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!
Yes, you read the title correctly. Alpe d’Huez is overrated. I realize that it’s just my opinion and that others may disagree, but I’m sticking to it. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ride it. If you follow cycling and you haven’t ridden it, then without a doubt you should ride it. And it’s going to remain a key part of our French Alps Bike Tour. So it’s not that it isn’t worth climbing either. It is, if for no other reason to see it for yourself and experience it firsthand. Alpe d’Huez is the stuff of legends. If you ask many cyclists to name a famous climb in the French Alps, they’ll name Alpe d’Huez. It’s not surprising. Alpe d’Huez has been climbed 28 times in the Tour de France over the years, which is particularly remarkable since 27 of those times have been since 1976! It’s usage in the race has practically made it synonymous with the Tour itself. One has to look no further than the village of Bourg d’Oisans, located at the foot of Alpe d’Huez to see the impact of cycling on this twisty climb. In summer, the village is awash with jerseys, bikes and cyclists in cafés.
But is it all worth it? Sure, if you’ve never seen it before, but in my opinion the French Alps hold so many wonderful, challenging, and scenic roads to climb, I wouldn’t put Alpe d’Huez anywhere near the top of my list. Instead, I’d much prefer to climb the Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de la Télégraphe, Col du Galibier or Col de la Madeleine. And the list goes on. All of the aforementioned alternatives have something Alpe d’Huez does not. They have a sense of the Alps themselves and at times, a sense of solitude amongst the mountains. Alpe d’Huez is a road to a ski resort. Yes, there are the 21 turns that take you to the top, but ultimately you’re ascending to a crowded hilltop, filled with condos, lodges, restaurants, ski lifts and parking lots. Are there views from the top? A few. But it pales in comparison to the likes of other great climbs in the Alps. Is it a challenging climb. Yes, but it is neither longer or steeper than any of the climbs mentioned above.
So climb it if you must, but know that there are many more climbing options in the area that hold far more than a famous name.
Are you looking for a fantastic place to ride this summer? Why not join us in Spain? We’ve still got a few spots available for our Girona and Costa Brava Bike Tour from July 7-12, 2015.
Ideally situated just inland from the Mediterranean, Girona is the perfect base for a cycling vacation. The terrain is a good mix of rolling hills, small villages and scenic vistas. Then when you’re off the bike, you can enjoy all that Girona has to offer: a historic medieval center, shopping, museums, restaurants, etc. You’ll soon discover why so many professional cyclists call Girona home. It’s the perfect balance of fantastic cycling routes and a great town for your off-the-bike activities.
Here’s just a glimpse of what a week with us offers:
- Riding the Els Angels Climb – 10.4 kilometers long at a height of 404 meters. It’s a local favorite and just a few kilometers south of Girona’s historic center.
- Savoring Catalan cuisine – fresh ingredients, often prepared simply, but bursting with flavor
- Enjoying a leisurely afternoon, sitting in a cafe, watching Girona unfold before you
- Cycling along Costa Brava with the blue waters of the Mediterranean below you.
Find out more via our Girona and Costa Brava Bike Tour page.
You’ve dreamt of cycling in Europe for a long time, so nothing short of riding your own bike will do. But how do you get it all the way from your home to your destination in Europe? There are several steps to have it go smoothly, but none of them are terribly complicated if you plan ahead a little bit.Sure there is also the option of renting a car, but not everyone wants to do that. For this blog post, we’ll look at the option of transporting your bike on a european train.
Here are some tips:
Smooth train travel begins before you even book your plane ticket to Europe. Did you know that some major european airports have train stations located directly in the airport? Paris and Frankfurt are just two examples. You don’t even have to leave the terminal. Simply get your bike from baggage claim and roll it to the train station. This saves you a step: there are no taxi or bus transfers and no hauling your bike more than you have to. You may also be able to go directly to your final destination without having to change trains later. For example, you can travel directly from the Paris CDG airport to Provence in just over 3 hours.
Allow enough time and know the game plan before you board
Get to the train station early to load your bike. Try the luggage area at the end of your train car or look for the bike symbol on some trains that now have a special bike compartment. If you put your bike in a bike specific car that is not the same car in which you are traveling, be sure to confirm that the car is going to the same destination as you! Some long-haul trains will split during the course of the journey. The car destination is typically posted near the door of each train car, but if unsure, just ask a train conductor. And please remember, bike cases can be large so please be courteous of other travelers and do not block aisles or doorways with your bike, even if the luggage racks are full.
Can bikes go inside the train car or must they be loaded into special bike luggage areas?
There is often confusion about this. If you look at the railway websites, they will often state that bikes must go in special compartments or designated areas within the train and cannot be loaded into the train car. This is referring to bikes NOT in bike cases. If your bike is in a bike case or box, it is treated as luggage, not a bike. But as mentioned above, bike cases are large and can get in the way. Do your best to load it with other luggage and keep it out of the way for the other passengers.
Is your bike outside of a case? Well then, yes, you need to load it in the designated bike area or bike car. This will also limit which trains you can take. Not all trains (especially not the high speed, express trains) have bike compartments. If your bike is not in a case, double check that you’ll be able to transport it, before you plan your trip.
Image source: “Aéroport Charles De Gaulle 2 – Gare TGV” by Alessandro Prada. Creative Commons License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/bibendum84/5274176885
So What Are Your Bike Rental Options?
Many of our guests choose to bring their own bikes with them to ride during their bike tour. Nothing quite fits like your own bike, so it makes sense that you’d like to have it with you as you conquer the legendary cols of Europe. However, if you’d prefer to rent a bike while on your trip, that’s an option too. We’re frequently asked what are the bike rental options on our bike tours, so here’s a brief summary:
We handle all of the logistics for our guests’ bike rentals, meaning that they will be available for your use during the bike tour and there’s nothing required by you in terms of pick-up or drop off of the rental bike. We work with local bike shops in each region for the rentals. Generally, there is a range of bikes available in various sizes. Some of the brands include: Trek, Pinarello, Scott, Colnago, BMC, Cannondale, as well as others. The level of bike ranges from a more entry level, aluminum/carbon bike with Shimano 105 components, up to the top of the line, full carbon, pro race bike with carbon race wheels. As an example of the bikes available for rent, here are some of the options for our bike tour in Provence. The prices are for the entire trip, per person:
Trek Domane 4 (Shimano 105 / triple chainring): $300
Trek Domane 5.2 (Shimano Ultegra / triple chainring): $375
Trek Domane 5.9C (Shimano Ultegra / compact chainring / 11-speed / DI-2 electronic shifting): $540
Typically for each trip region, there is an option for around $300 per person, with prices going up from there for more high end bikes.
Do you have more questions? Please feel free to contact us. We’re happy to help you!
A brief look at the Col d’Agnes in the French Pyrenees.
High in the French Pyrenees, situated between the Col de Latrape and the Port de Lers, lies the beautiful Col d’Agnes. At 1570 meters high, the col typically ranks as a Category 1 climb when used in the Tour de France and is rightfully challenging. The eastern approach is notably more tame with the beginning starting off along a pleasant river valley. In contrast, the western side hits your hardest shortly out of Aulus-les Bains.
The Col d’Agnes is generally open from May through November.
Start in Aulus-les Bains
Distance: 10.1 km
Average Grade: 8.1%
Max Grade: 11%
Start in Massat
Distance: 17.6 km
Average Grade: 5.3%
Max Grade: 8%
Main post image: “Col d’Agnés” by bebb83 – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Col_d%27Agn%C3%A9s.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Col_d%27Agn%C3%A9s.jpg
Small is the Next BIG Thing.
It seems like everything is getter bigger nowadays. What happened to great things in small packages? What happened to quality over quantity? When did something being big, mean that it was better? Why are mobile phones starting to look like tablets? How am I supposed to fit that into my jersey pocket? Why would I want to? I tend to think that there are many things that are better in small packages. Cycling tours are one of those things, which is why In Situ is proud to offer small group bike tours.
Besides offering our guests the possibility to ride over some of the most challenging routes in Europe, we make sure to keep our cycling tour groups small. How small? Our regular trips are never more than 10 guests. Yes, that is small. Why? We believe smaller groups allow us to provide a more personalized experience. The quality of our service is a cornerstone of our business.
With small groups, we’re able to stay at small, family-run inns and not large, chain hotels. Perhaps our hotel has only ten rooms, each decorated with a personal touch. The whole family might be in charge of running the inn: from serving up breakfast to letting you feast on dinner, from organizing your afternoon massage to pouring you a glass during our evening wine tasting. You feel connected. You feel like you’ve been welcomed into someone’s home. When is the last time you felt that in a chain hotel?
With small groups, we dine in authentic, local establishments; ordering off of the menu, as you would with a group of friends. Our meals aren’t buffet pasta feasts that load you with carbs. Small group meals mean that the restaurant isn’t overrun with the equivalent of a tour bus full of cyclists. Ever wonder why your meal options on those other big, group cycling tours are limited? Quite simply, the restaurant kitchen can’t accommodate all 30 of you ordering à la carte, all at the same time. Do you want a better dining experience? Go small.
With small groups, you can experience the routes without feeling like you’re part of a bike race. Ride together or separate, you decide (our GPS units, let you ride at your own pace). Ask yourself, how much do you see of the countryside while sitting in a double pace line with 30 people for 50 kilometers? More likely than not, you’ll remember the back of the rider in front of you more than you’ll remember the little villages you just passed through. Smaller groups allow you to take in your surroundings better. Sure you’re riding in Europe to conquer some of the famous cols, but you might only be here once in your life, you might as well take a look around. A small group gives you more space on the road.
With small groups, the overall experience is more relaxed. Gather after breakfast, geared up to ride. Your bike is waiting for you by the snack table. Don’t worry, there’s no rush to grab goodies for your jersey pockets. You’re not competing with 30 other people for the bananas and trying to rush to get to a “start” line. With a small group bike tour, the tone is mellow and laid back. Ask yourself what you think it would look like with a few dozen riders instead of just ten?
