Is it affordable to bike across America? This is the big question for a lot of people. Regardless of how much money you may make, costs are always important. There are so many different factors to identifying how much your trip will cost, that it can be hard to get a good price estimate. For economical travelers, a bike ride across America can cost somewhere between $1531 and $2785. This total incorporates every cost that you will need to bear, starting from square one. The only thing which is excluded is the transit cost needed to get you to your starting point and back home from your ending point. Below is a fairly detailed breakdown of every cost:
Fixed Costs ($217-$874)
By fixed costs, I mean all the money you are going to need to spend before you even get out the door. All of the price ranges below reflect my experience buying things and could differ slightly depending on your circumstances. Below is a breakdown of all the different associated costs, but if you just want the raw numbers, then here it is: You can expect to pay somewhere between $217 and $874 in fixed costs before you leave on your bike trip.
Obviously you need to pick the right bike to take across the country. As discussed in the article about finding a good bike, you really should never need to spend more than a couple hundred bucks. Therefore I think it’s fair to put the price range from $50 (an already owned bike with some tune-ups) to $500. I usually spend around $200 when I buy a new bike for touring.
For a comprehensive list of all the things you need to bring as gear with you on the trip, check out the section on what to bring.
A bike tool kit ($15-$25) will come with much of the mechanical gear you will need, ie. a chain breaker, tire levers, allen keys, screw drivers, and a patch kit. Nevertheless, you will need to buy chain lube ($4-$6), a pump ($15-$35), freewheel or cassette remover ($10-$15), spare spokes ($2-$5), tire boots ($2-$3), and a crescent wrench ($5-$15) separately to take care of your mechanical needs. If you are starting from scratch, you can expect your mechanical gear to cost between around $50 and $100.
Most of the other gear you will want to bring are most likely things which you already own. It’s probably a good bet that you already have a cell phone, sun glasses, items for a basic first aid kit, a camera, casual clothes, plastic trash bags, toiletries, tennis shoes, sandals, swimming goggles, a helmet, sunscreen, and a wallet. Since these pieces of gear are common household items, it seems fair to exclude them for the cost of biking across America. If you don’t own any of the above things, they’re very easy and cheap to find. At any sporting goods store, or even some retail shops, it should be pretty straightforward to find bike lights ($10-$40), an emergency blanket ($5-$15), a rain poncho ($5-$15), and a bike lock ($10-$20). Sporting goods stores could also be great places to buy better quality water bottles, though you could also go pick some up at a dollar store ($4-$20). Toe clips may be slightly harder to find, but many sporting good stores and most bike shops should have some cheap ones ($5-$10). As for the clothes you will want to wear while biking, you will probably already have most articles of clothing, but you may find yourself buying a few more things for the trip ($20-$50). Along with the money spent on mechanical items, you can probably expect to spend an additional $60- $170 on miscellaneous gear.
On top of this, you will need to buy a rear rack ($30-$50), a medium-large backpack ($20-$40), and some bungee cords ($5-$10) to carry all of your stuff (click here to see more information on carrying your gear). These 3 items should add an additional $55-$100 to your costs. Adding all of the subtotals together, all of your gear will cost you about $167 to $374 to buy if starting from square one.
On the Road Costs ($1314-$1911)
Once you actually start the trip, you will obviously have to pay for the day-to-day expenses of food, accommodations, and bike maintenance. Entertainment will not be included here, as it is not a necessary component of the trip (so make sure you budget that separately). Clearly, the more days you spend biking, the more money you will need. Since the average trip across the country usually takes a little over two months, it seems appropriate to assume a 70 day trip for the purposes of calculating costs. The expenses are detailed below:
Food can be tricky as you will be burning thousands of calories more than you are probably used to. Nonetheless, you can still eat well while eating cheap. I usually averaged two meals per day from a grocery store (ie. bagels, muffins, premade lunches, etc.), and one meal a day for a cheap restaurant (ie. a burrito, sub sandwich, Chinese food, etc.). You will also need to budget a dollar or two per day for water supplements such as Gatorade or PowerAde. I averaged about $10-$12 per day on food and drinks, so let’s just say $12-$15 per day to be safe. For a 70 day ride, you will need around $840 to $1050 to cover food and drinks.
If you’re really on a budget, there’s no reason why you absolutely need to spend any money on accommodations (except for some minimal camping gear). Although this will probably require you to be comfortable stealth camping and sleeping outside in inclement weather. Even if you do not want to spend a single night camping out, you can still travel on a budget. Couchsurfing is an excellent source for finding local residents who are willing to host you for absolutely free. There are also several other, similar sites including Warmshowers which is specifically focused on providing touring bikers a free place to stay. On top of these resources, it also quite possible to find a church, community center, or other local building which is willing to house you for a night. While this is not something that you can really bank on, it seems that, with enough determination, you can probably find such a free public building at least once a week. All things considered, it would be possible to simply spend some money on a tent and a sleeping bag ($50-$200) and not have to spend anything else on accommodations. Even if you’re not planning on camping at all, it’s still plausible to only rely on staying at motels 2-3 times per week ($30-$60 per night). For the sake of providing an estimate for how much accommodations will cost, it seems reasonable to assume you will probably camp a couple times per week, find free places to stay several times a week, and stay at a cheap motel once or twice per week. Therefore, let’s say your lodging budget will probably be around $300-$600.
Bike maintenance ($174-$261)
Maintaining your bike is probably cheaper than you think. Based on my experience and observations, it seems appropriate to budget about 8.7 cents per mile towards keeping your bike running. Tubes cost about $6 each, and will need to be replaced every 500 miles or so. Tires vary in price dramatically from under $15 to well over $100. Most bike shops will carry a decent tire suitable for touring for about 30-40 dollars. On average, you can expect to need to replace your rear tire twice as frequently as your front tire. I’ve found I need a new rear tire around every 1000 miles and a front tire after 2000 miles. You will also need to spend a little money on miscellaneous items such as replacement parts, patches, lube, tools, etc. This usually costs about $25 per 100 miles of biking. It’s also important to budget some money for random things which you cannot anticipate. Whether it is a broken derailleur, a crack in your rim, or a loose pedal, something strange is bound to come up. I usually find it necessary to set aside around 40 dollars per 1500 miles to cover these types of issues. So to summarize: