Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish makes for a perfect staging area for both northbound and southbound tours of the Northern sections of the Divide Route. If you’re starting in Jasper or Banff, Whitefish is a welcome respite. In Glacier Cyclery’s neck of the woods bikepackers can expect incredible views, quiet wilderness, a variety of wildlife, challenging roads and small charming Montana communities.
WHY WHITEFISH, MT?
Although the lakeside resort community of Whitefish is about 70 miles from Roosville border crossing, it is the closest town accessible by public transportation for those of you beginning your trip at this point on the route. That and the fact that the route comes back through Whitefish makes Glacier Cyclery the logical US staging headquarters for Great Divide riders. If you leave some necessity for your trip at home, don’t worry, you will be able to replace it easily here. There are several outdoor sports stores for camping supplies and clothing, and Glacier Cyclery is well stocked with cycling parts, gear, clothing and accessories.
SERVICES TO HELP YOUR JOURNEY
Here are some reasons renting a bike for the Great Divide makes a lot of sense:
- Airline fees for shipping a bike are steep.
- Wrestling bike boxes through airports and on shuttles and taxis can be a hassle, and you will have a considerable amount of camping gear to deal with as well.
- UPS is easier, but figure in the cost and time of disassembly on your end, and assembly here, as well as freight.
- Your bike may be perfect for where you live, but not appropriate for the rigorous terrain of this route.
- To avoid major disappointments, your equipment should be in top mechanical condition; there are no bike shops for days, nor many vehicles to flag down for a lift along the route. We assure you of top quality, mechanically sound rental equipment.
- We can help work out the details of returning rental equipment if you are not returning to Whitefish. However, shipping a bike back from Canada is not financially reasonable, so a one-way rental to Canada is no longer an option.
2) Mechanical Expertise
Throughout the summer months, you’ll see 4-5 mechanics working the benches at Glacier Cyclery each day. And if you add up their years of experience, you’ll get far beyond a triple digit number! We hire only expert bicycle technicians, and the majority of us are also touring cyclists well-versed in all the things that can go wrong on a bike tour.
In a nutshell, most of us are bikepackers too! Glacier Cyclery has been serving bicycle tourists and researching and mapping off-road rides in this area for many, many years. We personally have ridden this route and know what it does to equipment. Our service department and mechanics are accustomed to troubleshooting mechanical problems of every conceivable sort, and we stock the most obscure parts and have a great relationship with vendors in our industry. This can benefit you tremendously!
Riding the Great Divide is a unique adventure of backcountry bikepacking and requires cycling equipment, backpacking equipment and survival gear. Glacier Cyclery stocks a variety of Revelate and Blackburn touring bags, plus straps and bungies and bottle cages and lots of other fun items that assist with carrying your gear on your bike. We highly recommend bear spray, and yes you can buy it here at Glacier Cyclery. We also recommend spare bike parts like tubes, tubeless repair kits, tire boots, chain masterlinks, etc., and yes you can find all of those items at Glacier Cyclery.
4) Shipping and Receiving Bikes
You’ve probably put a lot of thought, time, and dollars into the bike you’re bringing to ride the Great Divide. At least, we hope you have. Ship it to us! It’ll be here waiting for you. We do this a lot so make sure to give us a ‘heads up, my bike is coming!’ before you ship it. We can build it for you and make sure it’s ready to go, or we can just hold it for you, your call.
5) White Gas
You can buy less than gallon amounts of Coleman fuel from us. Over the years, this has always been appreciated by cycle tourists who don’t need large amounts of fuel and can’t buy small amounts. It is also illegal to fly with stove fuel, but we can fill your bottles here at the shop.
6) Shop Experience
Here are some tips and tidbits that we’ve learned over the years from Great Divide riders well as our own experience.
WHO CAN RIDE THIS TOUR?
This route is creating a whole new category of athlete that Glacier Cyclery has termed “backcountry bikepackers”. Just because you are a road racer and can “do” 130-mile days does not mean that you are prepared for this route. If you are a long-distance bicycle tourist, but have never mountain biked, or are a mountain biker but have never packed gear, you, too, will not know quite what to expect! If you are a backpacker, mountain bike rider and self-contained cycle tourist, you will have the best idea of what to expect and be the most “qualified”. All of this said, riding the Divide just takes research, preparedness, determination and the ability to keep on pedaling.
Anyone in the mood for adventure can do it! For example, during the summer of 1999, the Barnett family of five, set out from Roosville, Mom and Dad, their 14 year old daughter, 12 year old son, and a 3 year old in a Burley trailer. Their goal was to spend 40 days biking the Montana portion of the Great Divide.
You can do this, and you’ll have an unforgettable life experience. Whether you are out for 2 days or more than a week, this will be a life-changing experience.
Leave your dog at home!
WHAT KIND OF PLANNING DOES IT TAKE?
Before embarking on your trip, go out and ride, ride, ride, and make sure to ride some with a fully loaded bike. This will acclimate you to your equipment and make the first few days more enjoyable.
Learn how to fix a flat, remove your chain, replace spokes, and adjust front and rear derailleurs and brakes. Knowing how to do these fairly simple tasks will both save you time and increase your level of self-confidence.
To ease into bikepacking, plan days of about 30-35 miles in length. The highway department is not out smoothing the route, cutting moderate grades through hilly terrain or signing every junction; divide miles are way longer than smooth paved highway miles.
