So you want to join a cycling tour?
Save a sheep?
Here are a few Top Tips to help you get underway.
Cycling tours, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. You can take a self guided tour, join a small group, join a large group of similar aged people, or go it alone entirely. Whatever works best for you.
Over the years the Mathematician and I have done a mix of tours. Our favourite type of holiday is a barge/bike style trip where we join a small group on board a boat for a week or two, predominantly in Europe somewhere, and cycle with a guide every day. You have your own cabin with ensuite bathroom, three meals and snacks a day, fun companions and an active holiday seeing a different part of the world.
Do your research on cycling tours but remember to be flexible – we were all set for one tour and a day before we left Australia, to start our holiday, we had a call telling us our chosen tour had been cancelled due to a late group cancellation. We were locked into particular dates so we were placed onto another tour which was going in the opposite direction to our original plan. Thankfully this is a very rare occurrence but it goes to show you must be prepared for the unexpected. It turned out to be a wonderful tour with amazing people in all age groups 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. This shows how suitable these cycling tours are for all age groups – and the need to be flexible.
Our week long bike/barge tour started in Amsterdam on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early June. Once everyone had settled into their cabins, we ventured out for a warm up ride together. This was a great way to fine tune the bikes, get our bearings and prepare for the week of riding ahead. It also gave the guide an idea of our abilities and helped everyone to meet each other and mingle.
We are sailing…..
Most of these types of small boat/barge/cycling trips have 16-20 people in a group and the boats are usually old barges or sea freighters converted into simple but comfortable accommodation with private bathrooms.
The lounge/dining area is a comfortable area to relax in after a day of riding, with drinks and nibbles. Breakfast was always served at the same time with something different each morning along with provisions for us to make our lunch to take with us. The food was amazing with a three course dinner each night. A big shoutout to our cook Marije who had to cope with more than the average number of food intolerances, allergies and diets – she did it all without ever losing her cheerful smile!
The main countries represented on these trips seem to be Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA and other European countries. The crew usually consist of the Captain, the guide, the cook and another helper or two, depending on the numbers and size of the vessel.
The smaller numbers mean a more personal service and we have not been disappointed in any way during any of our trips – from the knowledgeable guides to the food served, it’s always been of a very high standard.
If we had to move on to the next place, we tended to sail mid afternoon after riding in the morning and we never sailed at night. One morning due to high wind conditions we sailed in the morning to reduce the amount of riding we had to do that day, which was much appreciated. Usually we would set off riding after 9am and the boat would move on and meet us in our next spot by mid afternoon. We would take our time stopping at interesting places, for coffee breaks, and lunch stops would be a picnic with our pre packed lunches. We never felt rushed or distressed. We cycled on average 40-50kms a day and the riding on this tour was very easy with flat paved cycleways all the way. On a previous tour in Croatia, the riding was much harder due to the hills and there’s always the option of an e-bike.
It’s always good to have some ideas and tips so I’ve collated a few of my favourites here to share with you:
Claim your space – this was sage advice given by our guide, Marjan, to the whole group, on the very first briefing in Amsterdam. Cycling in Europe is very different to cycling in Australia, for so many reasons.
As cycling is such a highly valued activity and everyone cycles in the Netherlands, the drivers are very sympathetic and patient. Cyclists often have right of way and ride accordingly. This is very different to our Australian culture and so we needed to be told to be confident, ride assertively and claim our space. It wasn’t easy to adapt but it was necessary and timely advice.
Keep your mouth shut – Bug alert! In June and July the bugs can be quite busy and swarmy. As we cycled along it soon became obvious that an open mouth, for whatever reason, was a trap for the little blighters. We all swallowed a few!! Also be careful with lip balm as it was a very attractive sticking point for said bugs!!
The other rule to heed is to think before you speak, as sometimes keeping your mouth shut is the best way. There’s that great quote attributed to Mark Twain, ‘It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.’ Enough said!
Pack and wear layers – it may be obvious to some travellers but it needs to be said, layering your clothing is the only way to go when cycling in all possible weathers. The day may start off sunny and warm but within an hour or two it might deteriorate, so layers of clothing are essential and you have to be prepared for all contingencies. Some useful layers are lightweight thermal underwear, tshirts, vests, cycling specific gear, fleece tops and wet weather gear.
We all learnt from each other on this recent trip with ideas and suggestions floating about every day with useful items, material and brands of clothing. Most of us didn’t go in for cycling gear but instead had multi purpose items for walking and cycling activities. Having said that, interesting cycle shirts were a fun way to share our love of riding. Our Canadian friends had special cycling shirts celebrating events, and some of the UK cyclists had similar types of jerseys from home. We of course, had our Tumbarumba Rail Trail vests to promote our home town’s efforts to get a rail trail up and running.
