[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
DIRECTORY: Bicycle Camping and Touring
Learn how to explore the world Quixote-style: information on touring, camping, and bike gearing plus detailed accounts of extended bike trips in the US and Canada.

Why do cyclists go on bicycle tours? Is loaded touring a painful experience? What is a cycling tour day like? How does one plan a bike tour? What kind of bike is suitable? How far can one bicycle in a day? How much gear should one carry? Where can maps be purchased? What is bicycle camping? When is camping trespassing and when is it legal? Isn't camping dangerous? How does one find a camping site? What kind of tent is most suitable? What kind of touring bags (panniers) are best? Can they be home-made? What are cycling conditions in North Alabama? What is cadence? What gears are suitable for climbing mountains? What would be some nice places to tour in North America?


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Bicycle Camping and Touring

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am the commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander.

By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end,
Methinks it is no journey.

  --- from "Tom O'Bedlam" (Anonymous)

Why Go Touring By Bicycle?

Long-distance bicycle touring is by nature a Quixotic activity. In these days of light-speed communications, multimedia entertainment, fast, powerful, and prestigious automobiles, luxurious homes, exotic restaurants, and instant gratification, why would someone choose to pedal at slow speeds up high hills carrying a heavy load to boil rice in a small pot in the dark, insect-filled woods alone at night? Are bicycle tourers and bikepackers driven by a masochistic self-hatred that causes them to perform painful and anachronistic pilgrimages?

Actually, long-distance, loaded, bicycle camping is one of the most pleasurable activities I have ever experienced. I generally sleep poorly at night; but in the woods on a tour, I sleep like a baby, lulled to sleep by the music of insects. In the morning, I am awakened by the cheeping of birds. I eat a snack before getting up, and then I quickly pack my sleeping bag, air mattress, tent, and other gear and get on the road. I'm slower in the morning, having less speed but also a greater desire to stop at pleasant spots, dawdle, and enjoy. Traveling by bike allows me to stop anywhere, such as meadows, lakes (especially places to swim), woods, and scenic spots, not just at the tourist traps and overlooks. My large panniers may look very heavy to the passing motorist, but I barely notice their weight; actually, the bike feels better loaded than empty; it's a lot more stable. Somewhere near lunch, I find a small grocery and buy some bread, sandwich materials, and fruit. I find a town park or other shady spot to wait out the high mid-day sun and maybe nap. In the afternoon, my speeds are higher, and I spend less time at stops (but I still usually stop fairly often, sometimes a quick dash into a grocery for bananas, sometimes a stop to pick wild berries). My body, tanned, lean from cycling, hardened by climbing, feels fantastic. I relish the climbs. In the late afternoon, I start riding slower, and I start having thoughts about stopping. I finally find a place in the early evening, cook a simple meal, and rest and cool off. As it starts to get dark, I pitch my tent, crawl in, and fall asleep.

There are exciting times and difficult times as well. Visiting strange or famous places and accomplishing goals are always exciting to me. I meet and talk with interesting people along the way, sometimes other traveling cyclists. Beautiful views, strong tail winds from nearby storms, encountering wild animals (usually at my camping site), and traveling up and down hills also stir me up. On the other hand, I may run into a rainy or hot spell, have to repair my bike or tire, encounter a hostile motorist, or just find myself in a bad mood. The problems are infrequent and are easily dealt with; the pleasures remain in my mind for years.

Bicycle Camping and Travel Advice

What Is Touring?   A very basic introduction that explains how touring is different from other kinds of cycling and that explains some of the different kinds of touring.

Why I Tour from Door to Door   Explains my motives, and the advantages, of my starting and ending my trips at my doorstep whenever possible.

Planning a Touring Trip   Advice that looks at the cyclist's preferences and abilities and that considers planning and preparation to be more important than shedding dollars. Talks about touring books, the linkage between bike, roads, gear, and sleeping arrangements, daily recommended distances, how much to carry and which equipment is the most important, hostels, maps, touring lists, how to prepare for a trip, and how to avoid ruining a trip.

Bicycle Camping   Starts with the ambiguity in the terms "camping" and "touring," then goes to the paradox involved in cycling all day with full gear through forests to spend $15 to sleep with RV's. Makes the point that sleeping in the woods is a wonderful experience and gives a personal history of camping with minimal equipment. Explains how simple cooking can be, why a campground is undesirable, and what the law says about camping on public and private property. Explains why camping is not harmful or dangerous. Tells in great detail my procedures for finding a camping site and spending the night. Discusses sanitation and cleanliness.

Bicycle Touring and Camping Gear   Discussion of the gear to carry on a bicycle trip plus a look at the gear I carry on my summer trips.

