Bike Touring Across the U.S. – Breaking Down The Numbers

Enjoying a sunny day in New Hampshire.

Enjoying a sunny day in New Hampshire.

Ah, numbers. The engineer in me loves this post. For all of you who requested data summing up our bike tour, put your Spock hat on and enjoy. While in no way does a bunch of digits encapsulate the fun, travails, adventure and overall accomplishment of riding 4,000 miles across the States, it is interesting to see it all laid out.

Without further ado, here’s the full route we took and below that is all the data. If you’re not interested, skip the numbers and just look at the pictures or watch the video (Part 1) of our tour. However, I promise there aren’t any graphs or bar charts, so don’t be skerred. 🙂

All the twists and turns from the SE corner of Washington all the way to Portland, Maine.

All the twists and turns from the SE corner of Washington all the way to Portland, Maine. We’re all about the most direct route…

  • Total Miles Ridden: 4,010
  • Total Miles: 4,052 (includes 20 miles on a ferry across Lake Champlain to Burlington and 22 miles late at night in the back of a pickup truck in Illinois on a thunderstorm/faulty tire day)
  • Distance if We’d Taken the Freeway Straight Across: 2,900 (nooooo thanks! So boring.)
  • Total Days: 101 (June 28 – October 6, 2014)
  • Total Days on the Bike: 83 (rest/fun/logistics days = 18 out of the 101 total)
  • Total Hours Pedaling Bikes: 363 for D, 401 for C (I waited at the top of big hills and long passes. Before you report me to the Spouse Abandonment Police: don’t worry, we rode together a lot too!)
  • Average Time Per Day Riding: 4.5 hours for D, 5.1 for C, with about 7.5 hours from start to finish each day including stopping for whatever
  • Elevation Gain: 127,490 (4.75 trips up Everest from sea level and 1,500 feet per day average)
  • Average per Day: 48.1 miles (not including rest days. Our goal at the outset was 50 per day so not bad.)
  • Average Speed: 11.0 for D, 10.0 for C
    Chelsea climbs a pass on a sunny day in the White Mountains.

    Chelsea climbs a pass on a sunny day in the White Mountains.

  • Days Without a Shower: Only 6 days. And 3 of those featured creeks or lakes for a nice dip at the end of the day.
  • Longest Stretch Without Seeing Another Bike Tourist: 61 days (Nebraska all the way to New York…and the guy we saw in NY wasn’t going cross-country)
  • Number of Motorcycle Rallies We Inadvertently Crashed: 2 (Sturgis, SD and Ohio)
  • Number of States We Pedaled In: 15 of them. 16 if insanity is a state… (Plus one Canadian province.)
  • Longest Day: 85 miles (a not-flat day in the cornfields of Nebraska. Honorable mention to 84 miles in 98 degrees in SE Montana where we met a beat-up looking bike tourist who spent the prior night in a ditch after calling it early due to 30 mph wind and killer heat.)
  • Shortest Day: 5 miles (seaplane rides always trump cycling)
  • Longest Continuous Climb: 29.7 miles (4,500’ climb into the Black Hills from Spearfish, SD)
  • Steepest Climb: 23% grade in the Finger Lakes near Ithaca, New York
  • Biggest Elevation Day: 5,600’ (up and down along Lake Koocanusa in NW Montana)
  • Biggest Surprise Elevation Day: 4,000’ in…Iowa?! Dude, WTF.
  • Hottest recorded temperature: 107 degrees in Thompson Falls, MT (and there was the day in SE Montana when it hovered around 100 all day and 97 the next. PLENTY of days in the mid-90s in the Midwest)
  • Swimming-In-Humidity Award : Illinois! August is steamin’ there.
    A great vista at the top of a pass in the White Mountains.

    A great vista at the top of a pass in the White Mountains.

