[See Part 2 Silver Circle Bicycle Diary for a personal day-by-day account of the trip, distances, times, etc.]
Silver Circle Bicycle Tour Route in a larger map
The route is a circle with the first half following the Trans-Canada and its prevailing tailwinds north through the Fraser Canyon and then east to Kamloops, through the northern Okanagan and then gradually (and not so gradually) climbing through Glacier and then Yoho National Parks before arriving at Lake Louise and finally Banff. The second half of the loop heads south to Cranbrook via Highway 93 then heads east on Highway 3 (Crows Nest) to Nelson (skipping, if you wish, the incredibly long and steep Salmo-Creston Pass in favour of the flat lakeside meander to Kootenay Lake ferry), the southern Okanagan and Osoyoos before reaching Hope. Hope to Vancouver is the least recommended portion of the trip, but if you do it, take the #7 Lougheed Highway on the north side of the Fraser River the rest of the way to Vancouver.
The route is called the ‘Silver’ Circle because of the southern geographical half of the trip and the historical significance its silver mining past played in its, and British Columbia’s, development.
An average distance works out to about 180km / day over 11 days of riding. That includes two 300km mega-endura-thons. Add one rest day (two nights) at a hotel in Banff and two more rest days in Nelson and the total is 14 days. That said, the trip could easily be extended to accommodate different riding, experience and relaxation levels, in particular splitting up the two 300km legs into four legs. Also highly recommended: adding a couple days to ride to Jasper inside Banff National Park.
Overall the difficulty level of the route is about at least medium, more like hard, in terms of distances-per-day, elevation gains and road, wind and weather conditions. It’s really some of the toughest climbs in Canada. There are tail winds the first three days and no significant head winds up to Banff (at least in June of 2009). Trucks generally give a wide berth to cyclists on the Trans-Canada, and for the most part the shoulders are wide and clean(ish). The exceptions to this are the shoulders covered in shale and baseball-sized rocks in the narrower points of the Fraser Canyon and its half-dozen tunnels that require steady navigating on narrow sidewalks under deafining traffic roar.
The #3 has some pretty narrow sections up to Manning Park and overall about three large climbs at Osoyoos and Princeton. There can be some stiff headwinds heading west through the Okanagan and, being a desert, both glorious and tough sun. And beware the 1km of 11% just west of Aggassiz on the last leg but revel in the switch-back decent into Osoyoos or the basically 250km downhill that is Banff to Cranbrook.
Expect to dress warm and be prepared for any (any!) kind of weather during your days in the Rockies.
The two weeks were undertaken as a cheap-as-you-go camping trip utilizing free sites when possible and mainly buying food from grocery stores along the way. However, the route is also designed to accommodate the credit-card cyclist who would like to stay in a hotel and eat out every night; almost every leg ends near a town.
A summer-weight sleeping bag and a three-season, one-man tent were stuffed inside two rear panniers that also held a day’s worth of food, an extra set of riding clothes, long-sleeve jerseys and underwear, jeans and a couple t-shirts, a towel and the usual tubes and tools. Two large waterbottles sufficed as gas station taps were frequent.
This particular trip and its distances were ridden by a 29-year-old former bicycle racer with two previous touring trips (West Coast of the US; Java, Indonesia) under his belt and on a 15-year-old steel road racing bicycle with 25c tires and downtube shifters. I’d recommend at least one previous touring experience and a modicum of fitness. That said, anyone can do this route with any level of experience: just adjust the days as necessary.