Cycling North America

stlawrencesunset_001North America offers some of the greatest wilderness cycling in the world.

In such a vast land, made up of just two countries, America and Canada, there are countless open spaces where you can take in beautiful vistas and watch the wildlife wander by your tent as the sun sets.

Many cyclists set off every year to cross the continent, usually going west to east because of prevailing winds. Some do this as part of a racing team, burning up the miles day after day and finishing in a few short weeks. Others start as early as May and spend an entire summer meandering their way from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic coastline. Still others cut across North America on the north-south axis, cycling between the Mexican border and Alaska.

You don’t have to do it all at once and if you have a short visa it will be impossible to see even a fraction of North America in one trip. There are many localised tours to consider.

Time spent exploring the Rocky Mountains will never be wasted (think the Icefields Parkway in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana). Eastern Canada is also on our list of favourites, from the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec to the remote and wind-worn shores of Newfoundland. These are, of course, just two of North America’s more scenic regions.

The key to an enjoyable North American tour is to seek out the secondary roads. The highways and motorways are not designed for cyclists. They are filled with big trucks, often lack shoulders and drivers aren’t usually pleased to find you there.

In your quest to find the quiet routes, it’s tempting to try some of the many trails advertised by local tourist bureaus. These should be used with caution. Some are excellent but others are poorly maintained, poorly signed and a playground for ATV drivers. By all means try them out. You may find a gem. But be prepared to hop back on the road if you find the trail doesn’t live up to expectations.

To cover the most remote parts of North America, you’ll want a stove and you may need to carry food for a few days. Because of the car culture, not all small towns will have a shop or if they do it’s unlikely to sell fresh fruits and vegetables. At most you’ll find some tinned soups and perhaps processed meats like hot dogs. These shops are also very expensive so it’s better on your budget as well as your diet if you stock up in supermarkets.

You’ll want a tent too, unless you’re feeling rich. Camping is by far the most economical way to go. By free camping a few nights a week and cooking your own food you can travel quite cheaply in North America. (Read more about the cost of bike touring in America).

Finally, don’t forget the weather. Early spring can be wet, cold and just plain miserable on a bicycle, except in the southern United States. Chilly mornings and evenings will be the norm until mid-June and mountain passes can still be covered in snow.

The touring is at its best in July, August and early September, when there’s little rain and warm daytime temperatures. After Labour Day, the crisp mornings and evening frost start to return. With a little luck and a warm sleeping bag you might be able to tour much of North America through to mid-October but you’re counting on the weather to cooperate.

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