European Bike Tour Blog

Want to learn more about our bike tours in Europe? Looking for travel tips with your bike? Seeking out a little european bike culture? Check out our blog and feel free to share your thoughts and comments with us!

Like a Local: Coffee in France

We’ve talked coffee before on this blog, so you know it’s important. Coffee and cycling are just two of the very many things done very well in Europe.  As you know, ordering coffee can be quite the art form at home, where we’re used to people ordering beverages that sound like grocery lists or epic poems: “I’d like a grande, non-fat, extra-foam, two-pump sugar-free vanilla soy latté with two shakes of nutmeg and an extra dash of happiness.”

In larger cities, you may find the occasional Starbucks, but chances are more likely that you’re going to be grabbing your java at small, local cafés, which, by the way, is always going to be a better bet. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe for coffee you can get at home, right? Of course not: You’re in France to enjoy some joie de vivre.

To find the simple pleasures for which France is so well known, you need look no further than the corner café. There are a few things to know ahead of time, so that you can make the most of the experience. After all, we know how to drink coffee when in Rome, as the saying goes. In this case, however, you’ll want to order and enjoy your coffee like a local, or comme un Français.

When it comes what you order, you already know it’s important that you understand your options (and as in Italy, only order milk with your coffee after breakfast if you don’t mind braving the mildly disapproving glance of your server).

What to do with your coffee once you get it? Do you grab it to go? The short answer is no. There are a few cafés that now offer and advertise café à porter (coffee to go), but it’s not very popular and you won’t see many, if any, people wandering around with a paper cup. Navigating life one-handed for the sake of a speedy coffee on the go is a distinctly North American habit.

Do you stand up to sip, like in Rome? Well, you can drink it standing at the bar, if you’re in a hurry, but in France, sitting to enjoy a leisurely coffee and people watch is a national pastime. Why rush? Grab a seat (outside is preferable, if the weather is nice), order from the passing waiter and sip while you watch the world go by. The seats face out for a reason, after all…

Whether you’re standing at the bar or sitting down, you pay after you finish, unlike home where you buy your coffee first and then enjoy it second. Some cafés will have different prices depending on where you sit (indoor, outdoor, or at the bar).

Oh and, in France, you won’t need to ask for sugar (the French do love sweet things); the sugar cube will accompany the coffee, often along with a little square of chocolate. Grab that sugar cube and you can make like a local and faire un canard (un canard means “duck”): Quickly dip (like a duck) the cube and then nibble the coffee-soaked cube before it dissolves.

C’est si bon, n’est ce pas? À la prochaine!

Contributed by Rachelle LeBlanc Quiney

Photo by Matt MacGillivray, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ http://bit.ly/1lK7jpM

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Conquering European Terrain: Descending Cycling Tips

North American cyclists coming to Europe for the first time are often surprised at the technical climbing and descending required on the routes we ride. You quickly understand why France, Italy and Spain produce such prolific descenders; growing up training and riding on this steep, weaving and technical terrain demands an entirely different set of skills than that of wide open spaces.

Guests on our cycling trips often comment on “hills” (usually mountains) and the difference from routes they commonly ride at home. When we prepare guests for big descents, here are the descending cycling tips we share:

Get Low – increase your stability on the bike by lowering your centre of gravity. This will also enhance your aerodynamic position, get those hands into the drops or down into time trial position. Bringing your body down low on the bike allows you to not only be more stable and aerodynamic, but it also allows you to use your legs for further balance and stability.

Add a layer – now is a great time to pull up those arm warmers you pushed down to your wrists during the climb, or grab that wind vest from your jersey pocket. The combination of added elevation, increased speed and wind on the way down can give you a serious chill. Keep your legs pedalling, even lightly, to keep your body warm on the way down.

Brake before the corner- the temptation is to white knuckle the breaks all the way down to the bottom. If possible, try lightly pumping the breaks instead of gripping them furiously, giving you more control over the bike. When approaching a corner, try to break lightly prior to the corner so you have the ability to gently lean into the corner, with the weight on the straight leg (outside leg) and the bent leg has minimal weight (leg closest to the corner).

Be safe- keep your ears headphone-free. Having music playing can distract you from the road ahead and the sounds associated with safety: car horns, other cyclists voices, sirens, train crossings, road blocks, obstacles. Give space to the cyclist in front of you, lest they jam on their breaks unannounced. Inclement weather like rain, snow, sleet, or hail can effect a downhill journey. Be aware of the weather conditions but try not to dwell on them. If the road is wet, plan on a little extra time to descent and be a little more slow than usual. If the road has two-way traffic, keep an occasional eye on the cars on the side of you. Bonus of riding in Europe? Cars are used to seeing cyclists everywhere and often provide a wide berth.

