Bicycles are a great way to travel and we’re enthusiastic cycle-tourists. Our helpful hints follow.
Cycling the Western U.S.
Bike Handling Skills
Transferring Your Luggage
Transporting Bike Cases
Transporting Your Bike
Be prepared for sticker shock! We’ve found an interesting itemization of one adult passenger ticket from the U.S. to France with a stop in the Netherlands. Note the ticket price is less than 64% of the total cost after various fees and charges. This is the price before any seat upgrade or baggage fees! (Sample fee from summer 2012.)
Ticket price 1,097.00
Total Price: 1,719.73
Booking fee –
Carrier-imposed international surcharge 496.00
US international transportation tax 33.40
Security charge 18.10
Airport Passenger Service Charge 16.50
French airport tax 16.37
Airport Passenger Service Charge international 7.86
US INS user fee 7.00
US customs user fee 5.50
US APHIS fee 5.00
Netherlands noise isolation charge 5.00
Solidarity tax 5.00
USA passenger facility charge 4.50
USA passenger civil aviation security service 2.50
I suggest using a reliable travel agent to book your air travel when you are not comfortable booking your own travel through the air carrier. Although we’ve had travel companions obtain good deals through online sales consolidators, we’ve noticed the service can be lacking when flights are delayed or cancelled.
Let’s start with some tour definitions just to make sure we’re all on the same page and headed in the same direction.
- Tour – a journey for pleasure in which several different places are visited whether in one-day or across several months or more.
- Bicycle Tour – a tour on, by or with one or more bicycles.
- Supported Bicycle Tour – a bicycle tour supporting cyclists with a selection of services such as meals, beverages, lodging, emergency assistance, bicycle mechanics, gear/luggage transfer, route guides, aid stations and so on.
- Fully-Supported Bicycle Tour – a bicycle tour supporting cyclists with ALL services including meals, beverages, lodging, emergency assistance, bicycle mechanics, gear/luggage transfer, aid stops and route guides.
- Self-Guided Bicycle Tour – a bicycle tour supporting cyclists with some services (eg. lodging, luggage transfers and emergency assistance) while cyclists are “on their own”
- Self-supported Bicycle Tour – a bicycle tour entirely supported by the cyclist(s). Cyclists provide all their own meals, beverages, overnight accommodations (hotel or camping) and so on. They also carry their own gear or arrange independent luggage transfer.
On our first cycling trip in France, our tour leader coached us about cycling and driving in France. In regards to speed limits, lane indicators, direction signs, and so on, he said “those are just suggestions.” So we offer these suggestions for cycling in France and Italy. We expect they can extend to other destinations as well.
We have now cycled almost 21 weeks in France and Italy! Not bad for cyclo-tourists. We’ve cycled alone, with a SAG vehicle somewhere on the road, with a SAG vehicle waiting at “the next turn” and with a guide at our side. We’ve cycled on empty roads, bike paths and in-between the two lanes of a street in the bumper-to-bumper, stop-go traffic of a tiny resort village. (On reflection, that was the safest place to be!) We have ALWAYS felt safe and respected by motorists and we have stayed out of trouble.
It’s More Fun when You’re Safe
Our priority is for you to BE SAFE so we may all continue to HAVE FUN. Our modus operandi:
- Obey the local traffic laws!
- Arrive well trained, fed and rested.
- Helmets on!
- Heads up! Pay attention!
- Don’t assume that one driver will treat you like all the other, wonderful French/Italian drivers.
- Pull out of the way to stop while you’re checking directions, the map etc.
- Be friendly and treat the locals with respect and good cheer.
- Be aware of village roads that usually have rough sections (cable laying, road repair & cobbles).
- Cars tend to stop further into intersections – breathe and hold a line that keeps you safe from the right AND left.
- If you encounter construction zones, take the time to determine your best course of action. (e.g. a light-controlled one-way, what’s the strategy to get through AND stay safe).
- Be prepared for tunnels……..especially in the Alps and Dolomites!!
- Merge into traffic circles when safe; keep going round that circle until you know the exit route.
- Watch out for American tourists. Are they the ones who passed too close?
