Independent Cycle Touring in Europe Piaw Na REI http://touring.piaw.net http://books.piaw.net http://piaw.blogspot.com
Introduction 20,000 miles of independent touring 1 trip/year since 1993 League Cycling Instructor (LCI #1040) Cycled in: Japan Scotland, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany New Zealand South Africa California, New Hampshire, Maine, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia
Rosenlaui Beautiful mountain views send many cyclists to famous passes such as Grosse Scheidegg
Beautiful Bike Facilities A cobblestone tunnel bypass provides beautiful views unavailable to car drivers
Beautiful hill towns Provide a lovely backdrop to ride in, as well as opportunities to explore architecture and other cultural artifacts.
Friendly Locals By riding your bike, independent tourists meet friendly people who will not hesitate to stop to offer you conversation, or in the case of this vintner, offer you a taste of his wine!
Interesting places to stay By eschewing reservations and guides, you leave yourself open to interesting opportunities to stay at great places.
Bellinzona, a town with 3 castles Because your party size is small, you can fit in little hotels that big tour groups cannot hope to get into.
Bike paths Riverside bike paths ensure you always have a car-free way to get to where you want to go.
Less is more This couple is trying to combine a backpacking trip with a cycling trip. By focusing all your attention on cycling, you’ll carry less and have more fun.
Route Information “On the ground” Because bicycle travel at human pace, signs and map guides that are easily skipped by motorists are easily viewable by you.
Why Europe? First class cycling culture Nearly everyone in Europe rides a bike or knows someone who rides Laws are predicated on cyclists being legitimate road users—if a car driver hits a cyclist, the burden of proof is on the driver to show that he wasn’t at fault $10/gallon gas means fewer SUVs on the road and more public transit friendly to bicyclists
Stephanie Raez on her way from Chur to Paris Nearly everyone in Europe cycles. Helmets are uncommon, and a summer tour something nearly everyone will do sometime in their lives.
First class cycling culture By Wittink, Roelof; I-ce Interface for Cycling Expertise: Planning for cycling supports road safety; In: Sustainable Transport, Planning for walking and cycling in urban environments, ed. Rodney Tolley; Woodhead publishing in Environmental management, ISBN 1 85573 614 4; 2003
Facilities Summer is the low season! Primary tourist facilities are ski resorts—cheapest in the summer Big investment in cycle paths and cycle ways Bike paths have covered bridges Separate bike tunnels Very few bike bans on trails Dense network of roads! Dense network of cyclist friendly hotels/lodging
Facilities German bike path in Munich: along a river (the Isar), and away from traffic. Note the separate benches for both bike path and pedestrains.
Austrian Bike Path in the Salzburger Lakes Separate bike “tunnel “ alongside lake. Auto traffic routes through tunnels with no views.
Hotel Rosenlaui Andreas Kerhli, the owner of Hotel Rosenlaui, welcomes cyclists.
Natural Beauty “The Sierras no longer look pretty to me.” “Best cycling in the world” “The prettiest country I’ve ever seen.” “After riding in the Alps, the death ride was uninspiring.”
Cultural Attractions Historical artifacts (castles, grand old buildings) Museums Architecture (great cities) History
Switzerland Beautiful Alps 9 major bike-fares criss-crossing entire country Clean and safe Road engineering superb Trains precisely on time Expensive? Maybe. English spoken
Cycling in the Bernese Oberland Beautiful lakes, mountains, and extremely polite drivers
Grindelwald Mountain Views from Grosse Scheidegg are to be seen to be believed.
Swiss Road Engineering Hairpins are flat. Climbs only happen between hairpins. Grades are consistent. Signage is accurate. Tunnel bypasses for long tunnels. Tunnels are lit and lights are maintained.
France High mountains Beaches on the Mediterranean Long river tours History French food Poor train service for cyclists Learn a bit of French before you go
Col du Tourmalet Famous passes frequently featured in the Tour de France can be climbed all through the year in Southern France
Col De L’Iseran Highest pass regularly climbed in the Tour de France. Ski town on one side provides readily available lodging. Markers every km for grade!
French Roadside “Tombstone” Provides current altitude, how far to go, what to expect for the average grade over the next km. When you see one, you know you’re in cycling country!
French minimum passing law 1.5m = 5 feet. For reference, California has repeatedly failed to pass a 3 foot minimum passing law. French roads (as illustrated here) are about 7-9 feet wide. The 5 foot passing law means using the next lane!