30-35 miles per day will give you needed rest breaks, time to enjoy the country you are riding through, extra time to backtrack if necessary, and daylight to set up camp and break it down in the morning.
Look ahead on your map and calculate the number of meals you need to carry and consider the number of calories you will be burning. Several ill-prepared groups have been helped along by other riders who shared their food with them. Convenience stores are not always accessible to just grab something. You must be prepared to camp, the only bed and breakfast at the end of many days are those that you are carrying with you!
Plan on 3 days from Roosville to Whitefish; if you have additional time, The Ten Lakes Scenic Area about 8 miles off the route is worth a visit.
Plan on about 5 days from Whitefish to Swan Lake; Bigfork, just north of Swan Lake, is another one of those attractive Montana lakeside resort towns with good restaurants and a brewery.
Figure about 7 days to Holland Lake Lodge from Whitefish.
REMEMBER: Glacier Cyclery does not provide a shuttle service!
WHAT TYPE OF EQUIPMENT & GEAR IS BEST?
The Great Divide terrain is really hard on a tandem captain and stoker and, although there have been a few others to ride a tandem, it is NOT the cycle of choice!
We feel the best bike for the route is a hardtail with front suspension or a drop bar adventure bike with wider tires.
Dual suspension bikes designed with nylon bushings do not stand up under the rigors of the full length of the route, however we’ve found bushing equipped bikes do fine for trips of shorter duration. The logistics of suspension sag and frame space on a full-suspension can make carrying enough bags/equipment difficult, however.
We recommend carrying the Flathead National Forest map as well as the Adventure Cycling map through Glacier Country so that you have a greater perspective of where you are, have been and want to be!
The best gears? As low as the drive train of your bike can handle! Think climbing gears when you are on a fully loaded bike. 24T or smaller up front, 30T or more in the rear.
A mildly aggressive knobby tire of around 2.2″ width is probably the best all around tire for the variety of trail conditions that you will encounter. Carrying loads on climbs or descents in snow, mud and bad ruts make narrow or slick tires a poor choice. We’ve also seen (and some of us ride) plenty of mid-fat 2.8″ tires on Divide bikes, and these are a good choice, especially for bikes without front suspension.
Carry spare rear derailluer hangers for each bike. The hangers are very specific to make, model and year of bicycle and are not readily available, except at Glacier Cyclery!
It can snow any month of the year. At least bring rain gear. And most of us are big fans of modern wool clothing that breathes when its hot and keeps you warm when its not.
The best off-the-bike footwear to pack is a Chaco-style sandal which is great for fording streams in the early spring and when worn with wool socks is a Montana fashion statement.
WHAT TYPE OF WILDLIFE SHOULD I EXPECT TO SEE?
Yes, you REALLY might see a grizzly.
Yes, Bear Spray does work, and many of us carry it on our bikes when mountain bike riding.
Red Meadow Pass is where you might see a grizzly, or wolves if you are lucky, and black bear are ubiquitous. Don’t let the fear of the bears deter you from this trip.
Deer and ground squirrels are the worst pests! They have chewed to ruins saddles, helmets, gloves and shorts, proving that you do sweat on the Divide.
No! We take that back, mosquitoes are the worst pests. Pack bug spray.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO GO?
Red Meadow Pass is not clear of snow until the later part of June, occasionally into the first week of July. It isn’t the elevation, but the latitude and elevation combined that keeps snow in this area late into the spring.
Red Meadow Pass usually remains passable through the end of September.
A FEW TIPS FROM SOME WELL TRAVELED RIDERS :
These tips thanks to Christine Hurst, Erik Haluzak and Patrick Grover, who met up in Park Lake and ended up cycling together until finishing their trip in Kremmling, Colorado. They were all following the book by Michael McCoy and found it to be a useful guide. Upon finishing out their ride, they met again in Nebraska ( ! ) and faxed these points back to Glacier Cyclery.
- The first 8 days are tough and demanding, both physically and mentally. Don’t decide to quit until you have completed them.
- You will learn that a “good gravel road” is an oxymoron.
- A rough or primitive dirt road is often a good road.
- When the route is described as “impassable when wet” they mean it.
- Wake up early! The heat by midday can be unbearable. This is very important too in Wyoming where the afternoon winds can be a big problem.
- The 50 to 60 mile days are long and tough, no matter how flat the the profile is.
- It does not get easier after Helena.
- Write in your journal.
- Always hang your food, often the rodents are worse than the bears.
- That large dog walking into camp might not be a dog.
- Secure your quick releases using either hose clamps or zip ties!
- Cellular phone coverage is poor at best. The exception is near major highways and for some reason out in the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming.
- The B.O.B. trailer is not indestructible! Carry spare parts, tires, skewers…
- Don’t feel guilty for occasionally taking a paved alternative, well at least we never did.
The most important rule…. Maintain a good sense of humor and just go out there and enjoy the ride!
Here is a list of things that broke or wore out on the trip :
- 1 Rear Spoke
- Rear Tires after 800 miles
- B.O.B. Tire after 1000 miles
- B.O.B. Trailer (Top Tube Broke – welded back together by friendly rancher)
- 5 B.O.B. Inner Tube flats
- 1 Water Bottle Holder
- Chain – Broken Link
- 1 B.O.B. Skewer – Quick Release caught onto something on Richmond Peak Trail and opened without my noticing. Revisit point above!
Hope this helps, enjoy your ride!