Consider the Culture
You are a guest in a foreign country. Be gracious and on your best behavior. When you are your own each day of your tour consider:
- Stand-up coffee bars are in nearly every Italian village. Stop for coffee, snacks and water.
- Water is available in any French village. Avoid fountains with “NON-POTABLE” or ambiguous signs. No sign is a GOOD sign!
- Drinking water should also be available at any cemetery in France.
- Every “major” climb, passo or col has food, beverage and shelter at the top, but check before relying on it.
- Bring your favorite energy bars, beverage.
- Our leg-warmers, arm-warmers, vest/jacket and balaclava are always with us when in the mountains. Bring yours!
- Carry identification, contact information (hotel, travel companions) and a MAP with directions.
- Buy something (beverage, food, postcard) when you ask to use the WC.
- Cameras, money and lights (for the tunnels) are a MUST!
- Be prepared for tunnels.
Maps and Directions
Those of us familiar with riding in France and Italy are comfortable having a good map and the knowledge that
we just need to follow the route signs in the “direction of” an intermediate town or our destination. Many times we’ve arrived at an intersection with signs directing us to the same town in 3 different directions. Maps are very useful when multiple roads go to a given town and you need to determine YOUR road by determining intermediate landmarks. A map is also useful when asking locals for directions too! But maps, whether on paper or provided via GPS devices, have been wrong.
Health & Vaccinations
Vaccinations and other health protection measures vary according to region and recent bulletins issued by health authorities. So it’s essential for you to get the latest advice on the region(s) you’re planning to travel in, and that you check with either your doctor or a travel clinic well in advance of your departure date if vaccinations are necessary. Even though Build Your Tour does not give medical advice, we do recommend you visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel site at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ and talk to your healthcare provider. The World Health Organisation www.who.int may offer additional details for your destination.
First Aid Kit
Build Your Tour carries a minimal basic kit on all our tours. Just enough of the basics (band-aids, moleskin, anti-bacterial cream, antidiarrheal, allergy meds for example) occupy just a bit of space and allow you the time to visit the nearest pharmacy. Remember your personal prescription medications which we suggest you transport in the original prescription bottle or container.
If all your travel arrangements are penalty free, there probably is no reason to acquire travel insurance. If, however, the airfare is substantial or you are at risk of financial loss, do consider travel insurance. TravelGuard and TravelEx are two of the large providers but shop around or ask Build Your Tour to check into it for your specific trip.
Passports & Visas
Don’t have a passport and are planning to travel outside the United States? Get a passport now! Visit the official U.S. State Department site at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports.html and beware of the non-governmental sites that may just charge more for adding a layer of service. In addition to your passport, certain countries may also require to have a valid visa to visit and transit their territory. Visas for U.S. citizens is also provided through the State Department at http://travel.state.gov/visa/visa_1750.html. Check the site for requirements of your destination.
Visit BYT Airline Fees to view how fees and charges add to the cost of your airline ticket. Or these additional links for more information:
Emergency Resources While Traveling Abroad
John Hopkins Medicine – What To Do If You are Sick when Traveling
CDC – Getting Health Care Abroad
Cycling the Western U.S.
Living in Colorado and having visited many western states, there are a few significant considerations when cycling or traversing the territory.
Although towns and stations are increasing in number, in many areas they are extremely infrequent. You may need to travel long distances for up to several hours to reach the next water, food and shelter.
On March 6, 2012, the temperature in Denver, Colorado reached the low 70s. On March 7, 2012, temps were only in the mid 30s. So, what is typical Colorado weather? Whatever it decides to be! Our state “unofficial motto” is “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”
There may be a snowstorm, low temperatures at high altitude, lightening storms and extremely high temperatures at lower altitude … ALL encountered in a single day of cycling. Thunderstorms are common on summer afternoons and it is usually cooler at higher elevations. It is important for you to be prepared.
Start with a light jersey and good cycling shorts; add water-resistant, warm layers as necessary. Arm warmers, leg warmers, long-fingered gloves and a balaclava or cap are good additions to your kit. You’ll probably need a large seat pack, map bag or backpack (e.g. hydration pack) to haul your gear.
