I don’t pretend to be an authority on motorcycle adventure touring or the Trans America Trail but I humbly offer the following information only as my opinion in the hopes it might be useful. I have ridden the entire trail and then some. I also took my time to explore.
What’s the trail like:
From it’s start in Tellico Plains, Tennessee to Salida, Colorado for the most part the trail is not technical and can be ridden by riders with mediocre skills and on most motorcycles. There are creek crossings and some can be deep depending on rain. There is also deep sand for short distances close to the end of Tennessee and in parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma. There is lots of loose gravel, some of it deep. This can be challenging, like riding on marbles. There can be very slippery mud anywhere on the trail, just add rain. There is also one technical, downhill section somewhere in the Ozarks. It’s very short and fun.
Colorado to Salida is graded forest service roads. While not technical it is just the type of road you would want to cross the country on and very scenic, especially the ride from Trinidad to Salida.
Crossing The Continental Divide:
Once you reach the Rocky Mountains in Colorado things get interesting. See our post “Five Passes in One Day”
this will give you good visuals on what the mountain passes are like. The roads have loose shale near the tops but nothing unridable. I would not want to ride it with snow on the ground so choose your dates accordingly. It can be intimidating but as long as you keep your eyes on the road and not the drop off you’ll be fine. Some of the switch backs are quite tight. Motocross riders will be bored while those with mostly road experience, big bikes, heavily loaded or two up might be challenged. Start early and take your time. Crossing the Rockies was almost all on a wider two lane path, not technical single track. Anywhere technical you can always detour around it on a highway or secondary road although it may add time and require trip planning to get back on route.
The Dessert After Moab
This area is marked on Sam’s maps for the Trans America Trail and is quite technical. It is the only area that Sam posts a ride around for and for good reason. We rode the whole thing and you can read about our adventure across this area in “Green River to Nowhere”
The pictures don’t do a good job of showing the technical sections but they are there. Expect big rocks, big stair steps up and down, deep and long sand washes, single track, etc. It took us all day to ride 10 miles. It is also a very remote area so plenty of water and double up. I would not ride this section alone.
Samantha was not an experienced rider at all before the trip but she managed to navigate these areas and have fun doing it. Three things were crucial to that. Her bike was small enough for her to easily handle, she was willing to fall – alot and she had been riding for about two months straight on the trail. We both fell often navigating these sections. You can start right outside of Moab by riding the trail through Gemini Bridges. If that works for you the next challenge is outside Green River. The trail starts out challenging and gets progressively harder but it is also a lot of fun, at least on a dirt bike.
The section from Zimmermans’s ranch down to Denio Junction includes some of the best riding on the trip but also one of the toughest climbs. In our post there is a picture of Samantha on this section.
It is very loose rock that tosses you around. Once stopped it’s tough to get started again. Other challenges that occur mostly out west and in the desert are endless deep dust and riding in ruts or ruts with endless deep dust. By the end we got so good we could hop over the hump and bound from track to track but in the beginning it was both legs out in first gear.
What kind of gear do I need:
We packed as light as possible. That is very important both for gas mileage and technical sections. It also makes the bike more fun to ride. Most days we wear our one set of motorcycle pants and jacket changing out underwear, shirts and socks daily. We packed one set of going out clothes and a small, lightweight pair of shoes. We also packed a bunch of clean T shirts, socks and underpants and two pairs of bicycle shorts. We wash our socks and bicycle shorts in the evenings when we have water (motel’s or established campgrounds). We packed a small tent, REI half dome, a small stove and pot (Jet Boil) and one spoon each. We also packed $20.00 Frogg Togg rain suits. They pack really small, are completely waterproof and breathable and are bright yellow for visibility. The downside is they blow around in the wind, especially the hood. Although in the mud we weren’t going fast anyway. It only became a factor when out on the highway making a break for a motel to get out of the rain. Frogg Toggs make a motorcycle specific rain suit but I am sure it is much bigger and heavier and more expensive. We brought light sheets and two light weight, stuffable sleeping bags, half size inflatable bed rolls and one warm fleece each. We ran late in the season and in Oregon we bought warmer jackets, neck warmers and warm gloves.
How Much Time Do I Need?
I would take as much time as possible. There is always more to see and do and lots of fun little towns to explore along the way. In all we took three months! I think people who average 200 miles a day can do the whole thing in around 2 weeks but that’s not us.
When Should I Go?
The trail spans so many climates it’s tough to say. If you go too early in the spring you’ll be blocked by snow in the mountains. If you go mid summer it will be very hot in the East and Central parts, nice in Colorado and blazingly hot during the day in Moab and Nevada deserts and then nice in Oregon.
We left in late August. We crossed Marshall Pass in Colorado in early or mid September and it was perfect. It will still be hot in from Tennessee through Oklahoma but Colorado, Utah and Nevada will be ideal. Any later and you risk snow and cold in the higher elevations of Colorado and Utah. I suppose you could also leave in the spring and time it so that the snow melts out in Colorado but Utah and Nevada might be too hot by then.
