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!
As part of our Bike Tour in the French Pyrenees, we climb the Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque on our last full day of riding. Are you looking for a good place to celebrate and chat with other cyclists and swap stories? We have a suggestion for you.
Right at the top of the Col du Soulor, at the intersection of the roads of Soulor and the Col d’Aubisque sits a great little restaurant called “Les Marmottes“. It’s a family run restaurant and bar with a front patio, rear deck, and a cozy interior. If the sun is shining and the spectacular views of the peaks stretch out before you, sitting on Les Marmottes’ rear deck is a great location to celebrate conquering the climb you just rode.
As a matter of practicality, we’d typically recommend that you ride both the Col du Soulor and the Col d’Aubisque before sitting down at Les Marmottes, because even if the Aubisque is not as challenging from the Soulor side, it still has a decent pitch in the last few kilometers. Why not wait until your climbing for the day is over before celebrating. Besides, if you’re returning towards Argelès-Gazost, your ride is almost all downhill from the top of the Soulor anyway.
Check out the other climbs we also ride on our Bike Tour in the French Pyrenees.
Some Tips And Opinions On When To Go, What to Consider and How to Plan Your Bike Tour in The French Alps.
So you’d like to go biking in the French Alps and you’re wondering what month would be best to plan your bike tour? We often recommend the month of June. Here are a few of our ideas and opinions why:
- The available season is relatively short due to many of the famous mountain passes being closed due to snow during the late fall, winter and early spring.
- Depending on what passes you’d like to ride, this can determine when you should go. For example, if climbing the Col du Galibier is essential during your trip, you shouldn’t really plan on going before June. In May, for example, you might be able to ride most of the way up, but the last few kilometers will probably still be covered in snow or even if not, the road might be closed due to avalanche danger. Play it safe and don’t ride past the barriers, even if the road appears to be ok. Or play it even safer and plan your visit for the summer.
- Alternatively, climbing Alpe d’Huez is possible almost all year, because the road leads to the ski resort and therefore is frequently cleared of snow. Not that you’d necessarily want to climb it in the middle of winter, but if you are traveling in the spring or fall, you can feel pretty confident that the road will be open for you to ride. Be prepared though for dramatic changes in temperature as well as the onset of a heavy storm. These are the mountains, so you should always be prepared for all weather conditions, no matter what time of year.
- If your goals include several different alpine passes, a bunch of the famous Tour de France climbs, and covering a bit of ground, as we do in our Bike Tour in the French Alps, you might want to consider the month of June. Of course the weather can be good in July and August, although noticeably warmer. You will also have to contend with the peak tourism season and the Tour de France. Keep in mind that most of Europe will be on vacation in August, so road traffic will be at its fullest and accommodations will be at a premium. July is synonymous with the Tour de France. If you’re not trying to see the race, you should plan accordingly to avoid the massive crowds. Of course if you are trying to watch the Tour, here are a few of our tips to watch the Tour de France in person.
- If June just doesn’t fit your schedule, we’d recommend September as well. The summer crowds have left, the weather is still very nice and the snow should still be at least a few weeks away.
Part of our bike tour in the Dolomites, the Sella Ronda is certainly one of the trip highlights.
The Sella Ronda is a loop of approximately 50 kilometers that encircles the Sella mountain range. It consists of four passes: Passo Sella, Passo Gardena, Passo Campolongo, and Passo Pordoi. One can start the ride at numerous points along the loop, including the popular towns of Canazei, Santa Christina, Corvarra or Arabba. Canazei is just slightly off of the loop, but a relatively short and scenic climb out of town will put you at the southern junction of the Passo Sella and Passo Pordoi. You can ride the route in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, but we tend to think that the clockwise loop is prettiest.
While not an extremely long loop, it is challenging. You’re either climbing or descending for almost the entire ride. In terms of the difficulty of each of the four climbs, the Passo Pordoi and the Passo Sella are arguably the hardest. Of course it can depend on which direction you climb them from. In addition to the clockwise direction being the most scenic, it is also generally considered the harder direction to ride the Sella Ronda.
