Touring in the United States and Canada
Finger Lakes, New York State Touring Cyclists who stopped to ride in QuadZilla, ©
Harvey Botzman, 2003.
by Harvey Botzman
updated June 10, 2008.
BICYCLE TOURISTS & MOTORISTS
This article is not intended to tell you everything about bicycle
touring in North America. It simply provides some information which cyclists from
other nations, whom I have met along the road, would have found helpful before they left
to tour North America. Among other things it does not cover bicycle touring in Mexico.
The United States of America (USA) and Canada are automobile societies.
That said, you should know that the bicycle tourist has an advantage. Almost all North
Americans admire and envy bicycle tourists. Most North Americans have a secret fantasy of
bicycle touring. When you meet folks at a grocery, restaurant or lodging one of the first
statements you will hear is, I always wanted to go on a long distance bicycle trip.
North American drivers treat bicycle tourists and local bicyclist
differently. The motorists know who are cyclotourists by their loaded panniers, helmet,
law abiding and careful cycling techniques! Motorists move away from you on the road; stop
to ask if you need directions; and sometimes offer their backyard for your tent.
Although adults are not required to wear helmets, you should always
wear a helmet. American cars are large and motor vehicle drivers are not used to seeing a
smaller vehicle, a bicycle, on the road. "If you have nothing to lose, do not wear a
Bright colored cycling clothes is preferable to wearing all black or
all white clothing. This is particularly true for upper torso clothing. You need not
purchase or use expensive cycling jerseys. T-shirts are fine to wear.
Yellow-green and bright orange are considered to be the most visible colors for motorists
Throughout North America your bicycle must be equipped with reflectors
(front & rear) and a white front light (minimum 10w) at night. A flashing rear red
light will help to make you more visible to motorists. Turning on the flashing rear red
light during the day is a good way to force a motorist to pay attention to your position
on the roadway. In mountainous areas and along the Pacific coast bicycle route, where
there are tunnels, a flashing front yellow light is used by bicyclists going through a
tunnel. This is yellow light is used in conjunction with the non-flashing white light.
If you do not have bright lights for dawn/dusk and night cycling do not
cycle. It is very dangerous to do so unless you are on a dedicated, off-road
In all Canadian provinces and in many USA states a bicycle must have an
audible signaling device.
Bicycles are considered as vehicles in the USA and Canada. This means
bicycles can ride on any road, limited access highways being the major exception to this
Bicyclists must obey all traffic laws, rules and regulations.
Bicyclists ride with traffic. In North America we operate vehicles
(including bicycles) on the right side of the roadway. This does not mean you must be at
the extreme right side of the road. It simply means you must bicycle with the flow of
traffic. Bicyclists generally ride single file rather than side by side.
Many USA & Canadian automobile drivers were taught to
"honk" (blow their horns) to let the bicyclist know that an auto is behind them.
Do not take offense. The auto driver is really saying, "I don't want to hit you. I
can not judge the distance between my car and your bicycle so I'm letting you know I'm
Occasionally it means get off the road you slow moving idiot and is
accompanied by an obscene gesture, a raised middle finger. If this happens to you,
remember the license plate number and report the incident to a police officer. Every State
and Province have laws against harassing bicyclists. Do not, under any circumstances,
engage a harassing vehicle driver in a discussion. Road rage, violent responses to traffic
incidents, are rare but do occur.
MAPS AND ROAD DISTANCE INDICATORS
Distances on USA maps and roadway signs are indicated in miles.
Distances on Canadian maps and roadway signs are indicated in kilometers. Rarely are
conversions from one measurement system to the other provided. Bring a calculator with a
conversion function to use on your bicycle tour.
What do you want to see or do?
Determine what you want to see or do. Do not limit yourself to the most
well known tourist attractions. There are wonderful sights, excellent bicycling conditions
and friendly folks in Arkansas, South Dakota, New York State, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon
and other States in the USA; Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and other
Provinces in Canada.
North America is a big continent. Do not think that you can see all of
it in 2 weeks or even 2 years. Crossing the continent in less than 90 days and actually
experiencing the beauty of the land; the cities; the commercial attractions; and the
people is an impossibility. First consider how much time you have to bicycle tour.
You will have a more enjoyable tour of North America by limiting the
total distance you will travel within the time period you will be traveling.
If you have 14 days of holiday and you want to experience National
Parks such as Grand Canyon National Park (USA) or Jasper National Park (Canada) do not get
off the plane in New York City and start pedaling! Book a flight directly to Phoenix,
Arizona, USA or Calgary, Alberta, Canada and begin bicycling from there to the relevant
National Park. Then schedule land (bus or train) or air transport back to one of the major
urban areas (New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, etc.) and your flight
If you have 14 days of holiday and want to experience
"wilderness" you can easily go to the Great Lakes area of North America from
Niagara Falls/Buffalo, New York; Chicago, Illinois in the USA or Toronto in Canada. From
these locations you will be able to go into wilderness areas along the shores of Lakes
Michigan, Huron or Superior (the northern shore of Superior is almost all wilderness).
