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I'm planning on touring 528 miles from Los Angeles all the way to Tucson Arizona during the summer. I am planning to stay over there for a while so I won't carry to much of a load.

I already know what I'll have to take on the trip and the things needed to carry them but the problem I'm having now is finding a good touring bike.

I have thought of saving up at least $400 till the summer to buy a used bike but is such a bike really necessary for the distance I'm going?

I can't see much going wrong except for the tires falling apart which can be easily fixed, or is there more to worry about?

Also another question I have is where should I sleep during the night when touring? I'm thinking of camping but I don't think I'll be able to find any good camping spots along the way and I already know about couch surfing but I want another alternative where I know I'll be able to sleep without worrying about it throughout the day.

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    It doesn't seem like you have any experience with long distance riding, or bicycle maintenance. What kind of riding have you done so far and what kind of maintenance have you done on a bicycle? – Batman Nov 3 '15 at 17:26
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    Are you doing this alone or as part of a group? – Criggie Nov 3 '15 at 20:22
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    A tour of that magnitude requires either careful planning or zealous foolishness. At least in that part of the country the weather may (or may not) be fairly predictable (I've had rides where we got 4 inches of rain daily, which tends to change you plans), but you still cannot predict how many miles you will do on a given day, and hence you don't know where you will end up and whether you will be able to motel it, couch surf, or camp. This isn't so bad if you have a "support" vehicle, but it sounds like you plan to go self-supported. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 3 '15 at 23:51
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    Have you completed a 50 mile bike trip? What's the furthest you've traveled in a day? It sounds like you may be getting ahead of yourself... I'd get a bike and go on a test run before anything else. – zahbaz Nov 4 '15 at 6:42
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    @IZZy People are asking about your experience because this trip is no joke. To do this in a week means seven hot, uphill, eighty mile days. Somewhere a gallon of water per day was mentioned, but I would estimate more like two. I would probably pack three in case something went wrong. You don't even have a bike, you might not even LIKE touring. I would recommend buying a bike now and doing some 1-2 day trips just to see if you're the type of person to do a week long trip through the desert. – Carl Nov 5 '15 at 3:29
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First, congratulations on trying to do this, and doing some research before your try.

The bike really doesn't matter very much. You can ride 500 miles carrying enough stuff to be comfortable on just about any bike, a better bike will be faster, more comfortable and more reliable. But I've been on a 3000 mile ride with a couple of people who rode KMart-level bikes they bought second hand. By the end of the ride the bikes were worn out, but they made it.

What will make a bike better for this is wide tyres, strong wheels and frame, good brakes and a rear rack. It's worth getting a slightly lower quality bike with a rack rather than a better bike with no rack, because having to carry everything on your back will make things unpleasant. A cheap "mountain bike" is fine.

You will probably be better off buying a $200 bike second hand for $100 and spending the other $200 or $300 on front and rear racks and panniers, plus a sleeping bag. You can use a cheap plastic tarp instead of a tent, but you can't really fake a good sleeping bag (sleeping under a blanket wearing all the clothes you have is not very effective, but it works if you're desperate).

On that note, buy lights, cheap ones are fine as long as they're bright blinkie ones, so that if you have to ride in the dark for some reason you don't die. And if you're free camping, you will have to move campsites in the middle of the night at least once.

Like hillsons says, plan on camping so that couch surfing is a nice break rather than camping being a nasty surprise. If you take that approach to everything you'll have a better time. Your trip will be full of nice surprises rather than nasty ones. So learn how to fix punctures and adjust brakes and gears, so that if you have a minor problem you can fix it and keep going.

Also, make sure you can bail out when you need to. I know you want to ride all the way, but if you have problems and get miserable, being able to quit is a good idea. Even just having the money to check into a cheap motel so you can sleep, shower and eat can make the difference between struggling through a miserable last few days and bouncing along feeling good.

Finally: good luck! It sounds as though you're up for an adventure and I hope you enjoy it.

