The Technium

Reasons to Tour By Bicycle

I recommend a long bicycle tour as one of the best ways to see parts of the world, especially America.

There was an article in a recent New York Times about 8 great bike touring routes in the US. These 8 happen to follow trails that were converted into bike paths from former railways. So they have gentle hills and swell views. As the piece mentions, the routes are great with kids, too, because they are no auto vehicles, so there is no dangerous traffic to worry about.

My reasons to take a long bike tour in America;

1) It is inexpensive. If you camp, which is easy to do, and I recommend, your main expense is only food. No gas! Finding a place to put a tent stashed on your bike is usually not hard. On some routes official camp areas are frequent.
2) But you don’t have to camp all the time. On a bike (unlike hiking) you can easily detour to find lodging. You could also combine it with hotels or staying at friends along the way. So you can glamp if you want.
3) Biking is by far the best way to see America. It’s too big for walking and cars are too fast, but biking is just the right scale. It’s not hard to cover 50 miles a day, or 300 miles in a week, which means you can see a lot. Yet stop in a second, anywhere.
4) When you are on a bike tour you are a hero. Everyone wants to hear about your trip. It is easy to meet interesting people, unusual opportunities, and you’ll get plenty of invitations to stay somewhere.
5) There are plenty of designed routes, with maps and guides, and best routes for bikes. Not all are on bike trails, but many are. (See above article and Adventure Cycling).
6) A bike tour is very compatible and easy to combine with journaling, photography, sketching, etc.

I rode a bicycle across America twice: once from San Francisco to New York, and once, with my son and nephew, from Canada to Mexico along the Pacific coast. It is not difficult to do (only 50 miles per day on average); you just get into low gear and go slow. But they are among my most memorable times of my life. I kept a sketch book and wrote a haiku every day of the one trip. I called it Bicycle Haiku.  Twenty years ago I also asked over a hundred bicyclists who rode across America how they did it (see the end of this article.)

Anyone can do a long tour bike trip. I’ve seen many families with young kids; I’ve seen grannies; I’ve seen a person with one leg. You don’t need much equipment (you can borrow or rent the first time), nor much money. You only need time, which you have. Start with a two-night weekend ride on a bike rail-to-trail.  After that anything is possible.


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