How to save a sheep and other useful cycling tour tips

So you want to join a cycling tour?

Save a sheep?

Is a cycling tour for you? What you need to know.

Here are a few Top Tips to help you get underway.

Starting out

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.

Cycle tours Holidays
Cycle tours Holidays

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.

our happy guide Marjan
Our happy guide Marjan

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.

With the cook
With the cook

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!

Liza Marleen
Liza Marleen

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.

Tips:

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.

Cycling in Amsterdam
Cycling in Amsterdam

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.

Cycling trails on Texel
Cycling trails on Texel

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.

As the back marker of the group
Taking turns to be at the back of the group – Miss Canada and Miss Australia

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, in other words 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.

Group photo
Group photo

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….

Cycling tour in Amsterdam
Cycling tour in Amsterdam

Deb 😊

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.

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87 Replies to “How to save a sheep and other useful cycling tour tips”

  1. This kind of bike and barge tour is definitely on my bucket list. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t want to go. Gathering the motivation to do it by myself or maybe with a girlfriend 😎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s a fantastic way to go riding with like minded people. I’d highly recommend you giving it a go. One guy on our tour from Australia, had done 18 trips over the past few years, mainly on his own and loves them. Really good fun. Thanks for leaving a comment and all the best!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It sounds fabulous Deb – my kind of exercise – a good day out and not dying of exhaustion at the end of it (I think I’d probably sneak a day off on the boat somewhere in the middle of the week!) My husband would love it too – so it’s something to keep in mind when we’re retired and planning our big European trips.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Many thanks Leanne, I’ve enjoyed taking some time this week to catch up on blogs and comment and share away. Cycling here is much easier than back at home and we always enjoy our trips for the opportunity to meet others, visit interesting off the track places and do something different. We’ll definitely be back for more!!

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  3. Hi Deb,
    I’ve been enjoying your travel photos. This blog post was great and I bet a lot of people will be inspired and follow in your bike tracks. I forgot to ask you before u left … Did you take your own bikes from home or are bikes provided ?
    Cheers
    Marg

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback Marg! I should have added that in my post – the tour price includes bike and helmet hire. It’s such a fun way to see different places and we had a ball on this last tour. Highly recommended 😊

      Like

  4. Sounds like a great adventure and the Netherlands is the best place in the world to cycle. Nice to meet up like-minded people too, makes it so much better if you can make some new friends along the way.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Great tips and post. Did a biking trip in Umbria (rolling hills–we were told beforehand). We realized they had a different definition of rolling hills after the first 1500 meter hill. Your trip sounds much more relaxing.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I definitely could Debbie, when I was a kid but I’ve not had a reason to try and ride one recently so I think I would have to do an awful lotta practice before I felt confident enough to do anything more than a quick circle around the garden!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I hadn’t ridden a bike in 30 years until about 5 weeks ago … After a couple of wobbly rides, and getting over the fear of traffic, it all came back to me. I’m now cycling from north to south of France in a couple of weeks! So excited! Go for it! If I can do it, honestly, anyone can! Katie x

          Liked by 1 person

      1. It did look like you were having fun. And somewhere along the line, I learned your husband’s first name. You always called him The Mathematician, but I saw you tagged him in your photos. Perhaps you did before as well, but it’s the first time I noticed it.

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  6. After poorlyness made me slow to a stop last year, the doc said as long as I dont get tired I could bike or walk. The husband came up with a plan and purchased two electric bikes. We have a motorhome and now I can excersise, have fun, but turn on when I need to. Not your sort of riding but better than not being able to at all. And I have saved a sheep! She fell with her legs in the electric fence. She was twitching but firmly over. Husb turned off the power but the Ram got to her before I could… it was horrid. Blown electricuted and now locked in a double twitching embrace. But the sheep saver “TahDah!” Saved the day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have so much respect for you Ellen, a real sheep saver! My hero 😇 I have used an e bike on tour in Croatia as the hills were a real worry especially after having an emergency appendectomy just weeks beforehand. I will move to an e bike eventually. Glad you’re still out there riding 😊🚲

