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Planning Daily Bike Touring Distances

March 22nd, 2010 11 comments


If you’re new to bike touring, you might wonder how far you can cycle in one day on tour.

It’s impossible to come up with a number that will suit everyone. Much depends on your style of touring and the terrain. Some luck is involved too, especially when it comes to weather.


Take your time and admire the views along the way. Don’t rush your tour, unless you really have to.

Over the course of our 3-year world tour, our longest day was 162km (fuelled by emotion, the day we completed our global loop) and our shortest was just 3km, when we crossed the border into Iran, on a bitterly cold winter day, and headed straight for a hotel.

On average, we found 75-80km to be a good daily distance to aim for. It was big enough to give us the feeling of real progress, yet small enough that there was always time for a leisurely lunch or a bit of sightseeing.

Every day is different though. If we had a big mountain climb ahead, we might only expect to cover 50km. If a good tailwind appeared, we’d plan on 100km or more.

No matter what our plans, we always stayed flexible. If you get too hung up on distance, you miss out on opportunities like the chance to meet friends along the way or see local sights.

What does this mean as you plan your next tour? Here’s our advice.

1. A starting distance of 60km per day is a good goal if you haven’t bike toured before. You may well go further but aiming low means you’ll have time to get used to the new routines of bike touring, without feeling pressured to cover a big distance.

2. Whatever distance you decide on, leave 1-2 days per week of touring as rest days. On a shorter tour of 10-15 days, you might be able to cycle every day, but the longer your planned trip, the  more important it is to give your body a regular rest.

3. Stay open to changes in your plans. You might expect to go a certain distance on any given day but if bad weather, fatigue or a chance encounter means ending a day early is the better option, that’s okay too. You can always make it up the next day or take public transport to make up the difference.

Have you been on a few bike tours? Why not leave a comment and tell us how far you normally go in an average day on tour?

You might also like to read our general notes on route planning for a bike tour, in our bike touring resources section.

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11 Responses to “Planning Daily Bike Touring Distances”

  1. reuben says:

    on our past short tours, we averaged between 80-100km a day (usually on the shorter side of that), fully loaded.

    while planning for our upcoming year-long tour, we are shooting for a 90km average, dropping that to a 60km average through more mountainous terrain or rough roads. taking 1 or 2 rest days per week.

    the key for us is being open to change on daily distances — a major factor when cycling with kids in tow!

    • friedel says:

      How old are your kids Reuben? Hope they’ll be helping to pedal! I’m quite impressed that you’re shooting for 90km/day. Seems like a lot to me but maybe your legs are stronger than mine :)

      • reuben says:

        haha! i wish they were old enough to pedal! they will be 2 and 4 years old when we leave on our trip.

        90km days have worked for us on previous tours, so that is what we are using to plan our preliminary route. if that doesnt work, we will switch it up and find a pace that does work.

        planning our route/pace in advance helps us quite a bit, even if we don’t end up sticking to our goals.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said to remain flexible. And that we are all unique and will find varying amounts comfortable. We tour as a family with two kids and have found that a much slower pace is better for us all – we aim for 50-70 km if conditions are good and much less in mountains or against headwinds. We also find we like to take every third day off.

    Yes, we have done days much longer than that and we have cycled every day for three weeks in a row – but we don’t like to tour that way. By aiming for shorter days and more days off, all four of us are happier!

    Nancy
    http://www.familyonbikes.org

  3. Tom Allen says:

    In Europe I think I averaged around 50km a day. Any more than that and I would never have had the unforgettable social experiences that made that trip so precious. I had no time limit and rarely considered how far I rode.

    More recently in the Middle East I think about 100km a day was more likely – big empty spaces, being alone and having someone to come back to made the experience very different. I had my cycle computer stolen so I don’t know any exact distances, but according to roadside km markers I put in 350km in 2 days out of necessity where I had limited water supplies. I can’t say I enjoyed it!

    Cycle touring gives you enormous flexibility and I don’t think that targets or averages are always healthy. I’m happiest doing short days where it’s worth spending time off, and long days elsewhere to make the progression towards fresh experiences. It’s a shame to turn down invitations or spontaneous side trips because of a target you set in the morning. Having said that, the mind likes to have a target and sometimes there are difficult psychological fixations to overcome when you’re on the road!

  4. friedel says:

    Tom, at first 50km a day sounded quite small to me, but then I thought about the times we really wanted to get somewhere and turned down a cup of tea or a chance to spend more time with someone. When we did stop, usually those memories turned out to be the best of the trip, so I’m coming round to your way of thinking!

    Your advice sounds similar to what Tara & Tyler are doing – they have gorgeous photos (like many of yours I’ve seen on Flickr) and I note that in this entry from a 110km day, they say they didn’t stop to take any pictures. Their normal distance is also 60km a day, to allow for photo taking and other joys.

  5. Amaya says:

    Thanks for the article, Friedel–it´s got me thinking.

    Slowing down is sound advice, but not always easy in practice. Sometimes I get obsessed with counting kilometers. Biking to exhaustion is rarely fun, but does give some sense of satisfaction I must admit.

    Our overall average is 100 kilometers per day.
    Often we just keep going becase there´s no nice place to stop, just noisy provincial market towns with hotels next to bars with blaring music. And I find it difficult to ask people for a place to camp early afternoon–they just don´t understand why you don´t push on to the next town.

    Maybe it´s best to think about hours in the saddle rather than kilometers. Up to 6 hours pedaling I´m fine, but after that I definitely start getting cranky.

  6. Being a ‘newby’ after 20 years away, I find the slower I go, the more things happen and the more people I meet, a bit like Tom really. I’ll be starting ‘Round Britain-Ride2Recovery’ at about 50km to give me the chance of settling in. I wont ever do more than 80KM, unless I have a really strong following wind!! I tend to ride the same distance every day regardless (about 60KM) which gives me lots of R&R, if it’s an easy day, the tent will be pitched mid-afternoon.If I know it’ll be really hilly, I try to leave a bit earlier, so I still arrive mid afternoon. In Wales, there wern’t many easy days, but on the one I had, the tent was up by 2pm giving me time to sunbathe, write, eat and chat to all the happy campers.The earliest finish, after a really early start, & saw me 60km away at 11am, because I wanted to see a friend who was going away. I wouldnt repeat that, as I just pedaled and didnt really take much in, and that’s not why I do it :-)

  7. Rich says:

    haha i’m currently in Spain trying to figure this out. I did 100 km yesterday and it wiped me out. First day out though. I’m trying to tame it down, however locations for sleep (hotel/hostel/camping) are only supportive every so many kilometres.

    I’m learning to become more flexible. Warmshowers and Couchsurfing people require much lead time, so I’m trying to push for shorter times with understanding from potential hosts. I find I don’t like hostels because of loud kids and packed rooms. 12 people per room means doors open at midnight when I want to hit the road early early when the best riding happens.

    I will be focussing on 50 km leaving about 8am, if the Spanish are around during that time. Their hours also mean leaving a hotel can be difficult in the morning. Afternoon means 2 – 5pm, businesses are closed. But lunches are the main meal of the day, which can be good on the bike. I’d like time to shower, do laundry, service the bike, maybe go out for dinner. That means my current 8-hour tiring rides can’t happen. At least at my pace.

    Great post. Thanks for all the comments too, as it helps.

  8. spyros says:

    I plan about 50km per day, not more, in order to enjoy the scenery and the locals.

  9. Kristin says:

    Great comments! Very helpful. I’m planning my first cycle tour with my 1 year old and have been trying to figure out how many km I should expect on average. I think i’ll aim at 50 per day for 4 – 5 days a week.

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