Bicycle Touring 101
Explore your world by bike.
In these parts, most of us have a room full of camping gear and at least one bicycle. So chances are, you already have nearly everything it takes to give bicycle touring a try. That includes an ideal location—southwest Montana attracts bicycle tourists from around the globe. There are countless options in your own backyard to create a unique and enjoyable cycling adventure.
Bicycle touring appeals to a broad spectrum of people, and there are many ways to go about it. It appeals to adults well into their seventies, kids in their teens, and all sorts of people in between. It can be done individually, with friends, or with a commercial tour operator. People from all backgrounds and from all around the world choose the bicycle as their favorite means of travel. They are drawn to bicycle touring as a great way to explore both geography and culture, to achieve physical fitness, to rise to physical and mental challenges, to meet new people, to have fun and recreate, to clear the mind, and to achieve a sense of accomplishment.
So take a date on an overnight adventure, enjoy some time riding with your family, or go solo—with proper preparation and planning, you’ll be sure to enjoy your tour. If you like to ride and you love to be outdoors, bicycle touring is a guaranteed good time.
Consider bicycle touring to be a combination of cycling and backpacking. You can head out for a couple nights with the same camping gear you’d have in your backpack. Everything from the old discount-store 10-speed to today’s fancy mountain bikes can be easily modified for touring. Don’t let anyone tell you that your old bike won’t work. In the late 1800’s Thomas Stevens rode a high-wheeler around the world… your old bike is far better than what he used. There is no doubt that today’s technology can make your journey easier, but with the right attitude you can certainly get started without it. If you don’t have camping gear, borrow some from a friend. Prefer indoor accommodations? Find a motel near your destination. Staying in motels means you’ll only need to carry some extra clothes, toiletries, and snacks & water to consume along the way, along with a few bicycle-specific items like a pump and spare tube—the same stuff you take on regular day rides.
You don’t have to be a highly trained athlete to enjoy cycle touring. It can be enjoyed on many different levels. Whether you venture five miles into the woods or ride 100 miles down the road in one day, you’ll notice quickly that you can learn and grow at your own pace. If you truly enjoy bicycle travel, you can ride your bike a very long way. For tips on training, there are a number of books and an article on the subject listed at www.adventurecycling.org/features/howto.cfm .
Before you head out on your bicycle journey, brush up with some safety tips from www.bicyclesafe.com . As is typical in Montana, paved routes can be busy in the summer, so be careful out there.
A Good Four-Day Tour
There are a lot of options, and the bicycle is a legal vehicle on every road in the area, even I-90. Here is one option to get you started. It is approximately 200 miles long (about 50 miles per day), provides dramatic scenery, and uses part of the nation’s most popular cross-country bicycle route, the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail (where you’ll see riders from all over the world). It also offers many add-on opportunities if you have more time.
Day One: Ride west out of Bozeman on U.S. Highway 191 to Four Corners. Turn south on 191 and head toward Big Sky. There are numerous Forest Service campsites along the Gallatin River and, of course, great fishing.
Day Two: Continue south on U.S. Highway 191 to West Yellowstone. Stop at Free Heel and Wheel bike shop for coffee/soup/road information. West Yellowstone is a full-service town. Take U.S. Highway 20 over Targhee Pass and enter Idaho, and then continue to the junction with Route 87. Turn north on Route 87 and climb over Reynolds Pass and back into Montana. Turn north on U.S. Highway 287 and ride down the Madison River Valley. Numerous state and federal campsites are located along the way. You can resupply in Ennis on day three.
Day Three: Continue cycling northward until reaching Ennis. Stop for good food and coffee at Cowboy Heaven Café. Continue up and over McAllister Hill to Norris and camping at Norris Hot Springs.
Day Four: Turn east on Montana Route 84, and cross the Madison and Gallatin rivers once more on your way back to Bozeman.
This entire loop is very scenic, and world-class fishing opportunities abound, so consider packing your rod and reel.
For information about touring near Bozeman, check out the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club at www.gallatinvalleybicycleclub.org.
For a lot more information on how to plan a bicycle tour and selecting the best gear check out the Adventure Cycling Association, located in Missoula. They’ve been America’s premier bicycle-touring organization for the past 30 years and happen to be right in your own backyard. One of their many resources is an online How-To Department with educational articles on selecting gear, training, trip planning, and more. Go to www.adventurecycling.org/features/howto.cfm .
Local shops to get gear and info:
Summit Bike & Ski
Owenhouse Bike Shop
Gallatin Alpine Sports
Big Sky, 995-2313
Free Heel & Wheel
West Yellowstone, 646-7744
Larry Diskin is the Outreach and Education Coordinator of the Adventure Cycling Association.