  • Earliest pedaling start time: 6:02 am (Cardston, Alberta back into Montana on a hot, long, windy day)
  • Latest start: Crack of noon a few times on shorter mileage days or if we were enjoying conversation with people hosting us. Our get-after-it-early mentality quickly slid as temps dropped in September in favor of hanging out with cool people as long as possible and still make some progress east.
  • Latest finish: 10:09 pm with the fireflies in the pitch dark to Greenfield, Iowa for a night’s stay at an opera house
  • Days in a Row without a Day Off: 10 (average of 7-9 days in a row pedaling)
  • Most Days Off in a Row: 2
    Dakota climbing in the White Mountains. Roads the way cyclists love them: low traffic and big shoulder under blue skies.

    Dakota climbing in the White Mountains. Roads the way cyclists love them: low traffic and big shoulder under blue skies.

  • Flat tires: 5 for D (4 destructo-bomb blowouts thanks to a rim that was finicky with higher tire pressures, 1 flat with a sharp piece of gravel) and 3 for C
  • Tires replaced: This was an FAQ by people we met: “How many tires have you replaced?” Not many! Zero for D (new set of Schwalbe Marathons easily made it) and 3 for C. Her tires started with a few thousand miles on them already and then there was a faulty new tire that pooped out after only 1,000 miles.
  • Other bike troubles: ZERO. My Salsa Fargo and C’s Surly Cross-Check worked flawlessly. Hoo-ray.
  • Pairs of Cycling Shorts Turned Transparent/Indecent by Sunshine: 1 for D, 2 for C (all our panniers went from bright to very faded red too)
  • Personal Injuries: Zero. Lucky stars counted for this one. We’re both feeling great and strong as can be.
  • Number of Pushups Done to Avoid Turning Into All-I-Do-Is-Bike Upper Body Wimpo:  6,270 (max of 78 in a row). Finished stronger than I started, but still didn’t hit my goal of 100 straight!
  • Number of Vehicles Honking in Anger: Just 1 (an a-hole in a red sports car in Wahoo, Nebraska)
  • Number of Vehicles Honking or Waving to Cheer Us On: Dozens!
  • Number of Days We Expected to Be Flat that Weren’t: Roughly the same number we expected (dreamed?) that we’d have a tailwind and didn’t. Meaning a lot.
  • Chance We’ll Bike Tour Through the Midwest Again in August Heat: 1.3% (never say never)
  • Chance We’ll Do a Long Bike Tour Again in the Future: 100%! Continental Divide perhaps? I didn’t buy a Salsa Fargo just for road riding…

And that’s the data! I could of course crunch more of it, but I’d rather finish this glass of wine and watch a movie here in Bar Harbor, Maine. If you’d like to know a certain stat, let me know and I’d be happy to dig into it.

Ciao for now,

Dakota

P.S. I pulled most of the data from the GPS info I uploaded to Strava during our trip. Then I tapped into a great Strava aggregation tool that made it really easy to parse through.

We didn't count, but here's just a sampling of all the awesome people we met along the way.

We didn’t count, but here’s just a sampling of all the awesome people we met along the way.

Chelsea rips down a mountain pass.

Chelsea rips down a mountain pass.

 

24 replies
  1. Sam Kitcey
    Sam Kitcey says:

    how about states that are biker friendly with roads that have berms?my ride last week in Ohio with the exception of route 6 was not briker friendly at all,which made me think you two as cars were buzz en by me in close proximity .

    Reply
    • Dakota Gale
      Dakota Gale says:

      Ugh, nothing wrecks a nice day on the bike like no shoulder and traffic. Sometimes it’s all you can get, especially in mountain areas on busy weekends. I used a combination of regular maps plus traffic flow volume maps that almost every state has available.

      Every state had good and bad days. Mostly it was about traffic volume, not the shoulder width…but the shore of Lake Erie was actually quite nice. Sorry it didn’t feel like much fun for you!

