June 30, 2015
Over time, I’ve come to realize that many people have bikes—or at least easy access to one—and yet not that many folks use it for one of the greatest experiences you’ll ever enjoy: a bike tour. The usual reason I hear is that their bike isn’t the “right kind” for a bike trip, or they don’t have all the gear needed to travel by bike. If that’s your thinking too, here’s some good news: A wonderful, refreshing bike trip with minimal hassle and maximum fun is available to you right now. The bike overnight.
Probably the easiest tour of all, a bike overnight, is most often a one or two night bike trip from your front door (or launching from 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 handy and organize your trip around the bike, your fitness level, and where you want to go. A simple bike overnight involves taking a credit card, toothbrush, and maybe a change of clothes, and riding light to a hotel or hostel nearby 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.
No matter what your approach, check out BikeOvernights.org for how-to articles and packing lists, and dozens of stories for inspiration. They include the simple kind of overnights described above, and a whole host of others, including luxury overnights and big family gatherings. In fact, the biggest category of stories covers family trips, and bike overnights are a convenient, economical way to introduce kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews to the wonders of bike travel.
One of my favorite family stories is Jeff Moser’s 10-mile trip from home to a nearby state park with his wife, Kristy, and son, Charlie. It turned out to be their best family camping trip ever and got them hooked on bike travel.
“I had been reading Joe Kurmaskie’s book Metal Cowboy, Tales from the Road Less Pedaled, a collection of essays about his bicycle travels around the world, which got me yearning for my own two-wheeled adventure,” shares Jeff. “So my wife and I decided to plan a bike overnight to a nearby state park with Charlie.”
The family had a good mix of camping gear and was able to use their existing bikes, along with a Chariot trailer, to carry everything. “Since we weren’t going too far away, I figured we could carry a surplus of stuff and not suffer too badly,” says Jeff, laughing that next time, though, he would hold off carrying a five pound Presto log.
The Mosers took their time pedaling, and once at the park, they set up camp and enjoyed dinner and a beautiful evening by moonlight, falling asleep to the howls of coyotes in the distance. “On the way home the next day, I was already thinking about where we could go next,” says Jeff.
Elle Bustamente is another fan of bike overnights. She and her husband and two kids have done numerous fun trips together. Elle decided to plan a camping overnight with two close girlfriends. “One of my most favorite vacations was a 40-mile weekend trip with two of my dearest friends,” says Elle. “Neither of them had really been on a bike in a while, but still were willing to follow me on this mini-adventure.”
Elle notes that planning a short trip helps ease the fear of heading out on a grand adventure. With only a couple of nights on the road, it doesn't really matter how light your bags are, whether you forgot something or need to find the time to train. “We might not have looked much like ‘real’ cyclists, but we had plenty of food, warm clothes and bikes that worked well enough,” shares Elle. “And we were able to experience the local beauty at a pace that we could absorb it all in.”
Elle and her friends also took their time. “We stopped as often as needed and had plenty of chocolate to stave off any bonking,” she says, adding, “It was an incredible feeling to share that with my friends and watch their love for bike touring grow. We had the chance to catch back up, tell new stories, and sing as loudly as we possibly could while riding uphill!”
That’s a useful reminder from a friend of mine. I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me they are going to try a bike trip, but never do. The reasons are legion, from lack of gear to lack of time. But now you know: bike travel is as simple as hopping on a bike, any bike, and riding a few miles to a nearby campground or lodge. Don’t let excuses get in your way. Commit right now to taking a bike trip in the next couple of months. Set a date and destination, and invite friends or family. Once you try your first bike overnight, you’ll wonder why you never tried one before!
Read more stories on fun bike overnights at BikeOvernights.org.
Story by Jim Sayer. Photos by Jim Sayer | Joe Ball | Jeff Moser | Elle Bustamente | LeeAnn O'Neill
Jim is Executive Director of the Adventure Cycling Association (AdventureCycling.org), which produces state-of-the-art maps, organizes tours, advocates for better cycling conditions and publishes Adventure Cyclist magazine. One of his favorite bike overnights was to Yellowstone Park with his teen daughters. Highlights include having loads of time to talk (and groan) while they climbed 7,000 feet on Beartooth Pass, enjoying a cramped hotel room and a pretty lame Adam Sandler movie, and cruising the streets of beautiful Red Lodge, Montana, and finishing with a Mexican food and ice cream feast.