  • Check out the climate, and make sure you carry water. You could easily need a gallon per day. And check out the roads. A lot of it's four-lane. Some is Ok, like this. – andy256 Nov 4 '15 at 11:27
  • Other parts are less friendly. – andy256 Nov 4 '15 at 11:27
  • And be really careful crossing the exits. – andy256 Nov 4 '15 at 11:36
  • Thank you :) , your answer did resolve a lot of the questions I didn't ask(and asked) . I do plan on slowly doing research throughout the months (and I have been) and then researching a lot more on the last month's or so. – IZZy Nov 4 '15 at 16:35
  • +1 Very nice answer with the most important piece of advice - such a tour stops being about the type or price of the bike after the first 20 miles. The bail out provision is really very important (having it may well be the ultimate thing to help you finish). – Pavel Nov 5 '15 at 10:49
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I'm going to attack this backwards. First of all, camping is the only way you won't have to worry all day about where you're going to sleep. Provided you don't take a route through inhospitable areas, the beauty of planning to camp is in most areas down there, you can pull over, a good distance from the road, and set up camp. It will probably be cold at night, and yes you'll need a low temperature sleeping bag to stay comfortable.

Inevitably, you'll meet people who invite you to sleep on their couch. It's a welcome change of pace from camping every day. But it's much easier to plan to camp and be pleasantly surprised with a night on the couch than to plan on couch surfing and be caught camping without enough supplies.

As for the bike. I will say: make sure it fits wide tires. I'd say 30mm minimum. You really need to do your research if you're going to buy the bike used. A friend of mine bought a bike for a trip similar to yours. He was given some bad advice and the bike ended up being so poorly equipped for the ride that he had to sell it and buy a new one halfway through the ride. Ironically, it was a shop mechanic that completely misunderstood his needs and steered in the wrong direction, towards a bike that had skinny tires and wasn't upright enough. So you can't always trust your local bike shop, unfortunately. Cough up the money for a used book or two on the subject and educate yourself. It's up to you to hit the road with the right equipment, and the right equipment can mean the difference between a good trip and a horrible experience.

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I don't recommend this as your first multi-day tour. The trip you've proposed has hazards which will test even the most experienced riders, and you'll need to plan very carefully if you want to make it to Tucson alive.

There are some things I'm quite surprised no one mentioned about this particular route:

First, there's basically one route for cycling from LA to Tuscon, and it's almost exactly the same route for driving from LA to Tuscon. I-10, CA-111, I-8, I-10. In all you'll be spending about 300 miles, the majority of the trip, cycling on freeway. (To get an idea of what it will be like, see this video.)

While cycling on the freeway isn't necessarily any more dangerous than your average city street, it can be if shoulders are narrow in places (most often old bridges), or if there is construction, or if you have to swerve to avoid debris.

And you will be avoiding a lot of debris. Freeway shoulders collect lots of stuff that will be complete hell on your tires. Beyond the goatheads that are everywhere, you will run into the steel wires that come out of disintegrated truck tires. For this ride you will need the most puncture-resistant tires you can get. Continental Gatorskin, Schwalbe Marathon Plus, etc. Anything else, and you will be changing flats more often than riding. And even with puncture resistant tires, bring plenty of extra tubes.

I don't recommend cycling on the freeway at night. Even with lights, you won't be visible for long enough for drivers to figure out what you might be before they pass you or accidentally drive right into you. Plus, from experience I can say that your headlight probably isn't strong enough to light your way. Several of the scariest situations I had while touring were night riding and not knowing if I was about to run into road debris because I was going too fast for the distance of my headlight beam to cover.

Plan to stop early each day, well before sunset. Fortunately there is a whole lot of nothing out there, so finding a campsite won't be difficult. Typically you want to start riding around first light and stop to avoid the worst of the heat of the day in midday, perhaps riding some more in the late afternoon.

Another issue with freeway cycling is construction. You need to check with Caltrans and the Arizona DOT for any construction along your route, as a construction area may not be passable for cyclists depending on the work being done. For instance, the area where the I-10 bridge collapsed last July is not passable for cyclists at this time (though it's not on your route, and a short detour exists). Check for construction a few days before you start the tour, as Caltrans doesn't usually make this information available more than a week in advance. And note that for most of this route there are no alternate routes, so if there is construction going on it may mean a 100 mile or more detour for a cyclist, or rescheduling the trip.