Choosing a Tent   Looks at all the important factors in choosing a tent but leaves the final decision to the user.

Bicycle Touring with a Solar Laptop  A discussion of the problems involved in carrying a solar powered laptop computer on a long bicycle touring and camping trip.

My Touring Bags and Making Your Own Bags   Discusses the principles involved in designing touring bags, looks at the problem created by low-rider bags, and looks at my solution. Explains that making panniers is not difficult and looks at some of the ways to make them.

Bicycling in Northeast Alabama   Starts with an account of my cycling and non-cycling familiarity with North Alabama, describes the climate by season, explains the terrain, talks about trees, plants, and wildlife, discusses towns and highways, attitudes towards cycling, and dogs. Talks about the best area to visit and provides two routes through NE Alabama.

Cycling Cadence and Bicycle Gears   Explains the reason for talking about gearing, explains why bicycles have gears, explains what "gears" are, explains cadence, helps you establish your low-gear requirements, talks about gear-planning strategies, and provides charts for high and low gear.

Using Maps While Bicycle Touring   Provides information about the kinds of maps available and shows how to infer information from road maps.

Understanding and Predicting Summer Weather While Bicycle Touring   The ability to foresee changing local weather conditions can be very valuable to a cyclist.

Repairs and Maintenance on Your Bike was located here but has been moved to the skills directory.

Cooking while Bicycle Camping and Touring   Being able to cook quick, tasty, and easy meals is a valuable asset when touring.

Tips and Tricks for Bicycle Touring   A grab bag of tips and tricks from years of cycling.

Types of Touring Cyclists and Touring Trips  Although touring cyclists may look alike, their trips may differ in significant ways.

Bicycle Camping Trips and Travelogues

Map and statistics of my long trips   Enough miles to ride around the world and enough days to be over a year out of my life (the best year!).

My Instate Bicycle Trips   These are shorter trips (longest 428 miles), mostly within Alabama, totaling over 6,000 miles. Maps and brief accounts.

Bike Trip to the Smokies, 1965   My first bicycle camping trip, from Alabama to the Smoky Mountains and back, made on a three-speed bike. Only two days were written up, but some additional events are recalled. No photos.

Alabama to Ontario, 1966   As a college student, I dared to venture into the wilderness with a Varsity bike, wool blankets, a plastic tarp, homemade panniers, and very little money. An account written during the journey. A few photos.

Alabama to Ontario, Part II   Beginning in Ontario, this second half of my account tells of reaching Kenora and of my return trip home down the Great River Road along the Mississippi. Written during the trip. A few photos.

Spruce Pine, 1971   Love, marriage, and cycling don't work well together on this unhappy, one-way trip from Alabama into the Blue Ridge. However, the two kittens had a great time. With photos.

Journey to Pennsylvania, 1988    After 17 years, I was finally free to ramble again. This round-trip includes travel through the Cumberland and Allegheny Mountains to Pittsburgh, across Southern Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, down to Washington DC, and then on down the Blue Ridge Parkway to home. With many photos.

Journey to Colorado, 1990   After a trip across Tennessee and through the Land Between the Lakes, I joined the Bikecentennial route and crossed Missouri and Kansas to Colorado. With many photos.

Journey to Colorado, Part II   After leaving Pueblo, I rode into the Rocky Mountains and climbed as many mountain passes as I could, including Rocky Mt. National Park and Mt. Evans. With many photos.

A Photo Trip up Mt. Evans   The highest paved road in the western world climbs Mt. Evans to 14,100 feet, a beautiful, difficult, and perhaps even dangerous trip. With full-screen photos and maps.

Journey to Colorado, Part III   The story of my trip back to Alabama, including misadventures in Denver. The route followed the Platte River into Nebraska, across Iowa, down through Illinois to Cave-in-the-Rock, back to the Land Between the Lakes, and through the woods to Alabama. With photos.

Seven Southern States Loop, 1991   A three-week tour of the South, including a week in Eastern Kentucky, a stop at "The Place" in Damascus, and a trip through the Southern Blue Ridge. With photos.

A New England Bike Trip, 1993   Starting with a visit to Walden pond from Boston, I made a loop up into the White and Green Mountains, then traveled across New York, through the Delaware Water Gap, down New Jersey, Delaware, and Eastern Maryland, across the Chesapeake Bay (by boat), up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway, and finally across Central Georgia. With photos.

My Second Bike Trip to Ontario, 1995   Starting from Southern Georgia, I crossed Eastern Alabama, Central Tennessee and Kentucky, Indiana, and Western Michigan to reach Sault Ste. Marie. From there, I cycled east and south across Ontario to Ohio (using two ferries), down to Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and back across Eastern Alabama. With photos.

