You enjoy a scenic bike ride in a new place. You also appreciate a night spent under the stars, camping in a stunning location. Why not combine the two? The sport of bike touring—traveling via bike while carrying camping gear—is on the rise, with more and more outfitters offering guided trips for all levels.
But how do you get into it? And what do you need to know before you go? I called up Park City, Utah-based Darren Alff, author of The Essential Guide To Touring Bicycles and founder of BicycleTouringPro.com, who’s biked through 29 U.S. states and across dozens of countries around the world, for his tips on bike touring like a pro.
What’s so great about bike touring?
Darren Alff: You get to discover new ways of doing things, seeing the world, and approaching life. Bicycle touring is not about racing to the finish or trying to cover as many miles as possible in the shortest amount of time. This makes it up to the individual to decide what he or she wants to get out of the experience.
How experienced does someone need to be to get into this sport?
Here’s the truth: You don’t need to be a cycling fanatic to participate in a bicycle tour. A majority of the people who conduct bicycle tours each year have very little experience with cycling. Bicycle touring is something that is done by the young and the old, the experienced and the not-so experienced, the rich and the poor, and people from all walks of life.
For a first timer, would you recommend a guided bike tour or a self-supported one?
Many people who are new to bicycle touring choose to start with a guided bicycle tour before conducting their own self-supported one, and I think this is a good idea. That will allow you to see what the daily routine of bicycle touring is like, while providing you with the comfort and safety of traveling with a group or an experienced guide. Then you can determine for yourself whether or not you are ready to conduct your own self-supported cycling adventure.d
Will any old bike work?
You don’t always need a touring-specific bicycle. For short bike tours, almost any type of bicycle will do. But the longer you stay on the road, the more miles you plan to cover, and the more gear you wish to carry, the more important it becomes to have a proper touring bicycle, which is specifically designed to handle the demands. If you are flying to a foreign country and don’t want to deal with packing your bicycle on an airplane, renting a bike once you arrive is a great way to go.
Any suggestions for a beautiful place for a bike tour in the U.S.?
There are a few long-distance bicycle routes within the continental United States that are popular amongst bicycle tourists looking for flat, easy, and car-free routes to travel. For example, the Natchez Trace, a two-lane parkway road that extends 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, and the Katy Trail in Missouri, a recreational rail trail that runs 240 miles. But my favorite route is the Pacific Coast, a 1,852-mile route that runs from Vancouver, Canada to Imperial Beach, California. This is one of America’s most popular and most scenic long-distance bicycle touring routes. It’s not easy, but it’s something that anyone with moderate bicycle experience can complete.
Get started today and check out REI Adventures’ Cycling Tours and Trips to learn more.