A Beginner’s Guide to Bike Camping

by Tammy Strobel on July 12, 2010

You don’t realize how much noise you’re surrounded by everyday, until you go into nature.

So turn on all your senses and think of these things: golden yellow fields of grain, lush green trees, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the sound of birds singing, the wind blowing through your hair, bright flowers, and panoramic views of mountains and farms.

Our senses were on overload at Stub Stewart State Park last weekend. We rode our bikes from Portland, through the burbs, into beautiful farmland, and finally started climbing into the forest. The sights, sounds, and smells were absolutely incredible. Car camping doesn’t compare to the adventure of bike camping.

So if you are looking for cheap, fun, and exciting summer entertainment, then I highly recommend camping by bike. It’s the perfect way to get a fantastic workout, enjoy beautiful state parks, scenery, and stay off the internet.

And it’s one way to get your minimalist groove on. Camping by bike is a great way to figure out what you need and don’t need. Bikes can handle a lot of extra weight, but you’re the one who has to pedal it up a hill. So try to keep your load light, that way you can pedal fast and enjoy the scenery. :)

How much will it cost?

Depending on the park you go to, you’ll end up spending between $5 and $20 for a camp site, per night. Rest assured you are getting the best deal; hiker/biker camp sites are typically half the cost or less compared to sites for cars and RVs.  And make sure you bring some cash with you!

Planning your route

Do some research on the internet, pick your spot, and start planning.

You have a lot of resources at your fingertips to start planning your route, including Google Maps, bikely, AAA road maps, and USGS maps made of paper. :)

A word of caution: Google Maps now allow you to map your route by bike.  However, a number of people have noted that google bike maps aren’t that accurate and might unintentionally put you into high traffic areas. So before you hit the road make sure you reconcile your planned route with an updated map of the area. And make sure you take a look at the Google street view option to double check for bike-friendly streets.

So what do you need for this kind of adventure? Let’s take look at a minimum gear list:

1. Bike

2. Bike racks

3. Bike bags, panniers, [buckets] or a bike trailer

4. Bike lights

5. Spare tubes / patch kit

6. Air pump

7. Chain lube

8. Tent

9. Sleeping bag

10. A set of clothes to wear on the bike

11. A set of clothes off the bike

12. A warm jacket (even if its crazy hot outside it can get cold at night).

13. Bike helmet

14. Gloves

15. A hat

16. Rain gear

17. Extra socks

18. Towel

19. Toiletries

20. Flashlights and/or headlamp

21. Spare batteries

22. First aid kit

23. Food

24. Water is one of the most important items you need to bring. A dromedary water bag is a really easy way to carry a lot of extra water on your bike. Don’t get dehydrated out there!

26. Maps

27. And last but not least, a camera or notebook. You’ll want to record this adventure.

Additional resources

For only $3.00 USD you can pick up a copy of Shawn Granton’s amazing little Urban Adventure League Cycle Touring Primer. Granton’s guide is handmade, small, and has a number of excellent tips and tricks for those of you who want to start traveling by bicycle. The guide focuses on bike camping and touring in the Pacific Northwest. However, his tips can be applied to any geographic location.

And before you say, “ohhhh I can’t possibly go bike camping because I have kids,” read these articles for some inspiration:

1 Melissa Gorzelanczyk July 12, 2010

I definitely have to try this someday. I completely agree with your first line – the sounds of nature are such a soothing tune. Thanks for the resource, Tammy!

2 Tammy July 12, 2010

Yay! I’m glad you liked the post Melissa. I hope you have a great week. :)

3 Laura @ PARING DOWN July 12, 2010

Sounds like a great idea, Tammy. I’ll definitely try this…in the fall or winter. Houston summer heat and humidity…no thanks.

Happy Monday,
Laura

4 Tammy July 12, 2010

@Laura – Awesome! I’m glad you are going to give camping by bike a shot. The heat is always hard to deal with, so if you do venture out by bike this summer make sure you bring lots of water.

Have a great week! :)

5 Chris O'Byrne July 12, 2010

Thanks for answering a bunch of my questions. I’m impressed that the birds were signing. Were they hearing impaired? How dextrous those little buggers are! :)

Seriously, this was a great post and makes me want to get out there.

6 Tammy July 12, 2010

@Chris – LOL! I fixed the typo. :)

7 Michael July 12, 2010

Terrific article, Tammy! Your pictures are lovely and it looks like SO MUCH FUN!!vGreat tips, I think you covered it all!
We miss you guys!
~M&A

8 Tammy July 12, 2010

Thanks Michael. :) We miss you too!

9 adventure! July 14, 2010

Hey, thanks for the mention about the Bike Touring Primer! Since someone asked, you can get a copy by sending $3 well concealed cash (the extra dollar to cover postage) to:
Urban Adventure League
PO Box 14185
Portland OR 97293

Thx,
Shawn

10 Tammy July 15, 2010

Awesome! Thanks for leaving a comment Shawn. I loved your little book. It kicked ass. :)

11 adventure! May 4, 2011

Hey, just wanted to mention that I will be embarking on an epic multiple month bike tour of the continent at the end of May! If you still want to get your hands on a copy of my Cycle Touring Primer, please order no later than Friday May 20 to get a copy! You can either order through the mail by sending $2 of well-concealed cash to:
SHAWN GRANTON
P O BOX 14185
PORTLAND OR 97293-0185

I can do paypal as well. Email me at urbanadventureleague -( at )- gmail -( dot )- com

12 Reuben July 12, 2010

We just got back from a weekend bike-camping trip with our two toddlers — so this is definitely possible with kids! It was a one-night trip in Southern Ontario. About 50km each way. We plan on taking a few more trips like it this summer, and we’ll post a write-up about this on on our blog in the next day or two.

