Cost of Bike TouringDec 03, 2020
There are a few questions I still have trouble answering - “Why do you do it?” for one - but I usually have a response that’s at least half-true and satisfies most people. However, there’s a question for which I never had a good answer: “How much did it cost?”
There’s a correct answer, and I didn’t know it. You either answer “I don’t know,” you give the correct answer, or you’re lying. Math is the only academic subject that can’t be debated, and out of respect for that, I’ve never been OK with making up an answer.
So I finally decided to take the time and figure out how much it costs to do a summer adventure. In this article, we’ll look at how much I spent on a two-month, 5,726 km bike tour in 2017.
For the most part, your cost breaks down into three categories: Gear, Travel, and Daily Expenses.
If you use the same gear for multiple trips, it’s hard to put a figure on how much any one trip’s gear cost. For many people, a long distance bike tour is once-in-a-lifetime, and for people like myself, the same tent can be used ten summers in row. In this breakdown, we’ll look at how much gear would cost if only used once, and we’ll also see how much my gear has cost on a per-trip basis, given how many times it’s been used (and counting!)
Travel costs are mostly straightforward - how much did you spend to get there and back? Usually this is simply a pair of one-way flights, possibly along with a shuttle ride or two.
More than any other category, daily expenses can vary a lot. Some people will stay in hotels at every opportunity, while others can go months without paying for lodging. Some will spend $20 per meal, multiple times per day, while others are OK with cold oatmeal and a spoonful of peanut butter on a daily basis. While gear and travel expenses can only be somewhat mitigated, daily expenses are the one category that’s truly up to you.
Bike Total - $7,000
Bike Per Use (3) - $2,333
These are inexact figures, since I’m including not only the cost of the bike ($5,200), but also a ballpark figure for replacement parts and labor during its lifetime. It’s only been on two tours so far, but since that totals over 30,000 km, and it’s my daily commuter, and it’s my go-to just-for-fun bike, we’ll count that as three total “uses”.
Tent - $330
Sleeping Bag - $280
Sleeping Pad - $185
Rear Panniers - $220
Frame Bag - $70
Tent (8) - $41
Sleeping Bag (10) - $28
Sleeping Pad (3) - $62
Rear Panniers (5) - $44
Frame Bag (1) - $70
Borrowing a phrase from backpacking, “Big Three” refers to your tent, sleep system, and backpack, or in this case, panniers.
I’ve had my sleeping bag for over a decade, and my tent for nearly as long, and they’re still holding up! They’re some of the most expensive things you’ll need to buy, but investing in a quality tent and sleeping bag won’t cost much, per use, in the long run.
Good panniers can cost a lot, but like my sleeping bag, I’ve had my rear panniers for over a decade. While clearly beat up, they’re still working fine, and I also use them for commuting and groceries.
Clothing Total - $0
For this tour, I spent literally $0 on clothing. Everything I used was something I already had for general cycling or everyday use.
Increasingly, I gravitate towards non-cycling-specific clothing that works equally well both on and off the bike. For example, a running shirt instead of a cycling jersey.
Frame Pump - $25
Water Bottle - $7
Water Bladder - $24
Pocketknife - $45
Power Bank - $30
Frame Pump (4) - $6
Water Bottles (5) - $2
Water Bladder (2) - $12
Pocketknife (3) - $15
Power Bank (2) - $15
Again, I’m not counting items I already had, like tire levers or a toothbrush.
In this case, the bike was easily the largest expense, followed by the “big three”.
The costs here can vary a lot. For one thing, you could have nearly as good an experience on a bike that costs a fraction as much, or you might spend $0 on your bike and simply use the one you already have. Someone who’s not already an avid cyclist would have a lot more up-front costs compared to someone who already has plenty of cycling gear on hand.
It’s worth pointing out that the “Per Use” cost is based on how many times I’ve used each item so far - a lot of this gear still has life left in it. While I tend to go on more adventures than many people, some of the figures will come down even more as they get used again and again. As a result, most of the per use figures shown here are decent ballpark estimates for most people.
For this tour, I only had to buy a plane ticket to the start of the tour, then finished by riding home. If you need to fly in both directions, obviously it’ll cost more.
As mentioned before, this can vary a lot. I don’t eat at restaurants nearly as much as others, nor do I stay in hotels often. About half of my daily expenses were for food, and about half of the rest was for lodging/camping fees.
That said, you’d have to spend money on food whether you went touring or not, so should your food expenses count at all?
Since these figures are based on a sample size of one, the margin of error is large. In particular, my numbers for travel and daily expenses are probably lower than most people’s, and I already had a lot of gear on hand, but I also spent much more on the bike than most would.
Gear makes up the overwhelming majority of the cost of touring. If you already have a lot of the necessary gear, or if bike touring is the kind of thing you’ll do more than once, the effective cost drops dramatically - more than $5,000 in this case.
When buying your gear, consider the following: Is this something you’d also use in everyday life? Does your gear need to hold up for multiple tours, or does it only need to barely make it to the end? Depending on the answers, the good stuff is a smart investment and will cost less in the long run.