Probably the most accessible tour of all, a bike overnight is often a one- or two-night bike trip from your front door or a place you can drive or take a bus to. The beauty of a bike overnight is that you can use whatever bike you have and organize your trip around your desired experience and where you want to go.
A simple bike overnight involves taking a credit card, toothbrush, maybe a change of clothes, and riding to a nearby inn for an overnight stay. If you have a rack on your bike, you can strap on a camping kit and ride to a campground for an inexpensive escape into nature. It’s all about getting the adventure you want in the limited time you have.
To help you plan your first bike overnight, adventure cyclist and ambassador Tarra Gundrum shares what she’s learned from her adventures. At 34 years old, Tarra rekindled her love for cycling, completing several long trips and many bike overnights. When the pandemic hit the U.S., Tarra yearned more than ever for the freedom of the bicycle and created the following presentation to pass the freedom of bike overnights along to others.
Tarra likes to choose her destination first and then do the rest of the planning from there. State parks, national forests, small towns, a friend you’ve been meaning to visit, and other points of interest are perfect destinations for a bike overnight.
If the distance to your destination is too far to ride from your doorstep, you can drive to an overnight parking lot (like a Walmart) that is within the appropriate distance for your tour and start there.
Someone once suggested to Tarra to never cycle more in one day than you can drive in one hour, so she tends to keep her distance to less than 60 miles a day. How far you ride in a day depends on how much weight you’re carrying, your ability level, the type of ride you want, and the terrain. Miles on flat roads with a lightly loaded bicycle will fly by in comparison to those on hilly dirt roads with a bike loaded with camping gear.
Do what seems reasonable to you, and pick the mileage amount that will allow you to have the adventure you want. Feel like only riding ten miles and stopping often to see the sights? Great! Rather arrive in camp late and exhausted after a hard day’s ride? Also great!
For some, planning a route feels daunting but it’s Tarra’s favorite part. She uses resources like local road maps, Adventure Cycling routes, the U.S. Bicycle Route System, rail trails, forums, and other internet apps (her favorite is Kamoot) to plan the route to her destination.
When planning the route, consider these attributes: rideability (including surface and elevation gain), vehicular traffic, shoulder width (if it’s a paved road), and services you’ll need along the way such as restaurants, grocery stores, water refills, and emergency services. Also keep in mind that more remote or rural areas may not have cell service, which will take extra planning and precaution but shouldn’t deter you from riding.
Using already available routes that are researched and ridden by experienced cyclists or organizations will set you up for an easier planning process and possibly a safer ride. Adventure Cycling’s routes follow rural, less-trafficked roads with shoulders. If you do have to ride on a busy road, try to avoid peak traffic times.
While you definitely need a few items to do a bike overnight — like a bike! — you don’t have to be an expert or have the nicest gear. The bike you have is the best bike to use, and if needed, you can plan your route around what your bike is best suited for: e.g. a paved route for road bikes.
When it comes to cycling bags, a new set of bikepacking bags or panniers can quickly get expensive. Use what you have, borrow, get creative, or buy the minimum amount of gear for your first trip.
Tarra likes to think through every step of her day so she can plan for everything she’ll need, including what she’ll wear, how she’ll sleep … everything!
She also knows to plan for the things she hopes don’t happen. Some necessities include tools to fix a flat and cash for emergencies. Tarra notes that when you pack a mini bike pump in your flat repair kit, be sure that it matches the valve stem of tubes you use in your tires. There are two types of valves: Schrader and Presta. Some pumps accommodate both valves but others don’t so make sure your tubes and pump are compatible before you go!
Regardless of the type of bike overnight Tarra is planning, she always likes to have a small supply of shelf-stable items in her panniers, such as peanut butter, tortillas, and dried fruit. On less remote tours, she enjoys discovering new restaurants along her route.
If you plan to camp and make your meals, bring food that’s easy to cook and, most importantly, makes you happy. For longer trips, you can buy groceries or prepared food at delis and grocery stores along the way. As always, bring lots of snacks!
Bike overnights can cost very little or quite a bit — all depending on whether you camp, stay in a hostel, or splurge for a nice hotel room.
For those who don’t already have camping gear or cycling bags, the entry into bike overnights can appear more formidable. Before buying into an activity you’ve never done before, check in with your friends to see if they have gear you can borrow, or find out if your town, city, or local university has a gear library where you can borrow or rent inexpensive gear for the weekend.
Even if you have zero plans to cycle at night, always bring lights: a front light for you to see by and a rear red flashing light so that others can see you. Having lights is just part of being prepared. Tarra likes to wear reflective clothing and mount a light on her helmet as well as on her bike so that she can see wherever she is looking.
Tarra always carries some sort of bicycle lock and locks her bike whenever she steps away from it. A stolen bicycle would ruin a perfectly pleasant bike overnight.
And as with any trip, check your bike’s tires, wheels, brakes, and bolts before heading out on your bike overnight.