Austria Relatively untouristed Fantastic bike facilities Great train service for cyclists Cheap, even for luxury hotels Beautiful mountains for hiking/cycling Rugged! English frequently spoken.
Timmelsjoch Between Austria and Italy, Austria features beautiful lonely roads, and cheap lodging.
Tauern Radweg This 200 mile bike path from Salzburg through Tauern National Park is gorgeous and has relatively easy riding.
Radstadt Little known towns in Austria are gorgeous and cheap to stay at.
Austrian Bike Paths They are the best in the world. Beautiful and chock full of facilities like water fountains, covered bike bridges, and plentiful lodging and restaurants.
Germany Beautiful Spring/Fall touring Cheap train travel for cyclists! Go from one end of country to another for 21 EUR! Bringing friends? 28 EUR for 5 people! English frequently spoken Scenic small towns Small towns cheap, large cities expensive Mountain roads too well engineered
German Farm Roads Near Munich, extremely dense networks of roads mean that there’s very little traffic traversing some of the prettiest small towns you can imagine.
Bodensee One of the largest lakes in Europe spans 3 countries: Germany, Switzerland, and Austria (with the largest portions in Switzerland and Germany). It’s suitable for all ages and features a “car-free bike route.”
Italy Beautiful mountains Crazy drivers Road conditions not ideal Italian food! Friendly people Not necessarily cheap Infrequent English speakers
Stelvio This legendary climb features 47 switchbacks and ends at well over 9000 feet. Hotels halfway up provide rest stops and lodging.
Fedaia Pass in the Dolomites Jobst calls this the “Fastest Highway in the Alps.” with well banked, 13% grade descents.
Timmelsjoch Beautiful passes in a part of Italy that used to be Austria before world war I. As a result, most people speak German.
Italian Bike Path Italian bike paths are not as well marked (or sometimes as easily found) as Austrian and Swiss bike paths. This one went through a back alley but was a welcome escape from busy main roads.
England/Scotland English spoken (watch “Trainspotting”) Beautiful backroads Expect rain Best in late Spring Easy navigation Expensive
Why Tour Independently? More interactions with locals No “cocooning” More local food Flexibility Raining? Ride less or stay put Never have to fight headwinds Tired? Choose easier route
Why Tour Independently? Serendipitous encounters Retired chefs cook for you People invite you into homes Cheaper Independent touring in good lodging and eating out—50 to 75 EUR/day Tour operators cost $200/day! All the support you need is already available in Europe!
Friendly People I met this man in Chur. He tried to give me money just for being a tourist, then invited me to his home and tried to give us one of his cycling jerseys.
When/where to Go? Spring Austrian Lakes German Black Forest Southern Italy/France Summer Alps (Switzerland/France/Austria/Italy) Northern countries (England/Scotland) DO NOT Visit Europe in AUGUST! Fall Pyrenees Southern Germany/France
Trip Planning Decide where to go/when to go Decide on cycling companions Run a qualifying tour Buy plane tickets Plan routes
Equipment Need a bike (almost any bike will do) Don’t carry stuff on your back! (Panniers/Saddlebags) Bikes are designed around their brakes Shoes you can walk in!
Training Don’t sweat it if you’re doing an independent tour You can choose the difficulty of your trip according to fitness More important to enjoy riding!
Cycling companions Can make or break the trip (or friendship!) Do a test tour (at least overnight!) Make sure you can cope with each other’s habits/snoring
Choosing Companions I did many day rides and overnight rides with Mike before we toured together.
Buying plane tickets Check bike fees United/Lufthansa charging $250 each way! KLM: 1 extra piece of baggage Air Berlin: 80 EUR round trip British Airways/Virgin: Bikes fly free! Air Canada: $50 each way Always book a jet Minimize transfers Bike reservations? (Lufthansa/Air Canada/Air Berlin)
Bike packing Check airline bike packing policy BA/Lufthansa allow “naked” bikes Cardboard bike boxes Boxes at REI! (free!) Boxes at Amtrak ($20/free) Boxes at Bike Shops Can throw away at each end Zurich has bike packing service
Packing a bike into a cardboard box Wrapping things with bubble wrap is a good idea
Bike Packing Service in Zurich Airport For 25CHF, the man here will pack your bike into a cardboard box for you. This is why I prefer flying into (and out of) Zurich when I’m packing my bike in a cardboard box.