Second, there are very large stretches of this route with no services and no towns to speak of. Do not let Google Maps fool you; some of the "towns" shown on the route are no better than wide spots in the road, and some of them can hardly be said to exist at all.

I would be carrying at least 8 liters of water at all times whenever possible, and plan to drink it all in a day in moderate weather. If you do this in the summer, which is ill-advised, figure on 12-16 liters of water each day. Use a hydration system (e.g. Camelbak) so that you don't have to cycle one-handed on the freeway or throw your neck out while drinking. You need to drink before you feel thirsty. If you feel thirsty, you're already well dehydrated, and if you get a headache, stop immediately because you're far gone. Plan to stop anywhere that might have water, such as the freeway rest areas, to top up your stores.

I would also carry three days worth of food at all times. While I don't expect any cities with lots of services on this route to be more than two days apart, you want to have something in reserve in case something unexpected happens.

Third, the desert weather in summer will be extremely hot. This is not something you want to do without prior training or experience. Until you know exactly what you're in for, I strongly urge you to reschedule your tour to a more temperate time of year.


A few other notes:

Skip the stationary bike; it will just be a waste of money. You live in LA; there's so rarely bad weather any time of year that you can just get a used road bike and go hit the cycle paths that run all over everywhere.

When you train, start small and work your way up. If you do a 10 mile ride and at the end you feel exhausted, then rest up and do another 10 mile ride in a couple of days. At the end of a few of these, you will not be exhausted, but will feel like you could have gone farther. Then bump up the mileage on your next ride. Repeat until you can do 50 miles or more without thinking too hard about it. Plan your rides as loops that you can cut short if necessary.

After you can do 50 miles a day and feel like you can do it again the next day, find a two or three day ride to go on, so you can get some experience with the outdoor and camping aspects. For instance, you could ride from LA to San Diego (and take Caltrain back); this will be a two-day ride at the pace you will need for your tour.

  • Fantastic answer - thank you for your attention to detail, and raising points that others hadn't. – Criggie Nov 5 '15 at 22:57
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To do 528 miles through the desert, in monsoon season, in less than a week is going to be quite an ordeal. You are looking at averaging 75 miles a day to do it in 7 days. You'll be out alone, in the middle of nowhere. I won't say you can't do it, because it can be done. But it's clear you've never done anything of this magnitude.

Lots of posts have given you good advice. My advice is to shorten the route. Take the train or bus, or bum a ride as close as you can get to the Arizona border. Cut your distance in half, and your odds of being successful improve dramatically.

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A great idea for a bicycle trip but not the best time of year. If you can travel before the middle of May or after Oct it would be more enjoyable. Be prepared for extreamly high temperatures in the deserts from LA to Tucson. During the summers once you get 20 miles from the ocean you will likely experience temperatures of over 100 F during the day and there will be very little shade to be found. Temperatures of 110F are common in Phoenix during the summer. My experience commuting in Phoenix was that it was possible as long as you keep moving with your self generated breeze to cool you off. If you have to stop, even for a traffic light you will imedeately begin to over heat. A mechanical failure in the heat could become hazardous if you are not prepared. When mountain biking in the inland LA areas during summer I carry a umbrella in case of an accident or mechanical failure that might require an extended period in the blazing sun... Respect the heat.

  • Nice tip on the umbrella. – Carl Nov 5 '15 at 13:39
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Except that a "cheap mountain bike" is, in most cases, the wrong answer. The two main reasons being:

  • hand position: drop bars allow you a variety of grips. Not much fun riding 500km if your hands numb up. There are a variety of handle bar styles besides just drop and straight.
  • knobby tires. These can make a huge difference in how fast you go and or in how much energy you spend. A nice touring or even commuting tire makes a big difference. Agree with previous answers - I'd go with a 32mm or better width.

You probably also want to avoid a suspended bike though depending on the types of roads you are on adjustable front shocks might be nice. Like knobby tires suspension eats up some energy so you wasted energy "flexing" your bike rather than propelling it forward.

