Bicycle touring is experiencing a boom. More and more people are embracing this slow and intimate method of traveling. Even more so, the sub-category of “bikepacking” on unpaved roads and trails is gaining new enthusiasts. What’s not to love? Unmatched scenery and minimal vehicle traffic!
Yet, many new bike owners have been overwhelmed with logistics and details. There is information overload thanks to articles, videos, movies, and numerous Facebook group posts. Add to this the expanded interest in mega tours like the Trans-America Trail and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and new riders feel inadequate. The thought of a massive trip, often with the added complications of flights to and from the destination, is paralyzing. Novice cyclists may simply put their touring dreams on hold and limit themselves to day rides.
But there is a simple solution: embrace short, overnight rides that require less preparation, less conditioning and have minimal consequences for any mistakes you make. These short rides have been dubbed S24O, an abbreviation for Sub-24 hour Overnights.
Grant Peterson of Rivendell Cycle Works is credited for naming this type of mini adventure. As a small business owner, he looks forward to squeezing in dozens of S24O’s. He also admits, even though he is an experienced bike tourist, to having forgotten everything from adequate food to matches, his sleeping pad and tent poles at some point.
But you learn from your mistakes, and few S24O’s put the cyclist in life-threatening situations. For the novice bicycle tourist, an S24O provides the best way to perfect your packing list, the attachment of bike bags and weight distribution. You get to plan a few meals and snacks for the ride. You practice setting up your shelter and sleep system. You gain invaluable experience in fitting your bike to your body and riding style. You might also learn how to handle roadside repairs without the urgency of being hundreds of miles from home.
Even though I am retired, and though I have thousands of miles of touring experience, I also enjoy S24O’s. I still have a full calendar that makes week-long trips difficult to schedule. I enjoy the option to drop everything and take advantage of forecasted great weather for an overnight trip.
I recently completed an S24O on my fat bike. This trip illustrates two more advantages of S24O. First, nothing improves your fitness like back-to-back days of cycling. In this case, I was training for an upcoming mountain bike race, so I rode my fat bike instead of my lighter touring bike or gravel bike. If you have minor mechanical issues, they also will be highlighted in two days of pedaling!
There is no mileage qualification for an S24O. On this trip I logged 93 miles out and back home – again, intentionally for fitness conditioning. But an S24O can be five miles out and back to a quiet wood or even a friend’s backyard! Your next S24O can be ten miles. The point is that you can start where you are comfortable – but you lose the excuse not to start!
Secondly, an S24O is the perfect way to test and refine your camping kit and bike setup. It would be a mistake to start a multi-week tour with a new stove or tent. It would be much better to practice on an overnight trip to learn what works and what needs to be changed. More importantly, you will learn what you DON’T need! The sure way to ruin your enjoyment of bike touring is to ride an overloaded, unbalanced bicycle. You will also have short rides to evaluate your bike bags, clothing choices, shoes, and other details. Better to encounter a problem ten miles from home than riding away from the airport, thousands of miles away at the start of a 30-day route.