One of the first questions a would-be cross country cyclists asks is “How long will it take to bike across America?”.
It’s a common question, and unfortunately I find that the common answer is “too long”.
Too long because of work, family, money, or some other probably legitimate reason.
Many people consider cycling across America to require a significant time commitment that may not be feasible due to their family, work, and other commitments. As a result, they soon strike the adventure idea from their mind.
For sure, a bike ride across America will require a time commitment, but it doesn’t have to be extraordinary, and the journey can be shaped to meet your time constraints.
If you can swing even a few weeks or months off from work, you can likely take a stab at all or at least a large part of a bike ride across America.
If you passed on a cross country bike trip this year, or last, or at some other time in your life because of the concerns about the time commitment, checkout the following details to give you some ideas about how you can make an adventure work within your time constraints.
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So How Long Does it Really Take to Bike Across America?
We want to help you get to the true answer to “How long?”.
To do so, we’re going back to your sixth grade math class, invoking the classic formula, time = distance / rate.
Because we know that if you can measure just how long the cross country bike ride will likely take, then you can start to make real plans that make the time commitment and adventure more feasible.
Bike Speed and Time when Cycling Across America
The average speed on a bike ride across America is a huge variable simply because of the varying terrains you’ll encounter and your energy level when doing so.
Some cyclists prefer riding in the hills and mountains for a more scenic view and more exertion on their body, while others can reach some pretty high speeds while cruising through the Great Plains.
Plus, your speeds when encountering these different terrains depends on whether you’re just getting loose in the morning, are at your peak midday performance, or are winding down after 90+ miles ridden.
Wind is also a huge factor in the average speeds you’ll achieve, not to mention how often and how long you stop to see the sites.
A good benchmark from an experienced rider includes these averages:
- climbing mountains – 7 mph
- descending down a mountain – 40 mph
- wind behind you on flats – 25 mph
- wind in face on flats – 12 mph
- no wind on flats – 17 mph
- average – 13 mph
Of course, average bike speed may vary depending on physical prowess and weight of the bike but it presents some real numbers.
As far as daily rides, most people shoot to cycle about 5-6 hours per day and cover about 70 miles per day.
‘Centuries’ (100 mile days) and longer cycling times can definitely be achieved in the right conditions, but for the sake of planning be conservative.
By dividing the length of your entire route by 13 mph plus the amount of time you plan to bike each day, you can map out your overall trip duration and then make your daily plans.
Keep reading to see how we can put what you just read to practical use for determining how long a bike ride across America would take.
The Formula to Calculate How Long it Take to Bike Across America
Using the average numbers above, here’s how long a hypothetical 4,000 mile bike ride would take.
We’ll use this formula, derived from time = distance / rate.
Days = Total Miles / (Average Miles Per Hour * Hours Per Day)
Average Miles Per Hour * Hours Per Day converts our rate measurement into Miles Per Day.
Here’s what it looks like with numbers from above.
Days = 4,000 total miles / (13 miles per hours * 5 hours per day)
Days = 4,000 total miles / 65 miles per day
Days = 61.5 days
We would estimate that a bike ride across America that covered 4,000 total miles would take an average rider at least 61 days to complete.
Our self-contained bike ride across America took 80 days, and we covered about 4,500 miles total.
Think you could swing two months off from work? If not…
Pick a Cycling Adventure That Meets Your Time Constraints
Don’t let time be the factor that prevents you from taking an adventure. Start with a smaller adventure if required, one in which you can still get into that adventure travel mindset and experience.
Choose your desired length of the trip by selecting a route in line with your intended time frame.
There are approximately 30 routes mapped out just on the Adventure Cycling Route Network, some less than a week (under 400 miles) and others across the entire Atlantic Coast (2615 mi.) and some across the entire country (4229 mi.)
Depending on what kind of adventure you’re looking for you can spend anywhere from a week, to a few months, to a few years.
That’s one of great thing about cross-country biking — options — when you run into a real blocker, whether related to time or money or something else, look for options.