Here are some quick stats:
Distance: approximately 50-55 kilometers (depending on where you start)
Total Climbing: approximately 1900-2000 meters (depending on where you start)
- Passo Sella: 2244 meters
- Passo Gardena: 2136 meters
- Passo Campolongo: 1875 meters
- Passo Pordoi: 2239 meters
More images from cycling the Sella Ronda
I was in search for a new turbo trainer for this winter and ultimately decided on the Elite Qubo Home Trainer. Here’s my review and thoughts on it so far.
Let me first say that this review and my thoughts are in no way affiliated with Elite, nor In Situ. This is my own, personal home trainer and my thoughts about it. Neither Elite nor In Situ paid for or sponsored for the trainer’s purchase or review. I just thought that readers might like some ideas if they themselves are searching for a new bike trainer too.
After several years of foregoing the use of a home trainer, preferring instead to venture out on the roads and trails, no matter what the weather, I started to realize that maybe the quality of my workouts was suffering. I held on to the noble notion that it builds character to weather the elements while riding one’s bike. But in honesty, I know that I would often ride easier or shorter than I probably should have been for training purposes, especially if the roads were snowy or icy. With this recent winter being a bit more serious than usual, I decided it was time to get a new stationary trainer. (I had a old Blackburn Trakstand years ago, but it was long since gone).
I also thought about getting a set of rollers, since this was the “gold standard” that so many people seemed to tout, back when I was first getting into cycling. But the trainer vs. rollers debate is a whole different discussion. For the sake of the post, I’ll just say that I chose to go with a trainer for several reasons.
So for me, the choice of a trainer came down to one main factor: was it quiet? My previous Blackburn sounded like a plane was about to take off every time I was on it. That combined with the required fan and the television volume, made for quite the racket! This time out I was going to hopefully change all of that. After googling multiple different variations of “quiet home bike stationary trainer”, I quickly started to notice that the Elite Qubo Fluid Trainer was mentioned often. A few more clicks and a few more comparisons and I had made my mind up. The Elite was the trainer for me.
Here are my thoughts on it from first taking it out of the box, setting it up to its performance.
Set-up: It does require some! Not much, but some. You don’t just pull it out of the box and you’re good to go. A few web reviewers complained that it was not easy to set up. I disagree. It’s not difficult, but it does take several minutes (e.g. 20-30 minutes), including some minor adjustments you might have to make to ensure it’s ready to go for the first use. Pay particular attention to the diameter of resistance unit roller! It comes in two different sizes/diameters and you’ll mount the resistance unit into different holes on the trainer base depending on what resistance unit you purchased. The instructions clearly walk you through this, but take a second to double check before installing. You’ll also have to adjust the side to side position of the resistance unit, so that you rear tire sits in the middle of the drum while in use. Lastly, you’ll play around with trainer’s clamp, to make sure it sufficiently grabs your rear axle, while not being too tight or too loose. You’re also given several plastic feet that can go under the trainer to level it out, if you need it. I didn’t need them.
Initial impressions after set up, but before the first use: Set-up was straight-forward, although I definitely needed to follow the instructions. It wasn’t intuitive. When centering the the resistance unit at the rear, I needed to move it all the way over to the left so that my tire was centered on it. That seems strange to me, but it doesn’t affect the performance at all. I’m wondering though if there are any bikes out there that one wouldn’t be able to center because I don’t think of my road bike as being particularly unique, yet I need the extreme left mounting position for it to sit correctly in the trainer.
Build quality: The resistance unit seems of very high quality. The trainer frame itself seems a bit lower quality with parts being made out of high density plastic and not metal. The vertical arms are metal, but the base is plastic. Even so, the trainer feels solid and is very stable when in use.
Performance: In a word, fantastic! Compared to other trainers I’ve used this is just simply great. There are no resistance adjustments on the trainer and there is no remote resistance control. All of the resistance is automatic from within the trainer itself. This is apparently done by calculating the weight and speed of the rider and adjusting accordingly. If you need more or less resistance, simply change gears, just like on the road. Super simple. The feel while on the trainer is also super smooth, with no slippage. While it does feel a little harder than actually riding on the road, there is more than enough range to spin as a warm up and to push harder gears too. For most of my use of the trainer so far, I haven’t really felt the need to use the big ring. There is more than enough resistance for me in the little chainring and smaller cogs.