Focus forward- look where you want to go, not at the road directly in front of you. It may sound simple, but our gaze can easily stray to the gorgeous scenery, the obstacles on the road (ever run into a heard of cattle on a descent before?) or the people around us.  Keeping your chin up and your gaze focused forward on where you want to go helps your mind stay honed in on the place you and your bike are going.

Above all else, it’s about enjoying the epic climb, soaking in the scenery and pushing yourself up Mt. Ventoux, Col d’ Galibier or Passo dell Stelvio. Your reward for the hard work is the descent, and we want you to enjoy the ride!

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The Merits of Solo Travel

The solo traveller is an enviable character. They whisk themselves across the globe at will and explore all of the wonders of the world without any distraction whatsoever.  They are cultured and have an air of sophistication even when jet-lagged and toting around a massive bag. They are not afraid of trying new things and they are always up for their next adventure. We all want to be this person. And we can be.

There is always a tiny bit of trepidation for anyone pondering a solo trip for the first time. Whether it is your first time travelling beyond your hometown, your first solo bike tour or the first time you are crossing an ocean, travelling firsts can be a bit nerve-wracking. However, once you arrive, things always fall into place and you end up having an incredible experience.

An important part of travelling alone is being open to experiences. If you are typically a shy person, you may have to go out of your comfort zone a bit to truly take advantage of your travels. That means talking with strangers in your hotel’s lounge, chatting up fellow cyclists or signing up for a last minute boat trip around the island. While you may have left your hometown without a travelling companion, some of the best memories you have are with other people. So, make some new friends along the way – you never know where your friendship will take you. Perhaps, they live in some incredible city and you will get to visit them in their villa or beachside cottage for your next trip. Or maybe they have excellent recommendations for house-sitting opportunities in the Mediterranean. You may learn of exciting new cycling routes in a city you never considered. Whatever it may be, you never know until you start talking to people.

Beyond that, solo travel is incredibly freeing because you are not held to anyone else’s schedule but yours. You get to visit the art museum when you want to and for however long you like. You can ride those extra miles each day. You get to be you and make your own choices. It can be incredibly liberating!

As you begin to plan out your exciting adventure, take note to ensure you are staying in safe neighbourhoods, you have filled in your family and friends of your travel plans and are prepared for a life-changing trip. Bon voyage!

Guest post written by Kait Kucy. Follow her on twitter at @kaitkucy.

Photo by Marina Caprara. Creative Commons licence: http://bit.ly/1dsZ1lC

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In Situ Travel staff note: we do often answer the question, “What if I am traveling alone for a bike trip?” The answer is simple: we welcome you and are excited to have you! We endeavour to put solo travellers into a group that best fits their travel needs, cycling experience and dream destination. Contact us if you’re considering a solo bike trip this year. 

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"Don't Forget to Take Your Vacation!"

Many of us grew up with a responsible adult in our lives reminding us to take our vitamins. “Don’t forget to take your vitamins” may have been one of the more commonly voiced phrases from adults to young people in North American households.  As important as vitamins are for our physical health, vacations are for our mental health. Most of us agree we need vacations, and the studies are overwhelmingly in favour of them, so why is it such a struggle to get out on one?

The research is astoundingly skewed in favor of an annual vacation. Studies have shown even short trips can stave off burnout, increase creativity, increase physical wellness, decrease stress and increase overall quality of life. With the long list of benefits to a getaway, what are you waiting for?

Overwhelmingly, a study by expedia.com found that a third of Americans don’t take all the vacation days they are entitled, often leaving an average of three on the table. Furthermore, the average American is entitled to fourteen days of paid vacation, some of the lowest in the developed world.

Americans are leaving vacation days on the table, although most people know and understand that vacation is good for them. Taking it one step further, what are the advantages of an active vacation (for example, riding your bike through France)?

There is less research on the outcomes and benefits of an active vacation. However, most Physiologists, Doctors, Nutritionists, Kinesiologists, Personal Trainers and Health Professionals will agree exercise is good for you and provide benefits similar to what was mentioned above for overall wellness in taking vacation.

This year join us on a trip and get a double dose of goodness in your life, grab one of the many benefits of vacation. In other words, “Don’t forget to take your vacation”. Better yet, take it on a bike.