13 Tammy July 12, 2010

@Reuben – Awesome! Thanks for leaving a comment. I’m going to head over to your blog and check it out. :)

14 Lynn Fang July 12, 2010

Tammy, that looks awesome! I will definitely have to try it sometime. I love being in nature – sometimes its noisy with birds chirping and trees whistling, but other times it’s completely still and serene. Biking really allows you to connect with the passing scenery, in a way that you couldn’t inside a car. Glad you guys had fun!

15 Tammy July 12, 2010

@Lynn – I think you’d dig it. If you end up camping by bike this summer, let me know. I’d love to hear about your adventure. :)

16 Alan@EcoVelo July 12, 2010

Excellent article, Tammy! Great photos too. What beautiful country.

I thought I’d point out that USGS topo maps are available for free download (high-res PDF) at the following web address:

http://bit.ly/cmQCQi

Best regards,
Alan

17 Tammy July 12, 2010

Thanks Alan. :) I didn’t know the USGS maps were available for free download. Super cool! :)

I hope you and Michael can come up for a visit soon. You’re always welcome to stay with us. :)

18 Abhishek July 12, 2010

I went on a tour earlier this year but did not camp. Here is a check list of what I took along. It is compiled with the help of Jack Sweeny (bikecommuters.com) and Russ Roca (Pathlesspedaled.com)

http://www.sheksfootprint.com/archives/396

19 Tammy July 12, 2010

@Abhishek – sweet! Thanks for leaving the list. :)

20 Heather in SC July 12, 2010

Boy, this brings back memories! When I was 14, my dad and I rode our bikes from central Ohio to Manitoulin Island, Ontario. It took a week, and we camped most nights. Wonderful memories. We were reminiscing about that trip recently; it was 20 years ago this summer. Hard to believe.

21 Tammy July 12, 2010

@Heather – WOW, what a fun trip. It sounds like something you’ll never forget. Thanks for reading. :)

22 Chandra July 12, 2010

Okay… I have a (kinda) dumb question.

I just bought a bike that has the “rat trap” rack over the back tire and I have NO IDEA what kind of basket I am supposed to buy to use the with the rack… Do you have any idea? You know a LOT about bikes, lol, so you were my first thought of whom to ask.

If you can help, I really appreciate it!

23 Tammy July 12, 2010

@Chandra – no question is dumb question. :) A “rat trap” rack is a rack that has a metal spring cage that acts like a built in bungee cord. You can try a Wald basket – http://www.waldsports.com/ – and strap it on with zip ties or beaded ties. Hope that helps. And thanks for reading!

24 Benjamin Bankruptcy July 12, 2010

I’ve always wanted to go bicycle touring and never have. Looks fun:)

25 Tammy July 15, 2010

@Ben – you should give it a try. It’s a lot of fun. Spending time outside is my favorite part. :)

26 Katie July 13, 2010

Wow, Tammy you are a master at creating incredibly useful and interesting posts. I can smell the brewed coffee from here. Sounds like an awesome trip. I’m heading out for a camping excursion of my own soon and I’ll have to give your list a re-look for ideas. Cheers!

27 Tammy July 15, 2010

As always, thank you Katie! Your comments always make me smile. And yay for camping excursions! I think you should do a post about your adventure on Momentum Gathering. :)

28 Jeff July 14, 2010

Tammy, I thoroughly enjoyed your account and advice on bicycle camping. I have done many thousands of miles of bike touring/camping in the southeastern US on road bikes, and have recently taken up mountain biking. Note on maps: USGS maps are also downloadable at no cost from the USGS.gov site. Your readers might also want to check out some of the rails-to-trails conversions that are popping up all over. Limited grades, not having to share the riding space with cars and trucks, nice campsites, and occasional unexpected amenities are some of the benefits. Thanks again, Jeff in NC

29 Tammy July 15, 2010

Hey Jeff – thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. And thanks for the rockin’ tips! :) All the best to you. And have fun pedaling. :)

30 Sarita Li Johnson July 14, 2010

Mr. J and I so need to do this on the California coast! We recently camped our way across the country, but with our minivan and motorcycle, and bicycles sadly crammed in the back. We were just trying to get to CA as quickly as possible and were definitely NOT in touch with nature!

Thanks for sharing your story, photos, & tips, especially the details about carrying water and everything. I’m such a bike newbie, it’s sad. I actually quit riding in 1994 when California passed the mandatory helmet law for minors. I was 13 and I didn’t want a helmet to mess up my hair! Oh, youth.

:)

31 Tammy July 15, 2010

@Sarita – sweet! Sounds like a fun trip across the country. Let me know how the biking trip down the coast goes. We might do something similar this summer, but on the Oregon coast instead. :)

Ohhh and I hated helmets as a kid too. Now I just carry hats with me to cover up my helmet hair. :)

32 Logan July 15, 2010

Hey folks, I just posted a few very short vids from the @rowdykittens bike camping trip to Stub-Stewart State Park. http://twurl.nl/chity3

33 Brian August 9, 2010

hey tammy,

this past winter, I biked the ca coast from oregon to mexico, and a great resource I think y’all might find useful is the adventure cycling association. they make awesome bike-specific maps for bicycle touring. planning on a cross-country trip really soon.

http://www.adventurecycling.org/

34 tschitschi August 13, 2010

there is nothing like a weekend away on your bike!

35 matt picio August 17, 2010

And if you live in the Portland area and would like your first bike camping experience to be with other folk who’ve done it before (and are really open and friendly to new people), check out http://www.cyclewild.org and join in on one of their camping trips. I’m hoping I will run into Tammy and Logan again on one of Cycle Wild’s future trips. (I ran into them – not literally – on the Stub Stewart trip)

Note: I’m somewhat biased, since I co-founded Cycle Wild.

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