Cycling Tips


We've put together this list of cycling tips and other information that will help you enjoy a cycling holiday wherever you take it.
 
  1. Who is going?
  2. When to go
  3. How to get there   
  4. What to do with your car if you take it on holiday
  5. Packing your bike for the flight
  6. Bike transportation bags
  7. Panniers
  8. Hire bikes locally or take your own?
  9. Pre-book accommodation or not?
  10. Carry luggage or send it ahead?
  11. Where to stay
  12. Which route?
  13. Equipment required
  14. What about aches and strains?
  15. What clothes to take
  16. Other things to do in the area
  17. Back-up plans
  18. Buying bike parts and equipment before you go
  19. Bike repairs en route 

Who is going?

All our recommended tours are on reasonably level routes, or downhill, and are mainly on quiet roads or cycle paths.  Anyone who can ride a bike should be able to cope, because you can choose a pace that suits you and stop as frequently and for as long as you wish.  To plan your trip you will need a rough idea of how far you want to ride each day, particularly if you decide to pre-book accommodation.  However, an adult of average fitness should be able to ride 20-35km (12-22 miles) each day on the flat, even with plentiful stops for breaks and a good lunch.  As an example, have a look at a typical day in the Mosel Valley.
 
half bikeMany of our routes follow railway lines, bus routes or even ferries.  This is important so you have a back-up plan in case something goes wrong, but it also means that non-riders can come with you and anyone in your group who feels that they want a day off can have one without holding back the rest of the group.
 
Children's fitness and capabilities are harder to generalise about, but you will probably be surprised how much they enjoy cycling for extended periods.  For smaller children who are not confident cyclists, it is possible to rent or buy a variety of 'half bikes', trailers and child seats to fit on an adult bike so that even the youngest member of the family can come along for the ride.  

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When to go

We provide monthly weather averages for our suggested routes – you need to consider rainfall and hours of sunshine as well as the temperature.  Hours of daylight are also important, as you don't really want to be cycling in the dark.  

The high season can make accommodation harder to find but pre-booking removes that problem.  The dedicated bike routes often become busy during the height of the season, especially at weekends when they are used by locals as well as visitors.  On the other hand it can be great fun riding with others, so why not just slow down and enjoy. 

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How to get there

Our online guides (eg Mosel Valley, Ile de Re, Alsace and Lake Constance) will show you the main routes to the area from key European terminals and how to access local transport.  We also provide you with web links to booking sites that offer favourable prices.

  • Trains.  In general slower trains take more bikes but we will show you how to identify the right type of train.  The fastest trains seldom take bikes on the continental mainland.            
  • Ferries.  Cross-Channel ferries will take bikes, either by themselves or carried on cars.  If taking your bike by car you'll need to check the height and width permitted by the ferry company as well as any local road legislation.  It goes without saying that the car number plate and rear lights should not be obscured, the bike should be firmly secured and not protruding sideways.
  • Eurotunnel/Eurostar.  As is the case for the cross-Channel ferries, when taking bikes on the back of your car no additional charge is normally made on Eurotunnel.  Without a car, you cannot take your bike on Eurotunnel, but you can take it on Eurostar. 
  • Prices.  Early booking (say 6-12 weeks in advance) is recommended to get reasonable prices, but book further ahead for peak season travel

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What to do with your car if you take it on holiday

Travelling by car, either with or without bikes, is often the most convenient option for UK and Irish travellers going to continental Europe.  That leaves the problem of what to do with your car while you are cycling.  We do not recommend that you just leave it on the street or in a public car park. 

In our experience, if you stay the first and last night at the same hotel, you choose one with adequate parking capacity, you avoid high season and you book well in advance, then it should be possible to persuade the hotel to let you leave your car for the duration of your tour.  We have done this on many occasions, often managing to obtain a place in a locked garage or secure parking area.    But you will need  to contact the hotel and agree this arrangement beforehand.  If the first hotel you ask says no, then try others.  Often smaller hotels and guesthouses will be more accommodating for this sort of special request.  European hotels frequently make a modest charge of a few Euros per day for off road parking, and this is a small price to pay for the knowledge that it will be (at least to some extent) looked after in your absence.  

