Bicycle Touring 101

Why Travel?

There are a variety of reasons why people start traveling. Maybe you’re tired of routine. Maybe you want to get out there and experience LIFE. Maybe you lost your job, you’re depressed, or the 9-5 job just isn’t cutting it for you. Maybe you want freedom. Everyone travels for different reasons and I’m not a therapist so I cannot sit here and say that running away from it all will cure your problems because it didn’t for me. But, I will say, getting out there and experiencing the world around you is the most fulfilling experience ever. Whether you’re sleeping in the dirt, or you encounter the hardships of the road, you’re relying on yourself, you’re out in it and each day is different. Maybe you hitch a ride with the owner of an illegal snakeskinning ring. Maybe you end up on a Meth Lord’s couch who just finished his sentence in prison. Maybe you have a one night stand with a milf. Maybe you ride free into the sunset on the high line cruising through America’s Cascade Tunnel, the longest tunnel in America. Maybe you hitch a ride across the country and sleep under the stars. Maybe you sell all your possessions after losing your job and set out on a bicycle tour. That is what I did and it worked out in the end because I’m still traveling.

Bicycle Touring in Colorado
Making the trek to Colorado back in 2013

If you’re goal is to travel and make a living off a travel blog, think again, as even with dedication and work, this takes time, money and skill and the more you travel, the less time you have to maintain a blog. But, if you’re thinking of trying something new, but you don’t want the footloose lifestyle of wandering by foot, thumb and train, then set out on a bicycle tour and use this guide to help you plan your first trip. I recommend bike touring to all new travelers out there.

Bicycle Touring Gear

Alright, so you want to go on a bicycle tour, but you’re unsure of what you need? Well, this is Bicycle Touring 101, much like the sections of Train Hopping 101 and Hitchhiking 101, the gear is pretty much the same, however you’ll need a bicycle of your liking with a rear rack and rear panniers, along with about 4 to 5 extra tubes, tire levers, a portable bike pump, extra chain, extra brake pads, and extra tires. You can check out the list of Bicycle Touring Gear to see the similarities of gear compared to train hopping and hitchhiking. It’s the same with the addition of gear. The pitfall of bike touring is it is much harder to hop a train if you’re trying to get somewhere that is not a stopped open boxcar or a stopped gondola. So really you can only travel by bike or hitchhiking. I have not tried a folding bicycle yet, but that might eliminate this problem by allowing me to travel more freely on a wider selection of freight cars, but regardless, it’s looking like the lightest one is still about 20 to 23 pounds.

Bike Tools Bicycle Gear List
A quick shot of all the bike tools I brought cross-country. Patches, sand paper, replacement chain, rubber cement, mini screw driver, (2) allen keys, (4) replacement brake pads, (2) tire levers, etc.

Keep in mind you can travel however you want to travel. If you check out my gear list you’ll see that much of my gear I purchased at the start of my travels I STILL HAVE NOW. I’m a dirt traveler. The more you travel, the less you work, so you need to hold onto your gear. My bike is since in someone’s closet, but all of my other essentials for wandering around are in my pack because I’m on a low budget and wander between seasonal work. This does not mean this gear list is a comprehensive list of WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE, it’s just a mere suggestion from a more minimalist standpoint. You could travel with even less if you really wanted to, I’ve seen people do it, especially some of the Dirty Kids out there. However, if you have more of a budget and are looking for more expensive gear, and a more reliable bike for longer bike touring, then you might want to check out this guide here for information on more luxurious bicycle and camping gear. Head on over to CycleTrekkers and check out there gear for more low budget luxury travel. In the end, it’s all preference. I have traveled many different ways, hitchhiking, freight hopping, bicycle touring, bus, plane, etc. and my three lists of gear are what work for me. Use a combination of lists to find out what works for you on your travels.

Adventure Cycling Association

Bicycle Touring Route Downloads

So firstly, if you are looking to do long scenic tours across America on your bicycle then I recommend checking out the Adventure Cycling Association ACA Routes KML files and using GPS Visualizer to convert them to GPS files so you can import them into Backcountry Navigator on your Android Smartphone or another similar GPS application of your liking.  If this is too much work you can pay them the $40 fee to access the website and access the download sections which offer the files in GPX.

Now that you have some routes, import them on your phone, and you’ll notice the routes have Waypoints with food, campground locations, hotels, motels, etc.  I really only utilized the food and campground locations and even still, I primarily used the campgrounds to shower, fill my water, charge my electronics and I slept elsewhere for free.  You can do the same if you so choose.  Other places I refueled at were some of the local churches that had extra food or random people I met on the road who offered me it.  Talk about your journey, not many people ever do this in their lifetime, they want to help you get to where you’re going, just tell them a story or two.

Overview of Maps for Bicycle Touring Around America

Adventure Cycling Route Network - Bicycle Touring 101
Adventure Cycling Route Network – A small map covering the network of roadway for touring around America, Bicycle Touring 101

Overview of My Bicycle Tour

Bicycle Touring 101 - TransAmerica Bicycle Trail
This is the route I took and recorded with Strava from Delaware to Colorado. I used the TransAmerica Trail bicycle route as a guide, but I did not cycle on the actual trail for a few hundred miles, going up through Indiana and starting off in Delaware to Virginia.