      Reply
      • Sam Kitcey
        Sam Kitcey says:

        no dakota don’t get me wrong in spite of the rain and no shoulders i enjoyed what i was doing, i had rain gear and was very virgolette with my rear view mirror with a lot of sidewalk riding and no close calls.i guess i was naive in thinking all states would be bike friendly with wide shoulders like erie county.logistic were the problem. i took your advice and took the northern inner trail outside of toledo ohio and it was very nice, but it just stopped.i had google mapped the bike route from toledo to erie and it consisted of 128 turns and soon got very confusing especially when some roads did not have signs.out of frustration and couple of wrong turns i ditched that route in favor of my tom tom that i could mount on my handle bars.tomtom had bike directions but by route i was following you could see they didn’t put a lot of time in it for biking.i’ve been following john holzer on crazyman on a bike(every day is saturday) and mentioned something about aca maps but didn’t have a lot good to say about them.that said my question is what is out there for planning bike trips for bigger and better rides.

        Reply
        • Dakota
          Dakota says:

          Ugh, sidewalk riding is the worst. I always feel more at risk doing that.

          I think GPS devices have terrible routes unless it’s one you downloaded from another user who mapped it out. ACA routes are ok – we used them a bit – but I found that I could usually come up with a better route with less traffic. I think they need to keep the routes simple and direct without too many turns, whereas we were willing to wander out of our way. ALWAYS better to ride more distance versus riding with tons of traffic.

          My favorite resource was a regular convenience store map coupled with Google Maps on my phone. With the two of those, I got a great sense (usually) of what was to come without knowing exactly what I was getting into. That’s part of the fun, after all. And sometimes, you just get screwed over by traffic though. It sucks, but highs and lows are just a piece of the journey, right? I hope you get out on a cross-country one sooner than later! Most of the time, it’s awesome.

          Reply
          • Sam Kitcey
            Sam Kitcey says:

            thank you for your input i really do appreciate it!once i get a few more smaller rides in and comfortable with the navigation part , i just may be on crazyguyon a bike crossing the country

  2. Jeffrey Fritts
    Jeffrey Fritts says:

    Hi guys, what a wonderful adventure you have had. I especially appreciated the day-to-day and the by-the-numbers articles. While I have been a cyclist for almost 50 years and have done day trips all over the world (26 years in Air Force, always had to get back to base to fly) I have children I haven’t seen in over a decade and a couple of grand-children I have never met in the middle land and on the right coast, so the reason behind The Miss Abby Memorial Tour. I have a new Spec. AWOL and will strike out in 2016 after a season of test tours in the northwest (WA & OR). A couple of quick questions please…how much did your rigs weigh and how low were your mt. climbing granny gears?

    AKJeff riding his AWOL in College Place, WA.

    Shut up legs, more miles, more miles!!!

    Reply
    • Dakota Gale
      Dakota Gale says:

      Hey there Jeff! Sounds like you’re about to have a grand adventure yourself. Which route are you planning to take? Starting out in the NW is sure a great place to test stuff.

      I’m going to write a bike-specific post soon, but to answer your questions: my bike weighed 36 pounds with racks and no gear on them and then added about 50-70 pounds of weight with 3-6 liters of water and food, depending how many days we’d be out. My peak weight was probably 105 for the bike.

      For the gearing: my Salsa Fargo runs a mountain double with SRAM Doubletap shifters and X5/X7 components. Front chain rings are 26/42 and rear is 11-36, a standard mountain cassette. It worked great!

      Drop me a line anytime with questions and happy touring!