Noise Level: So this was my main concern with a new trainer. All I can say is that this trainer is unbelievably quiet. I can’t even really hear it over the sound of the bike chain and pedaling. That’s quiet! As with most trainers, there is still vibration in the floor, but it is not very much. I should also note that I’m also using a trainer specific rear tire to cut down on noise and wear. I didn’t always use to do this in the past, but I’ve heard quite a few comments how this can help with the noise as well. I’ve not tried this same trainer with a normal tire to see if it’s any louder.
Unique notes: The trainer does not come with a front wheel riser, so you’ll either make do with fabricating your own (i.e. the phonebook) or you can buy one from Elite or another manufacturer. I use a thick magazine and it works just fine. It does however come with its own rear quick release skewer to ensure a good fit while your bike is on the trainer.
Summary: I like the Elite Qubo Fluid Trainer very much. Besides a few little quirks with the setup, it performs very well. And in terms of it being quiet, it’s fantastic.
Summer is not always the best time to take a bike tour in Europe.
Despite what some may believe, summer is not necessarily the best time to take a bike tour in Europe. Here are a few reasons why:
- Avoid the peak travel season. While summer may be appealing to you because it coincides with school holidays and warmer weather, it is also the time that everyone else is going on vacation. That includes the Europeans. So you’ll not only be competing with North Americans traveling to Europe for hotel rooms and airline tickets, you’ll also be faced with Europeans looking for lodging, buying train tickets and traveling by car too.
- Save money. This goes hand in hand with peak travel season. As demand for hotel rooms and flights go up, so does the price.
- See Europe without all the tourists. While our In Situ bike tours avoid most of the heavily trafficked destinations anyway, we’re referring to your time while not on our bike tour. Take for example Paris – a gateway city to several of our bike tours in France. In the month of August, not only is the city awash with foreign visitors, but the Parisians themselves have fled the city to go on vacation. What visitors are left with is a city without many of its inhabitants. Similarly, if you visit the south of France during the same time, expect to meet Parisians, Dutch, Belgians, English, etc., but maybe not too many locals.
- Spring and Fall are fantastic months. Despite some lingering false perceptions that Europe has poor weather outside of summer, the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall are excellent times for a bike tour in Europe. You’ll miss the staggering heat of summer, the number of visitors in each region will be a fraction of their summertime peak and the pace of life will be closer to normal. You’ll have a better chance at getting an authentic local experience.
So as you’re planning your next European Bike Tour, why not think beyond the summer months?
It’s winter. No doubt about it. As I sit inside looking at the snow falling lightly, I contemplate what I’ll be doing today in terms of exercise. Will it be sitting on the bike trainer or will I venture outside on the bike?
The roads are sure to be slick and icy. The thermometer says -4C (25F). OK, not too bad. It is this middle of January after all. I’ve got the proper clothing to stay warm, so the biggest hurdle is mental. I decide to layer up and head on out into this cold, grey day in Dresden, Germany. This is the second winter that I’ve spent here and this year is noticeably colder and snowier than last. I managed to squeak by last year with barely any snow and therefore spent the entire winter out on the open road. This was great for training and morale. Not a single day on the trainer, watching the TV and counting the workout intervals. I considered myself pretty lucky. If this was the “harsh European winters” that people talked about, this wasn’t too bad. I didn’t really believe it though. I figured we just skipped a year with regards to the cold and snow.
Seems to reason then that this year, a true winter should return. And indeed it has. I’m not sure exactly how long it’s been since the sun has appeared in the sky, but I think it’s been at least a few weeks. In fact, when I was out the other day with friends, we were all startled by the sight of bright, whitish circle up in the sky, trying to shine through the clouds. It never succeeded.
But rather than focus on the grey and the cold, I look at it as mini-challenge: me against the winter. And since it really isn’t that much snow outside, I figure my odds are pretty good. Besides, I truly believe that there is rarely something better than a bike ride to uplift one’s spirits. It doesn’t really matter what the weather is. If you’ve got the right gear, you’re ready to ride. Which brings to mind the Norwegian proverb, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong choice of clothes.” For the cyclist, that about sums it up. Although I would add that proper tire choice for the winter is probably not a bad idea either.
So deciding to avoid the busier, main roads today for safety reasons, I pull out the cyclocross bike and head out along the snowy cycling route running along the Elbe River. Even in the winter, this is a great place to ride. This is just a section of the bike route that stretches over 840 kilometers (520 miles), all the way from the border with the Czech Republic in the south, to the North Sea, just above Hamburg. I actually think I prefer to ride this in winter versus summer for many reasons, not the least of which is that there are so many fewer people out there in the snow. At this time of year, you’ll typically see runners, walkers and a few cross country skiers, but for the most part, it’s pretty quiet compared to the summer.
