European cycling holidays

Tips on picking the right spin for you

Take off eh.comEager to roll up and down undulating hills under a warm sun, scoot along lush river valleys, grind up a grand tour mountain? Sounds dreamy, but a cycling holiday can also be challenging for those who don’t have Lance Armstrong’s abs. In fact, there are options for almost all shapes and sizes.

One of these might be the ticket.

4 Types of Cycling Holidays:

Supported Group: enjoy sharing morning latte and cozying up to evening nosh with a circle of noisy new friends?  The bases are all covered with this type of package: bike rental, lodging, transport of luggage, guides to travel the roads with you—an experienced cyclist who indicates points of interest and speaks the native language. Recommended for beginners and first-time cycling travellers.

Partly supported: prefer your own pace, poking about a charming country abbey, lingering over café au lait?  Operators running partly supported tours provide the bike, detailed maps, including directions, arrange lodgings, transport luggage, and are just a bell away in emergencies, big and small. For experienced cyclists and those with a yen for adventure.

The Full Monty: undertaken by the intrepid and romantically-inclined. This type of tour involves carrying all your gear– sleeping bag, tent, extra clothes, maps, books, tools. You set out at sunrise and sweat out the day, locating a camping spot as the sun sets. You’re out there on your own. Not recommended for the faint of heart. Memorable adventure.

The Trip of Loops: pack or rent a bike, and also rent a car with a bicycle rack, or a small van and schlep your bike to a country town where you check into lodgings for several days. Using maps, you “loop out” every day from this base and return at night. After several days, move on to another town and repeat. Advantage: carry only gear for one day’s ride.

What To Expect:

Roads: in Europe, side roads and lanes criss-cross the countryside and most are paved and maintained. The result: quiet, bucolic rides through charming rural landscapes.

Drivers: European drivers are accustomed to cyclists, polite and accommodating. In 20 years, we’ve experienced 5 incidents, about as many as in most weeks in North America.

Terrain: varies from Easy to Very Difficult. Even easy means rolling hills, and somewhat challenging grades, as well as flat stretches. Newbies can handle Easy rides, if taken slowly. Moderate indicates several more difficult climbs (either in length or grade) and longer distances overall (50-80K). Difficult denotes serious climbing over lengthy distances, and Very Difficult is for experienced cyclists (“mountain” climbing of 10+ K at steep grades).

Tip: in Europe look for “chevrons” on the road map (>), which denote steep climbs. “Panoramic” symbols * indicate a height from which glorious scenery is on display (cyclist read: “top of a high hill”).

3 Types of Bicycles

Road: “skinny tires” with handlebars flipped down under (“the drops”). Good for flying along tarmac roads. Drawbacks: sore back, more likely to puncture than:

Mountain: “balloon” tires with bigger saddles and straight handlebars. Bounce along tarmac, gravel, even rough back trails. Disadvantage: slow.

Hybrid: look like mountain bikes but tires sized half way between road and mountain bikes (sometimes called “cross” bikes). Good for both tarmac roads and rougher tracks.

Photo Credits: Wayne Tefs

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