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    1. Thanks so much Terri, I’m surprised at how many people don’t know about cycle tours like this, so it’s good to get the word out there. I’m glad you’re enjoying the photos too. It’s lovely yo have you visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Deb! It is lovely to have you join us for #MLSTL even though you are still enjoying your adventure. I didn’t realise they had barge/bike holidays. I found it very interesting reading all of your tips and would love to be able to just ride a bike! Love the tip about keeping your mouth closed. I’ve swallowed a couple of flies in my time running, would you believe? It sounds like an ideal way for bikers to enjoy the scenery at their own pace and also connect socially with others. Thanks for sharing at #MLSTL and I will be sharing on social media. Keep enjoying and sharing your experience with us! xx

    Liked by 2 people

  8. OK, I must admit I came to your post in great curiosity as I read the thumbnail at #MLSTL as “How to save a sheep and other recycling tips”! Great article though and the tours are now of interest again if the groups are that varied – I had concerns about keeping up as my knees can be disagreeable and I thought most of the riders might be athletes. Thanks so much for such a great article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad I caught your interest with the sheep story Agnes. These cycling tours are made for all levels of riders and especially those who simply enjoy good company, good food and some exercise along the way. Definitely not athletes 😊

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  9. Well how fantastic that sounded…two young retired teachers on adventures! Go you two. Love the sheep info. Glad you did not have to help one up. They can be very heavy! Loved seeing your pics on IG and now I know much more of the story. Thank you. Denyse #mlstl

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Deb thinks barge/cycling tour looks and sounds fabulous. I’ve never heard of barge tours but plan to do some research. I’ve never been on a cycling tour such as this but have done many Great Victorian and interstate rides. Loving following your Odyssey. Shared on SM

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jennifer, it’s great to be able to share these trips with others like yourself. We use a travel agency in Bright in Victoria to help get organised and they’ve been great to deal with over the years. These tours are usually much less strenuous than what you’ve done in the Great Victorian type of rides though. If you need any further info just let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Cherie, I had no idea about the sheep either and it really tickled my fancy when we were told about it. I’m a real advocate for cycling tours now, especially Europe tours like this one. Coming from Australia it’s a great way to see a different side to the country and use some muscles.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This sounds like so much fun. A friend of mine did a European bike tour a couple of years ago and had so much fun. I doubt I could ever get husband to do something like this but it sounds exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for sharing your tips, Deb. I have wondered about cycling tours.They sound very fun. I started bike riding after my knee surgery kept me from trail running. The one hesitation I have is how steep elevation gains may be. While hiking, elevation is not an issue; but I do worry about my ability to climb steep hills on a bike. What has your experience been in that regard? I know tours can have a wide range in ability levels but I do wonder if I would hold a group back. Your travels are looking amazing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment Laura. Your concerns are valid but I’m happy to say that all the tours we’ve done have had minimal elevation issues. Except Croatia of course, but I knew that before I started out. My husband is a real rider so these tours are always a good match for both of us. The information about tours on sites like CycleTours.com usually grade the rides with 1 being easy and the higher the number the harder the riding. They are great for all levels of rider and they are great fun at the same time. You can always hire an electric bike too which is a great option. Hope you can find something that suits you. Let me know 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much Donna for sharing my post. I must say it’s been a fun part of our trip so far and I love telling people about cycle tours like this. They’re not for the real athletic types but suitable for all levels of cyclists and you meet interesting people along the way.

      Like

  13. Wow! I’ve never even heard of this kind of holiday … what a brilliant idea. It certainly sounds like fun. I’m doing a trip on my own through France in a couple of weeks or so which is more for the personal challenge than anything else, but I’m hoping that this will lead to other things, hopefully like your holidays. Great post and many thanks! Katie x

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh dear.

    So, when I first saw the title, I thought it was how to shave a sheep, so I was wondering what on earth shaving sheep could have to do with cycle tours! Oops. Now I can see you were actually ready to save sheep, it all makes more sense 😉

    Cycling holidays sound amazing, but you might get sore if you didn’t cycle for a while. We went for a ride last weekend, and as my husband hadn’t cycled for yeeears, he ended upw with a really sore bum!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love the tip about keeping your mouth shut. I simply can’t thats my problem; therefore, each day in the summer months I swallow, or inhale, at least one fly. More often than not they can be simply washed down with a glug from the water bottle; however, occassionally I’m certain they stick in the back of your throat and this can occassionaly lead to wretching on the side of the road. I’ve tried everything but within a minute or so of trying to cycle mouth closed it’s back open again. Never mind they say the protein’s good for you…!

    Liked by 1 person

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