Riding in the brisk air was exactly what I needed. January can be a tough month for cyclists. In many parts of Europe and North America, we’re still deep into winter. The daylight is creeping back a few minutes every day, but the days are still low on light and pretty brisk. It is also the time of year that many of us are working off those few extra “holiday pounds” that were so fun to put on. But with our minds on our summer fitness goals, we know we need to put in the time and effort to be ready for warmer days. I think that’s, in part, what makes these wintry rides so much fun. It’s not only a challenge to ride, slipping along with snow underneath our tires, it’s a training challenge which will lead to better form later in the year. It’s not always easy to get out there and ride in the snow, but it sure is fun. And in the end, it does wonders for both my physical and mental well being.
With the introduction in 2013 of a toll system called GreenPass, cars will have to pay to use the famous Stelvio Pass. But what does this mean for cyclists?
For the moment, cyclists seem to be in the clear. They, along with electric and hybrid vehicles are designated as FREE. Cars, buses, trucks, etc. will have to pay, starting at 10 euros for a 7 day pass. A season pass can be purchased for 60 euros.
The move to add a toll comes in large part from the heavy maintenance bill faced by the highway department responsible for maintaining the road. But as supporters of the toll are quick to point out, it’s not just about the money. It’s an effort to protect the sensitive alpine environment from excessive personal vehicle traffic. Some hope that the toll will persuade tourists to take public transport to the top of the Stelvio Pass, rather than their own cars.
It will be interesting to see how this actually plays out during the first summer of operation when visitation to the Stelvio will peak. It’s somewhat easy to imagine increased traffic at the toll gates, backing up for kilometers down the road. From the cycling perspective: that wouldn’t be much fun to ride past. Perhaps the end result will in fact be fewer cars on the Stelvio Pass. But is a 10 euro toll enough of a deterrent? If so that’ll mean less cars on the road and more room for bikes!
Getting up early might be the best tip for Barcelona during the busy summer season.
If you are planning a vacation to the cycling hotspot of Girona, Barcelona is a natural landing point, a world famous city and definitely worth a visit. While the summer months can be uncomfortable to visit as the huge numbers of tourists crowd the city streets, forming endless lines at every major attraction, there is one tried and true secret to getting the best out of this city and our favorite tip for Barcelona: get up early.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be waking up before dawn, as in Spain, 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning is early enough for the streets to be super quiet. Consider foregoing your breakfast at your hotel one morning, to get out and explore the streets, before the city fully wakes up. Maybe decide to rub shoulders with the locals as they drink their morning “cafe con leche” at a corner cafe. The key is to have a plan and be ready to head out the door while everyone else is still trying to form their plan of attack. It’s a tricky thing to decide whether to visit the Sagrada Familia or Parc Guell first, but we recommend choosing one destination that you really want to see, and being there before it opens. One of our favorites is the Boqueria. This market can get so crowded by midday that they’re impossible to maneuver; however, go at 7 o’clock in the morning, enjoy a fresh juice and you’ll have practically the entire market to yourself to take pictures to your heart’s content.
It can be tempting to hopscotch from city to city when traveling all the way to Europe for a limited vacation period; however, for travelers who like to get a taste of the very essence of a new place and culture, sometimes staying put for 5-7 days is the best option.
When coupled with a variety of bike riding options that allow a cyclist to do a new route for every day of the week, there are some unique locations in Europe that are better experienced by unpacking the suitcase for a few days and diving into the local rhythm.
Girona is the perfect example. It’s no wonder why so many pro cyclists choose to call it home. The terrain varies from coastal cliffs to twisty canyons to forested mountain climbs, and at the end of the day, there’s a town with a seemingly endless amount of restaurants, cafés, museums, parks, bars and shops all housed in some of the most beautiful architecture Europe has to offer. Girona is often bypassed for the big name cities like Barcelona, or simply visited on a day trip, so spending the week living in the town quickly gives a local feel to your vacation and creates meaningful memories and stories that won’t soon be forgotten.
