Author Archives: Jace Gifford
Don’t try to be all things to all people. With so many bike tour operators in the marketplace, how can one stand out from the crowd? Do one thing and do it well.
At In Situ, we offer challenging bike tours in Europe. We don’t offer hiking, walking, multi-sport or camping trips. We don’t offer easy-riding, “sightseeing by bike” trips. We don’t offer city tours on “fat” bikes. We don’t offer trips suited for everybody that rides a bike. We do: offer bike tours for people who love the challenge of a good, hard bike ride.
Does that mean that there is nothing else to do on our bike tours besides riding? Of course not. It just means that our focus is on the quality of the ride, first and foremost. Your ride will not be muddled up with constant stops at museums or wine tastings. There is plenty of time for those activities when you’re done riding for the day. Our leaders are also cyclists, just like you, so they understand the importance to getting in your daily ride, before savoring all the fun things to do in the trip region.
Because we understand the importance of a good ride, we realize that the size of the group you’re riding with is important too. You’ve probably been there before: on your weekend morning, at the meeting spot, waiting for your weekly group ride to get everything together before you roll out. Or perhaps later in the ride, you have to wait up for for others while you’re at a bathroom break. Not on our trips. Our small groups mean we’re nimble. Nimble means you ride more and ride better. It’s that simple.
We challenge you. We inspire you. We show you some of the best cycling routes Europe has to offer. We do one thing and we do it well.
You’ve made the decision to travel to Europe on a bike tour. Tackling the famous routes of the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia has always been your dream. You’re super excited and begin to plan your trip, but one major question still remains: should you bring your own bike or use a rental? There are pros and cons to each, so here are the things to consider:
Bringing Your Own Bike
- Nothing fits like your own bike. If you’re serious about cycling, you’ve probably taken the time to get your bike dialed in just the way you like it. The saddle height, reach, and all the other measurements are perfect.
- For a monumental effort, nothing short of your own bike will do. You’re taking the time to go to Europe, so you’ll want the dependability that your own bike brings. You know how it climbs and descends, corners and sprints; great things to feel confident about if you’re on world class routes.
- You’ll have it available for when you’re not on the bike tour. If your bike tour is a week long, but you’ve got a few days before and after it to explore, having your own bike available can add to the enjoyment of exploring other areas while you’re traveling.
- Packing your bike. If you’re going to bring it, you obviously will have to pack it. This requires a case or box and the time it takes to securely put it all together. Additionally, a poorly packed bike is at a greater risk of damage in transit.
- Flying with your bike. As air travel is increasingly complicated, the number of airlines that allow your bike to fly for free is quickly dwindling. So there is the additional cost of your bike’s transport to consider, as well as potential baggage delays.
- Traveling with your bike case. Some thought should be given as to how you’ll get around when you’re not on the bike tour. If you’re renting a car, having a case is not such a big deal. In Europe you can rent a small, but spacious car like the Peugeot Partner or Renault Kangoo and easily fit in a couple of cases, plus the bikes out of the cases. If you plan to travel by train, definitely give yourself plenty of time to get your bike case on and off the trains and try to limit any short connections at the stations. Moving quickly to catch your next train with a bike case is not much fun.
Renting a Bike
- You don’t have to think about a bike case when traveling with your bike (airplanes, trains, etc.)
- Simple. You show up at your bike tour and your rental bike is available for you.
- No worrying. There’s no risk that your personal bike is damaged or delayed en route to the bike tour.
- Something new. Renting allows you to try out a bike that you may never have ridden. It might even be an upgrade from what you ride at home.
- The fit. Despite requesting your size, sending your measurements, bringing your saddle and pedals, etc., a rental bike might not fit as well as what you’re used to.
- The feel. It’s one thing to ride a rental for a few hours or a day, but what about for a whole week? Things that don’t quite fit or feel right may be tolerable for short periods, but not so much over longer timeframes. You may not feel as comfortable or confident on technical descents and monumental climbs as you would on your own bike.
