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.
BIKER HACK: Planning to buy a touring bike, then I highly recommend becoming a member of the REI.com Co-Op to get a 10% discount on the purchase of a new bike. It saved me $105 when I bought the bike that carried me from coast to cost.
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.
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.
michael borg says
I can make it in 30 days or less if I was given the chance 60 days no way. Google map says 11 days that’s insane but I thinks that’s none stop. But still 30 days or less seems really easy. I’m ex military so I think I can do it. I can run for an hour straight going 7 mph a bike would be a breeze.
Mark Kelley says
I think you can do it too. Let me know when you knock it out.
Joel Wilkins says
Running for a hour at 7mph is a big difference to cycling way over 3000 miles through varying terrains and climates, it’s a mental game as well as physical, within a month would require 100 miles plus every day for over 30 days in a row, that’s no easy feat.
Mark Kelley says
No doubt, Joel. Not an easy feat at all. On my bike ride across America, I never broke a century and there were still mental troughs to slog through.
My brother did it in less than a month. He actually just wrote a book about it called Resilience and is working on getting it published.
Well, at 54 I set out to cycle around the world. First time cycle touring and not a regular cyclist. Overweight and suffer permanent spine and nerve damage, I just wasn’t going to let that stop me from giving it my best shot.
13 mph average is more than I managed at start, and still more than I average now after 3300 km’s. More like 8 mph for me, but it will likely improve.
For a one off cycle for a few months across the US, I’m in no doubt I could pack much lighter, maybe even bike pack, but find that for being away for much longer I require more gear. My bike and kit weigh quite a bit.
I wonder daily whether or not I have taken on far too much for my first bike tour, but each morning as I set out I feel so proud of myself.
An uneducated working class father and family man, with a hard working life in the building industry, gets the opportunity to do something incredible. It’s a pretty awesome feeling and my daughters are proud.
Tom Dooley says
I have great respect for you Steve Good luck! The World needs great adventurers now more than ever! I would love to try a trip across the USA on my mountain bike,I am retired and have a lot of time on my hands!
David Vinson says
Hey I can do 100-120 VA or TN miles in a day (i’ve never done big mountains) and feel pretty good afterward. Should I avoid WV? I ride indoors or outdoors most every day. Do you think that means I could plan to average 100 miles per day? Also, do you suggest doing the first week with shorter days? I’m talking with my work to see if I can take off the month of july or august, so potentially I have 5 months to train and 31 days to ride from VA to Los Angeles. Thanks for your feedback!
Mark Kelley says
Hi David, I don’t see any reason to avoid WV. The trip you are describing is doable, stacking a bunch of centuries together to cross in 30 days. You will be speeding across the country though, so wouldn’t plan to see much along the way.
This guy managed to average 100 miles for 41 days coast to coast
I”m a bigger guy that just got a trike. I’m thinking of biking to New Orleans… That would be quite a trek for the uninitiated. But that’s where I want to go… I live in Southern Oregon… Anybody done anything like that?