QUESTION: How far can you bike tour per day? I’m planning to ride a trip self-contained. —Al J.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Touring self-contained — carrying all your gear on the bike — somewhat affects the number of miles you can ride each day. Those readers who are thinking about touring with sag support, where your gear is transported for you, can likely add a few additional miles to the figures I will mention.
I’m assuming you are planning to actually tour as opposed to race. In the annual Race Across America (RAAM), where the goal is bicycling the distance between the coasts as rapidly as possible, solo racers will zoom over the 3,000 miles by riding 250-350 miles a day (of course, they aren’t carrying any gear and each rider is accompanied by a support crew and a van or motorhome in which to eat and sleep at the side of the road). Those riders don’t see much on the trip other than the pavement in front of them.
I take touring to mean actually looking around at the areas you are pedaling through, and in some locations that catch your fancy, staying long enough to get a little flavor of the place.
Back when I pedaled self-contained from Oregon to Virginia, I encountered a few other bike tourists — mostly young adults — who considered 65 miles a good day’s journey. And I think they were right. Although I was older, I was averaging about 70 miles a day, but I did so only by rushing through some places where I’d liked to have stopped and enjoyed the sights a bit longer. But I had a limited number of days for the journey, and I wanted to cover as much of my cross-America trip as I reasonably could. If you want to stop and explore points of interest, even a 65-miles-a-day average might be a bit much.
However, the reality of touring usually dictates that some days will be shorter — I had one that was only 25 miles due to a bike repair that required me to locate a replacement part. And some days, with the wind at your back (and joy in your heart), you’ll sail along for 100 miles.
Factors that affect daily mileage include bad weather, mechanical problems, unexpected weariness, late starts, the state of your fitness (and, if you’re riding with others, the state of their fitness), the topography over which you are riding, unanticipated road closures, headwinds and similar issues.
Whatever your average, it’s often wise to assume your first few days will be among the shorter ones, especially if you haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of pre-trip training. By default, many bike tourists do their training simultaneously with riding the first several days of the route.
If you are looking for a specific number, especially if you’re new to bike touring, 45-65 miles a day usually works for a rough calculation.
Whatever number of daily miles you aim for, however, don’t count on doing more than you know you are able to cover. On my cross-country ride, I originally planned to average 80 miles each day — an amount I was ordinarily capable of — but within the first week of the tour, I encountered steeper terrain than my home area provided for training, and I realized I needed to let that goal go.
And when I did, I started to enjoy myself more.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.