How long does it take to bike across Canada?
Approximately 3 months. June, July, August. The caveats being how much training you have done, how much weight you are bringing, planned stops along the way, weather, and surprise gear issues.
How far is it to bike across Canada?
From Victoria on the west coast to St. John's on the east coast, it is approximately 7,000 kilometers (ref).
That distance includes the ferry stretches between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen (50km), and North Sydney and Argentia (500km). That number excludes all the times you will get lost looking for food, local hosts, campgrounds, bakeries, etc.
When should I start / end my trip?
Canada being Canada, has a short weather window of opportunity for touring comfortably. June, July, August are prime months, with a couple weeks on each end of the trip for any surprises.
If starting from Victoria, start mid-May and plan on ending mid-September in St John's. Snow will be mostly clear in British Columbia mountains by June. July and August are beautiful across the prairies and Canadian Shield. The weather on the east coast begins to turn mid-September.
How much does it cost?
Wild camping, motels or a mix of the two? Having enough money for decent food is a must so your body doesn't crash. A cheap motel with a bed and shower at least once a week is a nice moral boost. Budget for airfare, bike shipment and celebratory beer at the end. To get an idea of how to create a budget, Rino sent me this spreadsheet and wishes to share it. Here is the accompanying note:
Hi, I have made a Excel expense sheet to cycle across Canada, It is not a pro project, just something I have made because I did not find anything that I liked on internet. On the sheet you input expenses and km, date etc... then you get a total. Might help for people who don't play with Excel. I don't have any interest or own a company of any kind but I like cycling and touring. So I like to know if I can post it on your web site and probably that with time people will improve my version, all the better for everyone. Thank you! Rino.
Rino's excel sheet - Cycling Canada Excel Budget
Are helmets required in Canada?
For some reason, each province has their own bicycle helmet laws. You could be ticketed in British Columbia for not wearing a helmet, but not in Alberta (unless you are a minor). So might as well plan on wearing one and not be the idiot in the hospital with a head smashed-in and a helmet ticket.
Here is a breakdown of regional laws, Mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Canada.
I hear Canadians are nice, do I need to lock-up my bike?
Mais oui! Bikes get stolen all the time across Canada. Every summer, someone on a tour leaves their bike briefly, runs into a Timmies for a toilet break, and their bike mysteriously disappears. Every summer.
Bike thieves look for quick and easy crime opportunities. With some planning and strategy, we can mitigate the chance of bike theft.
Make bike less desirable to steal tips/ideas:
- Trash bag to cover expensive Brooks saddle (and protect against rain/dew overnight).
- Small lock cord to wrap around seat post frame and looped into the saddle, so the saddle cannot be easily removed.
- If using bungee cords to tie stuff down on your back-rack, unhook and rehook into the spokes of the back wheel. Will be difficult for a quick get-away with your back wheel wrapped up.
- U-locks and chains are heavy, cumbersome, and an unnecessary extra weight for a long tour. Instead, I carry a long covered cable. Quick to deploy or pack-away. Loop it around frame and front wheel - and other end to a tree, bike stand, picnic table, fence, anything. I carry a simple combo dial lock.
- Never leave electronics, wallet, passport on the bike - use a removable pannier or small bag to take them with you into the store or restaurant.
- Outside a restaurant, park next to the front entrance and in view of empty tables. Ask the server to seat you next to that window so you are able to keep eyes on the bike. This works well at a Denny's/Cora type place with casual seating next to large front windows.
- Outside big grocery stores in Canada, park the bike right next to the entrance where lots of people are coming and going. Sometimes, there is an employee smoke-break picnic bench nearby - lock it to that. Or, lock it to the propane cage fence.
- If running into a Timmies or McDicks... park it right at the front windows. Tim Hortons are mostly all constructed the same, with tall wrapping window fronts. Carefully lean the bike against the window near the entrance. Inside, there will ALWAYS be some kind local seniors hanging around. Ask them to keep an eye on the bike as you use the facilities and order food. As repayment for providing gear security, they will love to talk about your tour.
