Compared to vacations of similar duration, a bicycle ride across America has to be one of the cheapest ways to see the country.
The cost to bike across America can vary greatly depending on your adventure style and habits. I’m sure people have squeaked by with a self-contained bike ride that cost less than $1,000 dollars, while supported bike rides may cost a cyclist close to $10,000 when all is done.
For those looking to bike across America, you should plan a budget for the trip using our Long Distance Cycling Gear Checklist and Budgeting Calculator.
To get you thinking about costs, here is an accounting of my actual costs to bike across America, followed by some of the common factors to consider.
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Costs to Ride My Bike Across America
In 2008, I cycled from Astoria, Oregon to Topsail Beach, North Carolina, a self-contained cycling journey of about 4,500 miles over 80 days. I kept a pretty detailed account of my spending costs for the adventure, including bike, gear, plane ticket, shipping, food, and lodging.
In all, the trip cost me at least $5,381. Here’s a complete breakdown of my costs to bike across America.
Further down this page are more details about how you should approach some of these different spending categories.
|Bike||Novara Safari Touring Bike – A hybrid touring bike with disc brakes||$749|
|Bike||SPD pedals with cleats – In retrospect, I would get the pedals that fit into the recessed clip within a shoe. It would have helped walking around town.||$69|
|Bike||Waterbottle Holders (2)||$8|
|Bike||Bike Lock – Lightweight. Keep honest people honest.||$12|
|Bike||Saddle cover – Not typical, but my backside couldn’t do without one!||$19|
|Bike||Bike Tools (Multi-tool)||$25|
|Bike||Spare Bike Tubes (15 in all) – highly recommend heavy duty tubes with Slime||$75|
|Bike||Two Replacement Bike Tires||$82|
|Bike||Tube patch kit||$3|
|Gear||Bike Shorts (2)||$89|
|Gear||Bike Jersey (2)||$110|
|Gear||Light Cycling Jacket – Great for cool mornings before working up that first hill.||$70|
|Gear||Heavier Rain Jacket – Mainly used at camp, not while cycling.||$99|
|Gear||Shimano Cycling Shoes – In retrospect, I would get the kind with the recessed clip, not the 3-hole.||$93|
|Gear||Rear View Mirror||$6|
|Gear||Body Glide for chaffing||$4|
|Gear||Flashing lights – I burned it during the day. Rarely rode at night.||$10|
|Gear||Dry Bags (2)||$60|
|Camping||Sleeping Bag – 30 degree would probably work if you’re cycling over summer.||$105|
|Camping||Camping stove – I had a cheap stove that worked well, but based on my other adventures, I recommend the JetBoil, which is twice the price but easier and more efficient.||$49|
|Camping||Fuel cans for stove (2)||$11|
|Transportation||Plane Ticket to Portland, OR||$312|
|Transportation||Bus fare (Portland to Astoria)||$22|
|Transportation||Cab fare from airport to bus station||$60|
|Transportation||UPS Shipping during trip||$37|
|Transportation||FedEx shipping bike to west coast||$110|
|Bills||Cell Phone Bill (3 months)||$274|
|Maps||Cycling maps from Adventure Cycling||$150|
|Food, Camp, Misc Supplies||Food, camp and park fees ($18 per day x 80 days). Cooked most meals and sought free camping when possible.||$1,440|
|Sales Tax||Tax on Gear and Bike Items (7.5%)||$171|
Costs for Cross Country Touring Bike and Gear
You’ll be spending on average 5-6 hours per day on your bike and depending on it to carry you across America. It’s worthwhile to spend money on the right bike, but the right bike isn’t necessarily the most expensive.
A reasonably quality tour bike can cost $800-$1,200, and high end touring bikes can cost $5,000. I managed to find a deal on a Novara (REI brand) hybrid touring bike on a day when REI was having a big sale on bikes.
In addition to buying the bike, you’ll need whatever cycling and camping gear that is consistent with your journey, such as panniers, front and rear packs, a tow-behind trailer, helmet, several pairs of riding shorts, etc.
It’s hard to put a number on the supplemental cycling and camping gear that you’ll need because it varies so greatly, depending on the cyclists needs and wants. We suggest you use the combined cycling gear checklist and budgeting calculator previously mentioned to calculate these numbers. If you are outfitting your bike and camping gear from scratch, you might be looking at an additional $1,500 – $2,000 for reasonable gear.
On my trip, I spent $1,737 for bike gear (i.e. panniers), camping gear (i.e. sleeping bag and tent), and outdoor gear in general (i.e. dry bags and clothing).
Staying in Hotels on a Cross Country Bike Ride
Every rider differs, but a good portion of those biking across America like to sleep in a hotel or motel at some point. Some may spend one or two nights, while others may spend every night.