For specific towns, find daily weather history at www.weatherunderground.com.
Snow covered roads are rare between May and October although there are exceptions. Also, roads such as Independence Pass, Trail Ridge Road and the road to Mt. Evans are closed during winter months and are usually “opened” in late May.
Mountain trails can be muddy through June and some may not be passable until July.
Visit BICYCLE COLORADO for more!
You’re excited to join the “tifosi” at the Giro d’Italia or the “schloogs” at the Tour de France. Plan well in advance – you will not be the only “schmenge” travelling to see the pros spin those cranks. The teams, media and tour support occupy the majority of convenient, quality lodging. Check out facilities a little further away or alternate accommodations such as campgrounds, rental apartments or B&Bs. Prepare for long days, thousands of fans, crowded roads and the excitement of the tour. The buzz is the reason to be there. Enjoy it!
The best way to move along the route during a race? By bicycle! Start by visiting the “official” web site of the tour you’ll attend and learning as much as you can about the stage
Once you’ve determined the stage route details, decide where you want to stake your territory for the day. One of the best places is on a climb near an intersection. The climb slows the peloton to a more viewable pace. The cross-road intersection allows later arrival time and reduced traffic issues.
If you’re renting a car, drive to those nearby intersections. We suggest a Renault Kangoo for 2 cyclists (you, bikes & luggage will fit inside) and a Renault Grand Espace for 4 cyclists (no SAG just luggage transport with one driving). If you’ll have a car AND a bicycle, you can park farther away and cycle ON the route, TO the route or both. Plan to minimize your stress and you’ll maximize your time and enjoyment.
Read our blog posting “What happens at a Tour de France mountain stage?” and contact me for more!
Bike Handling Skills
We were once challenged to exhibit bike handling skills while riding with Maurizio in Italy. He led us on a “trial by fire” along Lake Garda, gauging our dexterity on a lakeside promenade with baby strollers, waiters criss-crossing with food trays, mixed surfaces and the inevitable couples strolling with their
pooches. We darted in and out of the traffic like the old video game “Frogger” as we followed over cobbles, past the bars and gelato stands, over temporary wood ramps up stairs with a drop-off to the lapping shore. He tested our handling prowess. Test yours with this check-list!
- Clipping in and moving
- Clipping out and slowing / stopping
- Looking ahead
- Maintaining your line or going straight while looking around
- Pedalling efficiently
- Choosing an appropriate gear
- Riding in a closely bunched group
- Getting the maximum shelter when behind another rider
- Riding through & off in a working group
- Dealing with obstacles/hazards on the road
- Using one hand on the bars while eating or drinking
A Few Ways to Develop Your Skills
- Practice in empty parking lots or on grassy fields
- Ride with experienced cyclists
- Retrieve / replace your bottle without looking on a trainer, then progress to the parking lot and group rides
- TIghten your shoes while riding (same progression)
- Use slow bike path traffic for “track stand” training
The track stand or standstill is a technique riders use to maintain balance while their bicycle remains stationary or moves only minimal distances. The technique originated in track cycling and is now used by other types of cyclists wishing to stop for a short time without putting a foot on the ground. To perform a track stand, a cyclist holds the cranks in an approximately horizontal position with the front wheel steered to the left or right, and pedals forward.
Our sample checklist for what to bring and how to prepare to leave for a two-week bicycle tour.
ALWAYS bring $ $, € €, £ £, …plenty of money and your ATM card! sample_packing
Optional Items for Any Travel
Swiss army knife, tiny cutting board
Magnetic key holder for “shared” cars
Super-absorbent towel or sheet (bike assembly, car interior protection & more)
Padding, cords, hook & loop (velcro) fastener straps, old bike tubes for packing and securing equipment in rental cars
Light-weight bicycle lock
Binoculars (bicycle races, wildlife)
Bicycle floor pump+
Travel scale (digital or analog to check luggage weight with souvenirs included)
If you’re going overseas consider Tylenol PM for 4-5 nights (some folks like sleep aids).
Peanut butter … pricey outside the U.S.
If using air transportation, DO NOT BRING CO2 CARTRIDGES….you’ll need to purchase once at your destination!
When you return, review and modify your list to prepare for your next tour.
If camping….tent, rain fly, camp towels, camp kitchen gear, sleeping pad / bag!
When you return, review and modify your list to prepare for your next tour.
* Expensive and/or hard to find outside of U.S.
^ For independent transfer days.
Your selection of the particular car model depends on driver/”rider” arrangements; loop ride or point-to-point; decisions on bike cases and bike racks. Car rentals are available at airports and at most rail stations in France and throughout Europe.
The Renault Kangoo is our favorite vehicle for 2 cyclists, with two bikes, bike boxes and luggage. Consider leasing (www.renaultusa.com) as well as renting.
Other models in France: Four adults with one large suitcase each, one carry-on item each and two 26x26x10 bike cases, a 7-passenger Renault Espace Grand (or similar) should accommodate all the people, a small amount of luggage including bike cases. The Renault Trafic or Peugeot Boxer vans are used by organized tour groups and may also be rented in France. These 9-passenger vans will take all the gear of 4 cyclists including 4 standard road bicycles. Another View of Car Rental by Pedal Dancer.
Car Racks for Bicycles
A smaller car with a bicycle rack may also suit your needs. Buying a strap-on rack in France is fairly inexpensive at local Decathlon stores. If this option is a possibility for your tour, let BYT know and we’ll search for bicycle shops in the vicinity of your starting location.
In the U.S., minivans do the trick perfectly.
If your tour involves more than one, single base location, you’ll have luggage with clothing and toiletries you’ll want at each place. In other words, you will want your luggage moved. Luggage transportation is a key benefit of organized group tours. Similarly, “pre-packaged” self-guided tours often include a luggage transportation service. If you plan to travel independently and without all your possessions on your bike, there are ways to do it.
When we tour, luggage transportation is achieved using:
- panniers, bicycle bags or trailer on your bicycle;
- a rental car with a member of your group driving the luggage;
- contracting with local taxi cab companies;
- a supported tour operator or
- a service to transport your bags.
Using panniers, bicycle bags or a trailer allows you to cycle an entire route from one point to the next. Similarly, a service (for example, taxi cab) also allows you to cycle an entire route from point to point.
Using a rental car to transport bags, allows nearly all of your group to cycle point to point. If the driver is also a cyclist, consider the possibility of the designated driver riding “out & back” sections during the transfer day. A rental car also offers the benefit of a SAG vehicle for road emergencies. Don’t forget a magnetic key holder to be placed on the underside of the car while everyone is riding or hiking.
Transporting Bike Cases
A loop tour benefit is returning to your beginning location. Many hotels and lodging facilities will graciously store bicycle cases in their facility, especially when you have a room reserved at the start and end of your tour.
In a point-to-point tour, you probably want your bicycle case waiting for you at your end destination. Logistics for transporting the case from start to finish are similar to shipping your bicycle to the start point.
- Local or in-country shipping services (for example, in France, SNCF baggage service Sernam (http://www.sernam.fr/en//) will transport your bicycle and/or case door-to-door.)
- Global or international parcel services (for example, DHL, UPS)
- Taxi services often transport luggage or cases, but usually at a premium cost.
Transporting Your Bicycle
Taking your own bicycle has advantages and disadvantages. Consider:
- You’ll have exactly the bike fit and features to which you are accustomed.
- Certain locations may have limited access to rental bicycles.
- A reserved rental may be damaged just before you arrive.
- It may cost more to fly with your bicycle than to ship it or to rent a bicycle.
- Transporting a bicycle case in cabs or rental cars becomes a consideration when traveling with your bike.
- Certain vehicles and airplanes may be unable to accommodate your bicycle case.
Start with Airlines – from Bicycling magazine for a general discussion (with blog links) about travelling with bicycles on airlines and visit airline sites for each airline, for each leg of your journey.
Request mini-van cabs and rent “full-size” or larger special vehicles. For two singles or a tandem, you’ll have at least twice as much luggage and people so increase the vehicle size appropriately.