Bike Touring May Be the Perfect Way to Travel This Summer

Self-contained and self-powered, it's the healthiest way to get around.

loaded bicycles
Bicycles loaded up for a tour.

@alessandro.roselli via Twenty20

This summer, people are considering forms of travel that did not interest them in the past. People who have never slept in a tent before are suddenly planning camping trips to nearby state parks. They are renting cottages in order to spend a week by the lake and planning lengthy weekend hikes to get out of the city for the day. Even the less adventurous among us are willing to consider an outdoorsy trip that wouldn't normally be their style, just to escape the homes and apartments where they've been cooped up for so many months.

I've suggested that we could be on the verge of the golden age of camping, writing that it meets all the current requirements for social distancing, good ventilation, and affordability. But it usually requires a car to get wherever you're going to pitch a tent (plus maybe a canoe, if you're heading into the backcountry, as I recently did with my family). There is, however, another form of travel that's even more independent and clean-powered than car camping, and that is the bicycle trip. It could potentially depart right from your own front door.

A representative for the Adventure Cycling Association reached out after reading my Treehugger article on camping to say that bike tourism meets all the same points, but is even more "self-contained and environmentally-friendly." He wrote that cycling is appealingly self-powered, and "accommodations and food can be whatever suits the rider’s comfort level, from camping to hotels and packing their own meals to eating in restaurants."

For travelers who like to stay active during vacation, for whom lying on a dock or hanging around a campsite feels tedious, bicycle tourism is perfect. To quote Tania Burke, owner of Wisconsin-based bicycle tourism company Trek Travel, "Active travel is one of the best and healthiest ways to get out and see the world. We believe trends are going to be [moving] away from bigger cities and more out to nature and wide-open spaces." Her company offers several tours within the United States this summer and is hoping to return to Europe by fall.

An article in the Los Angeles Times explains how some bicycle tour companies are taking measures to minimize coronavirus risk, such as reducing or eliminating shuttle van service so travelers spend less time in an enclosed space with others. They are planning more grab-and-go and outdoor meals, and working closely with hotels to ensure that facilities are adequately sanitized.

If going off on your own bicycle is more appealing than travelling with a group, then Adventure Cycling can help. It offers a range of routes across the U.S. that you can choose, based on distance, difficulty, and location. One such route, the spokesman told me over email, is the new Parks, Peaks, and Prairies:

"The route travels between West Yellowstone, Montana, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, passing Yellowstone National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, some of America’s largest rivers and Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes along the way."

Adventure Cycling's 50,000+ miles of routes appeal to many bicycle tourists because they are well-established (the company was founded as Bikecentennial in 1973) and offer detailed information about bike shops, inns, restaurants, grocery stores, and historical landmarks along the way. 

How hard is it to take a bicycle trip? Adventure Cycling says most people can do it (assuming a reasonable level of fitness), adjusting their daily travel distances and route according to ability. The good thing is you get stronger the longer and farther you go. A blog post called "Touring 101" offers some pointers on getting ready for a bike trip.

1. Do some training in advance.

"You’re physically ready if you can do back-to-back day rides that are as long or longer than you are planning for your tour, and feel like you could ride again on the third day." 

2. Don't overload your bike.

Bike travelers typically carry between 20 and 45 pounds of gear, but where you sleep affects this weight significantly. Camping obviously means you'll have more stuff to carry, but have the benefit of staying closer to nature and saving money.

3. Choose a good route.

Some riders prefer paved roads, others like mountainous routes, but you should always look for low-traffic routes and/or roads with good shoulders. "Keep in mind that many of the places you'd like to see by bicycle, such as national parks, can be choked with traffic and undesirable for cycling."

Happy cycling!