How to Choose Your Next Bike Vacation

Throw darts at a map, that’s how. Better yet, if you have bad aim, target say, a clichéd destination like Spain, France or Italy, and instead you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you’re on your way to Algeria or The Caucasus. In the last decade, cycling vacations and the operators that provide them have flourished and now trip experiences range from self-designed to all-inclusive with resources to meet most demands at every step of the process. Mountain bike tourism is especially on the rise and the hospitality industry couldn’t be happier to welcome these tourists who tend to travel in spring and autumn, which are problematic seasons in tourism-dependent destinations. Investments to attract mountain bikers include building dedicated trail networks, sports spas, charging stations for e-bikes, and centrally located bike wash and repair stations.

Reenie Greene and her husband, Tom, have gone on more than 25 dedicated bike vacations with destinations in Costa Rica, Mexico, Slovenia, Austria, Croatia, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Canada, as well as all around their native United States. Bike vacations are perhaps their solution to monotony since the Greenes know practically every tree root, boulder, and berm within a 50-mile/80 km. radius of their Arlington, Massachusetts home.

Ride the cobbles in Belgium.

They primarily opt for mountain bike vacations, which narrows down the choices right away. Their threshold for adventure is more mercurial than fixed, so choosing the next bike vacation starts with two decisive factors: how good the riding is and how interesting the location is.

“Sometimes a trip has a lot of one, and less of the other,” explained Reenie. “For example, guided trips in other countries may not have the stellar riding of someplace like Moab, but we're willing to accept that for the chance to experience a new place and culture.”

She added that a deal-breaker is weather. She has a point here, who would deliberately choose to go somewhere rainier, colder, or hotter than what they can experience at home?

Get epic on roads in northern California.

Let’s recap the process so far to choosing your next bike vacation:

  • Determine what kind of riding you want to do: road or off-road
  • Select a destination or two and research ride quality and points of interest (like food culture, natural beauty, historic monuments, cycling-specific amenities etc.)
  • If your travel dates are flexible, some destination features — like music, film or food festivals — or nuisances, like bugs, are seasonal, so if the destination is attractive enough, aim for dates that would result in the best experience.

Once the above steps have been sorted out, you ardent DIYers out there will probably dive into designing the trip from beginning to end, which is a reasonable way to go about planning a bike trip on home turf, but here’s a helpful tip for getting the most out of a bike vacation that crosses borders: Bike tours are great for foreign destinations, especially for mountain biking, since local guides possess the knowledge and prowess to put together routes and ancillary activities with greater expertise than you might be able to.

The next step to getting the most out of your bike vacation is to bring your own bike, because if you rent a bike, you may forfeit the comfort, quality, and reliability that comes with riding your own. Aside from traveling with something like a Ritchey Break-Away, BikeFlights.com has emerged as the go-to service for shipping bikes safely and economically in North America. The company is still developing its service between North America and Europe, as well as within Europe. If you choose to ship your bike, you’ll have to send it ahead of you by a few days, which will give you some extra time to assemble these recommended essentials:

  • Chamois cream
  • Raincoat
  • Long-sleeved jersey
  • Two more shorts/liners than you think you need because if you have to, you can wear any other piece of bike clothing even if it's dirty or wet
Pack wisely for changing weather on your bicycle vacation.

A dedicated bike vacation starts with a few built-in features, like exploring new places, experiencing different cultures, challenging yourself on new terrain, and a favorite one among cyclists, where “refueling” stands for a little healthy hedonism when tucking into a plate of frites and a beer (or wine and cheese if that’s your thing). It’s never been a better time to be a bike tourist, since not only have new trends in riding, like gravel, revealed new ways to be adventurous, but also because the cycling lifestyle now offers greater opportunities for two-wheeled tourists.