Bicycle TouringHow To

How to plan a bicycle tour

posted by Tim April 24, 2019 0 comments

There are many approaches to planning a bicycle touring trip. Some people like to plan everything and know exactly where they will stay each night, others like to be more flexible. We are of the latter kind. In this article, I will explain how we plan our trips.

Picking a destination

Criteria for our destinations include:

  1. Low traffic route options
  2. Good scenery / nature
  3. Good weather (high likelihood)

Kate and I are used to cycling in the Netherlands – a country with the best bicycle infrastructure in the world. Here you can cycle on dedicated bike lanes nearly everywhere and many bike paths are away from motorways altogether. This allows for very relaxed cycling. We can’t expect the same standard anywhere else, but we’ve found it possible to find good cycling routes in other countries too. We usually google or hear stories of other people cycling abroad and then start investigating route options. So far, we have cycled great (low traffic) routes in Germany, Belgium, France, Morocco, and Latvia.

Planning your route

You can plan a route in various ways:

  • Using a pre planned route
  • Simply following road signs
  • Using maps (digital and / or paper)
  • A combination of the above

Determining the distance

You will have to figure out for yourself how much you want to cycle. It depends on how fit you are, how much you actually enjoy cycling each day, whether you want to enjoy other activities too, etc. We are quite fit, cycle regularly, but don’t regularly cycle long distances (over 30 km per day). We determine the distance we can cycle in the following way:

  • 70 km per cycling day on average
  • 1-2 resting days per week

Our days look something like:

  • Waking up at 8:00, eating breakfast and packing up.
  • On the road at 9:30
  • Lunch at 12:00
  • On the road at 13:00
  • Arrival at next campsite around 16:30

So, we seem to cycle about 6 hours per day, averaging 12 km / h. Yeah that’s slow. But it’s incorrect, because when we cycle, we enjoy the scenery, stop to make photo’s and videos, eat a snack, etc. As a result, the average speed is low, but we usually still have enough energy to go for a hike in the afternoon or on one of our “resting” days. That’s the way we enjoy a bike tour.

Transport to beginning of route and back home

Planes

Most airlines allow you to take your bike aboard. Prices vary from 30 euros per bike per way for continental flights, up to 125 euros for intercontinental flights (2019). The packing requirements also differ. Some airlines allow bikes in simple plastic “covers” (which we have used with Transavia several times) and others require cardboard boxes. However, the minimum requirements seem to be:

  • Pedals removed
  • Seat lowered
  • Steering wheel turned 90 degrees and lowered
  • Tires partly deflated

We have taken our bikes on the plane a couple of times, but it remains a hassle. You have to think about how you’re going to bring your bike to the airport and pack it according to the airlines requirements.
The way we usually do it is as follows:

  • Take our (loaded) bicycles to the airport by train or have a friend or family member bring us by car.
  • At the airport, we:
    • get close to the check-in
    • remove the pedals
    • lower the seat
    • turn and lower the steering wheel,
    • deflate the tires partly
    • put protective material (bubble plastic or cardboard) around sensitive parts
    • put the resulting “bike” in a cover or box (brought with us, or bought at airport if available)
    • hand it in at oversized luggage.

If the bike has to pass through a security scanner, it might be necessary to put a bag under your “bike package” to allow it to diagonally fit through the scanner.

Trains

If you want to take your bicycle on a train, check:

  • If the train allows bicycles at all
  • When bicycles are allowed (in the Netherlands they are not allowed during traffic hours on work days)
  • If a supplemental ticket is needed
  • How your bike is accepted. Some accept them as is, others have similar requirements as airlines

Buses

Most regular buses in Europe won’t accept your bike. But there are special, usually long-distance bus services that do accept them. For example, the German Flixbus. Also, the buses in less developed countries such as Morocco, usually accept them for a little extra fee. Always inform ahead of your trip.

Insurance

There’s always a risk that your bike will get damaged. That’s why choose travel insurance with extra compensation for damaged “sports equipment” (up to 3500 euros). So far we’ve been lucky and haven’t had serious damages.

Cycling in Europe

If you’re looking for a cycling route in Europe, I can recommend “Europafietsers”:

They have mapped many cycling routes through Europe. They offer maps and GPX files for the routes. Our first long distance bicycle tour was the “Groene weg naar de Middellandse Zee”. We liked it a lot and have heard good things about the other routes too.

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