# Bike touring: looking for climb per day boundaries

I am planning a trip to the balkans through the mountains.

The total distance I want to travel is not a lot, but there is a lot of climbing and I am trying to get a better grasp on the limits the people usually set for climbing per day when bike touring.

The first draft of my trip covers an average of 65 km per day, which I would consider quite low in the flat, but in this case is with an average of 1500 m climb per day.

So, I am trying to get a rule of thumb of what the bike tourers typically plan to climb per day. I found somewhere that 20 m/km (~1300 m per 65 km, so, a bit less than my plan) is considered like a 'good' climb. I am fit and I have time to train more, I mean: I know it will be hard I just don't want to plan something impossible.

@Criggie Just as a reference, I can do 635 m climb in 10 km in 45 minutes. That is unloaded, pushing.

• I think this is too personal to answer properly, and it also depends on your touring load. I will try to give you some numbers from some things I've done Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 13:43
• Note that 20m of climbing per overall kilometre will likely mean average grades of 4%, since over time on a long tour you will end up near the altitude you started. (So for every 20m up you need to go 20m down too.) You may have some days which are net climbing, but with the highest hills in the Balkans being under 3000m you'll only be able to go up for 2 days without having to start going down. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 18:39
• @DavidW 4% is quite a reasonable climb to sustain, even loaded (that's why touring bikes have low gears). Shorter steps of steeper stuff is also quite manageable with the right gears. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 20:09
• @ChrisH I'm not saying it's unreasonable or unsustainable. I'm just pointing out that the slope suggested by the calculation in the question is off by a factor of approximately 2. Riding loaded, it's the difference between a grade and a grind, depending on your expectations and fitness level. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 20:12
• @ChrisH From my experience with an older Garmin Edge with barometric measurements, I was slightly under the estimated elevation in 9/10 cases on the final GPS track. I've planned hundreds of rides, mostly in my hilly surroundings and it was hardly off by more than 10% in any case, so imo route planning can be trusted enough for a ballpark estimate... Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 7:43

There are many variables but you might also do some math based on cycling power calculators, for example http://bikecalculator.com/

I just fed it with a 75 kg rider, 20 kg bike + baggage and your calculated average gradient (65km/1500m -> 2,3%)

Assuming you want to ride this at very conservative 15 kph, you'd need to put out 130 watts on average, that should be doable for a trained/sporty person, but it needs some fueling, I do quite a lot of endurance spots and every activity over 2 hours needs some nutrition, imo ... when riding through the Balkans, this means you need to carry some food because you proably can't rely on a supermarket in the next town.

Also consider that average ascent is just a number, if you have to cover 1200 meters on a steep montain pass, that might ruin your day, especially if you haven't done this type of riding or your bike isn't properly geared, I don't think you would have fun on an old road bike with "big gears" and just bags strapped on.

You should also question if you are used to such kind of riding, you might be a sporty person, but if you're not used to riding bikes regularly, knee pain or seat issues could become an issue ...

UPDATE

Power numbers are individual, too, I just used 15 kph as an example because 130W (or less than 2 watts/kg for a 75 kg rider) is usually sustainable and that equals to the power required for holding 25-26 kph on the flat, which is a realistic pace for somebody riding regularly. Since you are not going for 200km a day, speed doesn't really matter and you can back off accordingly without risk of not making it before night...

You should just do a test ride so see if you can go for 3-4 hours on a comparable profile without being totally wrecked on the next day or having unexpected issues with shoes, saddle or any kind of pain.

Below are some numbers, as promised. I'm a distance rider, and not much of a climber. My touring bike is also really heavy (Genesis Tour de Fer XL, weighing in at about 18kg)

First though, what I plan for when touring: not much more than 100m/km average, if I'm going to be doing back-to-back days of 150km plus. The odd hillier day is fine. I prefer to get plenty of climbing out of the way early in the day. You also need some recovery or catch-up time if you've got any points you can't afford to miss (like trains or planes).

A recent trip was pretty comparable to what you're considering: I'd done over 1300m (out of 2600m) in 50km (out of 200km). That was fully loaded (proper tent, hiking and beach gear, similar load to the first example below so 50kg bike+kit as a guess). That was hard and I'm not sure I'd have wanted to do it again the next day. But more recovery time from the shorter ride would help a huge amount.

The examples below are in order from most to least load, with some hints as to what I found limiting. They're not necessarily a guide to what you should do, but may let you compare to what you're used to.

