This article was written by Jim Johnson, president and founder ofBikeToursDirect.
If you're looking for a new and exciting way to travel overseas, an increasing number of travelers are forgoing traditional bus- and train-based tours in favor of tours by bike. More and more travelers are finding great options to ease into adventure travel with bike tours that offer riding distances for every ability, easy-to-follow routes, and a variety of budget-friendly itineraries. Here are a few tips to consider if you're thinking about taking your first bicycle tour.
Decide whether you prefer riding with a guide and a group or more on your own
Guided and self-guided tours offer somewhat different experiences, and each has unique advantages (and, for some people, disadvantages). For example, on guided tours, riders tend to stick together as a group with the guide. If you prefer to explore cities and the countryside at your own pace, a self-guided bike tour may be a better option. If getting lost is a real concern, or if you worry about language barriers, a guided tour may better suit your travel style.
Don't overestimate your ability level
Many strong athletes who do a lot of running, swimming, or weight training make the mistake that they'll do fine on a bicycle tour. Cycling uses a lot of different muscles than other sports, and even strong, in-shape athletes find their weariness comes sooner than expected. Regardless of your athletic or cycling ability, you'll have a much more comfortable tour if you spend some time on a bike ideally starting 6-8 weeks before your tour. Keep in mind long rides on the weekends may not prepare you for spending multiple days in a row on a bicycle. Before you travel, aim for shorter back-to-back rides at least 60 percent of the daily mileage of your tour. Your butt will thank you.
Be realistic in the distance you wish to cover each day
Don't use your longest ride or ideal weekend distance as a guide in choosing the daily distance of your bike tour. Remember that you will be on vacation and there will be a lot to see along the way—and you'll be riding for several days, usually back to back. Also, you're at a much slower pace on a bike tour. You'll find yourself getting on and off your bike, whether to take pictures, visit that amazing castle, or stop for a coffee and a pastry. And it's likely you'll be using a heavier bike than you're accustomed to.
If you worry about traffic or getting lost, choose a tour along a dedicated bike path
Many tours follow dedicated bicycle paths that are paved, free from traffic and well-marked. While dedicated bike paths are most prevalent in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, other countries in Europe and even Asia are following suit.
Consider electric bikes
Some purists may scoff, but electric bikes are making cycle-touring possible for travelers who never thought they could tour on two wheels. This is not just a question of fitness level; older riders especially those who are recovering from knee surgery don't have to miss out thanks to the benefits of "E-bikes." Electric bikes are also great "equalizers," when two riders are of differing abilities. Electric bikes are quite prevalent in Europe and Asia, and newer models don't make it obvious that you're getting an added "push." Note that these are not mopeds. You still have to pedal—just not as hard.
Ride in the off season—just before or after high season
Prices are often lower and crowds are smaller, but otherwise you're getting all the pluses of a high-season experience.
Pay attention to the weather
Look up average weather conditions and rainfall in the area and time of year you'd like to tour and plan appropriately. Some like it hot, others prefer the weather to be a little cooler, and most like it dry!
There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices
If it's likely to be cold, wear layers and remove clothing as the day progresses and temperatures climb. Always be prepared for the chance of rain. Carry good rain gear to cover your shoes, legs and torso.
Bring your own helmet—and wear it
Many companies offer rental helmets, but we encourage clients to bring their own for reasons of hygiene and safety. When you bring your own helmet, you know it fits and hasn't been damaged. Many travelers also choose to purchase a helmet after they reach their starting destination. Remember, no matter how safe the cycling seems, protect your noggin and wear a helmet!
Whether you're a seasoned cyclist, a seasoned traveler, both or neither, bicycle tours are a unique and accessible way to see the world. BikeToursDirect offers more than 500 bike tours all over the world for every ability level and travel style.