Some Suggestions for a Cross Country Journey
If you decide to ride across a continent or on any long journey here are my tips and thoughts. They are not all you need to know but may prove useful. They are offered without endorsement and may not suit your needs as well as they did mine.
Get your body in shape gradually. The older you are or the newer you are to bicycling the longer the time you should allow to build up your endurance. Try to push yourself too fast and you could set yourself back with an injury.
Get a physical checkup as a first step
Join a bicycling club of group if one is available
Ride as often as you can and in all kinds of weather. You will hit head winds, rain and cold days so learn what they are like ahead of time. Once you do you will be better prepared to face them when they crop up on the road.
Research and learn from the experiences of others
Find out what spinning is and practice it
Take your time, you can not go from 0 to 60 in a few weeks
Try to not get caught in the cadence, it is an adventure not a race! Take time to enjoy yourself.
A steel frame touring bike that fits you. (aluminum and composite frames are fine but not necessary. As long as you can carry your bike for short distances if required, it need not be extremely light)
As low a gearing set up as you can find (I had 16.5 gear inches on my lowest gear and found it great on the long steep climbs. My fellow riders without it sometimes wished they had it. I had a 44-32-22 crankset installed to go with my 11-36, 10 speed rear cassette. This was a great combination and easily handled even the steepest climbs.)
Forget narrow and tubeless tires. This is not a road race. I used 32mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires with a protective liner between the tire and tube. I had one flat tire in over 3000 miles.
At least two spare tubes and a patching kit with tire irons
A folding spare tire and tire patches (different from a tube patch)
A compact tire pump of good quality (I loved my Topeak Road Morph G tire pump. It has foot pedal, built in pressure gauge and 120 psi hose.)
Panniers or some sort of mounted container for your daily equipment. A backpack can work but they are hot to wear and can be uncomfortable.
If you are using paper maps, I found a handle bar mounted bag such as Arkel’s large, waterproof bag a great thing to have. It carried my camera and other things I wanted at my fingertips and it provided an easy to access and see, rainproof map holder that I was able to check while riding.
At least 3 water bottles or hydration pack
Good quality head and tail lights (Rechargeables seem to be all the rage but you can buy batteries nearly anywhere. I went with regular battery powered lights and never had to worry about finding a place to plug in a recharger. If you do decide decide to go with rechargeables make sure bring along a backup power supply)
A good tent with ground sheet if camping
Strong tent pegs for that tough, dry, hard packed dirt in the southwest
Clothesline and clothes pins
Zip ties, duct tape, electrical tape and wire for emergency repairs. (You can wrap some duct tape around a pencil stub or small tube instead of taking a whole roll. It is handy for relining a blown out tire, patching a torn rain suit and is tough enough to hold up for a day or two.)
Needle and thread
A good sleeping bag with a low enough temperature rating (I had a dual rated bag that had less insulation on one side. I used the heavier side as the top for cooler nights.) I stayed away from the more heavily insulated winter bags and found that having a set of well insulated long-johns, a jacket and knitted cap to wear on the below freezing nights kept me warm and comfortable.
A comfortable sleeping pad
First aid kit
Bicycle helmet (wearing it is a MUST)
Rear view mirror (I loved my EVT Safety Zone mirror)
Bicycle lock with a cable and spare key
A basic plate, bowl and drinking cup set in a mesh bag along with eating utensils
Basic bicycle tools to allow you to tighten loose hardware, replace a broken spoke or make adjustments. (M-Engineering’s NBT2 lockring remover is a handy tool for removing a rear cassette to replace a broken spoke on that side of the wheel!)
Sunscreen including a smaller container to carry on your bike
Desitin or other butt rash cream
Chap stick with sunscreen
Flashlight and head lamp
Personal hygiene stuff including some emergency toilet paper to carry with you each day for those times when nature calls and you are not at home.
Equipment: (My thoughts, and maybe not even the best ones for you, the advice of others will likely vary)
At least 2 riding outfits with padded seat shorts (wash after EVERY day’s ride)
Some sort of reflective vest or triangle for heavy traffic or gray days
Two changes of casual wear for after the ride is done for the day
Warm cycling and casual wear the mountains and those cold desert nights
Rain gear including shoe protection (pedaling in wet shoes sucks!)
Sandals or Crocs for shower wear
Some sort of head wrap to wear under your helmet to keep the sweat out of your eyes or you bald head from becoming sunburned
Casual footwear (if you ride with cleated bike shoes you may want to carry them with you since some businesses do not appreciate having their floors scratched up)
How to change a tire and repair both tube and tire (practice it!)
Basic bicycle maintenance (things like chain cleaning, derailleur adjustments, brake adjustment, how to replace a broken spoke, etc.)
How to spin (learn what it is and practice it)
Basic first aid
Everything you can about bicycle safety and road etiquette including how to ride with a group
Know your route or ride with a group that does. The Adventure Cycling Association is a great organization with a wealth of information, tours, maps etc. Start there!
Local knowledge about your route. Visitor centers are always worth a stop and a bit of research online before you go and regularly while on the road can supply you with “must sees” that you won’t want to miss. It also helps to know where you can find water and other daily necessities along your daily route.
Read my blog and the many other writings that are freely available on the internet. There is a wealth of information out there. Some of it may be misleading but if you read enough from different sources the truth will emerge!
Find Me Spot or other satellite device for emergency communication (My family loved that my Find Me Spot could send them my location and a “I am OK” or other message from anywhere.)
A cell phone with a data plan
The GPS navigation device of your choice. (real handy if you do not have a good cell phone plan with the ability to display your location and maps or for those places where your cell phone is a paper weight)
East to West OR West to East?
Most folks ride west to east to take advantage of the supposedly prevailing winds. Unfortunately, unless you are riding your bike 30,000 feet above the ground, those winds do not prevail. You are just as likely to face headwinds on any given day traveling in either direction. Which way you choose to go may have more to do with when you plan to travel.
If east to west you want to start early enough in the year to be through the desert before it gets too hot. However, you want to be late enough to miss the colder weather in the southeast. This usually means considering a February start or even late January. Just expect and be equipped for some cold days and nights and maybe even snow when you get to the higher elevations in New Mexico, Arizona and California. It can even get quite chilly nearly anywhere along the Southern Tier route.
Folks going west to east usually try to start in late February or before the end of March. Even then you can still get below freezing weather in the mountains and some cold days elsewhere. The desert can also get plenty hot by late March and you may find some businesses in the desert locations already closed fro the season by the middle of the month. Either way you go try to be ready for whatever Mother Nature could throw at you and be prepared to hunker down for a day or two in some climate controlled location if the weather turns dangerous.
I hope this helps and enjoy your adventure. I certainly did.
Bob Peltzer ~ Lake Clear, Ontario ~ June, 2018