Plan your trip to North America so that you arrive at one city and
leave from another city. This probably will involve an extra airline charge. More
importantly, you will not have to back track on your bicycle tour or take public
transportation back to an airport 3100 kilometers from the place you are at the day before
your plane leaves to take you home.
If you are planning to bicycle across North America from New York City
or Toronto you should consider using the Cyclotour Guide Books tour books for the Erie Canal and Great Lakes (Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron,
Superior, and Michigan) along with some of the other books we distribute (Rubel
Massachusetts BikeMaps, Bicycle Guide to the Lewis & Clark Trail).
There are good times of the year to bicycle tour and there are not so
good times to bicycle tour in each region of North America. Extreme weather conditions -
tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. - and not so extreme conditions - snow, rain - usually occur
at specific times of the year and are very localized. Don't worry about the extremes but
consider the general climate conditions where you will be touring.
Many of the weather web sites for North America have monthly charts for
temperature (in degrees C & F) and precipitation (in inches and mm.) for most areas of
Tourism web sites provide basic climate information in metric
measurements in Canada; American measurements the USA.
English is the language of choice for the USA and Canada except in
Québec, Canada. It may be difficult for you to find someone who speaks a language other
than English. North Americans are very friendly. They will try to "figure out"
(determine) what you are talking about in your own language but don't be surprised if they
talk very loudly to you. They confuse not hearing with not understanding.
Many official tourism web sites have been translated into German,
French, Spanish, and Japanese. Look for a flag of those those nations for the translated
It would help to know about 300 basic English words.
The railway system in the USA is named, Amtrak; in Canada it is
VIARail. The major inter-city bus companies in the USA are Greyhound and Trailways;
in Canada it is Greyhound-Canada. There are other bus and railway companies and you will
have to search for their names and routes. Sometimes the tickets from one company are
accepted by another company; other times they are not accepted and you will have to pay an
additional fare. There are many airlines traversing the continent.
Bicycles must be boxed to be transported on most railway trains and all
airlines in the USA and Canada. See our article, How to Box
A Bike for Public Transportation for the rules, regulations, fees, and detailed
instructions for boxing and transporting a bike on planes, trains and buses.
In the USA, Amtrak stations (only those with checked baggage service)
may stock bicycle boxes. No bus terminals stock bicycle boxes.
In Canada, some VIARail stations stock bicycle boxes. However some
VIARail trains allow unboxed bicycles to be transported during non-rush hours. You must go
to the VIARail web site and ask about a specific train.
USA Greyhound and Trailways bus (motor coach) companies recently
changed their bicycle transport policy. You can now transport a bicycle in a canvas bag as
well as in a box. Canvas bags are expensive but it is well worth the price to use such a
bag to travel with your bicycle on the bus. The canvas bag folds into a small rectangle
which can sit on top of your rear rack under your sleeping bag.
Greyhound-Canada, Ontario-Northland and some other Canadian bus lines
use specially designed very large plastic bags for transporting bicycles in their baggage
holds. You must ask and make certain that these bags are available at the bus
terminal a minimum of 3 days before you plan to depart with your bicycle by bus.
These bags fold up into a small cylinder and can be reused many times.
Fortunately for bicyclists large boxes are freely available at grocery
stores. Using tape, you can make a very sturdy bicycle box when one is not available from
a bike store or public transportation company.
Amtrak, VIARail, Greyhound, and Greyhound Canada have special low cost
travel passes for visitors from other nations. You may have to purchase these passes in
your nation before arriving in North America. Check the transportation companies' web
sites or consult with a travel agent. Using a combination of public transportation and
bike touring you will be able to experience more of North America.
Bicycle racks are an increasingly popular feature on municipal and
rural buses. E. g., buses in the Finger Lakes (wine region) & Erie Canal area of New
York State, USA; Montréal, Québec and Toronto, Ontario, Canada; local buses traveling
along the Pacific Ocean coast bicycle route in Washington State and Oregon; and many other
local buses have bike racks.
Most subway (Metro, Underground) and commuter rail lines allow bicycles
on their facilities during non-rush hours. A no charge or low fee life time permit is
usually necessary. No permit, no problem; just tell the fare collector that you are from
another nation and they'll graciously accommodate you!
