Author Topic: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?  (Read 827 times)

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Offline tbessie

Hi all!

New here, just signed up for a membership, all in advance of a 2-week trip from San Francisco, CA to Portland, OR, which will be the maiden voyage for my new Bruce Gordon! :-)

My father lives in France (southwest, not too far from Bordeaux), and the last two years, when visiting him, I've been using a bike I bought there and left with him to take a weeklong tour.  This has been reasonably light credit-card touring, just rear Ortlieb panniers pretty much; I pick a set of towns I want to stop at based on interest and mileage, make reservations at B&Bs or hotels, and set out.  I plan my route generally, and when on the road use a combination of paper maps and Google Maps on my phone, as well as simply following a general directional path based on compass points and road signs, to get to my destinations.  There's always 3 or 4 or more different ways to get to the same place usually, as the French countryside is crisscrossed by a lattice of tiny farm roads (paved and unpaved), tracks through fields, minor highways, bike paths, etc.  It's pretty wonderful in that way.

In about 3 weeks I'm going to start up the coast from San Francisco to Portland, and I am wondering how different of an experience I can expect from touring in Europe.  I'm expecting far fewer ways to get to the same place, a lot more cars on the roads, more empty spaces/fewer towns along the way, etc.  I'm hoping I can mostly camp in hiker/biker campgrounds or stay in inexpensive motels along the way, but am wondering what kind of planning I might need to do for accommodation.

For those of you who have done both touring in Europe and touring in the US, what kinds of differences have you noticed that it might be good for me to be aware of?  All suggestions welcome, thanks!

- Tim
« Last Edit: May 02, 2015, 01:35:47 am by tbessie »
Touring: Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road Tour 2014
Century/Weekend: Gunnar Sport with Campagnolo Centaur
Every Day: Bianchi Eros parts on a Bianchi Brava frame, Campagnolo Mirage
Every Day Backup: Jamis Quest parts on a Surly Pacer frame

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2015, 11:46:03 am »
In about 3 weeks I'm going to start up the coast from San Francisco to Portland...

Tim, I have no experience with touring in Europe, so I can't compare.

But I'll be the first of probably several more people to let you know that most people tour north-to-south along the Pacific Coast, since the wind comes out of the NW during summer. Now late May is still a bit variable, and you can get storms which mean winds from the SW. But you'll probably be looking at more headwinds than tailwinds. Also, the best views are on the west side of the road, which would be handily on the right when going south (and you don't have to cross the road to see it!) Plus when the road is narrow and the highway department can only put a bike lane/shoulder on one side, it's going to be the southbound side. So I'd advise you to rethink the direction and start in Portland instead.

Offline tbessie

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2015, 12:41:47 pm »
In about 3 weeks I'm going to start up the coast from San Francisco to Portland...

Tim, I have no experience with touring in Europe, so I can't compare.

But I'll be the first of probably several more people to let you know that most people tour north-to-south along the Pacific Coast, since the wind comes out of the NW during summer. Now late May is still a bit variable, and you can get storms which mean winds from the SW. But you'll probably be looking at more headwinds than tailwinds. Also, the best views are on the west side of the road, which would be handily on the right when going south (and you don't have to cross the road to see it!) Plus when the road is narrow and the highway department can only put a bike lane/shoulder on one side, it's going to be the southbound side. So I'd advise you to rethink the direction and start in Portland instead.

Thanks for the suggestion!  Yes, after I started planning this trip, I saw that most people recommended going North/South instead of the other way due to winds and the other considerations you mention.  I may rethink that part. :-)

The original plan was to go to Portland, then take the Coast Starlight train back down.  I may take it up and ride back down, now. :-)

- Tim
Touring: Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road Tour 2014
Century/Weekend: Gunnar Sport with Campagnolo Centaur
Every Day: Bianchi Eros parts on a Bianchi Brava frame, Campagnolo Mirage
Every Day Backup: Jamis Quest parts on a Surly Pacer frame

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2015, 12:58:39 pm »
A few more notes:
  • If you're heading down the coast, you'll primarily be on US 101 through Oregon until you hit Highway 1 in Mendocino Co.  in California. There are some alternates (take them when you can!) but I'd say over 80% will be on 101 and 1.
  • There are many hiker/biker sites on the coast, especially in Oregon, where you'll be able to stay in a state park hiker/biker site each night.
  • Adventure Cycling puts out a good map. Oregon Dept. of Transportation puts out a good free bike map. And the "bible" of touring down the coast is the book "Bicycling the Pacific Coast".

Online RussSeaton

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2015, 05:25:14 pm »
My father lives in France (southwest, not too far from Bordeaux), and the last two years, when visiting him, I've been using a bike I bought there and left with him to take a weeklong tour.  This has been reasonably light credit-card touring, just rear Ortlieb panniers pretty much;

For those of you who have done both touring in Europe and touring in the US,

I have quite a bit of European touring.  Rome to Brussels.  Southern Portugal and SW Spain.  Shorter, smaller areas in the USA.