Bike packing Hardcase bike boxes $250/box, but heavy Need to store on both sides Naked bikes Wrap with bubble wrap Remove deraileur
Public Transit and Bikes Bicycle friendly countries Germany Switzerland Austria Bicycle indifferent countries Italy Bicycle unfriendly countries France (reservations required) Japan (must disassemble bike) Need train help? Euraide (http://www.euraide.com)
Bike space Local trains in France do allow bicycles
Alan Wissenberg Featured in Rick Steves and Lonely Planet, in 2008, he and I worked together to figure out various train systems and bike friendliness. He is my “goto-guy” for all train travel in Europe. http://www.euraide.com
Cell Phones GSM Phones required Prepaid SIMs available everywhere at low cost Incoming calls free/Outgoing calls cost Do not expect data plans $20/5GB in Germany Watch out for roaming data charges! Buy a new SIM card for each country
Navigation Your phone’s GPS feature is useless Roaming data charges Google’s bicycle routing is poor Buy paper maps! Choose smallest routes/most scenic routes “White” roads over “Red” roads Keep water to your right
Classic Michelin Map The best cycling maps are packed full of information and reward close reading
Maps 1:300,000 scale AAA maps are useless Motorcycle maps are sometimes useful Should include elevation/gradient info Should include scenic roads/small roads Appropriate maps for each country Buy as you go
Bike paths Can be found on dedicated maps, or look for signs Every time you cross a river, look for river-side bike paths Some countries (Germany/Switzerland) assume you have a mountain bike! Don’t expect bike paths in mountains, but trail riding can be fun!
Bike Paths in Switzerland Sometimes, they’re dirt. This picture doesn’t show it but to the right is a beautiful lake.
Bike path signs in Switzerland, Austria, and Italy Switzerland: watch out for difference between mountain bikes and road bikes. Routes are numbered but with no destinations. Austria: little sign posts signed for one end to another. Italy: Some signs with destinations.
GPS-assisted navigation Garmin Routing units Reprogram Garmin to route like a bicyclist “Dynamic routing” Explore with confidence Don’t bring your laptop
Language Learning “please” and “thank you” goes a long way! Europeans more formal than Americans Language learning program Berlitz much more useful than Pimsleur Learn to count Learn to ask for lodging/directions Learn the right language! Northern Italy speaks German!
Daily Tour Timeline Tour Daily Timeline 7:30am Breakfast 8:30am Ride Every 90 minutes Water/snack stops 11:45am Lunch Every 90 minutes Water/snack stops 16:00 Tourist information 17:00 Hotel /lodging/campground search 17:30 Inspect hotel/accept 17:45 Shower & Laundry 18:30 Dinner
Food Breakfasts usually included with lodging Bakeries open early (6-7am!) Lunch: Best deal—Supermarket lunches Cheap Eat whatever you want Fast (no “service waits”) Watch out for supermarket closures around noon! “Bar lunches” Common in England/Scotland. Hotel bars serve quick meals
Picnic on the Walensee Not only a supermarket lunches faster and cheaper, you get the best possible location for your meal: the great outdoors. If you have special dietary requirements, shopping for yourself guarantees you eat right.
Food Dinner Frequently included in lodging “half-pensions” Hotel Restaurants happy to serve non-guests “Fixed menu” usually good deal Good news: restaurants in Europe now non-smoking!
Water Fountains near center of every town! Exceptions: D’leau non-potable! KeinTrinkwasser! Look for fountains alongside roads in mountain areas
Water Fountains Most European Water Fountains have potable water
Lodging Tourist information centers Ads/Bill boards in rural areas Guidebooks (usually useless unless cycling specific) Cyclists’ trip reports (e.g., “Jobst hotels”) Family-owned hotel networks “Logis de France” B&Bs “Zimmer Frei”/”Gites de France”
Lodging (Continued) Easy to find on the day Start search around 4pm Exception: weekends (Friday night + Saturday night) in popular areas OK to backtrack Check for bed bugs Don’t conflict with big multi-billion dollar events like the World Cup or the Tour de France Lodging will be booked a year in advance!
GafthofBatznhausl We lucked out, finding this hotel/restaurant at the end of a rainy day
Tourist Information Most tourist information staff are more than happy to help you make a reservation, find appropriate accommodations, and even provide a town map with directions to the bike path.
Tools/Repair Learn to fix flat tires! Overhaul bike before you leave Easier to carry tool and find someone who knows how to use it Spread spares between the group
VAR Tire Lever Very useful for mounting difficult tires
Illness/Injury Do not ride with a fever! Moist Wound Care Altitude Sickness