Bicycle Travel > Routes

TransAm to Western Express, VA to Califorinia

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Hi Will:

I just got back from a version of this route 10 days ago. I had a fantastic experience on this ride and you are in for a treat.

I left from San Francisco and took the Western Express to Pueblo then (apostate alert!) drove across Kansas and Missouri and picked up the TransAm route in Illinois and rode that through Va. for 2700 mile in 31 riding days. I was "credit card" touring so every night was a hotel and most meals were in a diner or restaurant. I will keep my comments here to what you directly asked but I will include my email for anything else I can help you with.

Just for some background, I'm 54, started riding at 14, raced for 15 years and have been a recreational "roadie" since. I ride between 3500 to 5500 miles a year depending on work, weather etc. This was the first time I ever had panniers or even a rack on one of my bikes.

- I used a road bike with a compact crank (34/50) and the cassette was 12-28. That gearing was fine for all the hills I ran into (btw: the steepest stuff is in the east), but I was travelling very light.

- Traffic was generally very good as were the roads. There were individual spots that is was unpleasant. For me the worst place was Rt 50 east of Monarch Pass as it runs along the Arkansas River in Colorado. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday but there was a lot of RV traffic and they seemed totally unconcerned if they tagged me or not. This was very much the exception.

- I used clipless pedals with carbon soled road shoes and had a pair of very light weight sneakers bungied to my rack where they were immediately available. I would do the same again.

- I didn't do any camping but it seemed like I passed a fair amount of campsites or places you could wing it.

- Tires were the only real mistake I made. I was riding sew-ups (you may have to look that up) and while they were heavy sew-ups and relatively wide (24mm) they were no match for a thorn that grows out west that I was not familiar with. Five flats in the first 1200 miles, then I didn't have another for the rest of the trip. If I was to do it again I would switch to clinchers and go with a 28mm tire. There are some torn up shoulders you will sometimes be forced to ride and you'll be glad to have the wider tire. My guess is 4 tubes and two tires until you get to Pueblo should be fine and there are bike shops along the way to re-stock. Once you get out west bike shops become MUCH FURTHER APART. You will want to load up in Pueblo.

- I brought 2 pairs riding shorts, 2 summer jerseys, 1 winter jersey,2 pair socks, 1 rain shell, 1 pr tights, 1 pir very light weight street pants, 1 shirt, and 1 pair swim suit. Add your medical stuff, toiletries, and panniers weighed 15 lbs with everything except extra water which I always had to carry out west. But I had no camping stuff.

- as far as eat and you eat, and then you eat some more, and then you have 2 desserts. On the bike I ate a lot of Nutter Butters and Fig Newtons and I always had Peanut Butter, dried apricots, and a bag of tortillas for lunch if there was no place to stop. I didn't lose a pound on the trip.

- My trip cost $6000 and most of it was hotels and restaurants. I think it can be done for less than a third of that easily.

My final thoughts : Get yourself in really good shape before you leave. The hills is far western Va and eastern Kentucky are steep and they keep coming and when you get out to Nevada (& some places in Utah) there will be days where it is 80 miles + between anything, not even a house or a ranch, and it will be hot, and there will be 2 or 3 mountain passes. You will need lots of carrying capacity for water. I bought 2 pvc 2 litre bags for water that roll up when not in use and weigh almost nothing. Make sure you get these. Link is below.

If you want, you can email me directly @


I completed the Western Express from Sacramento to Baker, NV then on to SLC all on an off-the-shelf 2011 Trek Madone 4.5....carbon frame of course.  100 miles per day and a perfectly suitable road touring bike right out of the box if traveling with a light load.

The ride was CC style so no panniers...just a Camelback and small under-saddle bag. Total cargo weight 13 pounds with an additional 15 pounds of water at the start of each day.  Didn't want for anything and the bike reformed very well.

Did use heavier-duty Continental touring tires and flatted 3 times in 800+ miles.  No mechanical issues. 

I went with my normal bike shoes with clips.  Much more efficient riding for me.  Many bike shoes have a rubber sole and are easy to walk in.  Heavier but more versatile.

Traffic is traffic. Most of the time not a problem but occasionally can be a challenge.  You can minimize your risk and maximize your comfort level though.   Be aware ALL the time, don't wear earbuds, do wear bright clothes, use as much lighting as you can and stay faaaar to the right.  Even if you're not a mirror guy, as I wasn't,  you will be glad to have it on occasion.  I use the mirror that attaches to the end of the drop down handle bars.  Not good for detail but you can see if traffic is approaching when you can't hear it coming otherwise...a big hazard when you are startled.   

John Nelson:

--- Quote from: zzzz on October 11, 2012, 10:15:55 pm ---For me the worst place was Rt 50 east of Monarch Pass as it runs along the Arkansas River in Colorado.

--- End quote ---
Ah yes, but if you don't get killed there, and even if you do, it's spectacular scenery in the Arkansas River Valley.


--- Quote from: John Nelson on October 22, 2012, 08:46:36 pm ---
Ah yes, but if you don't get killed there, and even if you do, it's spectacular scenery in the Arkansas River Valley.

--- End quote ---

That's true John, the scenery is spectacular, and despite my unease I was still able to enjoy it. And, if your traveling west to east, it's downhill during that whole stretch as well. So if it turn's out this is the place you take your last mortal breath, you will be surrounded by beauty AND feeling fast & easy.

All kidding aside, as road cyclists we all know we always have to share the road with cars and trucks and some will be more courteous than others. For anyone considering this trip, I can't recommend it enough.


Thank you everyone so much for the advice!  Since I originally posted this thread, some new questions have come to mind.  Does anyone have a recommendation for a good bike lock and were you ever in a situation where you didn't have an ideal spot to lock your bike? How did you deal with washing your clothes each day/dealing with them being damp for awhile?  And also I'm trying to carry as little weight as possible...if anyone has a recommendation for a very light weight easily packable tent, I plan to buy one soon.  I also am thinking of how I will go about packing for this trip.  I don't want to use a trailer.  The only things I figure I'll be carrying are toiletries, a tent, and water/snacks plus spare tires and general necessities.  Should I use panniers or what do you guys think the best way for me to go about packing my bike is with the goal of being as light as possible?  Thanks again for the help!


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