As travellers who cycle or cyclists who travel, I am really not sure which, I have drawn up the following guide to help anyone contemplating a cycling holiday. First, I need to explain that David and I are in our autumn years. We are not especially athletic or fit. We cycle for pleasure and because cycling is a great way to appreciate any travel destination. The fact that we often return from travel fitter and trimmer than when we depart is an added benefit. We don't cycle on busy roads, nor do we cycle long distances, or up and down hills if we can possibly avoid it, and we always have a car with us as well as our bikes. If cycling is the new golf, we are definitely at the amateur end of the spectrum.
1. What can go wrong will go wrong!
This rule is especially true if you decide to fly your bikes. See rule 2.
|Ooopps! Click here to discover what went wrong.|
2. You will need a bike.
This rule might be obvious but it is not as easy to follow as you would think. There are varying solutions to the problem of how to source your holiday bike. I think we have tried them all and none of them are fool-proof. Refer here to rule 1, especially if you are foolish enough to fly your bike.
- Rent a bike at your destination. This works well if you limit your cycling to the occasional half-day here and there, but be warned, renting bikes is expensive. In some places it costs more to rent a bicycle than a car. Start hiring bikes for the whole family and you will quickly find yourself in serious budget-busting territory.
|We rented these bikes when we cycled The Otago Rail Trail.|
- Take your bikes with you. We live in Australia and often travel in the U.S. For us this solution usually involves flying, specifically, flying bicycles. Be warned, imminent catastrophe stalks anyone foolhardy enough to fly with a bicycle as part of their luggage. Bikes are also big and flying them involves manoeuvring around airports with small mountains of luggage. Very few of our experiences with flying bicycles have ended well. Click here for my post on 'Queenstown and the Flying Bicycles' and here for 'How to turn a Bicycle into a Pretzel'.
- Go somewhere you can drive to and load the bikes on the car. If you think this solution will always work, refer again to rule 1 and read how we completely destroyed David's, almost new, bike on a road trip to Kangaroo Island. The sad story is in my post on 'How to Wreck a Bike'. The irony is that David wanted to fly to Kangaroo Island, but I vetoed the idea because I was concerned about the bikes being damaged by the airline.
- Stay somewhere which offers free bikes. Just don't do it. 'Free bikes' invariably mean awful bikes, the sort which will put you off cycling forever. Refer here to my post on Cycling The Rambla in Montevideo on the world's worst free bikes.
|They look pretty but these were the world's worst free bikes. Click here to read about them.|
- Buy cheap bikes at your destination and give them away at the end of your trip. We have tried this twice. It worked reasonably well the first time. At the beginning of a six-week road trip in the U.S we bought a pair of sparkling new bikes from Walmart. They were about US$200 each. You can read about them in my post 'A Holiday in Walmart - Denver Colorado'. At the end of the trip we gave them to a charity shop. They were in almost new condition and the nice ladies at 'Hospice by the Bay' thrift shop were very happy to receive them.
|Our 2013 Walmart bikes worked out quite well.|
- Our second experience with buying cheap bikes didn't work out so well. We foolishly imagined that if Walmart in Colorado had perfectly acceptable cheap bikes in 2013, then Walmart in British Colombia would have equally acceptable bikes in 2015. Refer again to rule 1. This time the Walmart bikes were awful. David had done some internet research beforehand and picked out two adult bikes for about US$150 each. When we turned up to buy them we discovered they were so small a vertically-challenged twelve-year-old would have struggled to ride them.
- We abandoned Walmart and headed over to Canadian Tire where we bought two of the world's worst bicycles. They looked pretty enough and by then we were desperate, but they were just terrible to ride, especially mine. In fact mine literally fell apart on our first cycle and I returned it for a clone of David's which was not only ghastly to ride but also far too big for me. These bikes barely lasted a few weeks, after which we gave them away, gladly, to friends in Seattle. I am not certain our gift of the bikes has completely ruined the friendship but our Seattle friends have been strangely quiet ever since.
3. You will need somewhere to ride.
- Forget the idea of riding on roads. One or two close shaves with a sem-trailer and even if you still have all your limbs intact you will be a nervous wreck for the rest of your life.
- Seek out rail trails and cycle paths. A rail trail is a disused railway which has been turned into a cycling and walking path. Sometimes you can also ride a horse on them and in Canada they turn into snowmobiling trails in winter. The great thing about rail trails is that trains can't go up steep hills, so they are almost always fairly flat. I have an entire section of my blog devoted to the great rail trails and cycle paths we have discovered in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Click the tab heading Bike Paths & Rail Trails to read about them.
|Find a nice cycle path - they are so much more enjoyable than playing Russian Roulette with traffic.|
4. Ride on the right (or the left) depending on where you are.
- In Australia and New Zealand, we drive on the left-hand side of the road, so that is the side of the path you should cycle on.
- In the U.S they drive on the right, so cycle on the right. It sounds obvious, but after spending almost twenty hours on an airplane and having your body clock reset by 180 degrees, it is a surprisingly difficult thing to remember to do. To all those nice Americans who I am constantly running into on U.S rail trails because I just cannot get used to cycling on the right - I am really, really sorry.
|Ride on the same side of the road as you drive.|
5. Always start at the bottom of the hill.
- Consult Google, pick up a topographical map, ask a local, but do whatever it takes to ensure that you start each day at the low point of the trail and cycle to the top. Assuming you need to arrive back at your starting point at the end of the day this will give you a downhill run home.Try it the other way around and you will learn the true meaning of fatigue.
- Refer to rule 1, which in this case dictates that the wind will always be against you on the way home and if you are going to get hit by a storm, that is when it will happen. Rain, wind and slogging uphill does tend to take the gloss off a nice day's cycling. In all our years of cycling, I think, we have only once had the wind at our backs on the way home - and it was pure bliss. You can read about it in my blog post 'Cycling at Redcliffe'.
- It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that you will pass many lovely little cafes, pubs and restaurants when you are out holiday cycling. However, you will only ever pass the aforementioned beautiful places to eat when you have first, spent several hungry hours searching for somewhere to have lunch and second, just settled for greasy fish and chips at the ghastly take-away 100 yards up the road.
- The only solution to the problem of lunch is to pack your own. If you are in any doubt about the importance of unfailing adherance to this rule read my blog post on 'Lunch and the Cooks River Cycleway'
|The cycling world is full of lovely little cafes to stop for lunch but you will only find one when you have given up in despair and had greasy fish and chips from the horrible take-away around the corner.|
Good luck with the cycling! If you have any questions I would be delighted to answer them.