How to save a sheep – this was advice given to us as we prepared to cycle on the island of Texel in the north of the Netherlands. The sheep outnumber people on the island and with the gusty wind, the sheep can sometimes be blown over, especially if they’re pregnant. If we were to see a sheep on its back we were given instructions on how to get it upright again, otherwise the sheep would die. Luckily we didn’t encounter any sheep in difficulty 😊 but apparently it has happened in the past! This was the most unexpected advice we were given and the impetus for this post.
Listen to the guide, listen to others and listen to learn. Listen for bells, for others coming up behind you on a path and above all listen so you don’t end up asking questions that the guide has just answered – see point above about keeping your mouth shut!!
Don’t be a selfish rider, think of others, listen to others and be self aware. Listen to your body too, some days you may be too sore to ride another 40km day so take the day off and relax on board the boat as it sails to meet up with the group later in the day. There’s no shame in missing a day or two, I know I did it on one tour as it was just too wet and cold for me to ride – have I mentioned I’m a fair weather rider?
Be patient – This is very important when cycling in a group situation as there will invariably be all levels of riders. Older people can be slow to get going sometimes and need your patience and support to remain confident throughout the tour.
Be patient if the pace isn’t as fast you’d like and be patient with yourself if things are getting you down.
Crowded areas can be difficult so be patient, the last thing you want is to have an accident. Getting out of Amsterdam city was frenetic but we all managed without any trouble.
Engage – Don’t join a cycling tour if you don’t want to be sociable, it really defeats the whole purpose. The group dynamics can be interesting and you usually find that after a day or two everyone has settled into getting to know each other. It’s important to join in so you enjoy the experience.
Talking with the older members of the group inspired me to continue having adventures for as long as I can. Hearing of their adventures from a time before I was even born was amazing! I learnt from everyone’s experiences and even asked their thoughts for this post.
We can all learn something new. I love hearing people’s stories and understand now that everyone has a story to tell – you just need to talk to people and you’ll find out all sorts of things!! You never know when your experiences may help someone too, so make sure you engage openly and honestly. But having said that, don’t feel obliged to be everyone’s new best friend, just be pleasant and amiable and you’ll be fine.
Engage in extra activities offered like walks after dinner, games, visits to the pub for a live music gig – it adds a whole new level of fun to your tour.
Learn your left from your right – this is especially helpful if you’ve come from a country like Australia where we drive on the opposite side of the road to most of Europe. Looking the wrong way when joining traffic can be extremely dangerous.
Coins/money – In some places you may need coins or a credit card to visit the toilet. Cafes also sometimes need payment if you use their facilities so small coins can be useful.
At the end of the tour it is usual for everyone to leave a monetary tip to be shared among the crew, so it’s an idea to be prepared with local currency.
Take the time to look around – breathe in and soak up the atmosphere and beautiful scenery. Don’t just put your head down and ride! Enjoy making memories.
Offer to help out – While the guide rides up front each day in a high vis vest, the tail end Charlie is usually a volunteer from the group. The back marker doesn’t have to have any particular skills, except be ready to keep everyone together and warn of traffic issues as they see them.
In our recent tour the three Australians took it in turns to be in that role and our new Canadian friend became an honorary Australian, by also volunteering to help out. It suited us to ride at the back, instead of getting caught up in possible accidents when everyone rides too close together. We also were able to chat away as we rode and used the time to engage with others. It’s not a particularly onerous task and it can be a fun way to help out, if you’re so inclined. Which leads to the next point –
Don’t tailgate – keep your distance – Too many accidents happen if you are too close together.
Take sunscreen – Just because you come from a country like Australia doesn’t mean the sun won’t get hot enough to burn – you need sunscreen or be prepared to buy it once you’re there.
So there you have it – hopefully some useful tips for those of you who may be interested in joining a cycling tour.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our cycling tours and will continue to do them in the future. To us they offer good value for money, with helpful and knowledgeable guides, great support, fantastic food and a fun way to see another country and be active while doing it.
Can you relate to this list? Are there any other tips you’d add from your experience? I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions to add to my list.
Until next time! The odyssey continues….
Disclaimer: We are two recently retired (and still young) teachers who enjoy cycling tours. We have cycled in New Zealand, Croatia and Europe and enjoy the bike riding, the adventure, the company and the joy of discovering new places. We wished someone else had paid for our trip but sadly that didn’t happen. This trip, The Top of Amsterdam, was done with Cycle Tours Holidays, booked by our travel agents, Outdoor Travel in Bright, and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
You can also find Deb’s World here – let’s stay in touch!