If you’re keen on bicycle touring, traveling by bicycle, and a minimalist lifestyle, then biking across America should be high on your bucket list.
The United States is blessed with some of the most diverse and stunning scenery of any country in the world. This, for many, is the major motivator to embark on a 4000 km+ ride across the entire country.
With a huge variety of different possible routes, you can pick your own adventure as you zoom through the plethora of stunning and remote backroads, country highways, and culturally diverse towns the country has to offer.
But how difficult is it to bike across America? What do you need to get yourself started? Don’t worry! Here we’ll give you our complete guide to embarking on a journey of a lifetime across the continental US. We’ll be covering:
- Biking Across America: Why Should You Do It?
- Biking Across America: Popular Routes
- How Long Does It Take To Bike Across America?
- Where Can You Stay When Biking Across America?
- What Do You Need To Bike Across America?
Let’s get started!
Biking Across America: Why Should You Do It?
Whether you already consider yourself an avid bikepacker or not, it’s a valid question, isn’t it?
You might be certain that you enjoy bikepacking trips, maybe a few days, or even a few weeks. But does that mean you’d want to cycle across the fourth-largest country in the world?
The United States is over 4000 km in longitudinal width, and any route you choose is likely to surpass this by a large amount. So the first thing you need to know about biking across America is that it’s not going to be a short or easy trip by any means.
However, the US has almost every single type of ecological biome you could imagine.
Deserts, rainforests, high glacial mountains, lowland woodland, rugged coastline, and pristine white-sand beaches are all contained between the Earth’s two largest oceans: the Pacific and Atlantic.
It has to be said, if your goal is solely to cycle between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, there are easier places to do it (Panama comes to mind here, or Chile).
But clearly, there is more to offer on such a route in the US, given the wide range of different possible routes, the incredibly well-maintained road infrastructure (both asphalted and gravel), and, as previously mentioned, the ecological diversity offered by the country.
In addition to the aforementioned ecological diversity of the US, it also offers a huge amount of cultural diversity.
Since each state of the US has its own cultural identity, as you pass through the country, you’ll be greeted with different food, people, and customs. However, everywhere you will find extremely warm and hospitable people willing to help you along your journey.
All-in-all, taking on such a challenge will offer you time to connect with your riding buddies (or yourself, if going solo), you’ll see incredible nature and you’ll have the opportunity to meet wonderful people.
Such an adventure of a lifetime is something you would never forget for the rest of your life.
Biking Across America: Popular Routes
Of course, there isn’t “one way” to bike across the fourth largest country in the world.
The seemingly endless choices of backroads and scenic highways lend themselves to essentially complete freedom.
On the other hand, there are a few very popular routes to take, mostly due to specifically scenic and quiet routes that have been well-thought-out in terms of provision stocking.
One of the major advantages of following one of these more popular routes is that you’re likely to meet many people along the way.
Biking across America, as an activity, is surprisingly popular. It’s on the bucket list of many adventurous American and non-American travelers who want to test their physical limits while absorbing the incredible scenery and experiences around them.
In general, there are three particularly popular routes, and generally, weather and time may provide constraints and make your decision for you if you choose to go with one of these.
The Southern Tier
The Southern Tier, as you might expect, traverses the southern portion of the country, from west to east or east to west.
From west to east, the route begins in California and ends in Florida, passing through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi along the way.
The Southern Tier covers 4865 km and 14,895 m of elevation gain. It is the shortest of the most popular routes to bike across America, so perhaps the best choice if you’re slightly more time-constrained.
However, being in the southern United States, attempting the Southern Tier in summer is not a good idea, as in the deserts temperatures will regularly surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and heatstroke and dehydration pose a real threat.
The Northern Tier
The Northern Tier, again, as the name suggests, passes through the north of the country, from west to east or east to west.
Starting from Washington in the west, you’ll pass through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and you’ll finish in Maine.
The Northern Tier is the longest of the three options, at 6873 km, and it includes a very healthy portion of the Rockies, meaning it’s not an easy ride. However, if you’re more into mountains than deserts or plains, it’s perhaps the best option to choose.
Though, it’s not without its weather constraints too, since, being in the far North of the country, it is essentially only rideable through late spring, summer, and early fall, given that you’ll be camping along the route (and carrying your gear – not worth bringing all your winter gear if you can do the route in summer!).
The TransAmerican Trail
The TransAmerican Trail is a more central option.
Beginning in Oregon on the west coast, you’ll go through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky, and finish in Virginia.
Nearly the same distance as the Northern Tier at 6777 km, it’s certainly on the longer side for a bikepacking trip.
Once again, the route includes a healthy amount of Rockies, but this time you’ll pass through the prairies of the great plains in the center of the country.
However, unlike the Northern and Southern Tiers, there is slightly less climate constraint.
Though it does get very cold in winter and can get very hot in summer, it’s not unrideable in either. There may be snow, but not knee-deep and closed passes in winter. In summer, it may get hot, but it’s unlikely to be sustained for nearly as long as on the Southern Tier.
How long does it take to bike across America?
This is a difficult question to answer since, of course, it depends on the route you take and the speed at which you go.
All of the most popular routes are between 4800 and 7000 km. Therefore, it essentially depends on how many kilometers you wish to ride per day.
An extremely fast shot at the Southern Tier (4865 km), for example, might take just over a month, whereas a more reasonable and relaxed pace could be around three months.
On the other hand, the Northern Tier (6873 km) is more likely to take you around two to five months to complete, depending on your speed.
It’s important to note, that even though it will be a journey of a lifetime, the sheer distance required is going to make it incredibly challenging, and you need to be prepared to inspire motivation in yourself at the toughest of times.
Where Can you stay when biking across America?
America is massive – meaning that you’re going to be passing through some extremely remote sections of the countryside on your cycle across it.
For this reason, you’re going to need a portable sleep system: a tent, a mat, and a sleeping bag at a minimum. In addition to this, you’re going to want the means to cook on the go, so make sure to regularly stock up on food and bring a stove.
However, of course, when you’re not out in the sticks, there are plenty of options in terms of lodging if you fancy a break from camping.
There are many hotels and hostels along the route, which are a definite option when you need to relax and recover from a few hard days or rough nights camping.
One thing that tends to surprise people who take on this challenge is the level of small-town American hospitality.
People are seemingly always willing to help you out if you need it, and in addition, through the godsend of the app Warmshowers, many local residents of the towns will take you in for free, and it’s a must-have for anyone cycling across America.
Don’t forget to sign up as a host in your home city before or after your rider (if you have the means) in order to give back to the cycling accommodation exchange community.
What do you need to bike across America?
Given the enormity of the challenge, you’re going to need to make sure you have the correct gear in order to succeed on your adventure.
First things first, in order to bike across America, you’re going to need a bike. Generally, people tend to complete the ride on comfortable touring bikes, but it’s also possible on road bikes.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, an off-road capable bike – such as a gravel or mountain bike – will give you even more freedom to explore the rugged American wilderness.
Aside from a ride, you’re also going to need to get yourself a good set of bikepacking bags, a sleeping system, a cooking system, a tool kit, a first-aid pouch, and a camera.