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IBIT on the Cheap: Bike touring

One of an occasional series

There are a lot of good reasons to take up recreational travel by bike. One of the best is cost. It’s lower than you think.

It was in one of our recent Sunday Travel Digests that we noted that recreational vehicle sales seem to be making a comeback. This would seem to make sense, given both the current cost and generalized misery of air travel.

That prompted me to take a look at what gasoline prices are liable to do this year. For that, I went to the Energy Information Administration, a federal government office that tracks fuel costs nationwide.

A half-second look at their graphs tells the tale. Both gasoline and diesel fuel prices are climbing like an ICBM toward $4 a gallon.

That’s when my mind drifted back to something else I’d written about lately, bicycle touring.

There’s a reason much of the world, and not just developing countries, still uses bicycles as a primary form of transportation: It’s cheap.

Consider. To live on the road without feeling as if you’re living in a submarine, you’ll need at least a Class C motorhome. If there are four or more of you, that implies one of those bus-sized Class A motorhomes. Buying one means shelling out something between $40,000 and upwards of $100,000.

That’s a mortgage that requires regular dates with Mr. Goodwrench.

You could always rent instead. Renting a Class C motorhome will cost you about $50-80 a night. One of the big Class A’s: $150-300 a night.

And we haven’t even talked about gas yet.

The fuel tank on a Class C coach takes about 50-60 gallons. The big Class A’s, around 80 gallons. At today’s prices, and given where fuel costs are heading, your wallet will be taking a $200 to $300 hit every time you fill up one of those beasts — and the farther you go, the more often you’ll have to fill up.

You could fly to Europe, Asia or Africa for the cost of three trips to the gas station.

Don’t forget the cost of keeping your RV stocked with natural gas for your kitchen stove, or renting space in one of those RV parks (important, since many cities and towns won’t let you park just anywhere on the street).

Add it all up, and “the open road” suddenly looks a lot less open.

All of this, of course, presumes you’re in North America. Go “caravaning” in Europe, where gas can cost upwards of $6 a gallon, and your credit card may start to hyperventilate.

What about bike touring?

No form of travel is free, we know that. But for the cost of renting a big motorhome for a week, you could buy a good touring bike that will last you for years. I bought my Univega Gran Turismo back in the mid-1980s, and it still does wonderfully.

Fuel costs? Whatever you buy for food on your trip, since you are the engine. Even if you’re as big as I am, I guarantee it’ll cost a lot less to fill you up than to fill up an RV.

The only thing you pump into your bike is a little air in your tires. What’s that going to cost you — a dollar at most, maybe?

If you go on your own, your biggest expense may be lodging, but only if you opt for hotels or motels. Even then, depending on where you choose to stay, the cost of your room for a week could equal the cost of one RV visit to the pump, two max. And nobody’s going to charge you to park your bike.

All that, of course, presumes you’re doing the “credit-card tour” thing, staying in a different hotel, motel or bed-and-breakfast every night. If you decide to camp out in public parks, it’s no contest. And out in the countryside, there are people who will let you tent up your tent and roll out your sleeping bag on their property gratis.

Like I said, no contest.

So if exercising good fiscal restraint is as important as exercising your body, give some serious thought to doing a bike tour or two this year. Both your waistline and your wallet will thank you.

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