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Packing your bike for the flight

The rules on conveying bikes vary a little from airline to airline but generally you will need to:

  • remove the pedals
  • turn the handlebars (only, not the front wheel as well) so they face sideways, making the bike flatter
  • reduce the tyre pressure so the tyres are soft (but not so much that the rims will be damaged if the bike is wheeled)
  • put it in some sort of a bag (a proper bike transportation bag or a giant plastic bag from CTC), or at least put cardboard over the chain sprockets
If you have to take the wheels off to get the bike in its bag, then put something in the forks in place of the axles as the front forks in particular are easily bent when the wheel is not in them.  Old scrap axles from a bike shop would do or a long bolt with some plastic tube on the central section, held in place with a couple of wing nuts.   

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Bike transportation bags

Some airlines and trains will only carry bikes if they are in a bag, or (like Eurostar) will carry them for free in a bag.  You should check the terms of carriage before finalising your travel plans.  If a bag is required, it could be made of rip-stop nylon or canvas, or you might be able to get away with a large polythene bag (the CTC Shop provides good ones) and cardboard to protect the chain and gears.  You may need to take off the front wheel, or both wheels, and removing the pedals will help to avoid damaging spokes if you have more than one bike.  

If you book the first and last night with the same hotel, they will probably let you leave your bike bags in their luggage room while you are away.  Unless you have a bike bag that folds up small, you will need to choose a hotel near your point of arrival so you don't have to find a way of transporting both bike and bag as well as your panniers.

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Panniers

Panniers can sometimes be hired along with bikes, but they may be intended for day rides and too small for a week's or a fortnight's luggage. 

Bungee

You may prefer to bring your own panniers even if you are renting a bike locally, but if you rent panniers then we recommend you bring a couple of extra bungee cords to make sure you can attach the panniers securely to your bike.  Nearly all panniers couple onto bikes the same way but sometimes clips and brackets are just the wrong size.  

Try to avoid using front panniers as they can interfere with the handling.  They shouldn't be necessary unless you are camping.

As well as panniers, bring a small backpack per person, or one between two.  You can keep the things you really need in it, like camera and guidebook, and take it with you when you go into a restaurant, shop or bar, leaving the panniers on the bike.  Rather than wearing it when cycling, put it on the rear rack and hold it in place with a bungee.  

toppenny fathing

Hire bikes locally or take your own?

Renting a bike gives you the chance to try different types (a tandem, for instance, is great fun) and it avoids the hassle and cost of bringing your own.  However, this is what we have learnt over the years: 
  • Rental bikes are built to survive so tend to be relatively heavy.  Like rental cars, they are not always looked after by other hirers.  You may need to spend a while over the course of the first day dealing with the hidden faults, so if you don't feel confident about this, take your time when you collect the bike and don't cycle off into the distance until you are sure everything is OK.  If you haven't ridden a bike for a few years, it will take you some time to work out what is most comfortable in terms of seat height and handlebar height.  Ride the bike around and ask for any modifications then and there.  Obvious faults are
    • not all the gears are working
    • handlebars are too low/high
    • the lights don't work
    • the puncture repair kit hasn't enough patches or the adhesive has solidified
    • the pump connector has perished or is the wrong type for the tyres
    • the brakes aren't properly adjusted
    • the saddle is uncomfortable.
  • Ensure you can fit the panniers and that they stay on if you ride over a bump.
  • The brakes may be different from those you are used to (eg applied by pedalling backwards, or front and back on the “wrong” sides of the handlebars), so make sure you know how to stop safely.
  • If you aren't familiar with derailleur gears, practise before you set off.
  • Consider taking your own saddle if you have a gel-filled one or a leather one that has been worn in, it is likely to be more comfortable than anything the hire shop provides as standard.
  • If you have cycling shoes for a particular pedal system, you may want to take your own pedals.
  • You will need to be prepared to keep this bike roadworthy during the holiday, as calling out the hire shop will be expensive and a waste of your valuable holiday time.  So ensure you can at least fix a puncture and keep the tyres at the right pressure.
You can find hire companies at Alsace Bike Hire, Ile de Re Bike Hire, Mosel Bike Hire, Lake Constance Bike Hire and all the other "Bike" pages for each tour.

