After reading an article by a New York Times reporter who had just finished a bike tour across the United States, I started daydreaming. Traveling cross-country on a bike has an undeniable appeal. While I had read the occasional article about bike touring, and had pored through catalogs some years ago that featured touring bikes, I never seriously considered doing a multi-day two-wheeled trip myself.
But it’s something worth considering. You don’t have to go from the Pacific to the Atlantic — a bike tour can be in your immediate area. Maybe target a town you’d like to ride to, or a body of water, or a state park. In my neck of the woods, a nice starter tour could be a trip from Austin to the Gulf Coast.
One thing I’ve learned from all my reading: You don’t need a special bike to tour. Oh sure, most bicycle companies make a touring model, and I’m sure they make travel a lot easier. But you could just as easily throw some gear on the bike you’re already riding and just go.
But if you want a bike tricked out for touring, you could try something like a Trek 520. That’s their touring bike, and it’s been available for years. At first blush, it looks like a road bike, but it’s got a steel frame, and braze-ons for racks and fenders. A particularly popular touring bike is the Surly Long Haul Trucker, which can handle wide tires. Some reviewers say it’s sluggish and heavy when unloaded, but a touring load gives it stability. Other tourists prefer lighter bikes, and suggest a cyclocross bike is a good choice for touring.
Lots of bike tourists camp overnight. Some have perfected the art of “stealth” camping — which involved pitching your tent on private property, but lying low to avoid discovery. The prospect of camping is one aspect of bike touring that doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve done plenty of camping over the years, and I just never fell in love with it.
But there is a form of bike touring that’s geared to guys like me, too. It’s called “credit card touring,” and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. You pack a change of clothes or two, hop on your bike, and ride until you reach your destination for the night. Then, instead of finding a campsite, you check into a motel. Instead of firing up the camp stove for an evening meal, you go out to a restaurant. I could do that — if I’ve budgeted for it over the year.
As far as routes go, the options are unlimited. Just get on the road and pedal. Of course, you might want to research your trip first, and see if any other touring cyclists have ridden it before you. The Adventure Cycling Association is a great resource for researching your rides, and the website crazyguyonabike.com is chock full of accounts from hard core and newbie tourists about routes and what works. One option for newer tourers is to find a dedicated bike trail that will keep you out of traffic. The Katy Trail in Missouri crosses the entire state. It’s crushed stone, so you might want to leave that road bike at home and bring something with wider tires. The Great Allegheny Passage, or GAP, trail runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, and if you’re more adventurous, you can continue on the C & O Canal trail all the way to Washington, DC.
I won’t be bike touring anytime soon. But I expect to have several weeks of vacation next summer. Hmm…that will give me plenty of time to research some touring ideas.