There’s no better way to satisfy your wanderlust—while gaining some serious fitness—than a multi-day bike trip.
Whether you hit the road for a bike touring adventure, or take to the trails for some bikepacking (backpacking meets biking), getting yourself from Point A to Point B day after day under your own power is immensely gratifying and has the makings of an epic adventure. The beauty of modern bike touring is that there are a lot of resources to guide you if you’re going it alone, and there are numerous tour operators around the world that can provide whatever experience and level of support you seek. You can pedal (and eat and drink) your way through Tuscany followed by a SAG car and stay in a different villa each night. Or camp under the stars during a totally self-supported ride through the Colorado Rockies. Whether you opt for off-the-charts luxury or off-the-grid minimalism, you’ll tick off the miles while taking in the sights and bonding with buddies old and new.
A few things to know before you go:
The Adventure Cycling Association mapped more than 45,000 miles of routes in North America, which you can search at Adventurecycling.org (or request a free map catalog). Bikepacking.com is an awesome resource for finding off-road routes around the world.
The amount you need to pack depends on the level of support you will have. If you are going the distance totally unsupported, consider shipping a box of your necessities (clean clothes, extra tubes, more nutrition and chamois butter) to hotels along the route. Throw your dirty stuff back in the box and drop it at the front desk for mailing home before you push off again. If you are camping along the route, you’ll have to pack ultra-minimal and will want to invest in a couple bike panniers.
Be smart about base fitness. You aren’t going to enjoy all that saddle time if you’re miserably unfit.
Be equally smart about your gear. Make sure your rig is safe and well-equipped for the journey ahead.
If you’re going to book a hotel for each night, do some research to make sure there are restaurant (and coffee) options and laundry facilities in walking distance or just a short Uber ride away.
Book a hotel room at your final-destination city even if you won’t be staying the night. A hot shower (and maybe a long nap) before you begin your travel home will be well worth the spend.
Three routes for a great bike escape
San Francisco to Santa Barbara, California
Distance: 375 miles over three days
Go: In January, with the organized Coast Ride (Thecoastride.org), for early-season fitness
Don’t miss: Big Sur Bakery for tasty coffee and pastries
Starting at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, this challenging route (20,000 feet of climbing) hugs the coastline, offering incredible views of California’s rugged shores. Elite triathlete Hailey Manning has done the ride five times and advises riders to “just keep looking right” for scenery that will make the miles slip by. Other route highlights: “In San Simeon (near the end of day two), you will see Hearst Castle, which has zebras running around in the fields, and there is also a large elephant seal beach. Day three to Santa Barbara can be foggy, but if it’s clear, you might catch some whales along the coast.”
Vermont Route 100
Distance: 230 miles over two days
Go: Labor Day weekend, when the landscape is still lush but the leaves are starting to change colors
Don’t miss: Grabbing a scoop at the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, Vt., and a pint of Sip of Sunshine IPA at Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren
Pro tour cyclist Ted King, a New England native, helped put this “200 on 100” route on the map in 2011 when he and some buddies, including cyclocross superstar Tim Johnson, tackled this ride that starts at the Canadian border, runs the length of Vermont and finishes at the Massachusetts border. In a single day. (We recommend spreading this ride out over two days.) King and (many more) friends did it again in the summer of 2015 and made a short video documenting the experience which has been viewed more than 30,000 times on Vimeo. “The first third of the ride through northern Vermont is stunning farmland, and you don’t see a single car,” says King. For the entire route, “you’re going to work your endurance big time but because of the rolling hills you’ll work on intensity, too.” Another pro tip from King: Be sure to stop at the classic New England general stores that dot the rural route to fuel up on Whoopie Pies and other baked goods.
Banff, Alberta, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico
Distance: 2,700 miles
Go: In the summer, when the days are longer and there’s not a lot of snow up north
Don’t miss: The natural hot springs in Banff, with magnificent views of the Canadian Rockies
Also known as The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, this is a contiguous stretch of remote wilderness that traverses the Continental Divide (mostly through Montana and Wyoming). The route passes through national parks; tiny, off-the-grid towns; and dramatic desert landscapes. While a lot of riders bikepack this route on their own, every June about 150 people ride it self-supported in the unsanctioned Tour Divide ride (Tourdivide.org). Mary Metcalf, the first woman to ever complete the ride, did so in 2008 in about 30 days, riding about 100 miles per day. If you’re not up for the whole enchilada, Metcalf suggests riding the New Mexico section. “It’s mostly on dirt roads, at a lower altitude and not super technical,” she says. Her other piece of advice: “Be sure to stop in Pie Town, N.M., for a slice of pie.” Metcalf’s fave: pecan.