- Limited options. Bicycles are a little bit like clothes, when they fit right, they are at their best. What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. So your rental might be great for some people, but not so great for you. Unlike a clothing store, there may not be another brand for you to try out for your trip.
- Cost. Some companies include bike rental as part of their trip price and for others it is extra. If it’s included in the price, do all models cost the same? That top-of-the-line, full carbon racing machine on their homepage might cost you more than their normal rental. Be sure to weigh the costs before deciding.
Photo Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/justinwdavis/4235326042/. (no changes) License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en
Choosing a bike tour vacation can be a daunting task, no matter what type of tour you’re looking for. There are numerous bike tour companies in the market to take you to regions all over the world. So how are you to decide? What things should you consider? Since In Situ offers challenging bike tours in Europe, I’ll offer you some tips on how to choose a bike tour, if you’re a serious cyclist.
Tip 1: Ask for specifics about each day’s ride
This can’t be overstated. Ask a lot of questions about the daily rides to make sure that the bike tour company’s routes work with what you’re looking for in a vacation. When looking at a company’s itinerary online or in their catalogue, it might look obvious in print, but the reality of the actual trip may be different. Large companies that cater to a varied clientele, might say they have one, two or three riding options each day, but how does the day actual play out? Are the day’s routes truly designed with a cyclist in mind, so that you can easily ride everything you want to? Will you be expected to stop part way into your ride for a wine tasting or museum visit? What do the majority of the typical guests do on a daily basis? How many hours are you typically out on the route? Don’t just look at the distances in the catalogue and assume your average speed to determine the riding time. Ask the company what time of day they typically finish their rides. You’ll be surprised that many companies take all day to ride just 50-60 miles. That’s because the days include sightseeing en route.
Tip 2: Ask the bike tour company how they do their directions
In other words, how do you find your way on the route every day? There are a few main ways companies handle this: 1. They give you a map and/or printed directions that goes in a map case attached to your handlebars. You then must navigate for yourself (i.e. read the map while riding). 2. They ask that you ride as a group, meaning that you must wait up at intersections or keep up with the group on the hills. Larger companies that navigate this way, may split you up into fast, medium and slower riders. 3. A bike GPS unit is provided to you, pre-loaded with the directions. This enables you to ride freely, either with others or solo, depending on what you’d like to do. The GPS unit prompts you at intersections and turns, so that there is no need to read a map while riding.
Tip 3: Ask the bike tour company about shuttles to and from the daily ride
This is perhaps the most difficult thing to figure out from just looking at the trip catalogue. You’ll see that there are daily routes with distances, elevations, options, etc., but what you might not be able to tell is whether or not you need to take a vehicle to get to the ride in the morning or if one is needed to get to the hotel at the end of the day. Many of the larger companies that try to offer trips to all level of riders, design their trips with shuttles being an integral part of their routes. Ask before you sign up. Driving to or from your ride while on vacation is not a whole lot of fun. Riding right from the doorstep of your hotel is much better.
Tip 4: Find out how many people will be on your trip
This can be a matter of personal preference, but realistically consider how the group size will effect your overall experience. Don’t just rely on the company saying they run “small” group trips. That could mean they have as many as 30 people on a trip. So ask specifics in terms of group size. The size of your group plays a role in many things that you do: What type of lodging and restaurants can accommodate your group? How long will it take to gather as a group pre-ride? What is the support staff to rider ratio? Will you have to wait for others while riding or can you ride at your own pace?
Tip 5: Ask about the typical guest
Who will likely be the other guests on your trip? Are they also avid cyclists? What type of clientele does the company cater to? What are their riding abilities? What are the average ages? Do people ride a lot or a little? Do they ride a bike at home or is this trip a once a year type of thing?
Tip 6: Look at the bike tour company’s entire set of trip offerings
What kind of company is offering the tour? What are their core competencies? Do they offer just cycling trips or do they also offer hiking, kayaking, multi-sport trips, etc.? Of their offerings, how focused are they on trips for serious cyclists? Do they offer a majority of easy biking trips instead? Examine their selection of trips carefully. Some companies tend to try to offer something for every type of rider, novice to advanced, which is fine if everyone’s needs are truly met. But ask yourself if you think they are truly focused on the type of trip that you’re looking for. If the majority of the company’s trips focus on easy riding, how challenging will their “epic” trips really be?
