A spontaneous road trip along Route 66 might be reasonable … in a car. Maybe even on a motorcycle. But spontaneously biking the 2,499-mile Bicycle Route 66 is a major commitment.
“The more you do some prep, the more it would really help with your enjoyment of it,” says Jason Siegle, expert coach for Carmichael Training Systems. And if you are going to do a long ride like this one, the Adventure Cycling Association, which created Bicycle Route 66, recommends planning to take at least two months.
Follow these tips as you prepare to bike this iconic cross-country route. (The bicycle route isn’t exactly the same as the original Route 66 but follows cyclist-friendly roads, including sections of the historic highway.)
PREPARE SEVERAL MONTHS OUT
Although the Adventure Cycling Association encourages beginning to train at least 60 days before taking on Bicycle Route 66, Siegle recommends starting earlier. Depending on how many miles you plan to do each day, “it’s better to give yourself six months to a year because 2,500 isn’t a small thing. Work on improving your fitness so you can handle it better,” he says.
SPEND LOTS OF TIME IN THE SADDLE
The best way to improve your fitness is to ride so you can get used to being on your bike for extended periods of time. “Try to make miniature replicas of some of what you will do [during the ride] in training,” Siegle says. In addition to single-day rides, he recommends a week of long rides that are as close to the real thing as possible (distance, terrain, etc.).
PRACTICE EATING AND DRINKING
Also mimic the eating and hydration plan you expect to follow for two reasons. “One, if you’re not used to riding those distances or just not used to that amount of eating and drinking [in the saddle], you can train your stomach to get used to it and figure out what foods work for you,” Siegle says. “Two, it makes the enjoyment level of the whole trip better when you can take question marks out of the equation. [Your eating and hydration] becomes automatic, and it frees up mental capacity for something that may be more vital to the trip that you can’t practice until you’re in the middle of it.”
TEST-RUN YOUR GEAR
Whether or not you’re camping or staying in hotels, you’ll need to carry clothes and equipment with you. Have a checklist and ride with these items during your test week so you can see if you really need all of that. “You could be missing a few key things or have so much it’s overkill and maybe wish you could parse it down some,” Siegle says. As a bonus, “A practice run not only gets all the kinks out with gear and nutrition but also mentally lets yourself know you can do what you set out to do. A week on the same setup can be huge confidence booster,” he adds.
DON’T REST TOO MUCH
Although rest days are often good for other training, “resting too much takes away from your endurance to an extent,” Siegle says. Just as it’s best to train in a way that mimics what you plan to do on Bicycle Route 66, rest that way, too. So if you plan to take a day to see the sights (the Adventure Cycling Association has a list of recommendations) every 10 days, take a rest day every 10 days.
TIME IT CORRECTLY
Bicycle Route 66 goes through the mountains and desert. If you plan to leave from Chicago, it’s best to do so in mid-April or September. To start in Santa Monica, the Adventure Cycling Association recommends leaving in April or May, or late August or September. You can also choose to do just a segment of the route.
Being prepared physically, having all your equipment (including the printed map and app, water, rain gear and sunscreen), staying safe and pacing yourself are key. But so is enjoying the experience. “Take the time to meet people along the route. The locals will shower you with fresh water and local lore,” says Lisa McKinney, communications director for the Adventure Cycling Association. “Do your research so you can land one night at the drive-in theater and watch a movie” or visit Cadillac Ranch or have that special piece of pie.