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Categories: Bike Tours in Europe

5 Tech Apps for Efficient Travel

With many of us frequently embarking on new travel adventures it is so important to stay organized and keep your travel plans on hand as you jet set from place to place. Luckily, in this day and age there are many amazing tools available to us at the touch of a button. You can now have your entire trip planned out on your smart phone and be able to send your itinerary to anyone in a split second. With so many apps for traveling to try out, it is often difficult to discern the practical and useful from the apps that won’t do us any service at all.

These five apps cover most bases for people who travel regularly or even for someone planning out their first big trip.

Foodspotting: Because we all have to eat, let’s start off with this awesome app designed especially for foodies on the go! Showing you the best places to nosh no matter what city you are in; this app pulls your location to find great spots nearby.

Packing Pro: Never leave anything behind ever again. The perfect app for anyone with a Type A personality – it catalogues your belongings by category and even by which trip you are on. Excellent for the pre-planner who loves digging their suitcase out three weeks in advance, or the cyclist trying to organize all the essentials for their bike trip.

XE Currency: A little bit of currency help never hurt anyone. This app will convert any dollar you like into Euros, Pounds, Czech Koruna and more.

Trip It: A great one-stop shop app to keep all of your travel documents in one place. Car rentals, hotel bookings and flights will be easily accessible to you and will be listed out chronologically. Easy!

FlightTrack: If you have more than one connection you are going to want to download FlightTrack. It helps you keep track of multiple flights, any delay notifications or to keep track of your friend coming to join you. An essential for overseas travel. 

Guest blog written by Kait Kucy. Follow her on twitter @YuppieLove

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Goo (and GU): our Endurance Gel Reviews

Some athlete’s love them, some athletes hate them, but most endurance folk will agree energy gels are a necessary evil. Portable and (hopefully!) tasty, these little calorie bombs allow for quick energy on the go during training. Every year various sports-fuel businesses release new products, often with the promise of solid performance, good taste, and easy-to-pack for prolonged effort. These gels, when used correctly, can provide the right energy to avoid the dreaded bonk. Certain endurance athletes swear by specific gels, others grab whatever is for sale at their nearest cycling shop. Some of us at In Situ Travel tried out what’s hot right now for – here are our (unsolicited, unpromoted) endurance gel reviews.

GU Energy Gel Salted Caramel

Can a gel be hotly anticipated? GU released a limited amount of Salted Caramel Gels mid -2013 to overwhelming success. One sample of the gel will tell you why. It tastes like those Salted Caramels Grandma used to make at Christmas every year. Better yet, the consistency is smooth and the GU product is solid, all their gels provide a blend of carbohydrates and sugar for performance. Try not to eat more than one at a time (it’s a dare).

POWERBAR PowerGel Tangerine

The newest PowerGel in a long line of gels from Powerbar is their tangerine number. The gel is tasty (albeit a little sugary) and very high in sodium. For those of you whose salt intake is an issue, this could be your miracle gel. Also good to note these gels are high in caffeine, giving this tester a little extra jolt of energy.

33Shake Chia Power Gel

The objective of this gel was to provide an alternative to the more sweet-tasting/ sugary gels on the market. Slightly stark in nature, but with a light twinge of sweetness, safe to say this goal has been accomplished. The little chia seeds in the gel (yes, there are actual chia seeds in there) give the gel a slightly lumpy texture. Imagine normal gel consistency with a little grit, almost requiring a bit of a chew before swallowing. Easy on the GI tract, lots of cyclists are giving this gel a thumbs up. These gels are the most expensive of what we reviewed, and it’s good to note that the carbs in the gel are lower (11g of carbohydrate) than most gels (usually between 20-50g).

VEGA Sport Raspberry Gel

Sensitive stomachs and Vegans rejoice- this product is designed especially for you. Consistency of the gel is slightly different compared to most brands, but the taste, energy and overall gel experience is aces in our books. This product is free of maltodextrin (common allergen) and high fructose corn syrup, and is the only gel on the market that has coconut oil on the ingredient list.

Grab a few and head out for a ride- let us know which ones were your favourite.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/6486310227/”>slgckgc</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a

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Matchy-Matchy: The Case for Matching Bike Kits

Bloggers, bike enthusiasts and professional cyclists themselves have all weighed in on the often-complicated, usually unspoken rules of bike etiquette. The web is chalk full of blogs on the ‘Unwritten Rules of Bike Etiquette’, with one of the most common topics being matching bike kits.