Overnight costs.  Europe is 1/4 or 1/3 the cost of USA.  The US is unbelievably expensive for housing.  Campsites in the US are as expensive or more expensive as motels/pensiones/hostels in Europe.  You get a private room with a bed and small breakfast and maybe shared bathroom in Europe for the same price you pay for a campsite at a park in the USA.  Adventure Cycling seems to promote camping.  It lists all the campsites on its maps.  The people on this forum all seem to camp and cook their food when biking.  I am not sure if that is because USA bikers love camping and cooking or because they would be in the poor house if they tried to motel and restaurant in the USA.

Restaurants are cheaper in Europe too.  Convenience stores are bigger and more plentiful in USA.  Slim pickings for convenience stores in Europe.  But there are lots of grocery stores, every town has one.  Much less traffic, less traveled roads in Europe.

I'd advise you to fly back to Europe and tour again there.  Skip the US.

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2015, 01:05:11 pm »
Overnight costs.  Europe is 1/4 or 1/3 the cost of USA.  The US is unbelievably expensive for housing.  Campsites in the US are as expensive or more expensive as motels/pensiones/hostels in Europe.  You get a private room with a bed and small breakfast and maybe shared bathroom in Europe for the same price you pay for a campsite at a park in the USA.

There's a lot of hiker/biker spots on the Pacific Coast, which cost usually $5 a night per person. And outside of that, if you stay in state parks, you shouldn't pay more than $20. Private campgrounds are of course another matter. The most I spent on my coast tour in 2006 was at a KOA that had "hiker/biker" accommodations for about $20.

Are motels/pensiones/hostels in Europe really that cheap?

Offline bobbys beard

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2015, 01:18:17 pm »
I have to strongly disagree with you RussSeaton. I'm European and have biked across America 3 times, including the Pacific coast. Camping can be very expensive in southern California, but north of San Francisco I found costs to be very reasonable. There were lots of sites that offered hiker/biker rates and state campsites were generally very cheap. Across the entire country, many RV parks let me stay for free.

I didn't think that food was expensive compared to Europe.

And the roads of America are certainly not busier. It depends where you are riding, but I have gone almost entire days in the USA without encountering another vehicle! Never had that anywhere in the world!!

Lastly, I always feel the need to chip in with the North to South debate. I rode South to North and noticed no difference. If you're used to riding European hilly areas, there will be no wind conditions on the PCH you don't already encounter regularly.

The PCH is an incredible ride and one that I will go back to again some time :)

Offline jamawani

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2015, 02:18:53 pm »
In Europe they speak funny languages and have accents and umlauts.

Offline tbessie

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2015, 12:12:47 am »
In Europe they speak funny languages and have accents and umlauts.

Damned furriners! ;-)

- Tim
Touring: Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road Tour 2014
Century/Weekend: Gunnar Sport with Campagnolo Centaur
Every Day: Bianchi Eros parts on a Bianchi Brava frame, Campagnolo Mirage
Every Day Backup: Jamis Quest parts on a Surly Pacer frame

Offline tbessie

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2015, 12:15:23 am »
I have to strongly disagree with you RussSeaton. I'm European and have biked across America 3 times, including the Pacific coast.

Thanks for chiming in! Good to get your opinion - funny how different opinions can be about these kinds of things.

Quote
Lastly, I always feel the need to chip in with the North to South debate. I rode South to North and noticed no difference. If you're used to riding European hilly areas, there will be no wind conditions on the PCH you don't already encounter regularly.

Interesting - it seems like everyone says one should go North to South - what time of year did you ride that?  I'm planning my trip now, so I hope to choose the direction with the least amount of wind (tho' in 1996 I rode on a fundraising ride from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and we hit a hell of a lot of wind going in that direction, despite folks telling us it should have been the opposite).

You say you've ridden across the US 3 times - do you mean coast-to-coast, or just 3 US tours in various locations?

- Tim
Touring: Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road Tour 2014
Century/Weekend: Gunnar Sport with Campagnolo Centaur
Every Day: Bianchi Eros parts on a Bianchi Brava frame, Campagnolo Mirage
Every Day Backup: Jamis Quest parts on a Surly Pacer frame

Offline bobbys beard

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2015, 04:29:44 am »
I initially chose riding North, because it linked with the southern tier, but despite what people said, the wind was never a problem. In fact there was never any wind to write home about in either direction. I've been on the PC twice. Once in September and again in October.There was no difference, aside from I didn't have to see the same people every day as they were all heading the opposite way.

People will also tell you that there are no shoulders on the opposite side of the road, which is also not the case. There were just as many shoulders in all the right places and they were just as wide.

