Bicycle Tours

Nearly two dozen companies that take you biking to all parts of the world

Franklin Roosevelt did it in his youth, gliding for weeks along the country roads of Switzerland and Germany in the course of an enchanted summer. John F. Kennedy, Jr., did it many years ago, on vacation from prep school. And so have many more from other wealthy, or at least moderately well-off, families.

On the lanes and roads of rural France, on the always-level pavements of cycle-loving Holland, over the softly rolling hills of Vermont, in Oregon, and even in Hawaii, increasing numbers of Americans--of ever-increasing age--are flocking to the group bicycle tour.

But why is this activity is often so expensive--$350 and more a day? Why are bicycle tours more costly, on occasion, than tours by escorted motor coach? After all, it is you and your two legs that provide the transportation, eliminating a costly vehicle.

Or is that the case?

What most of us fail to consider, in scanning the bicycle brochures, is that a vehicle almost always does accompany the group, to carry luggage. Unless you've opted for the most rugged form of tour, carrying nothing but your cycling costume, a van or truck and a paid driver follow the bicycling tour at a discreet distance.

Because that group is usually limited to 20 or so people the cost of the vehicle and driver is also divided among fewer people, than on a 45-seat motor coach trip. Thus bicycle tours, except in a handful of instances (see below), will continue to cost an average of $250/day--a sum that's justified by advantages aplenty: the best sort of exercise in the open air, the closeness to nature and contact with rural people, the scenery, and the relief from urban pressures.

But there are pitfalls. They mainly stem from the ease with which underfinanced or inexperienced people can schedule a bicycle tour. Because so many shaky operators flood the mails each year with ill-conceived programs destined to cause trouble, we've sought to ferret out the firms that have made a substantial, long-term commitment to this travel sport. We'll also warn you about the $350 per day companies, whose prices have no justified basis in reality.

Unless otherwise stated, all tours accept members of any age, provide a supply van, and will rent you a bike (for an extra charge) if you haven't brought your own. We've split our company descriptions into two groups. First up are the bargain operations in "Budget Biking" (and sub-sections--North America, Around the Globe, and Especially for Students), followed by the more deluxe outfits in "Splurge Cycling."

Budget biking in North America
The National Bicycle Tour Directors Association is a network of bike organizations, many of which are non-profit and run by bike enthusiasts, not entrepreneurs looking to make a buck. Consequently, many of the tours are super-cheap, and beloved by diehards and occasional riders alike. The NBDTA Web site (www.nbtda.com) allows users to search for where and when they'' like to ride, and how much they''e are willing to spend. They can pick a specific area of North America, or just plug in a price and time range and see what comes up.

Most tours limit the number of riders, so it is a good idea to reserve early. In most cases, you bring your own camping gear and other supplies, but vans or buses will transport everything but you and your bike for you. Here is a sampling of what we found on a recent search, priced around $400 per person: A six-day, 330-mile tour of Maine, priced at $420; a seven-day cycle called the Legacy Annual Great Bicycle Ride across Utah for $300; a three-day 85-mile ride across North Carolina for only $85.

Look up more bicycle tours at nbtda.com/.

Another inexpensive biking operation is "Bike The Whites" a self-guided bike tour company that specializes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Participants travel inn to inn, choosing their itinerary each morning and traveling solo, or if they desire, with a group of their own choosing. Itineraries are customized to each cyclists needs and desires--they can be tailored to the go-getter who's eager to grind out 50 miles a day, as well as more laid back types interested in seeing waterfalls and lazing by with just 20 miles a day. By emphasizing this self-guided structure, BTW keeps their costs low and passes that savings on to the consumer (they have no group leaders or sag wagon drivers to pay). Tour packages start from $279 in May to $329-$379 from June to September. That price covers a hearty breakfast and three-course dinner each day, your lodgings (at some of the loveliest inns in New Hampshire), customized itineraries and transport of luggage inn to inn. Emergency service is also provided in the event that you or your bike needs first aid. Contact Bike The Whites, 800/447-4345 or Web site: bikethewhites.com/.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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