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!
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.
So, you’re all booked and ready to scratch a big one off your bucket list: Go on a bike tour of your favourite European country. Congratulations! There’s something so exciting about a first-time adventure. Our guess is that this won’t be your last cycling tour.
You’ve got everything you need: passport, coordinated cycling gear (just for the record, you don’t really need to be coordinated at all, but if that’s your thing, then, hey; no judgment here), a tour booked (we can’t wait to meet you!) and your bike. You’re ready to roll!
Just one thing to remember: Are you ready to ride? You don’t need to be ready for the Tour de France, but it’s important to be honest with yourself when it comes to assessing your fitness and preparing for your trip. We want you to have the time of your life, so, depending on the itinerary, this might include up to 50–150 km of cycling in a day. Are you comfortable riding for moderately long distances? Better yet, do you enjoy it?
If you’re not quite there yet, don’t worry: You can prepare for your trip, which will help you build your endurance and get your body used to your bike (For some of us, the first couple of full days on a bike had us thinking we’d never be able to sit down again, but don’t worry, that was very short lived). That way, you can enjoy the gorgeous scenery on your ride, instead of wondering how far it is to the next stop.
Sure, riding a bike is like, well, riding a bike, but remember, if you haven’t been doing it regularly, your body will take a little conditioning to get back into the swing of things.
Here are some tips to help get you European-bike-tour ready:
- Make sure your bike fits you properly (this is key to keeping you safe while you train and ride). Your local bike pro can help you with this.
- Get out there and ride! You don’t need to ride for hours every day, but do try to be consistent and get out there on your bike, even for short rides, nearly every day.
- Build up to it. Plan a training schedule (talk to us if you’d like tips) and work up to your goals. This article about training for a tour suggests training for time on your bike, as opposed to mileage.
- Don’t avoid those hills! You’ll thank yourself on your tour if you’ve been including the hilly routes on your training!
- Remember your core! It’s easy to forget to train the rest of your body when you’re focused on the cycling, but a cross-trained body will make your riding so much easier on your tour.
Cycling relies on your core strength, but doesn’t effectively build it and it’s key to making the rest of your muscles work efficiently. Check out the best exercises to improve your most important cycling muscles or talk to a physical trainer.
Remember to keep it fun! You’re more likely to be consistent and, after all, you’re getting ready to do something you’ve dreamed of doing.
Cyclists rejoice! In many places in North America this past weekend marks the beginning of cycling season. The sun is coming up earlier making for warmer, longer days; the pesky gravel, salt and grit from the winter roads is finally gone. Only a couple layers of clothes are required for riding outside instead of endless winter layers, and your water is no longer going to freeze inside the bottle.
For those of us who haven’t been outside much in the last few months but have been busy putting in miles on the trainer, the transition back to road riding can be a bit of a shock. Getting ready for outdoor spring cycling training is fun and exciting, make sure you give some consideration to the transition and prepare yourself:
1. Work your balance
If you’ve been rocking out on the trainer for the winter, the one thing you haven’t had to do is balance your bike- and you will as soon as you swing your leg over the saddle this season. Spend some time readjusting to the balance of your bike, the sway of your body and be aware you might have at least one wiggle or wobble as you unclip at your first stop light.
2. Core Strength
To help out of the balance of your bike, consider spending some extra time each day working your core muscles in your body. These muscles, when activated, will help you with your balance on the bike, and enhance your overall power.
3. Time for a Tune
Time to swap out the trainer tire for a road tire. If you’ve been sititng inside on your bike for a few months, now is a great time for a quick tune before you head out on the road. Most local bikes shops will do a general tune in time for the spring. Plan ahead- it’s a busy time for most bike shops!
4. Be alert and aware
Inside you don’t have to contend with cars, traffic lights, pedestrians, other cyclists, unexpected dips and curves of the road. Be alert and aware when you get back on the road and be extra vigilent. You have possibly fallen out of the habit of signalling, giving extra space to the cyclist ahead or the SUV that seems to be all over the road. A few road rides will have you back in outdoor awareness in no time.
Wishing all of our guests, subcontracts, friends and cycling enthusiasts a safe and fun transition into this cycling season.
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