Bike Tour Planning: How Far Should You Plan To Cycle Each Day?

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

The average individual conducting a long-distance bicycle tour will cycle between 40 and 60 miles (64 – 96 kilometers) each day. However, distances both shorter and longer than this are quite common.

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40 to 60 miles is the average daily distance recommended for most bicycle tourists. But there is so much more to say about the distances you should plan to cover when conducting a long-distance, self-supported bicycle tour.

Your First Day On The Road

Take for example, the first day of your bicycle tour. On the first day of your tour you will be either starting from home or from some foreign location that you’ve reached by either car, bus, plane or train.

If you are starting your bicycle tour from your home and cycling on roads that you’re familiar with during your first day on the road, then covering a good 40 to 60 miles on the first day is entirely plausible.

But if you are starting your bicycle tour from a location that you are unfamiliar with, then you should drastically cut down the distance you expect to cover during your first day on tour.

Therefore, if you are planning to cycle an average of 40 to 60 miles each day on your bicycle tour, you should plan to cover only 20 to 30 miles during your first day on the road.

There are a number of different reasons why you should plan to cover so little ground during your first day on tour.

First of all, simply getting to your starting location may take some time. Because you will be beginning your bicycle tour in a foreign location, simply navigating to your starting spot may delay you significantly at the start of your tour.

Second of all, you won’t be in your best physical shape at the start of your bike tour. Unless you’ve done a massive amount of training before your bicycle tour has begun, you will likely be much slower on your first day of bicycle touring than, say for example, on your 10th day on the road. The longer you bicycle tour, the faster you will become. But your first day on the road is not the time to be covering record distances!

Finally, something always seems to go wrong on the first day of a bicycle tour, and you should schedule in some time to deal with any mishaps that might occur during your first day on the road. Maybe you’re bike’s tire will burst during the first few hours and you’ll need to find a replacement? Maybe you will have forgotten to pack a toothbrush, so you’ll need to hunt one down? Or maybe you’ll have trouble navigating your way out of a big city and the time you spend getting back on track will delay you significantly.

Whatever the case, you should plan to cover only a small amount of ground during the first day of your bicycle tour. Even if you plan on cycling more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) on each day of your bicycle tour, I suggest you not plan on cycling more than 40 miles on your first day.

For most bicycle touring participants, the goal is not to reach the destination in record time, but to simply reach the destination in a safe, enjoyable manner. So, do yourself a favor and don’t push yourself too hard on your very first day. Not only could planning to cycle too far on your first day push you far behind schedule right from the very start, but it can be extremely demoralizing when you think about the fact that after only one day of cycling you are already behind schedule.

Set a goal for your first day of cycling that you know you can easily achieve, and then be proud of yourself for having achieved that goal on the first day of your tour!

Increase Your Distance As You Gain Experience

Your second day on the road will likely start with soreness in your legs, hips, back, neck and arms. Don’t be surprised to find yourself using muscles you have rarely ever used before.

As you continue to cycle each day, slowly increase your daily distance. If you covered only 30 miles (48 kilometers) on the first day of your bicycle tour, increase that distance on day two to somewhere around 40 miles (64 kilometers). The following day, try to cycle 50 miles (80 kilometers). Slowly increase your daily distances until you hit a distance that you are both comfortable with and that allows your to meet your own personal bicycle touring goals. Some people will be happy with covering only 20 miles per day while others will be happy with the average 50 and some will want to cover more than 100 miles each and every day of their tour.

Set Other Goals For Yourself

My one big piece of advice when it comes to planning your daily distances is this: Do not plan on cycling more miles/kilometers than you know you are capable of covering.

I’ve been helping people all around the world plan, prepare for, and conduct their own self-supported bicycle tours for more than a decade and I can tell you that planning to ride too far on day one, and on every subsequent day, is the number one reason why people quit their bicycle tours and go home prematurely.

If you want to have a successful bicycle tour and actually enjoy yourself along the way, I recommend you keep your daily distances low and set other goals for yourself, besides how far you can cycle in the shortest amount of time.

The temptation amongst many people who are new to bicycle touring is to try and cover as much distance in as short a period of time as possible. This could be because many individuals only have a limited period of time in which to conduct their bicycle tours each year, so they want to cover as much ground as they can. Other times, people simply want to show off and think that covering massive distances on a bicycle will somehow impress their friends or family back home.

But the truth is, planning to cycle too far each day is the number one reason most self-supported bicycle tours are abandoned. And not only will you enjoy yourself more if you slow down and stop to see the sights along the way, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and discomfort along the way. Plus, your friends and family back home don’t really care how many miles/kilometers you covered during your bicycle tour. No matter the distance you cycle (whether it is 1,000 miles/kilometers or 100,000 miles/kilometers), they will be impressed and you should be proud of yourself.

When it comes to planning the distances you should expect to cover during your bicycle tour, the answer will vary from person to person. This is why it is so important that you spend some time right now thinking about what your goals are for your bicycle tour.

  • Do you want to cycle as far as you can in as short a period as possible?
  • Do you want to try and impress your friends and family back home with your bicycle touring adventures?
  • Do you want to enjoy yourself, learn something new about the areas you are passing through, or meet new people along the way?

There are so many different reasons to conduct a bicycle tour… and the distances you plan to cover each day are very much dependent on what your goals are for your travels. If you want to cover a lot of ground, you may find yourself planning to ride 80 – 100 miles each day. If you want to really get to know an area and stop to enjoy yourself along the way, you may only cover between 20 – 50 miles on average. The choice is up to you, but I suggest you plan some time to enjoy yourself along the way, otherwise you may reach your destination and realize that you didn’t really get the full bicycle touring experience.

Planning For Periods Of Rest

Finally, when it comes to the distances you plan to cover each day (or each week for that matter), it is suggested that you plan in at least one rest day per week. While you may be tempted to cycle every single day of your tour, a rest day not only allows you to stop and recoup, but if gives you time to catch up, should you fall behind from your planned itinerary.

If your goal with your bicycle tour is to really enjoy yourself during your travels and take it slow, you might plan in two, three or even four or more days of rest each and every week. Remember: there are no rules with bicycle touring! You can make your self-supported bicycle tour however you want to make it.

Summary Of Important Points:

  • The average bicycle tourist will cycle between 40 to 60 miles each day. However, there is no rule that says you must cover this same distance each day. You may choose to cover fewer or more miles/kilometers
  • You should plan to cover only about half of your average daily distance on the first day of your bicycle tour in the event of a navigation error, physical breakdown, or other planning error.
  • You should plan in at least one day of rest for each week of cycling. Planning a rest day is a great way to let your body recoup and catch up on lost mileage should you fall behind on your planned itinerary.
  • Many bicycle tours are abandoned each year because the tour participants planned on covering long distances they were unable to actually complete. The demoralizing effect of not reaching your goal each night is one of the biggest reasons people quit their bicycle tour.
  • Unless you are trying to set a speed record, I suggest you go slow and cover shorter distances, rather than longer ones. You will enjoy yourself more if you have the time to stop and “smell the roses” along the way.
  • The distances you plan to cover each day should be in alignment with your overall goals for the tour. If your goal is to cover a lot of ground, you will need to cycle long and hard, but have little time to stop and enjoy yourself along the way. If your goal is to enjoy yourself and learn a little bit about the areas you are passing through, you should plan shorter days, allowing you to stop whenever an opportunity presents itself. Determining the goal of your bicycle tour will help in determining how far you should plan to cycle each day.

Got questions? Want to learn more about planning, preparing for, or executing your own bicycle touring adventures? Be sure to read “The Bicycle Traveler’s Blueprint” – the world’s best how-to book about bicycle touring!

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23 Comments

  1. Chris Messerly

    February 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

    This is a very good article. I wish I would had this info before my first tour ever last year. I rode in 11 days, fully loaded, 1100 miles. I am 55 years old. I had no clue how far I could go in a day. I started at 80 miles a day for the first few days and then changed to 100-120 miles per day for the last eight days. I felt that I was riding at a casual pace. I always felt good. What I have found is that for a novice like me, predicting daily mileage is very different for each person depending on conditioning and to what extent you want to stop and smell the flowers. This article gives good advice about starting easy. Thank you.

  2. Daina Kalnins

    February 4, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Hi Darren-
    We should connect.

    1) We both love touring by bicycle
    2) We both have websites / businesses in the cyclo-touring industry
    3) I’m 1/2 Latvian and 1/2 Estonian …. too cold and dark to go there at this time of year (IMO)
    4) In your “how far to tour” article, I’d add a paragraph or two on terrain AND CLIMBING. As you know, climbs can greatly impact how many miles can be covered. (No worries in Latvia & Estonia.)

    Meanwhile safe travels & Tail Winds.
    Daina

    PS Like BuildYourTourLLC on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter too!

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      February 4, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Hi Daina,

      Do you live in Latvia or Estonia? Did you know that I will be in both those countries later this year? http://bicycletouringpro.com/my-plans-for-2014/ And why isn’t GoBicycleTouring.com listed on your website? It should be!

      And yes, you are right, the amount of climbing each day will certainly influence how far you plan to cycle on a bike tour. Keep in touch Daina. Maybe we can meet up once I make it to Latvia/Estonia later this year?

  3. Shripad Shidore

    February 4, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Hi,
    A simple but very important starting point for a person like me who would normally like to push myself even while planning.
    Thanks
    Shripad Shidore

  4. Shripad Shidore

    February 4, 2014 at 7:52 am

    no further comments at this stage

  5. Nick

    February 4, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Many thanks!

  6. Gary

    February 4, 2014 at 8:03 am

    I am a 58 year old man in far shape. I have been riding my bike for 60 mile trips for a few years now without any problems. I want to ride my bike from Allentown, Pa. to my sisters house in Sacramento, CA. I will be using my 2 year old Scott hybred with painners and a single wheeled trl. being pulled behind. The major issues I have are finances and getting medications from the VA while I am on the trip. Do you think I wll be able to find camping areas along the way and cheaper food like subway. What would be my best route for the trip. I don’t know if I could do the mountians like Colarado, Wyoming and so on. My bike and me may not do so well on shear moutia pll, I think Iwould do fine on gradual grades. Lts of questions, I know. Aswer if you can, thnx

  7. Steve Turner

    February 4, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Some good advice Darren. I would add a few other important factors:

    the time of year. we find we spend much less time on the bike when daylight is short, maybe 4 hours, where in the summer it maybe 8 or more.

    Road quality – riding tracks or poor roads can really slow your pace. Riding mountains will also effect how far you can ride.

    How much weight you are carrying on the bike – even if you travel light, don’t forget factors like the weight of extra water in the desert or winter gear.

    Headwinds – use the weather forecast to help predict your distance, you will soon work out the effect of different strength wind on your riding.

    Happy Touring,

    Steve and Kat

  8. thomas woodward

    February 4, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Hi, Darren I see the site has grown since the beginning. quite fast in fact. Good for you. I still plan to leave for a trip to the northern part of New Jersey and the parts Pennsavainia that I can reach in about a weeks time and get back to the house so my brother and his wife do not have to look after the dog and cats to long one of the reasons I have not gone yet. I will promise to myself to do this. My web site is a photography site. I will send a picture of my bike. the bike is from the 80’s luged steel 501 and using Carradice bags Thomas Woodward

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      February 4, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Hi Thomas,

      Yes, I would love it if you sent me a picture of you on your bicycle tour – preferably a picture of you riding your bicycle if you can manage it. That would be great! Have an safe and enjoyable time.

  9. Bill

    February 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Let me tell you all a story about a cyclist named Bill, who had to nix his plans cause he took a nasty spill; after a quick breakfast at a local convenience store, he passed out and fell, slammed his head against the floor: concrete that is, construction grade.

    Well the next thing you know Bill’s in the hospital where doctors looked him over for a diagnostic thrill, they said “your blood work could be better and your heart’s a little slow”, but were gonna let you go because we really don’t know; what happened that is, why you passed out, it a mystery.

    Well Bill thinks he knows what happened that day, it was because of the mountains of West Virginiaaa, Bill had been climbing real hard and he hadn’t took a break, his eating too fast was more than he could take, put him over the top, too much too soon.

    Well Bill learned himself a lesson that day, and you should all heed what Darren has to say, take it nice and easy, the road will always wait, it don’t you might suffer the very same fate; consussion that is, hospital bills, pain and discomfort.

  10. Marise

    February 4, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for your infos. I would add a few words. We usualy do a few or more kilometres while we look for food and rooms or campings at the end of the day. Better not to forget about them. These are rarely the faster ones! And when the maps we use are not enough precise, we can go on a wrong way for a while. This too can be discouraging!

  11. donough

    February 4, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    My first tour was up the Rhine from Amsterdam to Strasbourg. I attempted to do 100 km over the first few days but afterwards I reigned this distance. I found that I was enjoying the country side or sites on my bike rather than also taking time to stop for prolonged periods in a village or afterwards. Itvwad a good choice as I ended up in many locations including staying beside a castle in oberwessel. I tend to be a 80 km Max per day ever since.

  12. Don A. Holshuh

    February 4, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    My purpose for bicycle touring is about the journey, not the destination. My tour will be called the “No Tengo Prisa Tour Across America”. My plan is simple. I will spend 5-6 hours each day in the saddle. If that means 40 miles, so be it. If it means 30 miles, so be it. I doubt it will mean more than 50. The point is that I plan to enjoy the journey and not worry about how many miles I can pedal each day. Being retired and on no schedule helps. So, I may no make it across the USA in 60 days but I suspect I will enjoy the journey as much if perhaps not more than those concerned with mileage.

  13. Ricardo

    February 4, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Interesting article, but I think focusing too much on planning spoils part of the fun of traveling by bike: freedom!
    Specially if it’s in Europe, it’s pretty easy to just go with the wind, and stop whenever you feel like.
    thanks anyway

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      February 4, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      You’re right Ricardo. Some people don’t like to plan anything at all, as it gives them the freedom to do, go, see and experience anything they want. Most people, however, do like to have a plan of some kind and are working under a limited time restraint. So planning for these people is usually essential.

  14. Don

    February 8, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    My tours leave from my house. It is always hard for me to leave as early as I would like on that first day. It is best to plan a short first day for those unexpected delays that always seem to pop up for me when I’m planning to be out if town for awhile. Once my planned 8 am departure was delayed until noon and I ended up finishing the day in the dark . Good article. I suggest that your plan involve determining ” What do I want to get out of this?” I emphasize the I. Thanks.

  15. Kent Wenger

    March 25, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I’ve done both the “ride for the sake of riding” and the “ride to explore/get to know a place” kind of tours. They can both be good, but as Darren says you need to know which you are trying to do.

    I’d also advocate giving yourself some (or a lot) of flexibility if you’re comfortable with that. In the summer of 2012 I did a three-month tour through Turkey and eastern Europe, and I hardly ever planned more than a day ahead of time. One of the benefits of that was that, if I got to a really interesting place, I just said, “Okay, I’ll stay here for a day or two”. And there were days the plan just didn’t work, like “I didn’t realize there were *two* 1000 meter climbs between point A and point B”. I think that level of flexibility is easier if you’re doing a solo trip, though…

    And as one of the other commenters said, you really do need to consider the terrain (and weather conditions). There were days in Turkey that 40 miles meant 5 or 6 hours of super-hard riding…

    And as Darren says, the most important thing is to do what *you* want and not worry about impressing anyone else!

    Drum bun! (“Good road” in Romanian)

    Kent

  16. Mathi

    September 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I have long wanted to start bicycling and go on a bicycle tour of North India. this article has really put some insight into my outlook for a long bicycle touring. May be I shall be able to do one in March , after some initial training for stamina and strength routines. Thanks.

  17. Robert Damora

    February 25, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    I have a question:
    How can I find a good bicycle touring route traveling north from the DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) area to eventually connect to the TransAmerica (TransAm) Route? I looked at the Adventure Cyclist Association maps, and I couldn’t find the information I needed. There is a route, but that requires one to travel south and pick up the TransAm Trail in the southern part of the state.
    Your information would be appreciated.

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