You don’t have to be an athlete to take your bicycle on a road trip. In fact, you can be a couple of middle-aged biking newbies.
When Jim and I planned our Northwest U.S. road trip, we knew our bikes were coming with us. Thanks to Schwinn, we’d begun riding again and we absolutely loved it. We felt like kids. I mean, just look at the grins on those faces!
We didn’t know how much we’d be able to ride on the trip, but we figured we’d find a few places over the month-long excursion.
The total journey covered 6,832.9 miles, and while we didn’t get to ride nearly as often as we wanted, and we missed some epic trails due to time constraints, we’re glad we brought our bicycles with us on the trip. Biking in Yellowstone? That alone made it worth the extra effort!
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And here’s the best news:
You don’t have to be an athlete or have an expensive bicycle to travel with your bikes.
We’re not athletes. By a long shot. We’re active, but we’re not running any marathons. Or 5k’s, for that matter, but we do love to hike and be outdoors. Our bikes are Schwinn Circuit hybrids that retail for around $300.
They’re perfect for our needs. They’ve got 21-gears, which come in handy on hills, and they’re comfortable (although I wouldn’t mind some extra padding in the seat – never thought I’d say that!).
We’d traveled with bikes once before, on our honeymoon. It was a short trip that was only five hours away, but even that one taught us a bit about traveling with bikes. However, that was nothing compared to this epic adventure. We did some things right, did some other things wrong, and learned some important pointers for making our next road trip with our bicycles even better.
If you’re thinking about taking your bike with you on a trip, check out these tips before you hit the road.
How to take your bicycle on a road trip
1. Get a REALLY good bike rack
If you can’t get a good bike rack for your car, then don’t bring your bike. It’s as simple as that. You never know what road conditions are going to be like, and the idea of hitting a pothole and seeing your two-wheeled friend fly off into the sunset is heartbreaking.
When we were on our honeymoon, three years prior, our bike rack broke. We had to get another one if we wanted to bring our bikes back home, but there was only one rack within 50 miles and it was a cheapie at Walmart. Since we didn’t have a choice we bought it, but we knew we needed to get a good one before driving cross country.
We went to Village Pedaler, a fantastic local bike shop in South Elgin, and the owner Jeff helped us pick one out. The sturdiest type of rack is mounted on a hitch, but because we were going to be renting a vehicle we didn’t know if we’d be able to install it. Plus, our car didn’t have a hitch, either.
We ended up with a Yakima Hangout 2 Bike Trunk Rack. With long straps and six hooks, it would work on both our rental SUV and, when we got back from the trip, our sedan. It’s a sturdy rack that gave us complete peace of mind, whether we were driving 80 on asphalt or 15 on mud.
Tip: For an extended road trip, skip the roof rack. Keeping your bikes behind the vehicle keeps them from getting all the gunk. Plus, those create tons of drag and reduce your MPG. Most importantly, you may not always have clearance, like through this tunnel on the Needles Highway:
2. Know how to put the rack on your car, the right way
If you get your rack from a local store, ask them to show you how to put it on. Jeff took the time to take us outside and put the rack on our trunk.
Most importantly, he showed us a trick: if you’ve got a rack that’s attached with straps, after you think they’re tight enough, have someone hang onto the bars with their full weight. Then tighten them again. This makes sure that when you put the bikes on the rack, the straps are already adjusted for the additional weight and are less likely to come loose.
3. Get an adapter bar for women’s bikes
I didn’t. And my bike wouldn’t sit on the rack correctly. After we were already several hours late, I had to run down to Village Pedaler and pick up a bar that I could attach under my seat and handlebars to provide a level surface.
Don’t be like me. Get an adapter bar.
4. Use bungee cords to keep your tires from moving
This was another trick our local bike shop expert showed us. If you’ve got two bikes, get a short bungee cord and connect the back tire of one to the front tire of the other. This keeps them from moving when you’re on the road. It also creates a bumper so that the gears don’t rub.
Tip: Make sure you’ve got extras, because these sometimes come off.
5. Bring a tire pump and tire sealant
This is especially important if you’re going to be changing elevation. When you get to your destination, check the tire pressure. Chances are, you’re going to need some air.
Keeping a tire sealant in your bag is a good idea all the time.
6. Wash off the road dirt and oil your chains
We didn’t do this. Granted, we rarely had the opportunity to wash our bikes, but because we didn’t, and we didn’t oil our chains, they were rusted when we got back.
Don’t be like us.
7. Make sure you have a helmet and gloves
We DID do this. Wear a helmet, always, and wear gloves, always. Your noggin’ and your hands will thank you.
Do be like us.
8. Take your bikes inside your hotel/motel
It’s a sad fact that people steal bikes, and while we could lock them to the rack, when the rack is connected with straps, it would have been easy for someone to slice through and take the whole thing.
When we weren’t camping, we stayed in motels. At check in, we’d ask if we could bring our bikes into our room, and invariably the answer was yes.
9. Lock ’em up
When you’re out hiking, eating out, sightseeing, or whatever, make sure your bikes are locked up. Get a solid cable that can’t be quickly clipped. If you can find a brightly colored one, great! It makes it more obvious if someone is trying to cut through it. If not, you can wrap it with some colored electrical tape.
If you’re camping, there probably isn’t room in your tent, so lock the bikes to a tree or a picnic table.
10. Know your limits
Riding a bike is fun. It’s an absolute blast. It’s also exercise. You’re on vacation, right? So don’t push it! Take your time and pay attention to how your body is feeling, especially if you’re at higher elevations than you’re used to. You don’t want to get so worn out that you either a) can’t get back to where you started, or b) fall and injure yourself.
11. HAVE FUN!
This is the most important tip of all! Whether you’re going on a day trip, taking a spin around a new town, or just riding from your campsite to the pit toilet (I did that a few times), have fun.
When you take your bike with you on a road trip, you’re giving yourself permission to be a kid again, and couldn’t we all use that?
Schwinn provided our bicycles, but all opinions about the awesomeness of cycling are entirely my own. I did not receive any compensation, unless you count better health and fresh air, and really, aren’t those priceless?