      Reply
      • Jeffrey Fritts
        Jeffrey Fritts says:

        Dakota,

        You should be kicking back, taking a break not answering e-mail…but I am glad you did 🙂 My AWOL Comp does not yet have racks but weighed in at the LBS at 27.5 lbs. With SRAM double tap brifters and X9/Apex derailleurs and stock 48/34 to 11-36. This gearing is way to high for loaded touring, imho. I have looked at a Rohloff Speedhub and a Gates drive belt which could give me a low gear inch of 19 (18.8). But the Germans are very proud of the $peedhub. ($,$$$) I think I would rather spend my money on rain gear and waterproof panniers… While Wolftooth Cycling makes a 42t sprocket for a SRAM cassette and T.A. a 33t chain ring for the 110 BCD FSA crank that still only gives me a gear low enough to

        pull up small trees not a big stump. Your gearing suggest a low gear inch of 18.8 which is where I want to be. Sounds like I may need to change my crank for a smaller BCD…what does the Salsa Fargo have? (Sorry for all this number stuff. Being an aviator if the numbers don’t compute the airplane doesn’t fly right. So I am a “gear head” of a high order.)
        AK Jeff in College Place, WA.

        Reply
        • Dakota Gale
          Dakota Gale says:

          Ha! Us, kick back? We took a transition day after the tour and then launched into a four-day backpacking trip. Now we’ve spent the last week hiking or biking every day in Acadia National Park. Rolling stones gather no moss!

          I don’t think the Rohloff is necessary. Standard SRAM stuff works great – I’ve shifted thousands of times and have NEVER had a shift lever break. I think the cranks I have are the SRAM 1000’s or something like that. Stock was 28/42 and I dropped it to 26/42. Looks like they do 26/39 stock these days, which would be a great combo.

          For the gear ratio, I think what I ran worked great. I deliberately set it up like – I don’t think a 30 tooth up front and 30 max in the rear cassette is low enough. With 50 pounds of gear, I spent probably 75% of my time in the small front ring anyway, and I like to think I’m a pretty strong rider.

          Reply
          • Jeffrey Fritts
            Jeffrey Fritts says:

            Thanks Dakota,

            I agree a one-to-one on a loaded touring bike is not low enough to beat headwinds or mountain passes. I believe I am a fit rider too, but when you add 50 lbs. of gear that a self-supported ride requires …
            What size wheels and tires are you riding? As soon as I wear out the stock tires (700 x 42c) on the AWOL, Schwalbe Marathons here I come.
            Do you find that panniers act like a sail to the wind? (Positive in a tailwind and challenging with a head wind.)
            I wrote you a separate message about my planned route. If you have ridden any of these roads a trip report would be fantastic. 🙂 Enjoy the back/bike packing!!!

          • Dakota Gale
            Dakota Gale says:

            Tire size is 700×38 series. I might go a bit smaller, some fat 32’s perhaps, on our next tour. Unless the next ride is on the Continental Divide, of course!

            Panniers as a sail…mmm, maybe slightly. Not enough for me to notice though.

  3. Loren
    Loren says:

    Simply amazing — so glad all went well. That GPS track is something to behold. Enjoy the backpacking and see you guys soon!

    Reply
  4. Ryan Gargiulo
    Ryan Gargiulo says:

    Wow, such an awesome breakdown. Sounds like such an epic trip! While there are some seriously impressive stats written here, I’m really impressed by the 78 pushups in a row. Dude, nice work! 😉

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Ha, thanks Ryan! The pushups, right after the scorced-earth headwinds and heat in the Midwest, were probably the hardest part of the trip. Nice to emerge stronger than when I started though.

      Got any bike tours coming up yourself?

      Reply
      • Ryan Gargiulo
        Ryan Gargiulo says:

        Yeah, it’s always a great feeling when you conquer the elements like you did.

        Yeah, actually. I did my first ever bicycle tour back in 2012 (Pacific Coast Route) and now I’m gearing up for my next tour which will hopefully start sometime around May. I’m planning on doing a big chunk of Europe, just no set route at the moment. I’ve been looking at both the EV6 and the EV8 routes but not sure if I want to just fly somewhere and wing it. Decisions, decisions.

        Reply
        • Dakota
          Dakota says:

          Rad! We’re gearing up for Europe this coming April/May as well. Leaning toward totally winging it (our usual, I suppose) but those routes could be fun too. Would love to chat more about this to see what kind of beta you’re coming across.

          Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge