How long does it take to bike across Canada?
As everyone rides at different speeds a better question is what months is Canada passable by bicycle. Generally there is a five month window-of-opportunity when the risk of snow is limited along southern routes. This is between May to September. Really quick riders can tour across in two months. But if you take in scenery, visit family and friends along the way and stop at all the tourist spots, plan for 3-4 months.
How much does it cost?
This depends what type of traveller you are. Hotels, wild camping or a mix of the two? Having enough money for quality food is a must so your body doesn't crash. A cheap motel with a bed and shower at least once a week is really nice to make one feel human again. Don't forget to budget for airfare, bike shipment and celebratory beer(s) at the end. To get an idea of how to create a budget, Rino sent me this spreadsheet and wishes to share it. Here is the accompanying note:
Hi, I have made a Excel expense sheet to cycle across Canada, It is not a pro project, just something I have made because I did not find anything that I liked on internet. On the sheet you input expenses and km, date etc... then you get a total. Might help for people who don't play with Excel. I don't have any interest or own a company of any kind but I like cycling and touring. So I like to know if I can post it on your web site and probably that with time people will improve my version, all the better for everyone. Thank you! Rino.
Rino's excel sheet - Cycling Canada Excel Budget
How detailed should my plan be?
There are too many variables for a detailed day-to-day itinerary: weather, getting lost, gear break-down, tourist stops, bear attack/photo-op, illness, rest-days, tail-wind, etc. Plan to hit major population centres for a day off - where it's easy to re-supply food, gear, do any bike repairs, rest legs.
Do I have to worry about wildlife?
In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts. If you’re not sure what to be alarmed about, everything is alarming. - Chris Hadfield
Fear of wild animals is healthy. With respect and knowledge, that fear can be overcome for a successful journey. Like ocean swimming or mountain hiking, knowing what to expect in these environments is required to be safe and injury-free. Familiarise yourself by reading up on Canadian wildlife. Purchase and practise using a bear-spray canister, bear-bangers and air-horns. Trekking across Canada, you will see these animals: black/grizzly/polar/spirit bears, cougars, gray wolves, mating moose, snakes, rabid raccoons, wolf spiders, yodelling loons.
What type of bike should I buy?
This varies for everyone, depending on budget and comfort-level. A touring specific bike will be the most comfortable over the long-haul and there are several different models available out there.
Spending hours/days/weeks/months in the saddle means it's important the bike frame fits you well. To get fitted/sized try using this Fit Calculator first. Then head to a local bike shop and ask to be fitted there. See if the numbers line up. Test ride a million different bikes and get opinions from bike shop staff who you trust (and when you ride back through your town, ask for a free tune up!).
It is really, really nice to have several options for the placement of your hands. Hours spent in the same position and your hands will go numb. With drop or butterfly style, you've got options - whether you are sitting upright or hunched forward.
The best touring saddle is a Brooks Saddle. Simple, all-leather seat that molds to your ass. Plan a couple months to break it in. No need for padded shorts afterwards.
The best is Ortlieb. Tough, durable, simple and strong attachments. Good longevity.
Had zero flats on our tour while using Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. A five millimetre thick rubber lining stops small nails, branches or broken glass from pentrating to the tube.
Your call! Whatever you ride, own it.
While I have seen people touring on roadies and mountain bikes, a unicycle or a fixie wouldn't do well over the Rockies. Budgets, body size and fitness is different for everyone. For further reading, check out Tom's page, What's The Best Touring Bike?
How do I pack my bike?
Lighter is always better. Break your bike and gear down by systems that work together (kitchen system / bike tools system / rain-gear system / clothes system). See how each system can work together, such as eliminating doubles. For example, Keen's Commuter Sandal paired with wool socks and MEC booties is a perfect footwear system for all weather types. For gear inspiration:
- What to Take and How to Pack - Adventure Cycling Association (US)
- The Loaded Touring Bike Photo Gallery - Fully-loaded bikes from around the world
What route should I take?
Between urban centres, you will most likely be travelling along the Trans-Canada Highway. This will go, generally speaking, from Vancouver into the mountains, across the pairies and Canadian Shield, out and up to St John's. An alternative Trans-Canada route, known as the Yellowhead Highway, is from Prince Rupert to Winnipeg.
Further information is on the Suggested Routes, Province by Province page.
National, regional, provincial and city maps can be found on the Canadian Cycling Maps page.
East or West, which direction is best?
It does not matter, either way. The majority of tours start "out" West and head "back" East. Psychologically, you get the Rockies out of the way and end months later celebrating with beers on George Street. Everyone asks about the wind, but really it doesn't matter. Here is information on the weather. Whichever direction, it is important to research the previous winter's snowpack in the mountains. This snow can linger in the mountains well into summer—the mountain roads should be cleared, but warmer camping supplies will be nice.
How do I know if I am ready?
Attach all your gear to your bike and go on a few overnight or multi-day weekend tours first. Make a list of what went wrong, what could make the trip more comfortable or how you could lighten your load further. These practise "dry-runs" are the best preparation for a fully-loaded long tour.
Can you recommend any books to read?
Besides the Journal Directory, here is a list of cycling-touring books:
- On the Detour - Cycling Across Canada on a Recumbent, by Paul Stockton - I've read many journals of people cycling across Canada, and they all seem to end up eating all their meals at Tim Hortons, which I find rather sad. So it is my goal to cycle across the country without eating at Tim Hortons once. However, I may use their washroom from time to time because, while McDonald's is the washroom of the world, Tim Hortons is the washroom of Canada.
- The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, by David Herlihy - an account of the origins of cycle touring, focused on the plucky Frank Lenz who departed Pittsburgh in 1893 on a world tour and disappeared.
- Bike Touring: The Sierra Club Guide to Travel on Two Wheels, by Raymond Bridge - an updated version of the popular 1979 reference book. Covers how to train, plan, equip and pack for multi-day tours. Bike maintenance sections are helpful.
Where can I get more information?
- Everyone Thought He Couldn't – Dad's Cross Canada Bike Ride
- Juliana Buhring: 'How cycling round the world saved me'
- Bikes vs Cars [video]
- Push Bike Girl - My Life on Two Wheels
- Bikes vs Cars: why it's war between cyclists and drivers on city streets
I've never been to Canada and am terrified of its people and land.
Then check out the below for a cross-country culture tour (and every Canadian stereotype I can think of):
- Stompin' Tom Connors - The Hockey Song
- Kids in the Hall
- Log Driver's Waltz
- Bubbles on Hockey Night in Canada
- Corner Gas
- The Littlest Hobo
- Malajube - Montreal -40°C
- JP Auclair Street Segment
- Jim Carrey - The Un-Natural Act
- Just for Laughs Gags
- The Grand Seduction
- Monsieur Lazhar
- The Red Green Show
- Out for a Rip
- Barenaked Ladies
- Spirit of the West
- This Hour Has 22 Minutes
- Stan Rogers - Barrett's Privateers
- Bush Pilot: Reflections on a Canadian Myth
- Maestro Fresh Wes - Let Your Backbone Slide
- A Tribe Called Red Ft. Black Bear - Stadium Pow Wow
- Sugar Shack - Epic Meal Time
- Stuart McLean - The Vinyl Cafe
- Due South
- Canadian Bacon
- Goon: Marco Belchior
- The Tragically Hip - Bobcaygeon
- Sheepdogs - Downtown