The United States is divided into political units called states. Canada
is divided into political units called provinces. Within the states or provinces are
counties, regions, and municipalities (cities, villages). Fortunately for the bicyclist
almost all of these units have tourist offices which will joyfully provide you with
information free of charge. Always state that you will be bicycling in the area. Always
request a map. A standard automobile road map will be sent to you. This map will not be
very suitable for bicycle touring. It will be useful for you to determine distances. You
can then search for bicycling information about specific locations (usually counties,
parks or geographic landmarks) on the internet. For example place, lake erie bicycling
into a search engine query box and up will pop 'Round Lake Erie: A Bicyclist's Tour
Ask for bicycle touring information but do not expect many tourist
organizations to have bicycle touring information. Rarely are bike shops listed in
tourist brochures. You will have to use a telephone book or ask a bicyclist you see on the
road for the location of a bike shop.
In an emergency you can go to the major and ubiquitous big box
stores (Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire) which are found in almost any town with a population
of 50,000, to obtain basic bicycle supplies and parts (tires, tubes, racks). These stores
may or may not stock 700 cc tires. Metric screws, nuts and other supplies will most likely
be found in almost any hardware store in North America. For any other items you will have
to find a local bicycle shop or use one of the major on line catalogue bicycle shops.
A list of official State and Provincial tourist organizations and their web site
addresses is at the end of this article.
Bicycle Maps & Tour Books
State/Provincial road maps suitable for motorists use a map scale which
is too large for bicyclists to use. Local maps are can be purchased at most gas (petrol)
stations, groceries and book stores are ideal for bicyclists. Unfortunately you will
probably have to wait until you arrive in that locality to obtain a local map.
It is sometimes difficult to locate a bicycle tour guide book which is
appropriate for the area you want to tour. Many of the DOT web sites on our list provide
bicycle resources for their area. Most bicycle tour guide books for North American
areas are written by self-published authors and may not be indexed by search engines.
Use a general web search engine (alltheweb, google, yahoo or msn) to
search for a geographic landmark, park, county, city or village in the USA or Canada.
Alternatively you can first go to a major North American online book store and search
their database for bicycle tour guides in the area you will be touring. Then use a general
search engine (Google, Alltheweb, Yahoo, or MSN) to find the author or publisher's web.
You might be able to contact the author directly. The author usually will answer questions
It is expensive to ship books and maps from North America to other
nations. Additionally, the exchange rate might deter you from purchasing tour guides and
maps before you leave home. You can reduce these costs by having the book shipped to your
first lodging in the United States or Canada with a hold until guest arrives or
arrives by [date] on the envelope. Please remember to pay for any books you purchase
whether directly from an author or from a bookstore.
This article is already too long and you want to plan your tour in
North America! After determining where you want to bicycle tour in North America, search
the relevant web sites from the list. If you have any questions, contact the author,
Harvey Botzman via e-mail (put "Bike Book" in the subject line):
firstname.lastname@example.org; from his web site: http://www.cyclotour.com; or by post: PO Box
10585, Rochester NY 14610, USA.
© c. Harvey Botzman, 2000, 2007. Cyclotour Guide Books,
http://www.cyclotour.com, email@example.com To reproduce this article you must
include the the copyright notice and how to contact Mr. Botzman. Please send Mr. Botzman a
copy of the printed article; or the location of the article on the web.
Mr. Botzman is the author of 7 bicycle tour guide books currently in
print: `Round Lake Erie: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.; `Round Lake Ontario: A
Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.; Erie Canal Bicyclist and Hiker Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.;
`Round Lake Michigan: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.; 'Round Lake Huron: A Bicyclist's
Tour Guide; 'Round Lake Superior: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide (2007); and Finger
Lakes Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed. He can be reached at PO Box 10585, Rochester,
NY 14610; Tel.: 585 244-6157; www.cyclotour.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Cyclotour Guide Books distributes bicycle tour guide books and maps: Rubel's
Massachusetts (USA) BikeMaps; Éditions du Breil Waterways (Bicycle, Kayak/Canoe)
Guides for France's Canal System; and Pedallers' Paradise New Zealand
bicycle touring guides; and Deerfoot Publications' Bicycle Guide to the Lewis &
Clark Bicycle Trail for the cycling the North American continent.
State & Provincial Tourism
Departments and Departments of Transportation (DOT)
Researched & Compiled by Harvey Botzman
Updated November 12, 2007.
Only the official State or Provincial web site is listed. Only those
State/Provincial Department of Transportation (DOT) or Department of Natural Resources
which have good bicycle touring information are listed.
You may have to search for bicycle pages on a site. Sometimes there is
a picture of a bicycle, sometimes you'll have to use the site's search engine and enter
bicycling, bicycle, cycling, recreation or outdoor recreation. You will be rewarded with
information on how to obtain bicycle maps and bike routes within the State or Province.
Always ask for bicycle maps and information. Also refer to our links page.
