimizes any problems in planning, packing, weather, bike imperfections, or anything else that might wreck a long tour. If you mess up and forget to bring something, or if the weather turns foul, it’s OK, because everything will be back to normal tomorrow.

Nearby open spaces and parks are ideal places for an S24O. Sometimes you have to get a permit, and these days you do that online. When you’re out there, don’t whoop it up or set the woods on fire. Pack out more than you pack in, and you won’t go to hell or jail for stealth camping. The more official the camp spot, the more comfortable it’s likely to be.

If you live in the middle of a metropolis that would take you an hour of dreadful riding to escape, drive or have somebody drive you to a point where the riding is decent, and ride from there. Remember, it’s just a quick, informal bike trip, so there’s no shame in getting a head start by car if that makes it easier.

Who to go with: friends, yourself, or family. Not every member of your family may be up for a tour with a week of fifty-mile days, but they might go for a two-mile pedal and one woodsy overnight if you promise they can leave at 6 p.m. and be home by 9 a.m. the next morning. If they hate it, it’s only a night, and they’ll still be proud as they brag to their friends about how much they hated it, and they’ll be secretly glad they did it.

What to take bike-camping

Here’s a list that’ll get you through the night. You can add to it or subtract from it to suit yourself, but this is a good list:

• sleeping bag
• sleeping pad
• pillow
• tent, for the rain, wind, or bugs
• sleeping clothes (wool underwear and beanie)
• headlight and book
• toothbrush kit
• extra clothing for sitting around camp when the sun’s down
• knife, because you go to the woods, you bring a knife–it’s basic
• food–and, if you want it hot, a stove
• bowl or plate, and spoon or fork
• bandanas or paper towels, for clean-up

Those are the basics, but there’s no shame in bringing tiny electronics, or big, bulky gear you think you’d like to have out there. I once took fifty-five pounds on a winter overnight with two friends, because I thought there was a chance it would rain until noon the next day, and I thought an extra tent big enough for the three of us to walk around in might be good. I grunted with the weight up a long climb, but I wasn’t looking at a week or more of that. You can get away with a lot on an S24O.

The S24O is a great way to practice bike touring and get a feel for what you like and don’t like in camping gear before committing to a three-week trip with it. Any longer trip, even a day longer, requires a lot more planning. You have to rearrange your schedule or get special time off. If your family isn’t into it, you feel guilty leaving them. On a long tour, if something goes wrong or you’ve packed or planned wrong or the weather turns rotten, you suffer for days. A tour locks you in, and an S24O gives you an escape hatch the next morning.

I’ve been on ninety or more S24Os in the past several years, every one of them squeezed into a sixteen-hour period between about 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. They’re a perfect use of a bike. On an S24O, you use your bike to get someplace faster than hiking and where cars can’t go. I suppose you could hike your S24Os, but you wouldn’t get as far away. Plus, riding home the next day beats hiking home the next day, any day.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Just Ride by Grant Petersen and published by Workman Publishing, 2012. Buy this book from our store: Just Ride.