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Independent Cycle Touring in Europe



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Independent Cycle Touring in Europe

  1. 1. Independent Cycle Touring in Europe<br />Piaw Na<br />REI<br /><br /><br /><br />
  2. 2. Introduction<br />20,000 miles of independent touring<br />1 trip/year since 1993<br />League Cycling Instructor (LCI #1040)<br />Cycled in:<br />Japan<br />Scotland, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany<br />New Zealand<br />South Africa<br />California, New Hampshire, Maine, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia<br />
  3. 3. Rosenlaui<br />Beautiful mountain views send many cyclists to famous passes such as Grosse Scheidegg<br />
  4. 4. Beautiful Bike Facilities<br />A cobblestone tunnel bypass provides beautiful views unavailable to car drivers<br />
  5. 5. Beautiful hill towns<br />Provide a lovely backdrop to ride in, as well as opportunities to explore architecture and other cultural artifacts.<br />
  6. 6. Friendly Locals<br />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!<br />
  7. 7. Interesting places to stay<br />By eschewing reservations and guides, you leave yourself open to interesting opportunities to stay at great places.<br />
  8. 8. Bellinzona, a town with 3 castles<br />Because your party size is small, you can fit in little hotels that big tour groups cannot hope to get into.<br />
  9. 9. Bike paths<br />Riverside bike paths ensure you always have a car-free way to get to where you want to go.<br />
  10. 10. Less is more<br />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.<br />
  11. 11. Route Information “On the ground”<br />Because bicycle travel at human pace, signs and map guides that are easily skipped by motorists are easily viewable by you.<br />
  12. 12. Why Europe?<br />First class cycling culture<br />Nearly everyone in Europe rides a bike or knows someone who rides<br />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<br />$10/gallon gas means fewer SUVs on the road and more public transit friendly to bicyclists<br />
  13. 13. Stephanie Raez on her way from Chur to Paris<br />Nearly everyone in Europe cycles. Helmets are uncommon, and a summer tour something nearly everyone will do sometime in their lives.<br />
  14. 14. First class cycling culture<br />
  15. 15. First class cycling culture<br />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<br />
  16. 16. Facilities<br />Summer is the low season!<br />Primary tourist facilities are ski resorts—cheapest in the summer<br />Big investment in cycle paths and cycle ways<br />Bike paths have covered bridges<br />Separate bike tunnels<br />Very few bike bans on trails<br />Dense network of roads!<br />Dense network of cyclist friendly hotels/lodging<br />
  17. 17. Facilities<br />German bike path in Munich: along a river (the Isar), and away from traffic. Note the separate benches for both bike path and pedestrains.<br />
  18. 18. Austrian Bike Path in the Salzburger Lakes<br />Separate bike “tunnel “ alongside lake. Auto traffic routes through tunnels with no views.<br />
  19. 19. Hotel Rosenlaui<br />Andreas Kerhli, the owner of Hotel Rosenlaui, welcomes cyclists.<br />
  20. 20. Natural Beauty<br />“The Sierras no longer look pretty to me.”<br />“Best cycling in the world”<br />“The prettiest country I’ve ever seen.”<br />“After riding in the Alps, the death ride was uninspiring.”<br />
  21. 21. Cultural Attractions<br />Historical artifacts (castles, grand old buildings)<br />Museums<br />Architecture (great cities)<br />History<br />
  22. 22. Switzerland<br />Beautiful Alps<br />9 major bike-fares criss-crossing entire country<br />Clean and safe<br />Road engineering superb<br />Trains precisely on time<br />Expensive? Maybe.<br />English spoken<br />
  23. 23. Cycling in the Bernese Oberland<br />Beautiful lakes, mountains, and extremely polite drivers<br />
  24. 24. Grindelwald<br />Mountain Views from Grosse Scheidegg are to be seen to be believed.<br />
  25. 25. Swiss Road Engineering<br />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.<br />
  26. 26. France<br />High mountains<br />Beaches on the Mediterranean<br />Long river tours<br />History<br />French food<br />Poor train service for cyclists<br />Learn a bit of French before you go<br />
  27. 27. Col du Tourmalet<br />Famous passes frequently featured in the Tour de France can be climbed all through the year in Southern France<br />
  28. 28. Col De L’Iseran<br />Highest pass regularly climbed in the Tour de France. Ski town on one side provides readily available lodging. Markers every km for grade!<br />
  29. 29. French Roadside “Tombstone”<br />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!<br />
  30. 30. French minimum passing law<br />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!<br />
  31. 31. Austria<br />Relatively untouristed<br />Fantastic bike facilities<br />Great train service for cyclists<br />Cheap, even for luxury hotels<br />Beautiful mountains for hiking/cycling<br />Rugged!<br />English frequently spoken.<br />
