How to Talk to Your Partner About Bike Touring
Several years ago, I came home from work to an enthusiastic Russ. ‘We’re going bike touring!’ he excitedly proclaimed. ‘Uh…’ I thought, ‘that really doesn’t sound like fun.’
When I was growing up, my family would go backpacking for summer vacation. A week’s worth of food and gear on our backs, we would hike into one of Oregon’s many backcountry lakes to camp and fish and swim. When I was 20, I lived in Spain as part of a study-abroad program. I spent my non-school hours roaming around the small streets of the city, reveling in a culture that was so fascinatingly new to me. Combine that background with the fact that I’m fiercely independent and you would think that I had been hard-wired for bike touring. The truth, however, is that it took some creative convincing on Russ’ part to get me on board.
At the first mention, I promptly shot down Russ’ great idea. Who wants to put a lot of weight on a bicycle and work so hard to move so slowly, to be dirty for long stretches of time, to limit the pairs of shoes you can wear? Sure, I was commuting to work by bike and grocery shopping by bike, but this whole travel by bike thing sounded exhausting and difficult – and not really the direction I thought I wanted my life to take.
A few days later, after getting some much-needed advice from a bike touring friend, Russ flashed me his adorable smile and eased into his proposition… ‘What if we took the train up to wine country, and we got a cute little hotel room… We could leave all of our stuff in the room and just ride around the countryside during the day… It’ll be quiet and pretty and we can taste wine and have picnics of bread and cheese… It’ll be just like we’re in France!’
I still didn’t like the idea of bike touring, but what girl can turn down her boyfriend going to such lengths to take her on a trip that would be like going to France? ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘If you make all the reservations and plan everything, I will go.’
And a few weeks later, we went. And it was sort of a comedy of errors. Just about everything that could go wrong and convince me that bike touring was terrible, happened. It was the coldest weekend on record in central California. Restaurants were closed because their pipes had frozen and burst. The train was hours late, so we arrived after dark, exhausted and cold. Neither of us knew how to pack, so I had a basket on my handlebars, with a hairdryer in it.
But we did go wine tasting. And we did eat picnics of bread and cheese. And when the sun came out and it was just us on country roads, talking to cows and sheep, it was glorious. Somehow, in spite of myself, I fell in love.
We’ve met so many people who love the idea of bike touring and really want to travel on their bike – and lament that their partner isn’t as interested as they are. I may be a hard-core bike traveler now, but I still completely understand that hesitation and anxiety of being the partner who doesn’t want to go. And I believe it all comes down to how you sell it.
When Russ first pitched the idea, my head swam with ideas of not showering and being covered in mosquitoes and eating gross freeze-dried foods. In essence, I thought of the very worst things that could possibly happen. As soon as he reframed the idea, and met me where I was, it turned into something that wasn’t as terrifying.
When you say ‘bike touring,’ most people immediately think of spending months crossing the country, in less-than-romantic conditions. It’s like a moving bachelor pad – unkempt, haphazard, full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, in my experience, bike touring can be so much more than this stereotypical image.
Don’t want to camp? Stay in a motel or a B&B. Don’t want to cook? Go places where there are restaurants and eat out. Don’t want to go for weeks on end? Start small and just go for a night or two. If you’re hoping to convince your partner to go with you, ease into it. Call it bike travel or a bike vacation. Liken it to another great experience you’ve already had, or something you’ve always wanted to do together. Plan a themed trip around a common interest – wine tasting, food, architecture, bird-watching. Romanticize it somehow – no kids, no pets, no kitchen to clean, no yard to mow. Promise to ride slower, carry more of the gear, cook an elaborate meal. Offer to take care of all of the details, so that your partner just has to choose his/her clothes and show up.
One of the things that I’ve learned about bike touring is that it’s an amazing thing to do with your partner. You experience incredible moments together, you spend hours talking and connecting as you ride down the road. But just like being in a relationship, it has to be something you do together, and you have to meet each other in a comfortable space. Maybe that means that bike touring together looks completely different than bike touring by yourself. Maybe it means that your tour with your partner looks completely different from my tour with my partner. And maybe that’s the point. Bike touring with your partner is a collaboration, a way of experiencing your lives together in a new way. The only thing it ‘should’ be is whatever works best for you and your partner, whatever makes you both enjoy the experience and want to do it again.
So rethink your pitch. What does your partner worry about when you’ve suggested the idea before? How can you alleviate the nervousness and create a deeply-memorable and enjoyable trip? Try again, do it differently and, if you need to, tell your partner that I wasn’t convinced at first either.