What Motorcycle Should I Use:
Well everyone has a different opinion on this one but I am really enjoying the ride on my Yamaha WR 250 R. It has great suspension, gets incredible gas mileage and can ride over anything. It takes luggage nicely and is very reliable. The most important thing to consider is having a very, very comfortable saddle. All we’ve done is change our oil, clean our air filters and oil the chain. Neither my bike or Samantha’s Yamaha TW 200 are for the highway but are great fun on paved, twisty country roads of which there are plenty of, especially in Tennessee. I read somewhere, maybe it was Sam Corerro, that no one ever wished for a bigger or heavier bike on the TAT.
If you have some kind of adventure bike already I would ride that. Honestly so much of the trail is graded dirt that you could get away with a lighter street bike with knobbies for most of the trail. If your shopping I think a smaller, lighter and more nimble bike is a priority. Maybe bigger guys could muscle a BMW 1200 GS through but I would have a tough time. The KTM adventure bike might be a better choice but I would rather have something light and fun like a four stroke road legal dirt bike as long as it’s reliable. A friend met us in Telluride and road with us clear to Moab on a Triumph Tiger. This is a big bike with a big tank that makes it feel even bigger but he was able to ride through with no problems. He was challenged on the double track and loose gravel while I was whooping it up. I got a chance to ride it and it is an amazing bike but definitely road biased. We had to part ways at Gemini Bridges outside of Utah as this was just too much on the big triple.
What Rack System Should I Use:
There are lots of racks out there including Wolfman and Giant Loop but in the end we just rigged something up with PVC and hose clamps to keep the bags away from the exhaust and were on our way. In hindsight if you have the money I would buy a professional rack because it is just so much less fussing along the way. The time to pack and unpack can really add up with an inefficient system. I finally abandoned my standard dry bags and webbing set up when I found two used bicycle saddlebags at “Anything Sports” in Salida. They are waterproof, stiff on the backside and I can get in and out of them without removing them from the bike. I would love to try out some other rack systems on our next trip. You will be in and out of them a lot so easy access and easy packing is essential as is waterproofness. They also should be rugged enough or easily fixed when you fall on them, because you will fall on them. An added bonus of any rack is that they will better protect the bike when you fall, but they have to be able to handle it.
What About Navigation:
Go to Sam Corerro’s Trans America Trail
and order the maps. I highly recommend either buying Sam’s GPX files or spending the time on Google Earth making GPX files and using a GPS mounted on the bike to navigate. In our experience it was essential to have the paper maps when we were lost and the GPS for daily navigation. We also bought roll charts and although Sam swears by them we just forgot about them after a while because the GPS was so much more convenient.
I have a detailed description on how to use Google earth to make GPX files.
When we rode the trail Sam did not sell gps files so we had to make them ourselves. Now the digital gpx files are available for purchase on his site. If you buy them you will save many, many hours making your own. If you do it yourself you’ll get a sense of the trail while making them on google earth and you’ll save about $300.
We are using a Garmin Nuvi 500. It is not the perfect GPS for this but it is waterproof, will store all the files for the entire TAT and upload them as needed and has a big touch screen, oh and it’s cheap compared to most of the others out there. It also automatically zooms in at intersections or crucial turns. The only problem we’ve had is that we had to tape the charging plug on the back so it wouldn’t rattle loose. I use it in night mode most of the time for better visibility. It has every back road and trail and topo line on it. It has both scooter and bicycle modes that will still keep you off the highways when going off the TAT.
What About Lodging:
We have used Sam Correro’s maps to find motels as well as our iphones and the gps. We also camp quite a bit using the “hike and camp” app. on our iPhone. The phones have been indispensable for finding food, lodging, camping, gas and navigation off the TAT. There is lots of camping along the way and I will try to do a feature on some of the camping we’ve found. Motels are around $40/night and they are marked on the Trans America Trail Maps.
How Much Money Do I Need:
Good question. The motels are the most expensive thing. Multiply $45/night times how long you’ll be on the trail. That’s why we’ve been camping a lot. Established campgrounds run from $18 to $8 and wild camping is free. If you eat out it’s going to cost a lot more than if you make your own food of course. We ran the numbers for gasoline and for our 78 mpg bikes it’s way behind food and lodging.
Should I ride it Alone:
Sure but ride cautiously. The nice thing about having a friend is if one bike breaks down you’re not stranded and if you injure yourself there’s someone to get help. But if you are careful and ride safe and bring plenty of water and supplies for the desert it’s not crazy to ride it alone. I would also seriously consider a GPS locater so that you can signal for help even when out of cell phone range, which is a lot of the time. I would not ride the technical sections out of Green River and the mountain passes while not too challenging might be a good place to double up. Lastly there are areas of the desert Southwest on the TAT that are extremely remote, having an issue out here, alone could be troublesome.