It’s April 1 as I write this. The calendar says Spring, but it’s sure not getting warm here in Chicago. So what’s a biker to do? Plan a cycling getaway!
As I start to take inventory of the choices, they include (among others):
- Book a cycling tour
- Hook up with a bike club in another city
- Develop a self-supported trip
- Attend a gran fondo or multi-day event/invitational
- Sign up for a cycling camp
All the above are great choices, but some take a good deal of planning and preparation. This particular trip for me is spur-of-the-moment. So my boyfriend and I are packing the bikes in the car and heading south – anywhere a day’s drive will take us. We’ve already reached out to bike clubs in Kentucky and North Carolina with amazing responses, from suggestions of routes, cue sheets included, to offers of personal guides, and even an offer to lend us bikes. Gotta love cyclists!
I’ve gone on a number of other cycling vacations that covered the full gamut of the above choices, though, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences.
Find a Tour That Works for You
There are hundreds of companies that offer cycling trips for all levels and destinations. (A few are RBR advertisers and sponsors! Check them out and support the companies that support us!) What’s nice about the plethora of choices is that you can find one that’s perfect for you. Things to consider when opting for a tour:
Budget – some tours can be extremely expensive, so stay within your budget. Check if meals are included. Camping vs. indoor accommodations is another important cost consideration. Self-guided vs. professional guided is also a factor, as is bike rental, etc.
Ship, schlep or rent – For any cycling trip you need to decide if you will ship your bike via FedEx, UPS or a bike-shipping service, schlep it on the plane or in the car, or rent it from the tour operator. (I’ll cover these three areas in more detail in a separate article to follow this one.) In general, though, find out what types of bikes the tour offers. It might be cheaper to use their bikes than ship your own. Also, some tours will not service personal bikes. So if you break down, you are on your own.
Tour type – Some companies offer or specialize in women-only or solo-traveler trips. If you find yourself without a travel buddy, it’s nice to hang out with other singles instead of feeling like a third wheel with a bunch of couples. Also, the women-only trips might be less intimidating if you are new to multi-day rides.
Ride length – If it is early in the season, consider a shorter trip or one that has a rest day scheduled in. Some tours offer a multi-sport option that lets you cycle, hike, whitewater raft, or even take a cooking lesson as part of the trip.
Hook up with a local bike club
If you are traveling to a new area and just want to ride on your own or with a group, check out local bike clubs. Most clubs have a website or Facebook page that lists their ride schedule along with distance, pace and terrain. Reach out to the club. Find out if they have a ride or a group that is a good fit for you.
Local bike shops can also be a good resource. They know the vibe of the different clubs in the area. And many shops host their own rides.
Ride sites like Strava and MapMyRide also can give you an idea of areas to consider for rides, along with routes. I had a guy from the East Coast reach out to me years ago on Strava. He was planning a trip to the Chicago area and was looking for suggestions. I was more than happy to provide cue sheets, club names and ideas to make his trip special.
Develop a self-supported trip
If you have the time, planning a self-supported trip can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Two of my friends are planning to ride Route 66 this summer. (Ahhh, to be retired and have endless time!) They will carry everything they need on their bikes and stay at motels along the way. For an even cheaper option, camping is a good choice.
But there are other options for self-supported touring. Last fall I drove out to South Dakota with a friend. We made base camp in Custer and hopped on the Mickelson Trail either from our hotel or other towns along the way. We considered some road riding but many of the roads did not have a good shoulder. To break up the week of riding, we hiked in theafternoons and even ventured to a local winery for a tasting.
Attend a Grand Fondo or a multi-day event
A destination event is always great fun. New roads, new friends, and new experiences are there for the taking. These rides can be a single-day or even week-long rides. I’m partial to an annual 3-day event in Kentucky every Memorial Day weekend. I’ve gone for seven years, and though it’s a long drive, it’s well worth it.
The warm weather, rolling hills and beautiful scenery are a far cry from Chicago’s still cool temps and brown grass. It’s a challenging ride and, being my first century of the year, really kick-starts the season for me.
Cycling camps are a great way to hone your skills. Several years back I attended a camp in Santa Rosa, California. It was amazing. The coaching company that organized the camp is from my area. So they took care of shipping our bikes to and from Santa Rosa. All we had to do was show up and ride.
The student-to-coach ratio was 4-to-1, and riders were broken up into groups according to ability. Each evening we were briefed on the following day’s ride, as well as provided coaching tips.
The camp had a professional chef who was familiar with the dietary needs of a training cyclist. Excellent, nutritional meals and snacks were provided. Also, post-ride we had yoga, massages and compression boot sessions. As part of the camp, on a daily basis mechanics would wash our bikes, pick debris from the tires and make sure everything was in perfect working order.
Cycling camps, like tours, come in a variety price points and amenities (not all as cushy as the one I just described!). Pick the one that’s within your budget and focuses on what you want to achieve (e.g. climbing skills) that season.
Watch for Part 2 of this series next week. I’ll cover issues inherent in deciding whether to ship, schlep or rent a bike when you’re planning a cycling getaway.
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Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women's cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri's full bio.