For visitors who plan to bike during the day and explore Girona in the afternoons and evenings, here are 5 reasons why this wonderful town is worth a longer stay:
1. Experience the tides of Girona. The Catalan rhythm of life is like a tide. It ebbs and flows throughout the day. The streets are packed in the mornings with deliveries and locals hustling to work or buying groceries at the markets. The shops closes and restaurants are packed early afternoon for a long lunch. Late afternoon, the city feels quiet as many people go home for siesta, but by early evening, the streets are packed again with friends, families and visitors heading out for a drink before dinner. Dinner is served until midnight and it’s not uncommon to find restaurants rather full until late into the evening. The light and atmosphere changes from hour to hour, and it takes the better part of the week to get a feel for Girona in all its moods.
2. Eating in Girona.To truly get to eat your way around Girona, you would probably need at least a full summer. The cuisine is top notch and the variety is fantastic. From multiple course menus showcasing the specialties of the region to simple fresh salads or tapas, this town has something to please every taste, night after night.
3. The Architecture. Even off the bike, you’ll be getting in a workout from climbing all the stairs of Girona while wandering the winding paths dotted with cafés, churches and shops. The white stone and cobbled streets make Girona charming, and the varying elevations of this town only add to its beauty. Every church, bridge or set of stairs is unique, and a week can easily be spent admiring it all.
4. Hidden Sights. Girona if full of museums, overlooks and attractions, but it takes time to visit them all. Even days after arriving, you will still find yourself stumbling over new sights that would have been missed during a quick visit to Girona. Some off-the-beaten-path highlights that we enjoy are the Arab Baths and the old city walls that skirt the the backside of the old town.
5. Café Culture. Who doesn’t enjoy a good coffee or drink after a day of riding? In the late afternoon, it might seem like every living person in Girona is out enjoying good conversation with friends. When cafés fill up, it’s not unusual to see people enjoying their drink sitting on one of the old stone walls or many sets of stairs leading through the city. This is a very cheerful time meant to be spent with friends and families and most definitely a quintessential part of your Girona experience.
Like many other cyclists out there, there are times in the fall and winter that I struggle with finding the motivation to ride. This is especially true when the thermometer dips below freezing. Just a few weeks ago, we had our seasonal time change, letting the clocks fall back an hour and plunging ourselves into the evening darkness that much sooner. As much as I love cycling, the reduced daylight hours and the chilly temps pose an annual challenge for my training and fitness. I’ve recently come off of another fantastic season of managing and leading bike tours in Europe and I got the chance to ride in some of the best cycling regions in the world. But now that the trips are on hiatus until next spring, summoning up the motivation to swing the leg over the road bike and head out on a cold, overcast and frigid day can be tough.
As is typical for me in the fall, I look forward to the training transition and the change of seasons. I dust off both my cyclocross and mountain bikes in order to explore the nearby trails and routes rarely ridden during the summer. I enjoy the change of pace, the sometimes shorter rides and the unstructured-ness of it all. But herein lies the catch: it can be a slippery slope of lessening your amount of riding to an all out lack of riding. “A couple of days off won’t hurt”, I say. This is true, but it’s easy for a couple of days to become several and even many consecutive days. The grey, bitter winter wind makes the hibernating comfort of the indoors that much more appealing. And I know that 90% of the battle is just getting out the door, that my real challenge this time of year is in my head and not outside. I’ve rarely (if ever) regretted going for a ride. You may recall that I’ve mentioned a friend that told me once, “If it’s a question to ride or not, the answer is always the same. Ride.”
“If it’s a question to ride or not, the answer is always the same. Ride.”
So once I’m out that door, the weather no matter how cold and wet, becomes a badge of honor. I may suffer through the ride, with frozen hands, feet and other body parts, the entire time cursing the conditions, but I never return home, regretting my decision to head out. As my friend has said, riding is always the right choice.
I started thinking about this seasonal condundrum again, because of an article I just read about “Hibernation and Motivation” during this time of year and how it plays havoc with one’s training. I related to many of the things the author wrote, but I must say that I found it a bit funny to note that she lives in San Diego, California AND is a cycling coach herself. Yes, I know that it gets dark early there too, but I know it doesn’t get that cold. I guess it just goes to prove that everyone, even cycling coaches and Cat. 1 racers need to find their own motivation to ride during this time of year.
To all of us: let’s get out there and ride.