Yes, I've fully ridden the southern tier; Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast. Next time I'm planning on riding a similar route to yours, perhaps New York to San Fran..... 

My biggest advice would be to take it slowly North of San Fran. In my opinion one of the most beautiful rides in the world and best enjoyed at a leisurely pace and no more the 30 miles per day! :)

 

Offline geegee

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2015, 04:19:43 pm »
I've ridden in most of the western European countries and several of the eastern ones. In general the northern countries (Holland, Germany, Scandinavia) had better bike infrastructure than the south, which make it easier to get in and out of cities. I've also toured through about half the States and all Canadian provinces, and the differences in road conditions in each one is sometimes more than the countries in Europe.

Most of the newer North American highways are built to superior standards, but it often means traffic travels so much faster, sometimes negating the feeling of security that a wide shoulder provides. It seems Europeans expect more bikes to be on the minor roads than Americans do, and the drivers react accordingly. Too many American drivers tend step on the gas wanting to pass a cyclist as fast as possible.

Europe has more established bike routes, but I'm impressed with the recent developments in the US this past decade.

Accommodation-wise, it really depends on the kind of lodging you are looking for. Europe has far more cheap hostels, and most of their campgrounds have a fee structure that's kinder to cyclists as they charge by the motor vehicle, tent and per person separately. America has a lot more stealth camping opportunities, and cheap motels. It is easier to find a cheap hotel in the downtown of a large European city like Paris or Berlin than say in Boston, New York or Chicago where you have to settle with the outskirts.

The variety of food on the road is getting better in America, but there's definitely more vernacular in Europe with its genuinely rich regional cuisines.


Offline staehpj1

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2015, 05:34:52 pm »
Overnight costs.  Europe is 1/4 or 1/3 the cost of USA.  The US is unbelievably expensive for housing.

I have not toured in Europe, but have toured pretty extensively in the US.  Going coast to coast on the Trans America I averaged less than $5 a night that was almost all camping and more than half of it was free.  I did no stealth camping but did stay for free in plain sight a lot.

On the Southern Tier I got rooms a bit more often, but they were usually pretty reasonable and I camped for free a large percentage of the time, again no stealth required.

On the Pacific Coast I averaged under $10 per night mostly camping.

Other places were similarly inexpensive.

I think camping may be more expensive in the east though, but I don't tend to tour there other than as the end of a coast to coast tour.

When it comes to rooms, cost can vary really widely, but there are lots of inexpensive places to stay.  Just avoid staying in the expensive ones.  When I do get a room I shoot for the $30-60 ones and especially ones that have a free hot breakfast.  I like the ones that have a waffle iron :)

Offline tbessie

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2015, 06:02:51 pm »
Just for the record, besides the coast-to-coast US trip I did in 1996, here are the only two tours I've done (each around a week or so), both in southern France. Nothing impressive by the standards of this forum, but was fun nonetheless (except for the fact that the 2014 trip had rain most of the time; riding on the almost-nonexistent shoulder of a French secondary highway in a huge downpour for 3 hours while big transport trucks zoomed by 10 feet away was not that fun):

2013 trip



2014 trip



Touring: Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road Tour 2014
Century/Weekend: Gunnar Sport with Campagnolo Centaur
Every Day: Bianchi Eros parts on a Bianchi Brava frame, Campagnolo Mirage
Every Day Backup: Jamis Quest parts on a Surly Pacer frame

Offline PeteJack

Re: Differences between touring in Europe and touring in the US?
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2015, 12:22:19 am »
On the whole I'm another vote for the N->S option on the coast, if only because of the side of the road thing for seeing things. The meteorology business is a bit of a gamble, when I was doing the NT from E->W people kept telling me I was going the wrong direction but in general I got tailwinds especially in ND and MT they were wonderful. In IN I ended up riding in thunderstorms instead of taking shelter like I should have simply because I was getting a push from the wind. I don't find the US particularly expensive vis a vis Europe although Norway is horrendous. One thing you don't get in the US is hostels like Europe, they are very few and far between, on the Sierra-Cascades route (highly recommended) there are two in 2800 miles: Ashland OR (v. nice) and Big Bear City CA (fully booked by a school party just like in England). Having said that there are quite a few excellent hostels on the Pacific Coast route between SFO and San Diego. I can't speak to OR and Northern CA I'm afraid. Be worth looking into. Whichever way you go you'll have fun.

A bit off topic but the only hostel I have come across in the US that was like a big European hostel, say Bristol or Hamburg, was in Cleveland OH of all places. Mind you the concierge screwed up and put me in a women's dorm. It didn't bother me, I thought they were unisex like Hamburg, but the ladies informed me in no uncertain terms that they weren't so I had to get myself moved. Hey ho.