July 9, 2012

Bike Touring / Camping Tips: Destinations, Maps and Pacing

Choosing your bike camping destination and finding your way
Several state parks or trailside campgrounds within 60 miles of Madison make for good weekend bike camping destinations. Unsure of which to pick for a first trip? Try one of the closer destinations on or near a rail trail, such as Blue Mound State Park on the Military Ridge, New Glarus Woods near the Badger, or Sandhill Station on the Glacial Drumlin.

Rail trails smooth out hilly topography into slight inclines and declines. They remove the hassle of navigation on urban streets and rural roads, as well as reduce the chance of a missed turn. They also avoid the noise and stress of traffic, so that you can enjoy music or a podcast.  

My primary navigation aids for plotting routes and finding my way are the Wisconsin Bicycle Map supplemented by Google Maps on my iPhone. However, you can’t depend on a smartphone in rural Wisconsin where service is lacking in some areas. Also, after the first day on the trail, keeping your battery charged can be a problem. The old-fashioned paper maps or even Google Maps printouts within easy reach are useful tools for confirming your path.  

Pacing yourself:
I find 10 mph is a good rule of thumb for calculating biking pace. Although I typically bike a bit faster, 10 mph averages in small breaks, hills, and traffic stops.  

Every 10-20 miles, I recommend a longer break out of the saddle. It’s amazing how renewed you can feel after a break for food and coffee. Swim breaks are especially rejuvenating! Because the weather, most importantly the wind, and other factors can be hard to predict, listen to your body about when it’s time to take a break as opposed to planning breaks according to a strict schedule. If possible, avoid a fatiguing midday summer’s heat. 

Sixty miles a day is generally considered a sustainable pace for multi-day touring. If this sounds like a lot, keep in mind that you can take a full day to cover the miles and touring isn’t racing.  

Biking at night is another way to beat the heat.


  1. You've identified three of my favorite southern Wisconsin campgrounds to bike to: Blue Mounds, New Glarus, and Sandhill Station. I'd like to add one to your list, which is close to Blue Mounds, and offers great views of the country side: Brigham County Park, which is part of the Dane County system. It's just north-east of Blue Mounds on the same road as Cave of the Mounds.