With so many more people taking to their bikes for a weekend spin, the popularity of cycling holidays is also growing rapidly. It’s easy to plan your own trip, either here or abroad, or if you would prefer someone else to organise it, there are hundreds of specialist tour companies which will take care of your itinerary, provide a guide if necessary and even transfer your bags between stops. It’s also a great way of meeting new people.
Just have a think about what you want to get out of the trip and then take your pick. Do consider your cycling ability and pick an appropriate itinerary. Most guided tours offer different levels of rides – if you only use your bike for an occasional five minute ride to the shops, don’t sign up for a 200k a day, hilly cycling adventure unless you are prepared to do some serious training beforehand! Generally, however, cycling is a great way of seeing more of a country in a relaxed way, far removed from our usual fast-paced, stressful lives.
As with most sports, the key is to be prepared. Whichever cycle holiday you opt for, it’s worth getting some hours in the saddle before you set off so that you’re comfortable and confident – it won’t be enjoyable if you’re struggling to keep up and are exhausted every night. What’s more, even if you’re fairly fit, you will need to get your muscles used to cycling.
Think about what you need to take. If you’re going abroad, it probably isn’t worth transporting your bike unless you’re doing some pretty serious cycling. If you are planning a more strenuous trip, purpose-made bike travel boxes are now readily available to protect your bike in transit.
In many countries, you can hire decent bikes fairly easily, just make sure you’ve done some research first and, preferably, book bikes before you go. That way, you can be certain that the correct size of bike is available. Taking your own seat is a wise option, so you know you’ll be comfortable! Also check whether the hire company can fit the bike with peddles compatible with your shoes if you use clip-ins (or flat pedals if you don’t), and that they will provide a repair kit and spare inner tube. Generally, it’s safer to take your own helmet as you know its history. Many companies will also provide emergency assistance for mechanical issues if you do get into difficulty.
Deciding what to take on holiday is always difficult, but thinking through the essentials is vital if you’re spending multiple days on a bike. Don’t even think about ‘managing’ without cycle specific gear – the starting point is high performance padded cycle shorts which are a must! Talking of which, some anti-chaff or chamois cream would also be a wise investment. You’ll need cycle jerseys which are wicking and have plenty of back pockets for all your bits and pieces. Don’t forget cycle gloves and cycle glasses (the wrap-around ones to stop fly-in-the-eye are good, ideally with changeable lenses for different conditions). A good quality, compact waterproof jacket and arm warmers could also be lifesavers, enabling you to easily adapt to changing weather.
The most practical way of carrying your essentials is in a small saddle, frame or handlebar bag – you won’t need to take much with you, just some snacks (such as energy gels and high protein bars), money and sun cream are usually enough. And don’t forget to take plenty of fluids! If you’re in a hot country, you’ll obviously need far more water than you would at home – take a couple of bottles and fill them up during the day. There are also lots of electrolyte and energy products you can add to your water if you feel you need an extra boost.
While a cycle tour might not be the most restful holiday, it’s great to do something active and different – after all that exercise and fresh air, you’ll definitely come home feeling fitter than when you left!