19 April 2011

Take a Tour

Interested in a bicycle tour in Europe?

Have you always wanted to go see the Tour de France or the Giro d' Italia and ride some of the climbs yourself? Have you dreamed of riding your bike in Italy or Spain? Well you could be going on that dream bike tour in 2011. It is already April - time to book your cycling vacation! It is truly an amazing experience to ride the big passes yourself, to experience the small towns and large cities, the small ascents and huge descents, to ride hard and enjoy really good food with a great bottle of wine in the evening, and to share your day with other cycling enthusiasts.

But you say you are too busy working, being with family, or riding your bike to plan out the big trip yourself? Go ahead and go with a guide that will make it all happen for you. I spend hours planning my trips to races and events, and cycling trips in Europe, you may not have this luxury. I thought I would offer some links to bike tour companies and sort them by region and type of tour.

Start of the Raid Pyrenees Tour,  Photo by Paddy at Velo Peloton (one of the best guides you will ever find)

These cycling tour companies have years of experience, they have tested the hotels, know the rides, have the transportation and the guides, and are good at all the finer details. I have no incentive to suggest one company over another, but I have met a number of them or corresponded with them. I have also read these company itineraries for years and feel comfortable making recommendations for you. You can find much larger bike tour companies that haul hundreds of cyclists at a time, but I prefer the size and style of tours run by these knowledgeable individuals listed below.

Is a bike tour right for you? A bike tour will suit you if you can ride 40-70 miles day, day after day, 80-100 miles (for the more strenuous tours), have a good road bike (although some companies now arrange bike rentals), have the correct cycling apparel for varied weather conditions, actually train in the spring and are comfortable riding in a pack of riders or independently on a long mountain climb. The tours will suit travelers who are comfortable staying in a 2*star clean but simple accommodation or a 4*star luxury hotel. Also you should be content with cheese on a baguette at the roadside or a 5-course fine meal with good conversation. In addition you should be able to handle traveling to a foreign destination on your own even when travel plans might go array. If this is you - go for one of these tours. You will have a fantastic time with your fellow cyclists!
One thing I would look for in a bike tour company is a host or personnel who live in the country you are visiting, or in the least, operate 3 to 6 trips a year to that country, or operate year after year, for many years. Things change so frequently in regards to travel, communication and transportation that it helps to deal with knowledgeable people.

Much experience (and mistakes) go into learning the inside tips, really understanding a region and customers, and continuously improving a service. You benefit from their years of experience. It is totally worth selecting the best company you can afford. Do not short-cut with a company running their first (or once-a-year trip) looking to cover their own travel expenses. Also ask a lot of questions so your expectations match the tour company's services.

Read all the details on the entire tour website to know what is included. Ask questions so you understand what to do if your travel plans change (bikes not arriving, plane delays) or special circumstances for food or accommodations to make you comfortable. Splurge for the single-supplement if traveling alone, nothing will ruin a trip like a lousy roommate (I learned that first hand).

Arrive in your best form regarding nutrition and form, then be VERY open to adapt to your surroundings. Cycling (both on the bike and how you paid for the trip) and often where your dreams come true. Bike Tours are not training camps (they have those too, if interested); don't wait to get in shape while on the Tour or you will stress yourself out (and those around you).

If possible plan a few days before or after you trip to visit another region or city to play as a tourist. You will learn a lot from your host tour company about local customs, food, some language and recommended activities. Bon voyage.

Consider the region:

I think the region you choose is as important as the tour company. If you don't want a SquawPass/Mt Evans climb everyday, stay out of the Alpes, Haute Pyrenees and Dolomites. In the France the Cévennes and Dordogne have nice cycling (flying into Lyon, Marseille or Bordeaux,). In Italy the coastal area south of Milan is nice and flying into Milan airport is good. Also the entire region south of Pisa/Siena/Florence is nice (sort of near Andy Hampsten's house and east). If you need help with side trips in Italy before or after your tour the Italian travel for local drivers, guides and hotels - a good idea. In France, write to Gerry Patterson - a Canadian living in France - with any questions at info @ 445cyclingtours.com. You can describe what you want to ride and he'll steer you to his or a good tour company. I mostly know of the Tour Companies that chase the Grand Tours, but I have some friends who regularly go on more moderate VBT tours , and a friend who really enjoyed the Ciclismo Calssico tour. I once went along with Boulder, Colorado local (and Ironman Champion) Colleen Cannon's Womens Quest tour to Tuscany and had a blast - they also offer coed tours. And don't shy away from locals who run tours for international clients.

Bike Tours to the Pyrenees: Velo Peloton, Velo Classic Tours, Thomson Bike Tours, In Situ, Pyractif, Trek Travel, Bikestyle Tours, Saddle Skedaddle, Custom Getaways, 44|5 Tours

Bike Tours to the Alps: Velo Classic Tours, Thomson Bike Tours, In Situ, Marty Jemison Tours, Pyractif, Trek Travel, Bikestyle Tours, Saddle Skedaddle, 44|5 Tours, Custom Getaways, Bike Switzerland

Bike Tours to Provence: Velo Classic Tours, In Situ, Marty Jemison Tours, Saddle Skedaddle, 44|5 Tours

Bike Tours to the Tour de France: Thomson Bike Tours, Marty Jemison Tours, Ciclismo Classico, Trek Travel, Bikestyle

Bike Tours to the Giro d' Italia: Thomson Bike Tours, Ciclismo Classico, Trek Travel, Bikestyle Tours, Custom Getaways, Go4Cycling, Velo Veneto

Bike Tours to La Vuelta: Custom Getaways, Bikestyle Tours

Bike Tours to the Spring Classics: Velo Classic Tours, ChainStay Tours, Marty Jemison Tours, Thomson Bike Tours, Bikestyle Tours, Custom Getaways, Go4Cycling, FreeWheelingFrance

Bike Tours to the Tour of California: Velo Eschappe, Marty Jemison Tours, Trek Travel, Bikestyle Tours, Velo Veneto,

Bike Tours to tour Down Under: Custom Getaways, Bikestyle Tours, Diamond Cycle Tours

Bike Tours to Cyclosportives: Velo Peloton, Velo Classic Tours, Velo Eschappe, Pyractif, Trek Travel, Custom Getaways, Go4Cycling

Bike Tours to Etape du Tour: Custom Getaways

Related reading: Pedal Dancer: An Interview with Thomson Bike Tours

You bike to the coolest places, safe to explore with a group and a tour guide.

On one of my cycling tours in Italy in 2004   Photos by PedalDancer.com