Cycling touring in France.

Crowdsourced ... disc brakes were brilliant for heavily laden alpine touring. Photo: Michael O'Reilly

Back in 2009 I was facing a bit of a dilemma. I was about to leave on the holiday of a lifetime, a week-long “chasing the Tour” event in the French alps, as part of a month-long holiday on the Continent.

Which meant that for three weeks I was going to be lugging a racing bike and a backpack around Europe (I was taking my own bike, which is built to suit my freakish proportions). I was planning to go from place to place by rail, but what were the regulations for carrying bikes on trains in Europe? And did they vary from country to country? I tried looking on official railway websites, but they weren’t always helpful – or in English.

When in doubt, crowdsource information on the internet. I hopped online and posted a query on sydneycyclist.com, a forum site I’d recently joined, which also has sites in Melbourne and Brisbane (and there’s an unrelated site in Adelaide).

Within hours I had knowledgeable replies from all manner of experienced travellers, with the best advice being to take a soft bike bag, or “hausse”, and I could disassemble and carry my precious cargo in the compartment, without having to pay to put it in the guard’s van. Even better, someone offered to lend me a slightly scuffed Ground Effect bag for no charge. It made travelling a doddle and came back only slightly more scuffed (thanks, “BikeSaint”).

Riding a bike can be a lonely and confusing business, especially for a newbie.

What gear to buy, how to find safe routes through busy suburbs, how to fix broken things, where the most maniac magpies lurk, what to do in the event of an accident – all these issues have been dealt with by others, who are happy to pass on their wisdom (or otherwise!) on internet forums.

Of course, bike shops are great for info – yet there’s always the worry that you’re only getting one person’s opinion, which may suit them but not you, or that their advice will be tainted by a desire to sell you something. Again, nerdsourcing can be the solution.

In March, I was buying a new touring bike frame, a Surly Long Haul Trucker. I had two options – disc brakes or regular brake blocks. I’ve never had discs before and despite the bike shop bloke’s enthusiasm, I figured I’d do fine with regular centre-pulls – especially as the disc option would mean I’d also need to buy a new set of wheels, doubling my outlay (“them cunning bike shops!” I mused).

Back on the interwebs, and everyone was shouting, “get the disc brakes!” I did, and as I rode down a 1000-metre French mountain pass in a light drizzle, with 100kg of me on a 15kg bike with 20+kg of gear strapped to it, I’ve never been more grateful for the advice of others.

The big kahuna of Australian cycling forums can be found at Bicycling Network Australia, where a labyrinth of topics can be explored and discussed. It also breaks down to city centres, for local advice such as routefinding and where to get the best coffee.

Official cycling organisations also run their own forums – Bicycle Network Victoria gets a lot of activity, while Bicycle NSW has a fledgling service. Meanwhile, some cycling clubs use forums as a way of helping their members communicate – and logins aren’t necessarily tied to memberships.

As I'm interested in cycling as a sport, I regularly visit Cycling Tips, run by Australia’s hardest-working cycling blogger, Wade Wallace. It’s not a forum as such, but the lengthy comments threads can be a great source of information and inspiration.

For cyclists of any level who are looking for like-minded individuals, I’d highly recommend a dabble online.

Yes, you may find trolls, be given dud information, or get sucked into one too many discussions about helmet laws.

But you will also find valuable advice, a sympathetic audience for tales of woe, inspirational stories, route advice, ride partners and new friends. In an increasingly isolating world, it’s great when technology helps to create communities.

Do you visit any cycling forums? Do you find them useful? Are there any you recommend?

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