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!
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
North American cyclists coming to Europe for the first time are often surprised at the technical climbing and descending required on the routes we ride. You quickly understand why France, Italy and Spain produce such prolific descenders; growing up training and riding on this steep, weaving and technical terrain demands an entirely different set of skills than that of wide open spaces.
Guests on our cycling trips often comment on “hills” (usually mountains) and the difference from routes they commonly ride at home. When we prepare guests for big descents, here are the descending cycling tips we share:
Get Low – increase your stability on the bike by lowering your centre of gravity. This will also enhance your aerodynamic position, get those hands into the drops or down into time trial position. Bringing your body down low on the bike allows you to not only be more stable and aerodynamic, but it also allows you to use your legs for further balance and stability.
Add a layer – now is a great time to pull up those arm warmers you pushed down to your wrists during the climb, or grab that wind vest from your jersey pocket. The combination of added elevation, increased speed and wind on the way down can give you a serious chill. Keep your legs pedalling, even lightly, to keep your body warm on the way down.
Brake before the corner- the temptation is to white knuckle the breaks all the way down to the bottom. If possible, try lightly pumping the breaks instead of gripping them furiously, giving you more control over the bike. When approaching a corner, try to break lightly prior to the corner so you have the ability to gently lean into the corner, with the weight on the straight leg (outside leg) and the bent leg has minimal weight (leg closest to the corner).
Be safe- keep your ears headphone-free. Having music playing can distract you from the road ahead and the sounds associated with safety: car horns, other cyclists voices, sirens, train crossings, road blocks, obstacles. Give space to the cyclist in front of you, lest they jam on their breaks unannounced. Inclement weather like rain, snow, sleet, or hail can effect a downhill journey. Be aware of the weather conditions but try not to dwell on them. If the road is wet, plan on a little extra time to descent and be a little more slow than usual. If the road has two-way traffic, keep an occasional eye on the cars on the side of you. Bonus of riding in Europe? Cars are used to seeing cyclists everywhere and often provide a wide berth.
Focus forward- look where you want to go, not at the road directly in front of you. It may sound simple, but our gaze can easily stray to the gorgeous scenery, the obstacles on the road (ever run into a heard of cattle on a descent before?) or the people around us. Keeping your chin up and your gaze focused forward on where you want to go helps your mind stay honed in on the place you and your bike are going.
Above all else, it’s about enjoying the epic climb, soaking in the scenery and pushing yourself up Mt. Ventoux, Col d’ Galibier or Passo dell Stelvio. Your reward for the hard work is the descent, and we want you to enjoy the ride!
The solo traveller is an enviable character. They whisk themselves across the globe at will and explore all of the wonders of the world without any distraction whatsoever. They are cultured and have an air of sophistication even when jet-lagged and toting around a massive bag. They are not afraid of trying new things and they are always up for their next adventure. We all want to be this person. And we can be.
There is always a tiny bit of trepidation for anyone pondering a solo trip for the first time. Whether it is your first time travelling beyond your hometown, your first solo bike tour or the first time you are crossing an ocean, travelling firsts can be a bit nerve-wracking. However, once you arrive, things always fall into place and you end up having an incredible experience.
An important part of travelling alone is being open to experiences. If you are typically a shy person, you may have to go out of your comfort zone a bit to truly take advantage of your travels. That means talking with strangers in your hotel’s lounge, chatting up fellow cyclists or signing up for a last minute boat trip around the island. While you may have left your hometown without a travelling companion, some of the best memories you have are with other people. So, make some new friends along the way – you never know where your friendship will take you. Perhaps, they live in some incredible city and you will get to visit them in their villa or beachside cottage for your next trip. Or maybe they have excellent recommendations for house-sitting opportunities in the Mediterranean. You may learn of exciting new cycling routes in a city you never considered. Whatever it may be, you never know until you start talking to people.
Beyond that, solo travel is incredibly freeing because you are not held to anyone else’s schedule but yours. You get to visit the art museum when you want to and for however long you like. You can ride those extra miles each day. You get to be you and make your own choices. It can be incredibly liberating!
As you begin to plan out your exciting adventure, take note to ensure you are staying in safe neighbourhoods, you have filled in your family and friends of your travel plans and are prepared for a life-changing trip. Bon voyage!
Photo by Marina Caprara. Creative Commons licence: http://bit.ly/1dsZ1lC
In Situ Travel staff note: we do often answer the question, “What if I am traveling alone for a bike trip?” The answer is simple: we welcome you and are excited to have you! We endeavour to put solo travellers into a group that best fits their travel needs, cycling experience and dream destination. Contact us if you’re considering a solo bike trip this year.
Many of us grew up with a responsible adult in our lives reminding us to take our vitamins. “Don’t forget to take your vitamins” may have been one of the more commonly voiced phrases from adults to young people in North American households. As important as vitamins are for our physical health, vacations are for our mental health. Most of us agree we need vacations, and the studies are overwhelmingly in favour of them, so why is it such a struggle to get out on one?
The research is astoundingly skewed in favor of an annual vacation. Studies have shown even short trips can stave off burnout, increase creativity, increase physical wellness, decrease stress and increase overall quality of life. With the long list of benefits to a getaway, what are you waiting for?
Overwhelmingly, a study by expedia.com found that a third of Americans don’t take all the vacation days they are entitled, often leaving an average of three on the table. Furthermore, the average American is entitled to fourteen days of paid vacation, some of the lowest in the developed world.
Americans are leaving vacation days on the table, although most people know and understand that vacation is good for them. Taking it one step further, what are the advantages of an active vacation (for example, riding your bike through France)?
There is less research on the outcomes and benefits of an active vacation. However, most Physiologists, Doctors, Nutritionists, Kinesiologists, Personal Trainers and Health Professionals will agree exercise is good for you and provide benefits similar to what was mentioned above for overall wellness in taking vacation.
This year join us on a trip and get a double dose of goodness in your life, grab one of the many benefits of vacation. In other words, “Don’t forget to take your vacation”. Better yet, take it on a bike.
With many of us frequently embarking on new travel adventures it is so important to stay organized and keep your travel plans on hand as you jet set from place to place. Luckily, in this day and age there are many amazing tools available to us at the touch of a button. You can now have your entire trip planned out on your smart phone and be able to send your itinerary to anyone in a split second. With so many apps for traveling to try out, it is often difficult to discern the practical and useful from the apps that won’t do us any service at all.
These five apps cover most bases for people who travel regularly or even for someone planning out their first big trip.
Foodspotting: Because we all have to eat, let’s start off with this awesome app designed especially for foodies on the go! Showing you the best places to nosh no matter what city you are in; this app pulls your location to find great spots nearby.
Packing Pro: Never leave anything behind ever again. The perfect app for anyone with a Type A personality – it catalogues your belongings by category and even by which trip you are on. Excellent for the pre-planner who loves digging their suitcase out three weeks in advance, or the cyclist trying to organize all the essentials for their bike trip.
XE Currency: A little bit of currency help never hurt anyone. This app will convert any dollar you like into Euros, Pounds, Czech Koruna and more.
Trip It: A great one-stop shop app to keep all of your travel documents in one place. Car rentals, hotel bookings and flights will be easily accessible to you and will be listed out chronologically. Easy!
FlightTrack: If you have more than one connection you are going to want to download FlightTrack. It helps you keep track of multiple flights, any delay notifications or to keep track of your friend coming to join you. An essential for overseas travel.