How To Ride A Bicycle Across America - Bike Guide
Bicycling across America -- Why do it?
Why should someone bike across this great country? Well, there are many reasons, but none of them will make sense to anyone until you've actually gone out and done it. It's an experience that will change you forever. So, let's get right to it with the planning process.
What bicycle should I use?
There are many great road bikes out there. They will cost you anywhere from $500 to $4,000. I advise you to consult with your local bike shop to get the right size, and make sure you get a bike that will be rugged enough for your trip. Remember, this isn't the Tour de France. Professional bicycle racers typically have several bikes that they bring with them for any tour. Some of them are made out of materials that help them race over relatively short distances (say, 100 miles), but will fall apart on a 4,000 mile trek packed with gear. My recommendation: the Surly Long-Haul Trucker. It's durable and it's got all the right mounts for you to add your own gear.
What tires should I use?
Although these tires aren't great for bicycle enthusiasts, they are what you need for a long trek: Specialized Armadillo tires made of kevlar that will very likely last your entire trip without needing replacement. They are made with a special kevlar lining that prevents the tire from tearing should you run over something sharp, like a shard of broken glass. You will still need your tire repair kit, because thorns and other objects can still cause small punctures in the tire. Gatorskin tires are a decent alternative if you can't get Armadillos.
The places you are most likely to get flats will be in arid parts of the country like Arizona and New Mexico where plants tend to have sharp thorns to prevent animals from getting into their precious water inventory and in parts of the country where there are a lot pine trees like the Pacific Northwest in Oregon and Washington state.
Where do I put my stuff?
While you might be tempted to use panniers, and your Surly Long-Haul Trucker bicycle is certainly equipped to have them installed, I recommend using a Bob trailer instead (google it if you don't know what a Bob trailer is). You can carry more stuff, and since you will be pulling it instead of carrying it on your bike, it's less weight on the frame. Also, the trailer detaches in seconds if you find someplace you can store it safely while you go on a fun ride, which you'll probably get the urge to do at multiple points on your trip.
What else do I need for my bike?
- A comfortable seat. I recommend a nice Brooks saddle seat, especially if you're a guy. Skimping on the seat is a decision you'll regret about 20 minutes into the ride.
- Pedals. Go with flat pedals with the so-called "eggbeaters" on them. The guys at the bike shop should know what this is. You want to be able to wear any kind of footwear with this bicycle, but you also need something over the top of your foot so you can pedal with a pulling motion from one foot while the other foot is pushing down.
- Multiple water bottles. If you take my recommendation on the Surly bicycle, you'll have 3 water holders. Use all of them.
- Brakes. Upgrade to the heavy duty brakes made by Paul Component Engineering. You'll be glad you have these when you start descending down the Rockies.
- Safety gear. That includes not only a helmet, but plenty of reflectors and flashing lights that you can put on the rear of your bike (or even the back of your helmet) at night or dusk.
- Good bicycling shoes. I like the ones made by Keen.
What gear should I pack?
First and foremost, you need cushioned bike shorts. You can wear shorts over this, but you need to have cushioned bike shorts. You'll probably be comfortable most of the right in a bicycle jersey, but you also have to bring clothes for when you're not riding. This includes warm clothes for when you're camping at night. That's right, it still gets cold at night in the summer, even out in the desert. Actually, especially out in the desert. And if you are riding across the United States, chances are at some point you'll be camping in the desert.
I planned my trip to be a biking/camping trip. That means I had to bring a tent. You could always just stay at motels or stay with friends and relatives if you have them stationed every 100 miles so across the country, but chances are slim that you do. Practice camping outside before you make your trip to prepare yourself. The one person Mountain Hardware tend is a good option for this trip, and it compresses into something that could fit in a breadbox (do not bring a breadbox to prove this).
Do not pack too much clothing! You only need about 4 shirts (those dri-fit shirts are clutch), a heavy sweatshirt, a water-resistant jacket (bright colors only), one pair of cargo pants, one pair of riding pants and an extra pair of shoes (regular tennis shoes). Have several pairs of ankle socks. Wash your clothes in clear streams and slow-moving rivers you come across. Do this about mid-morning if possible, so your clothes can dry under the warm afternoon sun.
Pack two of the following: leatherman multitool, bicycle repair multitool, bicycle tire repair kits.
Don't forget to bring the following: cell phone and charger, valid credit card/debit card with at least $5,000 balance that can be spent on it, identification, preferably in the form of a driver's license.
Do not pack: cooking supplies. I know, this seems crazy. Cooking supplies will weigh you down. Be prepared to stop often at grocery stores and convenience stores to buy food. Buy high energy food. Those breakfast pies that they sell pre-packaged in convenience stores are great. There were times where I was so hungry I just bought a loaf of break and a jar of peanut butter and just rested and ate for a couple hours. You don't have to worry about putting on weight, because your biking will have you burning a few thousand calories a day. As long as you're getting lots of calories you'll be fine. Only stagnant people have to constantly worry about nutrition.
Make use of the U.S. postal service. You can have supplies shipped to you when you're on the road. If you're going to be in a certain city in about a week, have the supplies you need shipped to the post office in that city. Here's how the address should look:
c/o US Post Office
CITY, STATE ZIP Code
In the LOWER LEFT hand side of the envelope, write save for thru-hiker, June 1 - 14. The post office will save your shipment for you there at the post office for up to 3 months. Be aware that not all post office are open on Saturday.
You will be spending some of this trip in motels, in all likelihood. Any town with a population over 2,000 will likely have a motel. Tell them about your trip and you'll probably get the lowest rate they offer and maybe one of their bigger rooms.
Talk to locals everywhere you go. They'll give you all sorts of tips and maybe even offer you a free meal or a place to stay. Everyone wants to be a part of your adventure.
Ride along the side of freeways where not strictly forbidden. This is going to scare a lot of people, but the freeways can be the safest place for bicycle riders in some parts of the country, especially in parts of the west where there aren't a lot of alternative road choices. There is a decent site at http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/index.cfm for planning long bicycle routes.
Good luck and Godspeed!