Ballpark Estimate: $2,500 to $8,600
While you won’t find crowds of people at your local bike store who have made this amazing journey, those who have will tell you it was a life-changing experience, and almost always a positive one. If you’re thinking of trying it out for yourself, talk to as many people as you can to get tips about training, preparation, what to take, the best route, and what it’s like to ride between 50 and 100 miles, day after day, for weeks or months at a time. There are some great online forums with plenty of friendly people and tons of information. Solid preparation and knowing what to expect from yourself, your systems, and the experience itself will help to guarantee your success.
Training and Fitness
Start your training early and be consistent and determined about it. Work your way up to riding at least 50 miles a day. Then add some weight to your load, vary your terrain, and ride 50 or more miles on consecutive days. Obviously, the better prepared you are, the less likely you’ll be to sustain injuries and the more pleasure you’ll get out of your adventure. By the end of your training, you should have logged anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 miles on your bike.
If you plan to do an unsupported or partially supported ride, you need to eventually train doing long rides while carrying 40 to 60 pounds in your panniers or trailer. This gives you the chance to work out any kinks in your system, and to learn how your bike handles when loaded down. In addition, you’ll have the chance to familiarize yourself with the subtleties of riding long distances with a heavy load: how your body reacts to the stress, how to pace yourself, how to think about the ride and the progress you’re making.
The Kind of Bike You Will Need
You don’t have to buy a new or specialized bike for your cross-country trip, but you may wish you had if your trusty set of wheels breaks down after 1,400 miles and you need to repair it or buy a new one. You will add to your chances of success, as well as your comfort, health, and safety, if your bicycle is a touring bike, designed specifically for carrying heavy loads on a 3,500 to 4,000 mile ride. A touring bike is lighter than a trail or mountain bike, but its strong frame and front fork, along with extra sturdy wheels and wider tires, make it heavier than a road or racing bike.Cost (new): $1,000 to $3,500+
A few basics to watch for are:
- Low gearing (21 speeds or more)
- Touring tires
- Fenders and clearance
- Slack frame angles to soften the ride
- Long chainstays
- Cantilever brakes or V-brakes
- Drop handlebars
- Mountings for three water bottles
- Built-in rack mounts for front and rear panniers
Fitting Your Bike
If you’re considering a ride of this magnitude, you’ve probably spent endless hours and miles on your bike. But just in case you’re buying a new bike, cleats, or other major accessories for the trip, or have any questions about fitting at all, it’s a good idea to get a professional fitting. A skilled technician can address issues such as pain in your knees, hands, back, or shoulders, as well as saddle numbness. They will be able to perfectly fit your pedals to your shoes, to guarantee a smooth and clean release. Many stores offer free or reduced-price fittings with purchase of a high-end bicycle.
- Cleat fitting – $0 to $50
- Bike fitting – $0 to $65
- Bike fitting with aero bars – $0 to $90
- Advanced bike fitting – $0 to $250
- Tandem fitting – usually double above prices
If you’re planning to ride your current bike, be sure to take it to the shop for a thorough tune-up. Cost: $45 to $75+
Bike Mechanics Course
You’ll be carrying a toolkit, so you better know how to use it. Your local store probably offers a variety of classes, from the most basic roadside emergency fixes to a thorough tune-up and maintenance course. Cost: $65 to $170+
Assuming you already own the average bike rider’s essentials (helmet, shoes, raingear, toolkit, spare tires and tubes, etc.), here are just a few of the extras you’ll need for your cross-country trip:
- Panniers or trailer (see below) – $125 to $500
- Altimeter/computer – $85 to $360
- Headlight and rear flasher – $25 to $200
- Maps (see below) – $99 to $135
- Tent (1-person) – $120 to $350
- Sleeping bag – $150 to $250
- Backpacking stove – $40 to $150
- Cooking pots – $35 to $60
On Your Way (Unsupported Ride)
An unsupported ride means you’re completely on your own. You plan your own route, set your own pace, carry all your own gear, and figure out your own food and lodging. You are a self-contained unit, traveling either with panniers or pulling a trailer. Some little gems of advice from seasoned cross-country riders include:
- Think of your ride as a series of day trips, rather than one gigantic, marathon trip.
- Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.