1: Treating a ride/ride/hike/ride weekend last year as a tour, with full camping stuff and a total weight of about 50kg:

• Day 1: 200km and 2200m
• Day 2: 80km and 250m, unladen
• Day 3: hike
• Day 4: 130km and 2000m (should have been 200km but a mechanical meant I got the train)

2: A tour loaded bike-packing style, wild camping, total weight of bike+kit approx 40kg, some gravel stretches:

• Day 1: 300km and 2000m
• Day 2: 220km and 2000m
• Day 3: 220km and 1900m, cut short because I was struggling with headwind, nausea, and saddle sores
• Day 4: 115km and 1000m, having re-planned the trip to cut out a day's riding.
• Day 5: 80km and 700m, a recovery day
• Day 6: 95km and 950m
• Day 7: rest day with a hike
• Day 8: 125km and 1000m
• Day 9: 50km, almost flat to catch the train home

So the first part of this trip was too much. From day 4 onwards I could recover. In hindsight I should have done a very short day 3 (20-30km would have worked well).

3: Getting really light - minimal wild camping kit with no cooking gear, probably under 30kg total: 600km and 5700m in 2 days. I couldn't have kept that up for many more days, but mainly for lack of sleep.

4: For comparison, loaded for credit card touring (i.e. carrying little more than for a long day ride) and pretty flat:

• Day 1: 400km and 2000m (no sleep stop)
• Day 2: 40km and 200m
• Day 3: 320km and 2400m

So trip 2 was planned to be too hard. I had to cut out a leg of riding (about 200km) because I would have missed my train back to the loop I was on. I had enough flexibility that it was merely a disappointment, not a major hassle. That's important

• Incidentally I'm going to do a similar trip to no. 3 again soon. That will be on my lighter road bike instead of the tourer. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 20:32
• Thanks mate, helps a lot to have some reference. Now, what is your every day cycling routine looks like? how many km for week are you putting? Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 8:56
• @myradio I commute about 20km/day round trip, ride a 200km+ day at least once a month, and am up to 4990 km this year (I keep quite detailed records, though not all on Strava). BTW there's a link to my Strava in my profile and the trips above are on it. Trip dates: 1: 1: 29 April 2022, 2: 23 August 2021, 4: 15 April 2022 and here are some pics of the setup I used for trip 2 Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 13:43

I don't have an easy answer to this, but just to make things more complicated, another factor to consider is how fully you'll recover after each day's ride. On a multi-day ride where you push yourself to exhaustion every day, your heart rate and power go down a lot (aerobic power is limited by your ability to deliver oxygen to your muscles through your bloodstream, so the two are closely related).

So a climb that might be tough but reasonable on day 1 might be at your limit on day 3, and beyond your ability on day 5.

This is not a problem at all.

I bought a Sigma BC 14.16 STS cyclocomputer some time ago.

The last recorded statistics from this computer are: 4314 kilometers, 45169 meters climbed.

This means that in the areas where I ride (nearest mountains thousands of kilometers away), 10.5 meters is climbed per kilometer.

Your 1500 meters, 65 km would be 23.1 meters climbed per kilometer.

I know a person of normal weight and good fitness can easily go and ride 100 km in the non-mountainous region where I live. I have done it. So, 1050 meters climbed per day is easy.

Your 1500 meters wouldn't be far above that 1050 meters.

I don't think 1500 meters would be a problem for one day. However, if your average of 1500 meters per day actually consist of 50% days with 0 meter climb and 50% days with 3000 meter climb, and if that 3000 meter climb would be one continuous climb, then maybe it could be too much.

Also, a good idea is to consider the energy effort needed. 15 kg bike, 10 kg cargo, 70 kg rider is 95 kg. 1500 meters climbed is `9.81 * 1500 * 95 J = 1.4 MJ = 334 kcal`, but this is not food energy. Food energy is converted to mechanical energy at 25% efficiency so it's actually `5.6 MJ = 1335 kcal` (plus air resistance and rolling resistance which I didn't consider here, so the actual number is larger, I suspect around 1900 kcal as food energy).

My daily commute with my electric bike takes about `0.7 MJ = 170 kcal`, but as food energy it's `2.8 MJ = 617 kcal`. I do have lunch while at work, but I have ridden 60 km distances without eating inbetween, and that 60 km would be actually about `1.0 MJ = 235 kcal`, and as food energy `3.9 MJ = 939 kcal`.

And that 100 km with a non-e-bike I have done is about `2 MJ = 487 kcal` and as food energy `8.2 MJ = 1950 kcal`. A normal human can do that.

I think that a 1500 meter daily climb requires the possibility to eat midway. Don't plan to climb 1500 meters with no possibility of eating. If it's far away from restaurants, carry enough food with you, plus possibly the means to cook the food if it needs cooking.