  32. 32. Timmelsjoch<br />Between Austria and Italy, Austria features beautiful lonely roads, and cheap lodging.<br />
  33. 33. Tauern Radweg<br />This 200 mile bike path from Salzburg through Tauern National Park is gorgeous and has relatively easy riding.<br />
  34. 34. Radstadt<br />Little known towns in Austria are gorgeous and cheap to stay at.<br />
  35. 35. Austrian Bike Paths<br />They are the best in the world. Beautiful and chock full of facilities like water fountains, covered bike bridges, and plentiful lodging and restaurants.<br />
  36. 36. Germany<br />Beautiful Spring/Fall touring<br />Cheap train travel for cyclists!<br />Go from one end of country to another for 21 EUR!<br />Bringing friends? 28 EUR for 5 people!<br />English frequently spoken<br />Scenic small towns<br />Small towns cheap, large cities expensive<br />Mountain roads too well engineered<br />
  37. 37. German Farm Roads<br />Near Munich, extremely dense networks of roads mean that there’s very little traffic traversing some of the prettiest small towns you can imagine.<br />
  38. 38. Bodensee<br />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.”<br />
  39. 39. Italy<br />Beautiful mountains<br />Crazy drivers<br />Road conditions not ideal<br />Italian food!<br />Friendly people<br />Not necessarily cheap<br />Infrequent English speakers<br />
  40. 40. Stelvio<br />This legendary climb features 47 switchbacks and ends at well over 9000 feet. Hotels halfway up provide rest stops and lodging.<br />
  41. 41. Fedaia Pass in the Dolomites<br />Jobst calls this the “Fastest Highway in the Alps.” with well banked, 13% grade descents.<br />
  42. 42. Timmelsjoch<br />Beautiful passes in a part of Italy that used to be Austria before world war I. As a result, most people speak German.<br />
  43. 43. Italian Bike Path<br />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.<br />
  44. 44. England/Scotland<br />English spoken (watch “Trainspotting”)<br />Beautiful backroads<br />Expect rain<br />Best in late Spring<br />Easy navigation<br />Expensive<br />
  45. 45. Why Tour Independently?<br />More interactions with locals<br />No “cocooning”<br />More local food<br />Flexibility<br />Raining? Ride less or stay put<br />Never have to fight headwinds<br />Tired? Choose easier route<br />
  46. 46. Why Tour Independently?<br />Serendipitous encounters<br />Retired chefs cook for you<br />People invite you into homes<br />Cheaper<br />Independent touring in good lodging and eating out—50 to 75 EUR/day<br />Tour operators cost $200/day!<br />All the support you need is already available in Europe!<br />
  47. 47. Friendly People<br />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.<br />
  48. 48. When/where to Go?<br />Spring<br />Austrian Lakes<br />German Black Forest<br />Southern Italy/France<br />Summer<br />Alps (Switzerland/France/Austria/Italy)<br />Northern countries (England/Scotland)<br />DO NOT Visit Europe in AUGUST!<br />Fall<br />Pyrenees<br />Southern Germany/France<br />
  49. 49. Trip Planning<br />Decide where to go/when to go<br />Decide on cycling companions<br />Run a qualifying tour<br />Buy plane tickets<br />Plan routes<br />
  50. 50. Equipment<br />Need a bike (almost any bike will do)<br />Don’t carry stuff on your back! (Panniers/Saddlebags)<br />Bikes are designed around their brakes<br />Shoes you can walk in!<br />
  51. 51. The reason to wear shoes you can walk in.<br />
  52. 52. Training<br />Don’t sweat it if you’re doing an independent tour<br />You can choose the difficulty of your trip according to fitness<br />More important to enjoy riding!<br />
  53. 53. Cycling companions<br />Can make or break the trip (or friendship!)<br />Do a test tour (at least overnight!)<br />Make sure you can cope with each other’s habits/snoring<br />
  54. 54. Choosing Companions<br />I did many day rides and overnight rides with Mike before we toured together.<br />
  55. 55. Buying plane tickets<br />Check bike fees<br />United/Lufthansa charging $250 each way!<br />KLM: 1 extra piece of baggage<br />Air Berlin: 80 EUR round trip<br />British Airways/Virgin: Bikes fly free!<br />Air Canada: $50 each way<br />Always book a jet<br />Minimize transfers<br />Bike reservations? (Lufthansa/Air Canada/Air Berlin)<br />
  56. 56. Bike packing<br />Check airline bike packing policy<br />BA/Lufthansa allow “naked” bikes<br />Cardboard bike boxes<br />Boxes at REI! (free!)<br />Boxes at Amtrak ($20/free)<br />Boxes at Bike Shops<br />Can throw away at each end<br />Zurich has bike packing service<br />
  57. 57. Packing a bike into a cardboard box<br />Wrapping things with bubble wrap is a good idea<br />
  58. 58. Bike Packing Service in Zurich Airport<br />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.<br />
  59. 59. Bike packing<br />Hardcase bike boxes<br />$250/box, but heavy<br />Need to store on both sides<br />Naked bikes<br />Wrap with bubble wrap<br />Remove deraileur<br />
