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PO Box 10585, Rochester, NY 14610, 585 244-6157, cyclotour@cyclotour.com

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Bicycle Touring in the United States and Canada 

2013 06 04 02 Bike Tourists img 1361 crop.jpg (147000 bytes)
Independent cyclotourists on the Erie Canalway Trail, Finger Lakes Region, Brockport, New York
©
Harvey Botzman, 2013.


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.

SAFETY
    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 helmet."
    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 to see.
    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 bikeway/trail.
    In all Canadian provinces and in many USA states a bicycle must have an audible signaling device.

ROADWAY RULES
    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 rule.
    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 behind you."
    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.

TOURING CONSIDERATIONS
    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.
    Time
    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.
    Distance
    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.
    Examples:
    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 home.
    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). 
    Weather
    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 the continent.
    Tourism web sites provide basic climate information in metric measurements in Canada; American measurements the USA.
    Language
    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 text.
    It would help to know about 300 basic English words.
    Public Transportation
    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!
    Information Sources
    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 Guide.
    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 without charge.
    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): cyclotour@cyclotour.com; 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, cyclotour@cyclotour.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; cyclotour@cyclotour.com 
    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 French.

USA States
Alabama: www.touralabama.org
    Alabama DOT: www.dot.state.al.us/Docs/Bureaus/Multi+Modal/Modal+Programs.htm
Alaska: www.travelalaska.com
    Alaska DOT: www.dot.state.ak.us/
Arizona: www.arizonaguide.com
    Arizona DOT: http://www.azbikeped.org/
Arkansas: www.arkansas.com
    Arkansas DOT: www.ahtd.state.ar.us
California: www.visitcalifornia.com
    California DOT: www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tpp/offices/bike/bicycle_prgm.htm
Colorado: www.colorado.com
    Colorado DOT: www.dot.state.co.us/BikePed/
Connecticut: www.ctvisit.com
    Connecticut DOT: www.ct.gov/dot/cwp/view.asp?a=1390&q=259662
Delaware: www.visitdelaware.net
    Delaware DOT: www.deldot.gov/static/bike/index.html
District of Columbia: Washington (capital of USA), www.washington.org
    District of Columbia DOT: www.ddot.dc.gov/ddot/cwp/view,a,1245,q,559639,ddotNav,|32399|.asp
Florida: www.visitflorida.com
    Florida DOT: www.dot.state.fl.us/safety/ped_bike/touringInfo/ped_bike_touringinfo.htm
Georgia: www.georgia.org/Travel/Adventure/Cycling.htm
    Georgia DOT: www.dot.state.ga.us/dot/plan-prog/planning/projects/bicycle/index.shtml
Hawaii: www.gohawaii.com
    Hawaii DOT: www.state.hi.us/dot/highways/bike/bikeplan/index.htm
Idaho: www.visitid.org
    Idaho DOT: www.itd.idaho.gov/bike_ped/
Illinois: www.enjoyillinois.com
    Illinois DOT: www.dot.state.il.us/bikemap/bikehome.htm
Indiana: www.visitindiana.com
    Indiana DOT: www.in.gov/dot/modetrans/bicycle/index.html
Iowa: www.traveliowa.com
    Iowa DOT: www.iowabikes.com/
Kansas: www.travelks.com
    Kansas DOT: www.ksdot.org/burrail/bike/default.asp
Kentucky: www.kentuckytourism.com
    Kentucky DOT: bikewalk.ky.gov/
Louisiana: www.louisianatravel.com
    Louisiana DOT: www.dotd.louisiana.gov/planning/tep/
Maine: www.visitmaine.com
    Maine DOT: www.maine.gov/mdot/opt/bicycle-transportation.php
Maryland: www.visitmaryland.org
    Maryland: www.sha.state.md.us/exploremd/bicyclists/OPPE/bicyclists.asp
Massachusetts: www.massvacation.com
    Massachusetts DOT:  Rubel Massachusetts Bike Maps are sold by Cyclotour Guide Books; www.eot.state.ma.us/
Michigan: www.michigan.org
    Michigan DOT: www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,1607,7-151-9615_11223---,00.html
Minnesota: www.exploreminnesota.com
    Minnesota DOT: www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/
Mississippi: www.visitmississippi.org
    Mississippi DOT: www.mdot.state.ms.us/bicycling
Missouri: www.visitmo.com
    Missouri DOT: www.modot.org/othertransportation/bike_ped/Bikepedprogramintro.htm
Montana: www.visitmt.com/virtualvisitor/biking/
    Montana DOT: www.mdt.mt.gov/
Nebraska: www.visitnebraska.org
    Nebraska DOR: www.dor.state.ne.us or www.nebraskatransportation.org/docs/bikeguide.pdf 
Nevada: www.travelnevada.com
    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 www.dot.nd.gov
Ohio: www.discoverohio.com
    Ohio DOT: www.dot.state.oh.us/bike
Oklahoma: www.travelok.com
    Oklahoma DOT: www.okladot.state.ok.us
Oregon: www.traveloregon.com
    Oregon DOT: www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/BIKEPED
Pennsylvania: www.visitpa.com
    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: www.tnvacation.com
    Tennessee DOT: www.tdot.state.tn.us/bikeroutes/default.htm
Texas: www.traveltex.com
  Utah: www.utah.com
    Utah DOT: www.udot.utah.gov/index.php/m=c/tid=11
Vermont: www.vermontvacation.com
    Vermont AT: http://www.aot.state.vt.us/Bicycle.htm
Virginia: www.virginia.org
    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: www.travelwisconsin.com
    Wisconsin DOT: www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/bike-foot/bike-index.htm
Wyoming: www.wyomingtourism.org
    Wyoming DOT: http://www.dot.state.wy.us/Default.jsp?sCode=homqu