Where to Sleep on a Bicycle Tour

Bloomington Bicycle TouringBloomington, Indiana – Susan let me stay at her old house for a few nights to rest 🙂

WarmShowers – WarmShowers is like the couchsurfing of bicycle touring. If you’re looking for a place to crash for a night you can use this app which is available for your smartphone to find other cyclists in the area whom have a couch you can crash on or a yard to pitch your tent. I have never personally used it. I would rather camp outside under the stars, but it is an option.

CouchSurfing – is another friendly site where you can crash on hosts couches. I have personally used it one time over my five years of intermittent travel and found it to be accommodating. It’s pretty cliquey, and hard to get responses back if you are randomly roaming around from place to place, but if you find yourself in an area for a few days it’s worth checking out.

Ozark Mountains
Stealth camping in an Abandoned building in the Ozark Mountains

Stealth Camping – A lot of times you can pretty much camp wherever you end up for the day, just make sure you’re off in the woods, away from civilization, or you can even camp on the outskirts of a campground if you’re low on money. I did this plenty of times. I’ve found it to be safer to camp in the wildness or alongside roads in a bivy sack out of sight rather than around people who might harm me or steal my belongings.

Blog Posts and Photography

Photos from my Bicycle Tour

I have created a photo diary of bicycle touring from Delaware to Colorado for you to navigate and see the possibilities of the road and what it offers.  You can see just as much as I did for cheap, if you choose to go this route.

Journals from my Bicycle Tour

This is a small diary of blog entries from my 2013 journey across America on my bicycle, my first experience on the road with misfit travel.

Day 54 – My Version of the TransAmerica Trail – 2,600 Miles – DE to CO

Day 53 – Breckenridge Jerbs

Day 52 – Prospector CampgroundSleeping in a freezing bathroom during a government shutdown

Day 51 – Georgetown Lake Shelter and the Three Ice Fishermen

Day 50 – Theo, Weed Plants, and Trazadone – Idaho Springs

Day 49 – Denver with a Bud – Denver, Colorado

Day 48 – Welcome to Colorful Colorado – Eads, Colorado

Day 47 – A Day With the UK -Tribune, Kansas

Day 46 – Tommy, Serg, Grain and Beer -Dighton, Kansas

Day 45 – Feelin’ Lean in Bazine – Bazine, Kansas

Day 44 – The 120 Mile Day – Larned, Kansas

Day 43 – Newton and the Cowboy – Newton, Kansas

Day 42 – Eureka!!! – Eureka, Kansas

Day 41 – Feed Silo Climbin’ Toronto Lake – Toronto Lake, Kansas

Day 40 – Pittsburg not Pittsburgh – Pittsburg, Missouri

Day 39 – A Luciferian in the Golden City – Golden City, Missouri

Day 38 – Sleepin’ Under the Marriott -Springfield, Missouri

Day 37 – Radio Tower Climbin’ – Hartville, Missouri

Day 36 – Dolomite Caves and Vipers – Houston, Missouri

Day 35 – The Ozark Mountains and Alley Springs – Alley Springs, Missouri

Day 34 – Al’s Place – Farmington, Missouri

Day 33 – Long Hilly Roads – Farmington, Missouri

Day 32 – The Home of Popeye – Chester, Illinois

Day 31 – Couchsurfin’ in Carbondale – Carbondale, Illinois

Day 30 – Sam Dale Lake, The Prairie State – Sam Dale Lake State Park, Illinois

Day 29 – Wanderin’ a Blast Site…Kaboom – Vincennes, Indiana

Day 28 – Changin’ Tubes for Vincennes – Vincennes, Indiana

Day 27 – Hungover on Helios – Bloomington, Indiana

Day 26 – A Key to Howe Street – Bloomington, Indiana

Day 25 – Rollin’ Outta Indy

Day 24 – Climbin’ Girders on the Monon

Day 23 – Bond…Trev Bond

Day 22 – Down and Out with Fresh Cantaloupe

Day 21 – Breakin’ 1000 – Clarksville, Indiana

Day 20 – Lost, Naked, and Cold – New Haven, Kentucky

Day 19 – Jimmy the Kingpin Meth Lord – Springfield, Kentucky

Day 18 – Berea, Kentucky and the Man Who Gave Me the Finger!

Day 17 – Booneville Billy the Ex-Marine

Day 16 – Who Let the Dogs Out – Hindman, Kentucky

Day 15 – Breaks Interstate Park

Day 14 – Pizza and Tryin’ Not to Hurl – Elk’s Garden Methodist Church in Virginia

Day 13 – Windin’ Roads and Flat Tires – Damascus, Virginia

Day 12 – Sweet Tomato Sammies – Rural Retreat State Park in Virginia

Day 11 – Gettin’ Caught in the Bush – Radford, Virginia near Claytor Lake

Day 10 – Wattstull Inn – Buchanan, Virginia

Day 9 – Knee Pains in the Shenandoah

Day 8 – Sippin’ on Bold Rock Hard Cider

Day 7 – Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body – Charlottesville, Virginia

Day 6 – Campin’ in a Trailer – Culpeper, Virginia

Day 5 – Gettin’ Tipsy at World of Beer

Day 5 – Digger and the GangWoodbridge, Virginia

Day 4 – Burke Lake Park