With small groups, you have a great guest to bike tour leader ratio. A typical set up for a bike tour is to have two leaders: one driving the support van while the other rides a bike with the guests. If your trip has 26 guests on it, that’s a ratio of 13 guests per leader. With In Situ’s bike tours, the ratio is never more than 5 guests per leader and sometimes just 3 or 4 guests per leader (i.e. on a 7 or 8 person trip). Other companies will tell you that they have even 3 or more leaders on their trips, but guess what? Their trips are also a lot bigger. That same 26 guests trip with 3 leaders on it, is still a ratio of more that 8 guests per leader. Once again, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Small group bike tours give you more personalized service.
In Situ was founded with one of the core principles being small groups. We not only believe this to be a better solution, we know it. We think others are finally realizing it too. Every year, other bike tour companies are talking more and more about the “small” trips that they now offer. But buyer beware: the term “small” is a relative term. Ask them what small means to them and they might just say, “26 guests”. Well, I guess that seems “small” when you compare yourself to a sightseeing tour bus.
Small (group bike tours), is the next BIG thing. Remember where you heard it first.
Parisian women are known for their impeccable style and taste. For as long as we can remember, the French have always been forefront on the fashion scene and have been keeping us absolutely green with envy over their effortless style. Turns out a lot more thought goes into their outfits – that effortlessness doesn’t come out of thin air!
The quintessential Parisian style is definitely sourced back to the French New Wave film scene of the 1950s and 1960s. Some pivotal actresses that changed the way we think about fashion include Anna Karina, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Jane Birkin. With their crisp white t-shirts and skinny black pants, these women perfected cat eye liner and the nude lip. Their iconic looks have truly become timeless as we see their style emulated all over the world to date.
I have pulled together the essentials to turn you into a Parisian ingénue in no time at all!
Neutrals + Black
Parisian girls always stock their day to day wardrobe with clean neutrals like white blouses, creamy cardigans and stone-hued leathers. And of course, she always grounds her outfits with a strong black piece like pants or a leather jacket.
Keeping it simple and comfortable for lots of walking, black flats are an absolute must-have. Pointy, ballerina or square – these classic shoes are excellent for packing and travel.
Parisian wannabe, Audrey Hepburn was never without a pair of skinny black pants. Cropped at the ankle, these pants go with everything.
Another timeless piece, the classic khaki trench coat is an essential for travel. Wear it casual or dress it up for a night out, you’ll be looking sharp no matter what.
And If You Must, Stripes…
Everyone thinks of striped tees when they think of Parisian fashion which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To avoid looking like you are going to a French theme party, stick with subtle stripes like pinstripe jeans or a black + white tote. You can break out the red + white stripe boatneck occasionally, of course!
New cyclists and new guests on our trips sometimes ask us about nuances of cycling. One of these reoccurring questions is about cycling gloves. “Are they really necessary?”, writes one of our guests, assembling his attire for an upcoming bike trip. Some people prefer to ride without gloves, some with gloves. It’s a personal choice, but here are some reasons why you might want to consider wearing them and what you can expect when you ride with them.
If you’ve never ridden with cycling gloves, you may be surprised to know that many cyclists experience greater comfort when wearing them (with or without fingers). Often there is light padding that protects the pad of the hand from discomfort that could be caused by hours on the saddle with the hands in the same position. But if you’re already experiencing a lot of hand pain from riding, don’t look to gloves as the only solution. Make sure that your position on the bike is correct and that you’re not putting too much pressure on your hands while riding. Gloves can be great, but they are not a solution for poor form or bike set-up.
In the unfortunate event of a fall, the gloves provide a layer of protection. The first point of contact with the ground is often the hand. Keep them protected from road rash by wearing a glove..
In the case of cooler temps, gloves provide your hands with warmth. Have you ever tried to shift gears on a road bike when your fingers are frozen solid? Your fumbling phalanges can’t seem to do even the simplest task. Gloves help.
Before you scrunch up your face and go, “Ew”, most seasoned cyclists we asked confirmed this to be true. Cycling-specific gloves often have soft patches between the thumb and forefinger, perfect for a quick nose wipe or mopping a bit of drool off your chin.
Image Above: “White leather fingerless cycling glove” by Lewis Ronald – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_leather_fingerless_cycling_glove.jpg
Support Vehicle YES, Shuttles NO
You might look at that title and wonder what’s the difference? On cycling tours, there can be a BIG difference between a Support Vehicle (aka SAG Wagon) and a Shuttle. Simply put:
- A Support Vehicle is available to you on the route to help you with gear, nutrition, and a ride if you need it.
- A Shuttle is a required element of the day’s route, i.e you need to “shuttle” to get to and/or from the ride.
At In Situ we provide you with a support vehicle, but we never require that you shuttle. We figured that if you came on a cycling tour, you came to ride and not sit in a vehicle. Out on the route every day a support vehicle will join you. It carries your extra personal gear (i.e. rain jacket, warm layers, etc.), food, bike parts, spare wheels and other goodies to help you out with your ride. It’s also there in case you want to call it a day. If you’re done riding, of course you can hop in the support vehicle and get a ride back to the hotel. But do you have to? Of course not. It’s your vacation after all, so it’s your choice. It’s a support vehicle, not a required shuttle.