We are most concerned with our guests having the experience of a lifetime, safely and happily, while experiencing the most gorgeous cycling places on earth. What they wear when they ride is secondary. For guests on our trips, cyclists and newbie cyclists alike,  here are a couple thoughts about the concept of matchy-matchy bike kits.

Many local cycling and triathlon teams will annually produce a matching cycling kit for their riders. Intended to be worn as both a sense of pride/ belonging as well as to locate teammates at races, the matching bike kit usually features bib shorts and a jersey (in coordinating patterns and colours, of course). Sometimes arm warmers, socks and leg warmers are included, also in said pattern and colour. Matching bike kits can be purchased online and at local bike stores: pro cycling team kits, countries or your favourite beer (or your favourite bike tour operator) are some of the popular sales. Are matching your shorts and jersey essential for an excellent ride? Of course not. Are they a part of the culture of cycling? Absolutely.

Professional cyclist Ted King is on the record about this very topic. “Among a smattering of other worthy reasons, cycling rocks because you can experience exactly what we pros experience. You can ride the bikes we ride, wear the helmets we wear, pedal the roads on which we race… and you obviously have the opportunity to rock the clothes we wear. So why the crap not? Moreover, if you’re going to piece together a bicycle outfit, instead of the ragtag/patchwork look, why not look good when doing so? We look good, so you sure as heck might as well hop on the bandwagon and look nearly as good as we do.”

Looking good on the bike may not make you ride faster, but if the saying, “look good, feel good, do good” holds true, you might just find yourself going just a bit faster down the straightaway en route home.

We’ll see you out there (in matching kits, of course).

 

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Do One Thing And Do It Well

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.

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Destinations in European Architecture and Design

Do design, art and architecture inspire you to travel more? Are you part-time adventurer, part-time museum fiend? Do you seek out design shops and architecture tours while pre-planning your trip? Are you as excited to experience unique buildings as you are tackling rolling hills on your bike? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, we’d probably be excellent travel partners. As an extremely visual person, discovering and immersing myself in another country’s art and design world is the quickest way for me to get a sense of this new-to-me place. It turns out, you and I are not alone – the world is full of design tours, museum must-sees and photographer dream walks. Sharing my favourite finds here:

Copenhagen

Quite possibly the reason that Copenhagen, Denmark has been cited as the happiest place on earth has something to do with how incredible their architecture and design is. With plenty of beautiful home design shops scattered throughout the city, you’ll find all sorts of Scandinavian-inspired treasures to take home with you. Apartment Therapy’s guide to design in Copenhagen delves in past the usual design shops and into breweries, cafes and more – all of which will give your inner interior designer a little thrill. 

Paris

Ah, Paris. The city of lights. Beautifully designed and carefully hung lights, of course. Paris is the ultimate destination for anyone with a love of architecture, fine art and of course, beautiful design.  Anne Ditmeyer, a Paris-loving local who is fluent in both English and French will take you on a guided walking tour of the best design destinations in the city. Really love Paris? You should probably also sign up for her Amelie’s Paris tour where she will take you to all of the famous spots from the film. She even brings a gnome along with her for photo ops! 

Berlin

Berlin will bend your mind in so many ways you never knew possible. With street art and graffiti on nearly ever corner, you’ll be blown away by the way this city embraces all kinds of artists and truly encourages a design-inspired life. Hop on this walking tour of Berlin’s street art, interact with the artists themselves and also participate in an art workshop where you will get to take home your own street art piece.

Stockholm

While IKEA may be your first dip into Swedish design, it certainly won’t be your last after you indulge in a whirlwind design-focused trip to Stockholm. Design Sponge has compiled an insane and overwhelmingly good guide to the city focusing on everything beautiful and worthy of a magazine spread. From sweets to clothing design to home décor, this city will leave you feeling speechless and wanting to completely redecorate your home. 

London

Whether you are a shop owner, a shopping fiend or you just love good examples of interior design, you should book yourself in for the West End Retail Design Tour in London, England. A 3-hour walking tour (wear appropriate yet stylish footwear!) discover how incredible shop design can be and how the consumer moves about in a well-designed space. You’ll like pick up some treasures along the way so make sure you bring a tote or backpack to stow away your previous designer cargo.

Guest post written by Kait Kucy. Follow her on twitter at @yuppielove

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Should You Rent A Bike For Your Bike Tour?

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

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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

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