You certainly don't have to be a serious athlete, but you will be riding moderate distances on several successive days. So it's a good idea to do some riding in advance. In particular, it's a good idea to ride two or three days in a row a few times. Some of your preparation rides should be as long as the daily distances you plan for the trip. However, we have ridden this trip with a few people who did fine with almost no advance preparation.
If you’re planning an unsupported camping trip, planning is minimal – just load up the bikes, take a list of campgrounds, and start out. However, if you want to sleep indoors, you should make reservations at B&Bs or motels that suit your Big Decision about luxury and provide reasonable daily riding distances. You also need to think about logistics for the trip and plans for transporting people between home and the beginning and end of the trip.
Our groups have used a variety of bikes, including suspended mountain bikes, hybrids, tandems, recumbents, and old beater road bikes. Friends with hybrids have done fine on fully loaded camping trips. Most folks with mountain bikes prefer conservative tires with a little tread in the center and lugs on the edges to handle mud. If you do your own maintenance, check the bike over before leaving. If you don’t do your own, take the bike to your friendly local bike shop for a safety check and tune-up – then ride it on a short trip to be sure everything’s ok. Be sure you are comfortable on the bike, especially the seat. Check your helmet, too – you’ll be wearing it for a week.
If you’re carrying baggage on your bikes, be sure you can carry it all safely and under control. Get racks and decent panniers. If you have camping gear, you’ll probably find that the bike handles better if you split the load between front and back panniers. You might also consider a one-wheeled cargo trailer. We don’t think the C&O Canal towpath is suitable for 2-wheeled trailers, but other people have said they’re fine.
Be sure you know how to operate all your camping equipment. We’ve been entertained for untold hours by watching people take new tents and camp stoves out of their factory packages after dark and try to set them up in campsites far from home. Don’t join the entertainers.
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