Stolen bike news...
- Cyclist on cross-Canada trip has bike stolen in Winnipeg
- Kelowna man cycling across Canada has bike stolen in Winnipeg
- These 8 Depressing Bike Theft Statistics Show Just How Bad the Problem Is
- Calgary bike thief video
There's a lot more bikers than there are bike thieves.
My bike has been stolen, now what?
Before your trip, you should have noted down the serial number of the bike. Keep that number and copies of your ID in the cloud for access. How to find the Serial number.
Before your trip... do you have insurance for your bike and gear? Confirm if it is covered in home insurance or are required to get extra.
Go to the nearest police station to report your bike stolen. This report is important for local pawn shops to reference and if the police find a stash of stolen bikes.
Use this government website page to, Search Bicycles by Serial Number.
Reach out to local Warm Showers members to see if they can lend assistance.
I am terrified of getting eaten by a bear. Will I encounter Canadian wildlife?
Yes, guaranteed you will cross paths with wild animals. But have no fear, just be prepared.
Fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts. If you’re not sure what to be alarmed about, everything is alarming. - Chris Hadfield
Fear of wild animals is healthy. With respect and knowledge, that fear can be overcome. Like deep-water ocean swimming or alpine mountain hiking, knowing what to expect in these environments is required to be safe and remain injury-free. Familiarise yourself by reading up on Canadian wildlife. Purchase and practise using bear bells, bear-spray and air-horns. Touring across Canada, you will see these animals: black/grizzly/polar/spirit bears, cougars, gray wolves, mating moose, snakes, rabid raccoons, wolf spiders, yodelling loons.
With respect to travelling in bear country (most of Canada), here are my bear-aware steps:
- Create noise! — bear bells, singing, talking, a podcast playing on speaker-mode — anything to alert bear(s) that there is a human in the area. In most cases they will be terrified and all you will see is a black blur as they scurry off the trail. Best case scenario. Don't linger, keep moving down the trail and out of the area.
- If an encounter happens — yell/clap hands/stomp the ground/bang hiking poles together/go crazy/sing/talk to the bear and slowly back away. As you back away prepare your bear spray in case the bear approaches. Don't run and don't play dead. Some bears are curious and might approach to see what's wrong with this human lying prone on the ground.
- Keep backing away, back down the trail or road. Again, in most cases the bear will run off. But sometimes they don't give a damn about humans and will remain scrounging for food or looking after cubs. They win, you lose and you'll have to find another way to circumnavigate their area. Or find another trail to hike that day or find another camping spot. Their environment, they win.
- Worse case scenario is if a human quietly ninja-like comes around a corner and suddenly finds themselves in-between mother bear and her cubs. Before all hell breaks loose... reach for spray and back-off down trail with spray ready to rip if bear charges. If on your bike, keep riding and praying. If bear is chasing you (they will catch you), use the bike as a shield and prepare your spray. Bear spray works by messing up and disorientating the bear's sense of smell. Here are two videos showing how to use the spray, Is Bear Pepper Spray Effective - Yellowstone National Park, and How to Use Bear Spray - Banff National Park.
In late spring, bears are coming out of hibernation and making their way to the sides of highways to scrounge for berries. When cycling, stay alert for movement just off-road and be prepared to stop. Wait for assistance from a passing motorist or cross the road and pass the bear on the other side. Don't surprise the bear and don't get too close. The most likely scenario for encountering bears while touring Canada — Grizzly balanced on Highway 93 barrier a reminder to steer clear.
Stupid people doing stupid things the world over
A common sight along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta will be a grouping of cars parked on the shoulder and people milling about taking selfies with nearby wildlife. It is best to cyle slowly past these idiots so as not to spook the animals. Highway scrounging bears and mooses are used to the sound of vehicles and humans walking around, but not so used to bicycles. Video of tourists trying to maim/kill themselves - Black bear charges tourist on Alberta highway.
