In recent years, the majority of my holidays have been crafted around the bike. There’s a few reasons for this:
I think it’s possibly the best way to explore a new destination (you can cover more ground faster than you can on foot, and you will most definitely see, feel and hear more than you ever could travelling by car, train, etc).
I don’t want to miss out on my training. Sure I am on holiday but as any avid cyclist knows, you only need to skip a few training sessions before you’re right back in the hurt locker trying to claw you’re way to where you were just weeks ago. It takes plenty of time to build it, and no time at all to lose it!
With any adventure comes adventurous eating and drinking. I tend not to hold back, so in order to ensure I can still fit into the clothes I packed in my suitcase, I usually need to factor in quite a few kms in the saddle.
So how do you plan for a great riding holiday? Here’s just a few ideas pulled together from my personal experience. I doubt it’s a complete guide, but hopefully it gets you off in the right direction.
Be bike fit
For the purposes of this article, I am talking about a proper riding holiday and not just a few gentle kilometres on an e-bike in-between museum visits and restaurant down-time. So in order to enjoy your holiday, you need to get your fitness ready for it, rather than expecting the holiday to make you fit. That will probably happen anyway, but you’re going to get so much more out of your trip if you put in the hard work prior. The last thing you want is to experience all sorts of pain and possible injury during your trip because your body is underbaked, not to mention unnecessarily fatigued at the end of each day’s ride. Where’s the fun in passing out in bed as soon as you get to your hotel/Airbnb etc.
Are you hiring, or DIYing?
Now this is a pretty big question and I think there are pros and cons for each.
Taking your bike with you. The pros here are easy – you get to cycle on a bike you know back-to-front. There won’t be any niggles and you won’t be getting to know an entirely different feeling machine. Just be sure you know your bike’s precise set-up so that when you unpack it, you build it back to exactly how it was.
The cons are that you have to carry your bike around, unless you can have it stored somewhere, should your holiday factor in activities beyond the bike. EG – the first week is an alpine touring adventure, but then you fly to the UK to catch up with mates and pub crawl. I am not exactly well-endowed when it comes to massive muscles, so lugging my bike around the Paris metro (all those stairs!) and over cobblestones was not my idea of fun.
Here’s a word of warning. Don’t do what I decided to do midway through my European adventure. The bike riding component was over and so, after one stairway too many, I decided to have the bike shipped back home ahead of me. Boy was that a bad move – I was stung 50 different ways by customs, cargo, airport taxes blah blah blah. I almost could have bought a new bike. Not quite – but almost.
See also: A cycling holiday with lots of panache
What about hiring one when you arrive? Again – there’s good and bad and again, you can learn from my errors. The pros of course are that you avoid any transportation hassle – a good bike hiring business will probably have the bike delivered to your place of accommodation. The cons are only there if you haven’t chosen wisely. A cycling adventure in Sardinia was fairly tainted for our crew due to a series of mechanicals that should never have happened. Next time I’d probably only hire a bike if I was going to a location that I knew was really geared towards cycling tourism, like Mallorca.
Be upfront with yourself, and anyone cycling with you
Don’t be modest. If you know you’re capable of 150km+ mountain climbs each day, and that’s really only what will make you happy, then be clear to those with whom you plan to holiday. Equally, if they’re hanging for that kind of distance but you just know you’ll blow up before the 100km mark, then tell them before planning really gets underway, not on the day itself. You can all make compromises and you can all tailor independent rides here and there to make sure everyone gets the trip they really want.
Will you be based in the one location and fan out each day, or will your holiday be point-to-point?
Again – pros and cons for both. Fanning out each day gives you the base you need to settle. It means coming back from a ride won’t involve you having to get to know a whole new destination, source some new eateries, check-in, find out where to wash your clothes, etc. Point-to-point though will mean you can probably cover a lot more territory, even though there will be that constant feeling of not really ever settling anywhere for long enough (unless of course you have the luxury to make each point-to-point a several day stop over).
I am all for just lobbing up somewhere and ‘getting to know it’ as I go. This is great if you’ve got time on your hands and/or you’re not with other people whose needs you have to also consider. But on a bike holiday, it just never really works out that well. I think it’s always a good idea to get an idea of the topography and routes well before you leave. Of course you’ll find new paths etc once you arrive, but having a base knowledge and awareness is really important. You don’t want to find yourself on freeways. You don’t want to find yourself on dirt roads (unless your roadie is up to the task or your mountain biking). You definitely don’t want to find yourself on a road that just ends (yep – this has happened to me. The concrete just obviously collapsed at some point and nobody ever thought to create a new road). What’s that thing our mums always said about a stitch in time…?
There’s all sorts of other factors you can consider when planning your riding holiday – like time of year and weather in that area, whether or not you want to do other things as well as ride (getting your culture on, more eating, taking advantage of festivals etc), whether or not language barriers are going to be a significant obstacle. But hopefully these ideas have helped get you off on the right adventure.
Have an absolute ball out there!