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Pre-book accommodation or not?

In 25 years of touring we have only ever once failed to find anywhere acceptable to stay in a town when arriving without a reservation, but we know that some people cannot relax unless they know that there will be a place to lay their head at the end of the day.  If you have such people in your group then you may want to pre-book for the whole trip.  Otherwise, there is a lot to recommend booking at least the first night and the last in advance, since you know where you will be starting and where you need to end up in order to connect with your return travel arrangements.

The big disadvantage of pre-booking accommodation is that it removes the flexibility and spontaneity of the tour.  If you are tired and wet and you still have another 10 miles to go to reach the hotel you have booked, you may wish you could just stop at the next place you see, even if it isn't quite as pleasant as you would have wished.  Alternatively, you may find that you can manage greater distances than you thought possible when you made all the bookings a month previously.

A good compromise is to investigate hotel possibilities in advance, or over lunch each day (by mobile internet access or in a library or a Tourist Information centre).  Then you can book by phone or on the internet at some point in the afternoon when you have a good idea how much further you want to travel.  If the village you were originally headed for has no vacancies, you will at least know in time to make alternative plans.

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Carry luggage or send it ahead?

Two full rear panniers sufficient for a 1-2 week trip add about 8-10kg (18-22lbs) to a bike, make it wider and change the handling a little bit.  When you think about the weight of a bicycle (maybe 15kg) with a person on it, the weight of the panniers is not a great deal extra.  You will only really notice it when going uphill.  Our preference is to pack light and take our luggage with us, but for a variety of reasons this may not always be possible. 

Try to avoid using front panniers as they affect the handling and shouldn't be necessary unless you are carrying camping gear. 

A lot of companies offer luggage transportation as part of their organised bike tours, but when self guiding it is perfectly possible to arrange things so you aren't carrying your luggage.  Local taxi firms will be happy to collect and deliver bags to your next hotel (you will have to pre-book hotels, of course) and your hotel will probably be able to arrange this for you.  Or you may be able to do it yourself using the local trains or buses.  

If you have travelled to the area by car, you could move the car to the next hotel each morning, with the luggage, then catch a bus or train back.  If you want to do this, shorten the transfer time by choosing hotels in a straight line, close to stations or bus stops, but there is nothing to prevent you taking a more scenic, roundabout route when you cycle.   

We find that if you are sending your luggage ahead you will still want one pannier per two riders to hold such things as a jumper, waterproofs, water, guidebooks, a camera, snacks or a picnic lunch.  

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Where to stay

  • Hotels; this is our recommended solution.  Our route guides give you distances and identify the villages where most of the hotels are so you can choose where to stay.  You can book hotels through this web site at no additional charge.  We find our hotel supplier gives fair descriptions of the facilities and their prices are normally the best available, including from the hotel direct.
  • Guesthouses/Pensions; we recommend these where we can see real reasons to do so, for instance if they also house a winery or provide special facilities for cyclists.  They can also be found from the local village websites.
  • Rooms/Zimmer Frei/Chambre Libre etc; this type of B&B accommodation is probably best booked on the day so you can see the room before you agree the price.  Such rooms can be a good solution for unplanned stops or if you cannot find other accommodation in high season.
  • Campsites; perfectly pleasant in fine weather but after a day in the saddle you may prefer more luxury and a comfortable bed.  

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Which route?