Pennsylvania II, 1996   Planning to attend school in Pennsylvania, I decided to ride up during the summer to take care of some details. The trip includes the Smokies, Eastern North Carolina, Damascus, West Virginia, Central, Northern, and Eastern Pennsylvania, Shennadoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. With photos.

A Plains-Ontario Loop, 1998   Unsure of where to travel and with little money, I headed across Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas to Texas, then north across the Great Plains all the way to North Dakota. With photos.

A Plains-Ontario Loop, Part II   I next crossed over into Manitoba, traveled across Northern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, enjoying the wilderness more than before, and returned through Eastern and Central Michigan, Indiana (including Bloomington), Central Kentucky, and across Tennessee to home. With photos.

Eastern North America Tour, Y2k   This is a very detailed account of my year 2000 bicycling trip, focusing on the details of camping and traveling, for those who wish to make the same kind of journey. Part I, Alabama to Virginia, days 1-13, winding through the Southern Appalachians from Ocoee to Cherokee to Hots Springs to Damascus.

Eastern North America Tour, Part II   Virginia to New Jersey, days 14-23, from Damascus to the Blue Ridge Parkway, across Southern Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay (by boat) and Tangier Island, Delaware and the Maryland coast, ferry to New Jersey, and ending near Camden.

Eastern North America Tour, Part III   New Jersey to Quebec via New England, days 24-36, crossing the Delaware River by ferry into Eastern Pennsylvania, traveling through the Delaware Water Gap, across the Hudson River into Connecticut and Rhode Island, north to Walden Pond, over to Maine, then circling back though New Hampshire to Quebec.

Eastern North America Tour, Part IV   My experiences in Québec, days 37-46, including crossing the St. Lawrence near Sorel, traveling on Le Petit Train du Nord bikeway and through La Faunique Vérendrye Reserve to Northern Ontario.

Eastern North America Tour, Part V   Ontario, days 47-58, this part starting near Kirkland Lake, following highway 11 to Nipigon, and exiting south of Thunder Bay.

Eastern North America Tour, Part VI   Minnesota and Wisconsin, days 59-69. I followed the Superior shoreline down to Duluth and then crossed the center of Wisconsin heading southward, visiting the 400 Trail along the way.

Eastern North America Tour, Part VII   Illinois to Alabama, days 70-82, including a trip to the Land Between the Lakes.


How to Camp Anywhere  The vexing problem of finding a camping site in a hostile world is resolved in a simple and effective fashion.

Bicycle Touring Links Page  Links to hundreds of touring travelogues from around the world (NOTE: New sites are no longer being added to this page. See the next link).

Linktome Page: Bicycle Travel Section  Over a hundred touring websites, with travelogues and useful information.

The November 2001 Bicycle Touring Survey  A survey completed by 173 touring cyclists which shows the full range of costs, distances, preferred places for camping, number of participants, types of bicycles, how gear was carried, and so on.


Bicycle Touring FAQ  Denis Kertz attempts to answer briefly the most common questions about touring.

  Planning Trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway  Ike Jeanes has provided three pages of useful information (one weakness of this site is that finding the other two pages is not obvious).

Bicycle Tours   This is a collection of links to bicycle tour travelogues (mostly trips made in Europe) gathered by Karl Brodowsky, who has included his own trips in the collection.

Canadian Bikeways   This site includes accounts of many trips across Canada plus information about making such trips. Note: many of the trips and much of the information is found in the provincial information.

Trento Bike Pages   (Cycling in Europe) The Trento Bike Pages: bicycling itineraries in Europe and the Mediterranean, both on-road and off-road.

Bicycle Fish Grace Newhaven's cycling web site, rather than providing travelogues, provides useful traveling information for Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Thailand, and Japan. The information about Australia is very thorough. Many touring links.

Bike Tours by Thomas Driemeyer  Bike trips in Holland, France, Germany, Italy, and the US West Coast. While personal details of the trip are reported, the emphasis is on what you will see if you visit there. Includes new bicycle repair and maintenance guide with touring tips.

Minko's Homepage  Recumbent travel in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Spain, Britsh Columbia, Alaska, and the US Southwest, including the coast. Some reports are written in Dutch.

TomSwenson.com Contains a Seattle to San Fran tour, an 11-day rough road trip in Utah and Colorado (with sag), a nine-day loop from Washington DC to Shennadoah Park, down to James River, and back up the Shennadoah Valley, and to Washington, and a 12-day camping tour in Nova Scotia, a one-week tour of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park area, and a 14-day trip to Bryce, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, with photos.

Travel with Bicycles (Air/Rail/Other) How to take a bicycle on plane/train/etc. How to ride in/out of airports worldwide. Includes some touring links.

Jim Foreman's Favorite Stories  Cyclotouring tales by an old Geezer.

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