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!
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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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).
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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North American travellers have often queried us about the late dinner times at our destinations. From Spain to Italy to France, it’s likely that you’ll sit down to dinner at 8pm (and occasionally even later). While the average European dinner time varies from country to country, it’s safe to say that dinner time is often later than the North American norm.
Some people have surmised that the late dinner time is ancestral, when in fact it’s a more recent development. Take Spain for example: the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s made for tough economic times for many families, and the men of the house often had to work two jobs. The first work shift would be from 6am-2pm, with the second shift or second job beginning at 3pm and lasting until 9pm. As a function of the double work shifts, lunch and dinner shifted to later in the day- and never returned to the pre-civil war dining times.
For Italians, later dinner allows for the observation of passeggiata, a slow stroll through the towns centre after work is done. Young and old townsfolk wander through the streets and visit with one another, exchanging stories and gossip of the day. They may also partake in aperitivo and nurse a Campari cocktail or glass of prosecco before returning home to make dinner.
Many French take lengthy lunches, sometimes a couple hours. With a long and luxurious lunch, an afternoon of work might not begin until 3pm. Returning home and starting dinner may not happen until 8pm or later.
When North American guests join us on bike tours, we remind them of the later dinner time. If needed, they can prepare themselves by grabbing a few extra snacks to hold over growling stomachs until dinner, or better yet, take a long lunch and nap during the afternoon. We like to travel and experience the culture like locals “in situ”, including dinner at the local time.
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?
In Situ offers Challenging Bike Tours in Europe, but that doesn’t mean that our bike tours aren’t supported. It’s a common question that we get from prospective guests: Are your bike tours supported and if so, what kind of support do you offer?
On the route every day, you’ll be accompanied by both a trip leader riding a bike and one driving a support vehicle. They will check in with you at various points along the route and throughout the ride. In addition to picking you up if you’re done riding for the day, the support vehicle is well stocked with snacks (sports bars, sports drinks, fruit, etc.), spare bike parts and first aid. Plus, the support vehicle is there even if you just want to stash that extra layer of clothing you needed in the morning, but no longer need in the afternoon.
Many of our guests are used to riding long distances self-supported when they are not on a trip, so the availability of support van is a nice perk. You don’t have to think of it as only the “sag wagon” or “broom vehicle” bringing up the rear.* Rather, think of it as a great resource to have while you’re out biking. You don’t need to carry lots of extra layers or worry about filling up your water bottles. The support van doesn’t just stay at the back, but covers the whole route to check in with you and to see if you need anything. We particularly recommend that people use the van to keep warm clothes available and dry for the sometimes chilly, mountainous descents. After you’ve spent a few hours climbing up the Col du Galibier, it’s a real treat to be able to put on a dry jersey for the descent. It lets you enjoy the ride even more!
* All of our bike tours are GPS equipped and we encourage you to ride at your own pace, with no pressure to ride faster than you want or get in the van.
For travellers on the go, packing light is absolutely essential. Between constant airport visits, long walks, public transport and toting your necessary gear around with you, learning how to pack like a pro is key to enjoying your travel experiences to the max.
Adjusting to this new way of packing can be life changing, especially if you are the type to over-pack and bring items for just about any situation. You’ve got to learn to be flexible and comfortable with what you have with you. Worst case scenario, you can always purchase an extra duffel bag before you head home to stow away some newly purchased finds on your journey.
Bring What You Need: The goal is to eliminate those two big checked suitcases you are used to bringing with you everywhere. Try to size your gear down to one carry-on suitcase or backpack and one small carry-on like a laptop bag or tote. You will literally fly through security and that extra time you’ll save at the baggage queue will get you on your way to your exciting destination. Remember when you are packing a carry-on suitcase there are certain items that are not allowed inside the cabin so make a check-list ahead of time to pick up essentials like shampoo, razors and hair spray upon arrival.
Stay Stylish: Packing light doesn’t mean you have to lose your sense of style. It just means you need to start looking at your wardrobe in a new light and figuring out a way to adapt the same items into multiple outfits. I find that keeping my wardrobe simple helps immensely. Don’t go crazy with too many colours or patterns – you can add those as you find treasures on your trip. Stick with one or two pairs of pants, five to six shirts and some layering pieces combined with your outerwear. A cycling kit or two, bike shoes and pedals is what you’ll need if you’re heading out on a bike trip. Don’t forget your pajamas!
Pack Like A Pro: You don’t have to be a professional traveller to pack like one. Try bringing items like a wrinkle-free trench coat, your favourite pair of jeans and limit yourself to a maximum of three pairs of shoes (which you’ll need if you are planning to bike one day and go for a high-end dining experience the next). One of my key tips for packing like a pro is to roll all of your clothing. It will pack much nicer into your suitcase and usually stays wrinkle-free. If you have white or light-coloured clothing I recommend rolling them and then sealing them into a ziplock bag – ideal in case you are worried of anything spilling in your suitcase and damaging your items.
Before you know it this type of packing will become second-nature to you and you’ll be inventing your own shortcuts for packing the perfect suitcase. Bon voyage!
Some people travel to eat; to explore the world’s most diverse cuisines, to eat at the finest restaurants and to cook with the freshest market ingredients. While the average foodie can find a decent meal in any city, folks with a gluten intolerance have a little bit of a harder time finding something delicious on the go. Luckily, Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance is not unique to North America and is actually quite common in all of Europe. More and more specialty bakeries and restaurants are starting to pop up from Italy to Copenhagen – and the results are mouthwatering.
Paris: Helmut New Cake
If you’ve ever dreamt of sipping a cappuccino while biting into a rich and luxurious éclair, you won’t have to go much further than Paris’ Helmut New Cake. With everything on their menu completely gluten-free, you’ll have a hard time saying no to the endless rows of tarts and cakes.
Berlin: Princess Cheesecake
Planning a special occasion while you are abroad? Stop by Princess Cheesecake in Berlin to pre-order a gluten-free or lactose-free cakes in advance. Famous for their beautiful flavours like poppy seed or pumpkin, these gorgeous cheesecakes are absolutely stunning.
Stockholm: Friends of Adam
A fresh loaf of gluten-free bread is hard to come by. Thankfully a Gluten-free friendly bakery, Friends of Adam in Stockholm, specializes in exactly that. Using ingredients such as buckwheat, rice and coconut, their breads are tasty and flavourful. Their bread is so completely popular, they’ve started to stocking their products all over Sweden.
You might not expect a city like Madrid to indulge in gluten-free trends but there are several fantastic gluten-free bakeries to tempt you with cakes, cookies and tarts. Celicioso is the most European of the bunch, you’ll find all sorts delicate pastries to satiate your cravings.
There is quite possibly nothing better than a one-stop shop and Amsterdam’s Cotton Cake not only sells delightful baked goods and coffee but it is also a dazzling clothing boutique. Everything from the dresses to the coffee beans is handpicked by the owners meaning your day spent at CottonCake will be totally unique.