In our route guides we provide the basic information you need for your holiday.based our standards and expectations.  When following “official” bike routes we leave you to follow the signs as the precise routes tend to change from time to time.  We offer you 

  1. Mosel Guide
  2. Alsace Guide
  3. Ile de Re Guide
  4. Lake Constance Guide
  5. and many more
  6. we welcome your input on where we should plan next

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Equipment required

We suggest you take, as a minimum:
  • puncture repair kit (check the adhesive tube to ensure it contains liquid product)*
  • a cyclists' multi-tool
  • an adjustable spanner up to the size of your biggest nut
  • pump*
  • front and rear lights*
  • a bell or horn*
  • panniers for your luggage (roughly 40 litres the pair on back wheels works for 1-2 weeks) 
  • one bike lock per bike*
  • a fluorescent/reflective tabard or Sam Brown belt in case you end up on a busy road

* usually provided if you hire the bike

It goes without saying that at least one person in the party needs to be able to fix a puncture.  You also need to think about bike security.

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What about aches and strains?

You may worry that you aren't fit enough for a bike holiday.  But remember, cycling is a more efficient means of transport than walking, mile for mile, and it is only when you are going uphill that any substantial effort is required.  If you avoid uphill routes and take it gently, you shouldn't have any problems.

The usual advice before starting exercise applies if you are very overweight or unfit: consult your doctor first and have a medical check-up if in any doubt. 

Don't overdo it on the first day.  We suggest you plan to cover no more than 15-20km (9-12 miles), as you can always explore off the route if you find that you are still full of energy when you get to your first night's lodging.  On day 2, go further if you feel up to it.  Plan to have a rest day every 3-4 days.  

Do watch out for sunburn and dehydration and generally be sensible, especially where alcohol is concerned.  If you suffer from repeated problems see a pharmacist or a doctor as soon as possible.  We find the worst issues for us are:

  • pressure pains or pins and needles in the hands; try raising the handle bars or wear gloves to distribute the load, and shift your hand position every so often.
  • a sore backside after a few days; stand up when riding at least every 15 minutes for 30 to 60 seconds.  Stop riding every hour and have a short walk or a sit down (you are on holiday after all).  On rest days don't cycle at all.
  • pain in the neck or head; relax the shoulders, try a different riding position, check you aren't holding your head in a funny position to see out from under your hat, take a break and drink some water.  Remember the head is a pretty heavy weight and if you don’t ride a lot then the "dead" weight may be causing you neck pains.

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What clothes to take

  • Long shorts or cropped trousers are best for cycling.  If you are in a very hot and sunny climate then choose shorts long enough to cover your knees to avoid sunburn. 
  • Long trousers for evening or cold day wear
  • A hat for shade
  • Shoes – no need to wear special cycling shoes unless you want to, but make sure your shoes or sandals will stay on your feet.  Feet easily get sunburnt on a bike so consider wearing socks if your shoes don't give good coverage.
  • Sunglasses to keep the sun and flies out of your eyes
  • Light waterproofs, bright yellow for the top if possible to ensure visibility 
  • Clips or socks for the trouser legs to stop them getting in the chain.
  • Cycling undershorts (padded), available from any good bike shop.  These provide protection when worn under normal clothes without you having the "lycra look".

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Other things to do in the area

Our route guides provide you with links to the local village web sites and direct you to the Google translation tools.  These allow you to understand what each village has to offer.  We also offer downloads which give you a good overview of the key towns and villages in the area.  Other information can be found at Alsace Guide, Ile de Re Guide and Lake Constance Guide etc. 

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Back-up plans

Sometimes things don't go to plan, so we select routes where trains or buses offer back-up transport for a fair proportion of the journey.  We also choose areas of general popularity where there are usually plenty of other people about in case of emergency, occasional bike shops and good medical standards.  This should mean that the day things go wrong there is always a Plan B.  

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Buying bike parts and equipment before you go

We are great believers in using your local bike shop, but we do recommend two organisations in the UK to help you with equipment.  One is the CTC Shop.  The benefits of CTC membership are reduced costs for their parts, a magazine, third party insurance and legal support.  The other supplier with good national coverage (including at some railway stations) is EvansCycles 

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Bike repairs en route

The main thing you will need to be capable of is fixing a punctured tyre.  Click bike to get to the best video we have found on this.  Our only criticism of it is, don't lay the bike on its side with the gears nearest the ground as it could damage them.

 

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