Canada Provinces
Alberta: www.travelalberta.com
British Columbia: www.hellobc.com 
    British Columbia MOT: http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/popular-topics/cycling/bicycle.htm
Manitoba: www.travelmanitoba.com
New Brunswick: www.tourismnbcanada.com
Newfoundland & Labrador: www.newfoundlandandlabradortourism.com
Northwest Territories: www.explorenwt.com
Nova Scotia: www.novascotia.com
Nunavut: www.nunavut.com
Ontario: www.ontariotravel.net
    Ontario MOT: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/pubs/cycling/cyclingskills.htm
Prince Edward Island: www.gov.pe.ca/visitorsguide/
Québec: www.bonjourquebec.com
    Québec MTQ: www1.mtq.gouv.qc.ca/en/reseau/velo/index.asp
Saskatchewan: www.sasktourism.com
Yukon: www.touryukon.com
Yukon Highways & PW: 

© Harvey Botzman, 2000, 2007.  Cyclotour Guide Books, http://www.cyclotour.com ,  cyclotour@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; cyclotour@cyclotour.com; PO Box 10585, Rochester, NY 14610. 


[ Home ] [ Books & Maps ] [ Order Form ] [ Author ] [ Table of Contents ] [ Book Trade ] [ Bike Events ]
[ Great Lakes Bike Books ] [ Lake Ontario Bike Book ] [ Lake Erie Bike Book ] [ Lake Michigan Bike Book ] [ Lake Huron Bike Book ]
[ New York State Bike Books ] [ Erie Canal Bike Book ] [ Finger Lakes Bike Book
[ Other Maps & Books ] [ New Zealand Biking ] [ French Canal Biking & Barging ] [ Lot River Canoe Guide ] [ Stratford, Ontario ]
[ Bike Events ] [ Finger Lakes Biking Events ] [ Bicycling Statistics ] [ Links ] [ Comments ] [ Improved Rtes ] [ Featured Biking Areas ]
[ Newsletter Content Articles ] [ Boxing a Bike ] [ N. Am. Bike Touring Info ] [ Complete Streets ] [ Bike Advocacy Articles ]

Send mail to cyclotour@cyclotour.com  with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: June 12, 2009