  60. 60. Public Transit and Bikes<br />Bicycle friendly countries<br />Germany<br />Switzerland<br />Austria<br />Bicycle indifferent countries<br />Italy<br />Bicycle unfriendly countries<br />France (reservations required)<br />Japan (must disassemble bike)<br />Need train help? Euraide (<br />
  61. 61. Bike space<br />Local trains in France do allow bicycles<br />
  62. 62. Alan Wissenberg<br />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.<br />
  63. 63. Cell Phones<br />GSM Phones required<br />Prepaid SIMs available everywhere at low cost<br />Incoming calls free/Outgoing calls cost<br />Do not expect data plans<br />$20/5GB in Germany<br />Watch out for roaming data charges!<br />Buy a new SIM card for each country<br />
  64. 64. Navigation<br />Your phone’s GPS feature is useless<br />Roaming data charges<br />Google’s bicycle routing is poor<br />Buy paper maps!<br />Choose smallest routes/most scenic routes<br />“White” roads over “Red” roads<br />Keep water to your right<br />
  65. 65. Classic Michelin Map<br />The best cycling maps are packed full of information and reward close reading<br />
  66. 66. Maps<br />1:300,000 scale<br />AAA maps are useless<br />Motorcycle maps are sometimes useful<br />Should include elevation/gradient info<br />Should include scenic roads/small roads<br />Appropriate maps for each country<br />Buy as you go<br />
  67. 67. Bike paths<br />Can be found on dedicated maps, or look for signs<br />Every time you cross a river, look for river-side bike paths<br />Some countries (Germany/Switzerland) assume you have a mountain bike!<br />Don’t expect bike paths in mountains, but trail riding can be fun!<br />
  68. 68. Bike Paths in Switzerland<br />Sometimes, they’re dirt. This picture doesn’t show it but to the right is a beautiful lake.<br />
  69. 69. Bike path signs in Switzerland, Austria, and Italy<br />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.<br />
  70. 70. GPS-assisted navigation<br />Garmin Routing units<br />Reprogram Garmin to route like a bicyclist<br />“Dynamic routing”<br />Explore with confidence<br />Don’t bring your laptop<br />
  71. 71. Language<br />Learning “please” and “thank you” goes a long way!<br />Europeans more formal than Americans<br />Language learning program<br />Berlitz much more useful than Pimsleur<br />Learn to count<br />Learn to ask for lodging/directions<br />Learn the right language! Northern Italy speaks German!<br />
  72. 72. Daily Tour Timeline<br />Tour Daily Timeline<br />7:30am Breakfast <br />8:30am Ride <br />Every 90 minutes Water/snack stops <br />11:45am Lunch<br />Every 90 minutes Water/snack stops<br />16:00 Tourist information <br />17:00 Hotel /lodging/campground search<br />17:30 Inspect hotel/accept<br />17:45 Shower & Laundry<br />18:30 Dinner<br />
  73. 73. Food<br />Breakfasts usually included with lodging<br />Bakeries open early (6-7am!)<br />Lunch:<br />Best deal—Supermarket lunches<br />Cheap<br />Eat whatever you want<br />Fast (no “service waits”)<br />Watch out for supermarket closures around noon!<br />“Bar lunches”<br />Common in England/Scotland. Hotel bars serve quick meals<br />
  74. 74. Picnic on the Walensee<br />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.<br />
  75. 75. Food<br />Dinner<br />Frequently included in lodging “half-pensions”<br />Hotel Restaurants happy to serve non-guests<br />“Fixed menu” usually good deal<br />Good news: restaurants in Europe now non-smoking!<br />
  76. 76. Water<br />Fountains near center of every town!<br />Exceptions:<br />D’leau non-potable!<br />KeinTrinkwasser!<br />Look for fountains alongside roads in mountain areas<br />
  77. 77. Water Fountains<br />Most European Water Fountains have potable water<br />
  78. 78. Lodging<br />Tourist information centers<br />Ads/Bill boards in rural areas<br />Guidebooks (usually useless unless cycling specific)<br />Cyclists’ trip reports (e.g., “Jobst hotels”)<br />Family-owned hotel networks “Logis de France”<br />B&Bs “Zimmer Frei”/”Gites de France”<br />
  79. 79. Lodging (Continued)<br />Easy to find on the day<br />Start search around 4pm<br />Exception: weekends (Friday night + Saturday night) in popular areas<br />OK to backtrack<br />Check for bed bugs<br />Don’t conflict with big multi-billion dollar events like the World Cup or the Tour de France<br />Lodging will be booked a year in advance!<br />
  80. 80. GafthofBatznhausl<br />We lucked out, finding this hotel/restaurant at the end of a rainy day<br />
  81. 81. Tourist Information<br />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.<br />
  82. 82. Tools/Repair<br />Learn to fix flat tires!<br />Overhaul bike before you leave<br />Easier to carry tool and find someone who knows how to use it<br />Spread spares between the group<br />
  83. 83. VAR Tire Lever<br />Very useful for mounting difficult tires<br />
  84. 84. Illness/Injury<br />Do not ride with a fever!<br />Moist Wound Care<br />Altitude Sickness<br />
  85. 85. Questions?<br />Trip reports:<br /><br />Buy the book(s):<br /><br />Blog:<br /><br />Follow me:<br />Twitter: @choonpiaw<br />Google plus:<br />Facebook: Independent Cycle Touring<br />