Why tour by bike?
We love to tour by riding bikes because bikes can go to places that cars cannot. Bikes can take you to places that are too far to hike. And in Europe, most countries have dedicated bike trails that only bikes and foot traffic are allowed. This trend is also catching on in North America, Australia, and New Zealand where bike trails and bike tours are on the rise.
We love to bike on dedicated bike paths and quiet small roads that run through small towns and villages and we select most routes that avoid having to go through cities except maybe to start or end trips.
What are Bike Routes
For decades, most countries in Western Europe have developed national bike routes that run throughout each country. In 1995, The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) decided to link up all these national routes into a single bike network call Eurovelo ( http://www.eurovelo.com/en ) that curently comprises of 15 routes running through 42 countries. As of 2018, more than 55,000 km are already in place. The ECF plans to have more than 70,000 km of linked Eurovelo routes by 2020. Now a similar route is being implemented in the Eastern European countries called Trans Dirnarica in the Balkans ( http://www.transdinarica.com/ ). Other countries are following this trend and are establishing dedicated bike routes such as the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) in the eastern US ( https://gaptrail.org/ ).
In the past several decades, a new type to bike trails are popping up all over the world : Rail Trails or sometimes are called Rails-to-Trails. These trails are built by converting abandoned railroad routes into recreational trails. You can see the list of Rail Trails here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_trail The advantages of these Rail Trails are that they are relatively flat, and while running through many secluded areas, there are towns and villages along the routes that you can stop for meals or even overnight.
Bike routes surface ranges from paved dedicated tracks that only allow for bikes and and foot traffic to marked off lanes on side of the roads. The main feature is that there are well marked with signs like these.
How hard are the trails ?
Big Foot’s multi-days bike tours are selected for the “enjoyment factor”. I always try to look for tours that have are healthy outdoors fun with great photo opportunities, plus lots of stops for food & drinks.
Most tour operators have similar rating systems, normally using numbers between 1 and 5 with one being the easiest. Big Foot gang normally selects tours that are rated 2 and 3 with some rare exceptions for 1 (Holland which is totally flat) and 4 (Croatia : mountainous Dalmatia islands).
On most days we would cover the distance between 30-40 km depending on the terrains and the point of interests. Typically we saddle up soon after breakfast (around 9 am) and get to the day’s destination around 4 pm. So spending 7 hours to cover just 30-40 km allows for lots of stops along the routes for pictures, food, and drinks and drinks and drinks.
What are the different types of bike tours ?
There are three main type of multi-days bike tours : Self-guided Bike Tours, Guided Bike Tours, and Boat & Bike or Barge & Bike. Each offer different factors of fun and Big Foot Gang loves all three.
Self-guided Bike Tours is one of the best way to tour with a close group of friends on well-marked routes like the Eurovelo. The tour company would book all the hotels on the route, provides maps and suggestions of worthwhile stops, and arranges for luggage transfers. The company typically offers bike rentals and we find that it is convenient to rent these bikes. They drop off the bike for you at the beginning of the trip and pick it up at the end so all that you should bring with you are your helmet, gloves, and a lot of sense of adventure.
All accommodation will provide with good breakfast to fuel up for the day. After breakfast we just leave the luggage and mount up on our bikes for a full day of healthy fun. By the time we get to the next accommodation in the afternoon, our luggage would be awaiting there.
After 6 trips, Big Foot Gang found that the best arrangement is to stop for good hearty big lunch and end the day with light snacks and wine, generally in the garden of the accommodation. This arrangement allows for a good night rest ready for the next day’s adventures.
Although most of the routes are well signed, you may want to have at least one member with a decent sense of directions since most trips will go though sparsely populated areas, so once in a while, getting temporarily lost becomes a part of the adventure. In many of these areas, cell reception is not reliable either. You have have one member who can do simple fixing of the bikes like replacing a flat tire. Most tour will have support system but since they cannot drive on the bike routes to reach you, it is best that you are able to fix simple problems yourself to save time.
Guided Bike Tours is as the name suggests, have one or more guide accompanying the group, sometimes also with a support car that meets up with the group at designated points. Guided bike tours is suitable for most mountain bike routes as they are normally not marked with route signs. Big Foot Gang is large enough that we were able to arrange for PRIVATE trips but if you are in just a small group, you can join the scheduled tour with others, and maybe make new friends as well.
Boat (or Barge) & Bike Tours : For this type of tour you sleep and eat on the boat or barge. The boat would drop you off each morning to bike and you would meet up with the boat again in the afternoon. This adds the extra convenience that you would not have to unpack and pack your luggage daily. Boat & Bike Tours are available along the major rivers, along the coast, and between islands in Europe.
What are the Type of Bikes?
Big Foot Tours always use the rental bikes from the tour operator. For one, it is much more convenient as we would not have to deal with all the hassles of taking the bikes on the planes, trains, or cars. They normally drop off the bikes at the accommodation of the first night and pick them up on the last day. Secondly, the tours usually provide type of bikes that are suitable for the terrain and surface of each tour.
I find that the bikes suitable for Big Foot members are either Hybrid Bikes or Mountain Bikes. For both types, most tours now give an option to rent Electric-Assisted version for additional fees.
Hybrid Bikes are multi-gears touring bikes with upright riding position, wider smooth tires, and wide soft seats. They are built more for comfort rather than speed. They are very suitable for paved trails, smoother dirt trails, and rolling hills with no steep sections.
Mountain Bikes are suitable for offroad riding but the ability to shift up to 27 gears are also handy for trails with steep terrain even on paved trails.
Electric-assisted or eBike or eMTB are new types that are now widely offer for rent for an additional fees. These eBikes are not like electric scooter that you just press a button to go. On an eBike, you would still have to pedal as it is design only to “lessen your load” as you go uphills. But eBikes are not suitable for every trip because of the additional weight of the battery and that you have to recharge it every night. So the Big Foot’s rule of thumb is that you should only use an eBike if the trip is rated a “3” or higher in terms of difficulty. Definitely they should not be used on trips that are rated “1”. For trips that are rated “2”, you can have an option of looking cool and fit with a regular bike or to look whimpy on an eBike.
When are the best Seasons to go ?
Big Foot Tour members like cooler weather so I normally arrange bike tours either in the Spring or in the Fall. That means that between March-June and August-October for trips in the northern hemisphere (Europe, US). For countries that is a bit closer to the Equator like Spain, Portugal, and Greece, the season can start as early as February and ends as late as November.
As the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere like Australia and New Zealand, trips can also fill in there Winter months there between May-August.
Big Foot members have absolute hated of crowds so I always try to arrange the trips during the Shoulder Seasons just as tourists have already left. Often I even try to book the trips during what the gang calls “Armpit Season”, typically is the very last trip before the tour companies pack up for the season.