We sometimes get asked if we’re celebrating Oktoberfest. Well, maybe, but just because you’re anywhere in Germany in October, doesn’t mean that you’ll be there for the world famous Oktoberfest. So here are a few quick facts about Oktoberfest in Germany:
Most of Oktoberfest takes place in September, not October. Yes, that’s right, despite its name, the festival takes place primarily in the month of September. The original event took place in October, but for numerous reasons, it was moved to earlier in the calendar. Some of these reasons are weather (it can be cold in October in Germany) and to coincide with German Reunification Day (on Oct. 3). In 2013, Oktoberfest runs from September 21 to October 6.
Oktoberfest is a celebration in Munich, not all of Germany. There is sometimes a misconception abroad that Oktoberfest is a national event. In reality, it traditionally takes place only in Munich. The original event was in 1810 and centered around marriage festivities of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese. The meadow which now is the focal point of the modern Oktoberfest is named Theresienwiese (Therese’s Meadow) in the princess’ honor.
It’s more than just about beer. Yes, beer is focus and enjoying the festivities from within a beer tent is a highlight for many visitors. But in an effort to keep the event family friendly and appeal to more people than just drunken crowds, there are carnival booths, amusement park rides and other kid friendly activities.
I was in search for a new turbo trainer for this winter and ultimately decided on the Elite Qubo Home Trainer. Here’s my review and thoughts on it so far.
Let me first say that this review and my thoughts are in no way affiliated with Elite, nor In Situ. This is my own, personal home trainer and my thoughts about it. Neither Elite nor In Situ paid for or sponsored for the trainer’s purchase or review. I just thought that readers might like some ideas if they themselves are searching for a new bike trainer too.
After several years of foregoing the use of a home trainer, preferring instead to venture out on the roads and trails, no matter what the weather, I started to realize that maybe the quality of my workouts was suffering. I held on to the noble notion that it builds character to weather the elements while riding one’s bike. But in honesty, I know that I would often ride easier or shorter than I probably should have been for training purposes, especially if the roads were snowy or icy. With this recent winter being a bit more serious than usual, I decided it was time to get a new stationary trainer. (I had a old Blackburn Trakstand years ago, but it was long since gone).
I also thought about getting a set of rollers, since this was the “gold standard” that so many people seemed to tout, back when I was first getting into cycling. But the trainer vs. rollers debate is a whole different discussion. For the sake of the post, I’ll just say that I chose to go with a trainer for several reasons.
So for me, the choice of a trainer came down to one main factor: was it quiet? My previous Blackburn sounded like a plane was about to take off every time I was on it. That combined with the required fan and the television volume, made for quite the racket! This time out I was going to hopefully change all of that. After googling multiple different variations of “quiet home bike stationary trainer”, I quickly started to notice that the Elite Qubo Fluid Trainer was mentioned often. A few more clicks and a few more comparisons and I had made my mind up. The Elite was the trainer for me.
Here are my thoughts on it from first taking it out of the box, setting it up to its performance.
Set-up: It does require some! Not much, but some. You don’t just pull it out of the box and you’re good to go. A few web reviewers complained that it was not easy to set up. I disagree. It’s not difficult, but it does take several minutes (e.g. 20-30 minutes), including some minor adjustments you might have to make to ensure it’s ready to go for the first use. Pay particular attention to the diameter of resistance unit roller! It comes in two different sizes/diameters and you’ll mount the resistance unit into different holes on the trainer base depending on what resistance unit you purchased. The instructions clearly walk you through this, but take a second to double check before installing. You’ll also have to adjust the side to side position of the resistance unit, so that you rear tire sits in the middle of the drum while in use. Lastly, you’ll play around with trainer’s clamp, to make sure it sufficiently grabs your rear axle, while not being too tight or too loose. You’re also given several plastic feet that can go under the trainer to level it out, if you need it. I didn’t need them.