Very few USA State tourism or DOT web sites are written/translated into
a language other than English. All Canadian web sites are written in both English and
Alaska DOT: www.dot.state.ak.us/
Arizona DOT: http://www.azbikeped.org/
Arkansas DOT: www.ahtd.state.ar.us
California DOT: www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tpp/offices/bike/bicycle_prgm.htm
Colorado DOT: www.dot.state.co.us/BikePed/
Connecticut DOT: www.ct.gov/dot/cwp/view.asp?a=1390&q=259662
Delaware DOT: www.deldot.gov/static/bike/index.html
District of Columbia: Washington (capital of USA), www.washington.org
District of Columbia DOT:
Hawaii DOT: www.state.hi.us/dot/highways/bike/bikeplan/index.htm
Idaho DOT: www.itd.idaho.gov/bike_ped/
Illinois DOT: www.dot.state.il.us/bikemap/bikehome.htm
Indiana DOT: www.in.gov/dot/modetrans/bicycle/index.html
Iowa DOT: www.iowabikes.com/
Kansas DOT: www.ksdot.org/burrail/bike/default.asp
Kentucky DOT: bikewalk.ky.gov/
Louisiana DOT: www.dotd.louisiana.gov/planning/tep/
Maine DOT: www.maine.gov/mdot/opt/bicycle-transportation.php
Massachusetts DOT: Rubel
Massachusetts Bike Maps are sold by Cyclotour Guide Books; www.eot.state.ma.us/
Michigan DOT: www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,1607,7-151-9615_11223---,00.html
Minnesota DOT: www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/
Mississippi DOT: www.mdot.state.ms.us/bicycling
Montana DOT: www.mdt.mt.gov/
Nebraska DOR: www.dor.state.ne.us or
Nevada DOT: www.bicyclenevada.com
New Hampshire: www.visitnh.gov
New Hampshire DOT: www.nh.gov/dot/nhbikeped or www.NHBikePed.com
New Jersey: www.visitnj.org
New Jersey DOT: www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike
New Mexico: www.newmexico.org
New Mexico DOT: nmshtd.state.nm.us/main.asp?secid=11190
New York State: www.iloveny.com
New York State DOT: www.dot.state.ny.us/pubtrans/bphome.html
North Carolina: www.visitnc.com
North Carolina DOT: www.dot.state.nc.us/transit/bicycle/
North Dakota: www.ndtourism.com
North Dakota Parks: www.ndparks.com/Trails/biking.htm and
Ohio DOT: www.dot.state.oh.us/bike
Oklahoma DOT: www.okladot.state.ok.us
Oregon DOT: www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED
Pennsylvania DOT: www.dot.state.pa.us/bike/web/index.htm
Puerto Rico: www.gotopuertorico.com
Rhode Island: www.visitrhodeisland.com
Rhode Island DOT: www.dot.state.ri.us/bikeri/
South Carolina: www.discoversouthcarolina.com
South Carolina DOT: www.scdot.org/getting/BikePed/BP_default.shtml
South Dakota: www.travelsd.com
South Dakota DOT: www.sddot.com/pe/projdev/systems_bicycle.asp
Tennessee DOT: www.tdot.state.tn.us/bikeroutes/default.htm
Utah DOT: www.udot.utah.gov/index.php/m=c/tid=11
Vermont AT: http://www.aot.state.vt.us/Bicycle.htm
Virginia DOT: www.vdot.virginia.gov/programs/bk-default.asp
Washington State: www.experiencewashington.com
Washington State DOT: www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike
West Virginia: www.callwva.com
Wisconsin DOT: www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/bike-foot/bike-index.htm
Wyoming DOT: http://www.dot.state.wy.us/Default.jsp?sCode=homqu
British Columbia: www.hellobc.com
British Columbia MOT:
New Brunswick: www.tourismnbcanada.com
Newfoundland & Labrador: www.newfoundlandandlabradortourism.com
Northwest Territories: www.explorenwt.com
Nova Scotia: www.novascotia.com
Prince Edward Island: www.gov.pe.ca/visitorsguide/
Québec MTQ: www1.mtq.gouv.qc.ca/en/reseau/velo/index.asp
Yukon Highways & PW:
© Harvey Botzman, 2000, 2007. Cyclotour Guide Books, http://www.cyclotour.com
To reproduce (print, electronically) this article you must include the
the copyright notice and how to contact Mr. Botzman. Please send Mr. Botzman a copy
of the printed article; or the location of the article on the web.
Mr. Botzman is the author of 7 bicycle touring guide books currently in
print:`Round Lake Erie: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.; `Round Lake Ontario: A
Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.; Erie Canal Bicyclist and Hiker Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.;
`Round Lake Michigan: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed.; 'Round Lake Huron: A Bicyclist's
Tour Guide; 'Round Lake Superior: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide (2007); and Finger Lakes
Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 2nd Ed. He can be reached at www.cyclotour.com;
email@example.com; PO Box 10585,
Rochester, NY 14610.