Hotels offer some significant comforts that are priceless when cycling across America, including a warm bed, a hot shower, sleeping out of the rain, and having a secure spot to work on and store your bike. Other benefits may include laundry, free breakfasts, internet access, and more.
A really crumby hotel might cost $20 / night. Many cyclists (and people) aren’t interested in staying in hotels at this price point, so if you are planning for hotels, plan for $75 / night.
Hotels can quickly and dramatically increase the costs of a cross country bike ride, so you’ll need to budget how many nights you plan to stay in a hotel and stick to it.
I stayed in a hotel once on my bike ride across America, and it was about $60 for the night.
Camping when Biking across America
Camping every night while biking across America can significantly drive down your adventure travel costs.
Camping even a couple days a week is a nice way to lower your costs.
City, state, and national parks may charge $5 to $12 a night for a spot to pitch a tent. Campsite fees are especially common in the Rockies and west of the Rockies. Between the Rockies and Appalachians, free camping options are easier to find. Then east of the Appalachians, camp site fees are common again.
Private campgrounds, like KOAs, may charge $20-$30 per night for a spot to camp.
If you are traveling with a companion, like I was, you can split the campsite fee, which will bring down your average nightly cost. Most campsites charge for a tent site, not per person, so if you can even hook up with some other travelers then you might shell out $1 as your share of the tent site.
For free options, there are city parks which are free and homes along the Adventure Cycling Route Network which offer their backyards for free.
On our adventure, we had a lot of luck asking churches and fire stations if we could camp on their property. Often this didn’t have a cost, but we made a donation to the church or bought some snacks for the firehouse.
Food for Biking Across America
The best way to calculate your potential costs for food are to look at your current costs for food. How much do you spend each week on groceries? How much on restaurants? Beer? Coffee? etc.
You’re likely keep similar eating habits and costs while biking across America, though you may eat even more than you do at home. Your body will be burning 5,000+ calories a day and will need constant refueling to keep the adventure rolling.
Cross country cyclists need about 3 meals and 3 snacks per day, not to mention a sports drink or beer here and there. Budget for a minimum of $15 per day for food if you plan to cook most meals. This budget won’t leave much room for alcohol or restaurants, so increase the daily budget allowance if you plan to indulge.
You can keep costs low by shopping at real grocery stores and carrying food for a few days at a time. Don’t wait to shop until the last minute, otherwise you might be shopping at a convenient store which carries lower quality foods and higher prices.
It’s a no brainer, but if you are on a tight budget, it’s critical to resist restaurants, alcohol, and coffee shops. These will drive up costs, just like in your daily life.
On our adventure, for food, camping, and park fees combined, I averaged $22 per day over $80 days for a total of $1,760 spend on these categories.
We did most of our own cooking on the trip, only occasionally visiting a restaurant. When we did go to a restaurant, we typically went to Pizza Hut buffets or something similar so we could eat like pigs.
Bike Maintenance & Repairs
Hopefully, you’ll have minimal mechanical failures when cycling across America. And hopefully, when you do have a problem, like a flat tire, you’re carrying the gear you need, such as bike tire tubes, patches, and gear oil.
However, cycling across America comes with unpredictability and uncertainly.
Set aside at least $200 for unforeseen major repairs, such as busted derailleurs, spokes, etc.
On my trip, my biggest problems were with busted tubes and two shredded tires. The replacement tires and tubes cost me $157.
My cycling companion was less fortunate. He had to visit a bike shop twice, once to replace brake cables and again to replace a derailleur that sheered off in mud. He spent about $400 for parts and labor, and of course he had his share of tubes and tire issues as well.
Attractions & Fun Stuff
One of the great reasons people choose to cycling across America is the experience, so don’t skimp on it.
You should set aside money in the budget for random side adventures and attractions, such as visiting national parks, museums, concerts, or whatever.
Don’t cycle across America and forget to enjoy it.
Cost for Supported Bike Tours Across America
Most of the expenses listed above are for self-contained (or non-supported) tours, which are basically you, the bike, and the road.
For those who would rather have more structure on their ride, there are supported tours available which feature guides, itinerary, meals, and a support vehicle. In a way, self-supported tours are all-inclusive bike ride adventures, which come with a hefty price tag. These tours can cost up to $10,000.
Could my bike ride across America have cost less or more?
The trip could certainly cost less or more.
I could probably shave a thousand dollars off the trip costs by buying used gear ahead of the trip, reusing gear that I already owned, or being even more disciplined about staying out of restaurants and buying better deals in grocery stores.
I could have driven costs up buy buying more and better gear, such as a higher end bike, but my gear did just fine on the trip. Also, if I had stayed in a few more hotels, that would have driven the total price up.
The key to consider when estimating the budget for your bike ride across America, is what kind of adventure do you want. Do you want a self-contained camping adventure? Or do you want a posh supported adventure? Both are available, and both are awesome, but they carry different cost structures.
Got questions or advice about biking across America? Leave a comment below.