Initial impressions after set up, but before the first use: Set-up was straight-forward, although I definitely needed to follow the instructions. It wasn’t intuitive. When centering the the resistance unit at the rear, I needed to move it all the way over to the left so that my tire was centered on it. That seems strange to me, but it doesn’t affect the performance at all. I’m wondering though if there are any bikes out there that one wouldn’t be able to center because I don’t think of my road bike as being particularly unique, yet I need the extreme left mounting position for it to sit correctly in the trainer.
Build quality: The resistance unit seems of very high quality. The trainer frame itself seems a bit lower quality with parts being made out of high density plastic and not metal. The vertical arms are metal, but the base is plastic. Even so, the trainer feels solid and is very stable when in use.
Performance: In a word, fantastic! Compared to other trainers I’ve used this is just simply great. There are no resistance adjustments on the trainer and there is no remote resistance control. All of the resistance is automatic from within the trainer itself. This is apparently done by calculating the weight and speed of the rider and adjusting accordingly. If you need more or less resistance, simply change gears, just like on the road. Super simple. The feel while on the trainer is also super smooth, with no slippage. While it does feel a little harder than actually riding on the road, there is more than enough range to spin as a warm up and to push harder gears too. For most of my use of the trainer so far, I haven’t really felt the need to use the big ring. There is more than enough resistance for me in the little chainring and smaller cogs.
Noise Level: So this was my main concern with a new trainer. All I can say is that this trainer is unbelievably quiet. I can’t even really hear it over the sound of the bike chain and pedaling. That’s quiet! As with most trainers, there is still vibration in the floor, but it is not very much. I should also note that I’m also using a trainer specific rear tire to cut down on noise and wear. I didn’t always use to do this in the past, but I’ve heard quite a few comments how this can help with the noise as well. I’ve not tried this same trainer with a normal tire to see if it’s any louder.
Unique notes: The trainer does not come with a front wheel riser, so you’ll either make do with fabricating your own (i.e. the phonebook) or you can buy one from Elite or another manufacturer. I use a thick magazine and it works just fine. It does however come with its own rear quick release skewer to ensure a good fit while your bike is on the trainer.
Summary: I like the Elite Qubo Fluid Trainer very much. Besides a few little quirks with the setup, it performs very well. And in terms of it being quiet, it’s fantastic.
It’s winter. No doubt about it. As I sit inside looking at the snow falling lightly, I contemplate what I’ll be doing today in terms of exercise. Will it be sitting on the bike trainer or will I venture outside on the bike?
The roads are sure to be slick and icy. The thermometer says -4C (25F). OK, not too bad. It is this middle of January after all. I’ve got the proper clothing to stay warm, so the biggest hurdle is mental. I decide to layer up and head on out into this cold, grey day in Dresden, Germany. This is the second winter that I’ve spent here and this year is noticeably colder and snowier than last. I managed to squeak by last year with barely any snow and therefore spent the entire winter out on the open road. This was great for training and morale. Not a single day on the trainer, watching the TV and counting the workout intervals. I considered myself pretty lucky. If this was the “harsh European winters” that people talked about, this wasn’t too bad. I didn’t really believe it though. I figured we just skipped a year with regards to the cold and snow.
Seems to reason then that this year, a true winter should return. And indeed it has. I’m not sure exactly how long it’s been since the sun has appeared in the sky, but I think it’s been at least a few weeks. In fact, when I was out the other day with friends, we were all startled by the sight of bright, whitish circle up in the sky, trying to shine through the clouds. It never succeeded.
But rather than focus on the grey and the cold, I look at it as mini-challenge: me against the winter. And since it really isn’t that much snow outside, I figure my odds are pretty good. Besides, I truly believe that there is rarely something better than a bike ride to uplift one’s spirits. It doesn’t really matter what the weather is. If you’ve got the right gear, you’re ready to ride. Which brings to mind the Norwegian proverb, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong choice of clothes.” For the cyclist, that about sums it up. Although I would add that proper tire choice for the winter is probably not a bad idea either.