I'd strongly advise checking out http://www.adventurecycling.org/ and https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/

  • Gidday and welcome to SE Bicycles. Thank you your your excellent answer, and I look forward to your future contributions. – Criggie Nov 3 '15 at 23:02
  • but with a $400 bike and gear budget, I haven't seen a hybrid bike that I like the look of, and sub-$300 "road bikes" are scary. Unless they're stolen "second hand" ones, in which case $50 will get you just about anything... – Móż Nov 3 '15 at 23:22
  • One of my favorite bikes I've ever owned (and rode several thousands of miles on -- until I finally bent the frame goofing off jumping around) was an all-rigid department-store "mountain bike" BSO. It cost me ¥12,000 new (~$100), could mount a rear rack, and had hybrid tires that were perfectly fast at high-pressure on the road and grippy enough for hardpack/dirt/gravel at a slightly lower pressure. I changed the handlebars eventually to drops (which is a pain, as it requires rigging new brakes, etc.) -- but that was a really useful trashy bike for a long time. – zxq9 Nov 4 '15 at 10:45
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It's possible you could find a used tourer for around $200-300. Keep an eye out for used Salsa and Surly bikes, as well as used Trek 520s (the 520 line dates back nearly to Trek's beginnings, so it's likely you'll find one), but failing that look for a used hybrid or mountain bike. These bikes have good low-end gearing, which'll be handy when you encounter hills or if you're carrying a lot of stuff.

Tourers, hybrids, and many mountain bikes have rack bosses, and should provide you at least with a place to put a rear rack. If you happen across a mountain bike instead of one of the other two, you might want to swap to slicker tires, unless your route is going to take you through some rough, unpaved roads or trails. Regardless of tread (or lack thereof), you'll want tires at least 30mm (1.18") wide. If you or your luggage are a little on the heavy side, go a little wider with 35s or 38s (~1.5").

(Tire size specifications vary based on the diameter. If you're on a tourer or a hybrid with 700c tires, expect to see widths in metric. If you're on a mountain bike, expect to see widths in inches. If you happen across a 29er mountain bike, it can mount 700c tires, though it'll look a bit funny.)

Touring bikes are a little more comfortable for long trips because they usually come installed with drop bars, so you get a few different hand positions. Hybrids and mountain bikes are generally flat-bar machines, but you could equip them with bar ends if you want the flexibility.

Get a good sturdy rack and a set of panniers and give yourself some time beforehand to work out a packing strategy. Have the bike looked over by a mechanic and learn some basic maintenance if you don't already know any. Be sure to carry a few extra inner tubes, as well as some tire levers, patch kit, hand pump, chain lube, set of hex wrenches, and maybe a screwdriver (phillips head).

Look into a set of lights as well. They don't have to be super bright or top-of-the-line. In fact, you might actually want to go with a cheaper AA or AAA battery-powered set, since most of the nicer ones are USB rechargeable, and you might not always have the chance to recharge them.

A taillight is good at all times of day, since you'll be riding with traffic and it'll help make you more visible, but keep a headlight handy in case you need to keep pushing into the evening. It might not light the way very well, but it'll at least make you more visible to motorists. Carrying spare batteries would be a good idea too.

If you've got any cash left after those investments, a set of fenders (mudguards) might be a good idea. I know Arizona isn't too terribly prone to weather, but if you do encounter any storms, they'll keep you from getting sprayed by your wheels.

It might be worth your time to ask your local cyclist clubs if there are any cycle tourists among them, or barring that, talk to your local bike shop. It's possible one of the people working there has done a tour, or they might know someone who has. That could be a good way to find a used bike from a good owner, or maybe some secondhand gear to save you a few bucks.

The late Mr. Brown might have some advice for you as well. Pack well and good luck!

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    +1 For the lights. You need one flashing, and one steady. The flasher alerts vehicles that you're there, the steady enables them to judge your distance. You will be riding in early morning and late evenings. In the mornings the sun will be in the driver's eyes. – andy256 Nov 4 '15 at 11:18

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