Every year, my wife, Joanne, and I use our vacation time to do what we love to do most… ride our bikes. We have taken about twenty bike tour vacations over the years with three different companies. We have traveled to Hawaii, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Slovenia, Austria and that doesn’t include our tours in the continental US.
Why do I think of these trips as 5BBC on a global scale? The bike tour companies and 5BBC share so many of the same values: riding to scenic and/or historic places, supported rides, go at your own pace, great food, meeting new people who have at least one common interest as you: riding.
Our most recent bike tour was to Slovenia, Italy and Austria. A bike tour representative met us at the airport in Ljubljana, Slovenia and shuttled us to the hotel. Depending on when the flight arrived, you had as much as half a day to sight-see in Ljubljana.
The next morning our guides met us at the hotel. There were two guides, one from Slovenia and one from Italy. At this time we also met the other travelers, fourteen in all, representing most parts of the US: the Northwest, Southwest, North Central, South Central and the Northeast.
We were shuttled to the start of our first ride, which was very short (about 8 miles). The first ride is always designed to get familiar with the rental bikes. The company asks for your height before the trip to know what size frame you would need. They also ask if you prefer a road or hybrid bike. They provide the helmets (helmets are required, just like 5BBC). Any operational or comfort issues usually turn up on the short ride, so you will be ready for a longer ride the next day.
After this first “warm-up” ride, there is usually a wine and cheese reception at the hotel so that everyone can introduce themselves and the guides give an orientation of what the week will look like. The biking part of the trip is usually six days.
Before each ride, the guides review the day’s route and provide cue sheets, just like 5BBC. They point out the scenic highlights on the cue sheet, as well as tell us where to expect hills or tricky turns. If a guest doesn’t feel like riding a long uphill, the support van will pick up the rider and load the bike onto the van until the top of the hill, so the rider can resume riding. This is a vacation, and nobody has to do all the mileage on the cue sheet if they’re not comfortable with it.
These trips are not designed for the riders who favor “quick spins”. They are set up so that you can stop, take photos, spend time and learn about the beautiful locations that you are riding through. The daily mileage for a trip like this is usually 20-40 miles. The guides provide options for riders who would like additional mileage and/or hills so that they feel satisfied at the end of the day.
One guide rides in the van, the other guide is on a bike as the sweep. The guide in the van will stop at various locations on the route to set up a snack table of fresh fruit, nuts, cookies, water, etc. You never go hungry on these trips.
The day typically starts with breakfast at 7:30, the day’s route review at around 8:30 and wheels down by 9:00. By the time you are ready to ride, each of the bikes has been examined by the guides (their own 2-minute bike check).
Does everyone ride as a group? Rarely, since most ride at different paces. Some people find other riders at a similar pace, others ride solo, and many couples ride together.
There is no point-drop-sweep system, but the van will try to be in locations where a rider might miss a turn. The sweep rides with the slowest rider of the day and stops to fix any flats or other mechanical issues.
Most of the meals are included in the trip price. There are usually a couple of dinners on your own and about half the lunches, too. The tour company takes you to excellent restaurants where you can order off the menu. The first wine/beer is included as well. All breakfasts are paid for. There are 1-2 picnic lunches prepared by the guides with food from the region. My favorite picnic lunch was the one on our Provence, France bike tour with local bread, cheese, meat and veggies.
Most of the accommodations are at inns or small, local hotels but occasionally, you stay at a fancier resort. On this trip we spent two nights in every hotel. So the rides will be out-and-back or you will be shuttled by van/bus to the start location and shuttled back.
The luggage is carried in a trailer and handled by the guides for the entire trip. When we arrive at a new hotel, our bags are waiting for us in our rooms.
On the Slovenia/Italy/Austria trip, we got to experience three different cultures living so close together. One day, we rode through the three countries without having to go through passport control… thanks to all being members of the EU.
Even though we were in the Alps with spectacular vistas in this tour, we were riding in the valleys, so it was not difficult riding. In fact, the tour was rated “easy” on the company website.
The tour companies also provide local cultural tours, such as walking tours of cities or sites, wine tasting, pasta cooking classes, hikes, ferry rides, etc..
Bottom line, if you love cycling, good food, sharing laughs and great scenery, then you should consider bike tour vacations.