So deciding to avoid the busier, main roads today for safety reasons, I pull out the cyclocross bike and head out along the snowy cycling route running along the Elbe River. Even in the winter, this is a great place to ride. This is just a section of the bike route that stretches over 840 kilometers (520 miles), all the way from the border with the Czech Republic in the south, to the North Sea, just above Hamburg. I actually think I prefer to ride this in winter versus summer for many reasons, not the least of which is that there are so many fewer people out there in the snow. At this time of year, you’ll typically see runners, walkers and a few cross country skiers, but for the most part, it’s pretty quiet compared to the summer.
Riding in the brisk air was exactly what I needed. January can be a tough month for cyclists. In many parts of Europe and North America, we’re still deep into winter. The daylight is creeping back a few minutes every day, but the days are still low on light and pretty brisk. It is also the time of year that many of us are working off those few extra “holiday pounds” that were so fun to put on. But with our minds on our summer fitness goals, we know we need to put in the time and effort to be ready for warmer days. I think that’s, in part, what makes these wintry rides so much fun. It’s not only a challenge to ride, slipping along with snow underneath our tires, it’s a training challenge which will lead to better form later in the year. It’s not always easy to get out there and ride in the snow, but it sure is fun. And in the end, it does wonders for both my physical and mental well being.
Like many other cyclists out there, there are times in the fall and winter that I struggle with finding the motivation to ride. This is especially true when the thermometer dips below freezing. Just a few weeks ago, we had our seasonal time change, letting the clocks fall back an hour and plunging ourselves into the evening darkness that much sooner. As much as I love cycling, the reduced daylight hours and the chilly temps pose an annual challenge for my training and fitness. I’ve recently come off of another fantastic season of managing and leading bike tours in Europe and I got the chance to ride in some of the best cycling regions in the world. But now that the trips are on hiatus until next spring, summoning up the motivation to swing the leg over the road bike and head out on a cold, overcast and frigid day can be tough.
As is typical for me in the fall, I look forward to the training transition and the change of seasons. I dust off both my cyclocross and mountain bikes in order to explore the nearby trails and routes rarely ridden during the summer. I enjoy the change of pace, the sometimes shorter rides and the unstructured-ness of it all. But herein lies the catch: it can be a slippery slope of lessening your amount of riding to an all out lack of riding. “A couple of days off won’t hurt”, I say. This is true, but it’s easy for a couple of days to become several and even many consecutive days. The grey, bitter winter wind makes the hibernating comfort of the indoors that much more appealing. And I know that 90% of the battle is just getting out the door, that my real challenge this time of year is in my head and not outside. I’ve rarely (if ever) regretted going for a ride. You may recall that I’ve mentioned a friend that told me once, “If it’s a question to ride or not, the answer is always the same. Ride.”
“If it’s a question to ride or not, the answer is always the same. Ride.”
So once I’m out that door, the weather no matter how cold and wet, becomes a badge of honor. I may suffer through the ride, with frozen hands, feet and other body parts, the entire time cursing the conditions, but I never return home, regretting my decision to head out. As my friend has said, riding is always the right choice.
I started thinking about this seasonal condundrum again, because of an article I just read about “Hibernation and Motivation” during this time of year and how it plays havoc with one’s training. I related to many of the things the author wrote, but I must say that I found it a bit funny to note that she lives in San Diego, California AND is a cycling coach herself. Yes, I know that it gets dark early there too, but I know it doesn’t get that cold. I guess it just goes to prove that everyone, even cycling coaches and Cat. 1 racers need to find their own motivation to ride during this time of year.
To all of us: let’s get out there and ride.
In Situ Travel sets itself apart from its competitors by using bike GPS units.
Would you prefer to take a bike tour in Europe with a bike GPS or with a paper map and printed directions?