Leave No Trace Canada - an article on the Respect for Wildlife.
What type of bike and gear do I need?
See our gear page for suggested bike and kit items.
What route should I take?
Between urban centres, you will most likely be travelling along the Trans-Canada Highway. This will go, generally speaking, from Vancouver into the mountains, across the prairies and Canadian Shield, out and up to St John's. An alternative Trans-Canada route, known as the Yellowhead Highway, is from Prince Rupert to Winnipeg.
Further information is on the Suggested Routes, Province by Province page.
National, regional, provincial and city maps can be found on the Canadian Cycling Maps page.
East or West, which direction is best?
It does not matter, either way. The majority of tours start "out" West and head "back" East. Psychologically, you get the Rockies out of the way and end months later celebrating with beers on George Street. Everyone asks about the wind, but really it doesn't matter. Here is information on the weather. Whichever direction, it is important to research the previous winter's snowpack in the mountains. This snow can linger in the mountains well into summer—the mountain roads should be cleared, but warmer camping supplies will be nice.
How do I know if I am ready?
Attach all your gear to your bike and go on a few overnight or multi-day weekend tours first. Make a list of what went wrong, what could make the trip more comfortable or how you could lighten your load further. These practise "dry-runs" are the best preparation for a fully-loaded long tour.
Can you recommend any books to read?
Besides the Journal Directory, here is a list of cycling-touring books:
- On the Detour - Cycling Across Canada on a Recumbent, by Paul Stockton - I've read many journals of people cycling across Canada, and they all seem to end up eating all their meals at Tim Hortons, which I find rather sad. So it is my goal to cycle across the country without eating at Tim Hortons once. However, I may use their washroom from time to time because, while McDonald's is the washroom of the world, Tim Hortons is the washroom of Canada.
- The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, by David Herlihy - an account of the origins of cycle touring, focused on the plucky Frank Lenz who departed Pittsburgh in 1893 on a world tour and disappeared.
- Bike Touring: The Sierra Club Guide to Travel on Two Wheels, by Raymond Bridge - an updated version of the popular 1979 reference book. Covers how to train, plan, equip and pack for multi-day tours. Bike maintenance sections are helpful.
Where can I get more information?
Post questions to the Biking Across Canada Facebook Community.
Further bicycle touring news:
- Our Twitter feed @biketourcanada
- Everyone Thought He Couldn't – Dad's Cross Canada Bike Ride
- Juliana Buhring: 'How cycling round the world saved me'
- Bikes vs Cars
- Push Bike Girl - My Life on Two Wheels
- Bikes vs Cars: why it's war between cyclists and drivers on city streets
I've never been to Canada and am terrified of its people and land.
See below for a cross-country culture tour. Every stereotype I can think of!
- A Tribe Called Red Ft. Black Bear - Stadium Pow Wow
- Barenaked Ladies - Lovers in a Dangerous Time
- Bubbles on Hockey Night in Canada
- Bush Pilot: Reflections on a Canadian Myth
- Canadian Bacon
- Corner Gas
- Due South
- Goon: Marco Belchior
- JP Auclair Street Segment
- Jim Carrey - The Un-Natural Act
- Just for Laughs Gags
- Kids in the Hall
- Le Chandail
- Log Driver's Waltz
- Maestro Fresh Wes - Let Your Backbone Slide
- Malajube - Montreal -40°C
- Monsieur Lazhar
- Out for a Rip
- Sheepdogs - Downtown
- Spirit of the West - Home For A Rest
- Stan Rogers - Barrett's Privateers
- Stompin' Tom Connors - The Hockey Song
- Stuart McLean - The Vinyl Cafe
- Sugar Shack - Epic Meal Time
- The Beachcombers
- The Littlest Hobo
- The Grand Seduction
- The Red Green Show
- The Tragically Hip - Bobcaygeon
- This Hour Has 22 Minutes