- Plan to spend between two and three months on the road.
- Hone your traffic and safety skills before embarking on your ride.
- Train, train, and train some more.
- Save money by staying with friends or finding places to camp for free.
Planning Your Route
Planning your own route allows you the freedom to visit friends or points of interest along the way. But if you want to ride what Outside magazine called “the ultimate bicycle tour,” go to Adventure Cycling to find the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail Map. The 4,255-mile trail was created in 1976, and the map points out where bicycles are allowed, which towns offer lodging, where to find campsites, and more.
- TransAmerica Bicycle Trail Map Set – $99 (members); $135 (non-members)
- 1 year membership to the Adventure Cycling Association – $35
Camping vs. Hotels
The key to a successful ride is flexibility and compromise. Not all stops will have a campsite, and not all stops will have hotels. You may be halted by a torrential downpour or hailstorm, or you may feel energized and want to skip your scheduled stop and ride another ten or twenty miles. Whatever the reason, it’s good to have backup plans of sleeping bag and tent, as well as credit or debit card.
Panniers vs. Trailer
There are pros and cons to both panniers and trailers, but generally, it’s a matter of personal taste. Some people use both.
Panniers are compact, easy to organize, and you can often access the front panniers while riding. They make for a smooth, compact, but sometimes awkward ride, and carrying the weight can take some getting used to. You need a touring bike frame to accommodate the pannier racks, and depending on your set up, removing panniers for the night or for a quick ride around town can be a nuisance. The added weight causes tires to wear out sooner, and when changing a flat, panniers sometimes get in the way. Be sure your panniers are extremely sturdy and completely waterproof. Cost: $125 to $275 per pair.
Towing a cargo trailer will make your bike feel lighter and easier to ride. Trailers have a larger carrying capacity than panniers, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on your traveling style and weight limits. A definite plus is that a trailer is simple to detach from your bike, making unencumbered side trips easy. On the flip side, while traveling, you will be almost twice the length of your bike, making it hard to park and very tricky to make tight turns. However, if the bike frame you plan to use can’t accommodate panniers, then a trailer is the way to go. Cost: $200 to $500.
Total Trip Cost for an unsupported biking tour across the united states is around $2,500 to $6,500 (depending on number of days and type of lodging).
On Your Way (Partially Supported Ride)
This ride combines support with self-sufficiency. This is a group ride, with one or more leaders, but you will carry all your own gear, either in panniers or pulling a trailer. The route and stops are pre-arranged. You will be camping each night, and riders share cooking and clean-up responsibilities.
Total Trip Cost for a partially supported biking tour across the united states is around $4,250.
On Your Way (Supported Ride)
There are lots of supported ride experiences and tour companies to choose from, and many offer unique routes, emphasis, or interest. Here are just a few examples:
- Rides that emphasize speed (from San Francisco to Portsmouth, NH in 25 days).
- Rides that feature a northern, central, or southern route.
- Rides that feature national parks and lots of sightseeing.
- Rides that use camping facilities each night.
- Rides that use motel/hotel facilities each night.
- Long and leisurely rides ( 4,700 miles, 92 days)
- Short and strenuous rides (1,767 miles, 25 days)
Total Trip Cost for a fully supported biking tour across the united states is around $5,100 to $8,600 (double occupancy if staying in hotels)..
What supported rides all have in common is that your route is pre-arranged by the company, and the trip will start and end on specific dates. Most include meals, and most companies emphasize the high quality of their food. Depending on the program and the cost, you will camp, stay in motels, or a combination of the two. You will be able to shower each night, and there will be group meetings each evening. The biggest difference between a supported and unsupported trip, of course, is that you don’t have to carry your own gear. You carry what you’ll need during the day, and the tour company transports your luggage to the next stop for you. Professional mechanics are often available on supported tours (sometimes for an extra charge), as well as a support vehicle in case of emergencies.
Go for It!
Obviously, a cross-country bike ride is a serious undertaking. But if bicycle riding is your thing, the idea intrigues you, and you have the time, money, and determination to train adequately, give it a try! It’s a great way to see the country, and those who have done the ride are constantly inspired by the friendliness and generosity of the people they meet along the way. You will make new friends, have some wild adventures, and discover things about yourself that just might change your life.