The other day, I came across a travel blog post about someone’s recent bike tour in Europe. While it was a different type of bike tour than what we offer at In Situ, I couldn’t help but pay attention to this other company’s guest’s distress and dissatisfaction with the beginning of their tour. At the core of their concern was getting lost on day one of their tour. Their company used paper maps and printed directions, which as noted by their guest, “only works if you know where you are on the map”.
This points to the key problem with most other bike tour companies’ tours: they’re stuck in the last century in terms of their way-finding and directions. Guests are excited to come on a bike tour in Europe and expectations can be high, yet many companies give them inferior support while on their tour. As the above blogger pointed out, a map and directions would be fine if they actually knew where they were. Sure, one can spend one’s time studying a map and constantly looking down to read directions while riding a bike, but who really wants to do that on their bike tour? Would you? It’s truly unbeliveable to me that other companies still see this as a viable solution in this day and age. This blogger quickly realized a better solution when she asked, “Does anyone know where we can purchase a GPS?”
In contrast to the above experience: ALL of In Situ’s bike tours in europe use handlebar mounted, bike GPS units. There’s no need to read paper directions while you ride. Our guests do not need to be constantly looking at a map either. Our bike GPS units prompt you at the turns, freeing you up to enjoy the ride and not worry about getting lost. And if you do happen to take a wrong turn, it’s clear from the GPS where you are in relation to the correct route, making it easy to get back on track. Your entire route for the day is pre-programmed so there’s no wondering if you’re on course or not. A quick glance at the bike GPS shows where you are on the bike route and where your next turn is. An added bonus of the GPS is that you also don’t need to worry about keeping up with the group. Ride at your own pace, knowing with confidence that you’re on the right path.
Why other companies don’t use bike GPS units surprises us, but we’re happy they don’t. It sets us above the rest.
As we just start into the Fall, the weather gets a bit cooler and the leaves start to change, it can be the perfect time for you to start thinking about your fitness goals for next season. It is often the time of year that I’m still coming off of the excitement of our summer season of bike tours in Europe, but must admit, looking at the cold of winter with a little trepidation.
I just finished reading a blog post from the Fuel Right Blog which had several good tips and recipes for fat loss in the off-season. Cyclists, triathletes and other endurance athletes are always seeking to improve their performance and the issue of fat loss seems to always be near the top of the list in terms of discussion topics.
What was nice about the Fuel Right Blog was that it approaches your off-season fat loss goals through sensible, healthy exercise and nutrition tips and not through a fad diet or “special” fat loss product. It’s not about drastically trying to get down to “race weight” or extreme training. Rather, it looks at how your training will probably change in the off season, the common pitfalls and how you can best navigate them. Kelli, the author, is a registered dietician but also an endurance athlete herself, so she seems to speak from personal as well as professional experience. I particularly like that she included recipes as well. For me, the transition from many hours on the bike during the summer to less hours riding during the winter and fall, is as much about taking a mental break as well as a physical one. Offering up some new recipe ideas for the off season is a neat idea, in my opinion. It will help freshen up my diet as well as my workouts.
We sometimes dream of far away places, epic climbs and gorgeous sweeping descents. We dream of the mythical routes of the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta. Sometimes though, we have to look no further than our own “backyards” to find beautiful riding. A local bike tour, if you will.
I’m fortunate to spend most of my summers on the road, experiencing first-hand the gorgeous routes we visit with In Situ’s bike tours in Europe. But when I’m off of trip, I’ve to look no further than the rolling hills, dense forests and rocky outcrops that are so nearby.
I’m speaking of the fantastic riding that exists on both sides of the border with Germany and the Czech Republic. Both the Czechs and the Germans claim this gorgeous region as their own local “Switzerland”. The Germans call it the Sächsische Schweiz and the Czechs, České Švýcarsko, meaning Saxony Switzerland and Czech Switzerland, respectively.
I realize my luck in calling this my “backyard”, but it reminds me that we don’t often have to look as far as we think to find amazing riding. We can make our own bike tours, right in our own neighborhoods.