I finally went on my first biking tour.
I have long had a desire to cycle around Europe to explore the countryside and cities. It appeals to me because I always thought it would be the ideal way to set your own pace, see the sights and get plenty of exercise.
Well, it certainly didn't disappoint. I did the biking adventure as part of a river cruise with AmaWaterways. The cruise line collaborates with adventure travel company Backroads to offer biking outings on rivers in Europe, such as the Rhine, Douro, Seine and Danube.
I spent a week pedaling along the Danube and the surrounding countryside villages, farms, orchards and vineyards. This hybrid-style trip isn't a full-fledged biking tour. It's also not your standard river cruise. The combo is a delightful taste of both.
If you have been on a cruise on the Rhine or Danube already and want to see it from a different perspective, this is a voyage for you. If you have always wanted to try a biking tour but worried that the itinerary would be too intense, the Backroads biking cruises on AmaWaterways are a wonderful introduction. I biked about 150 miles during the week, with rides from eight to 50 miles in a day. It was never too extreme.
I've outlined 7 things you should know before you go . . .
Get Back on that Bike: You'll want to get re-acquainted with your bike, especially that seat. Spend a few hours in the saddle. Ideally, you'll be able to ride around your neighborhood, but you can use the stationary cycles at your gym to at least get the feel of the bike seat and to get your legs prepared for the amount of pedaling you'll be doing. If you already are a regular or semi-regular biker or take spin classes, you are already set. I am not, so I started going on regular 10-mile daily bike rides about a month before my cruise.
Really, No Pressure: If you don't think you can do the longer rides that Backroads offers each day, choose one of the easier or shorter options. Be honest with yourself. You'll still have a great time. Backroads also offers electric-assist bikes that have a small battery that you can activate to help up steeper hills. Consider picking one of these bikes if you have any doubts about your endurance.
Pick Your Pace: The route options are thoroughly explained each day before you ride, and you get a handy GPS unit with turn-by-turn details. It works really well. So, you may ride at your own pace. I stopped often to enjoy particularly stunning scenery and take tons of pictures. I paused to watch a family ride by on their ponies and pulled over several times to snap shots of castles, towns and other points of interest.
You Won't Go Hungry: Backroads stocks you up with trail mix, fruits, energy drinks and even candies in the morning. You just grab a baggie and fill it with whatever you might want during the day to keep you satisfied. Also, you'll come upon the support team van several times during your ride, and the tour leaders will lay out some more snacks and a cooler filled with water, juices, sodas and beer (I recommend trying the regional varieties on hand).
It's Better with Beer: Like I noted, the team offers beers at the pit stops, and you also can enjoy a glass or two of wine as a celebration at the end of some rides. If you are a beer or wine aficionado, you'll be visiting several amazing spots to savor the flavors. After a day of riding, I liked to stroll the towns or cities that marked the port stops for our ship, AmaSonata, and stop off at a bar to try a new brew. I had beers in Vilshofen, Germany; Vienna, Linz and Weissenkirchen, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Budapest, Hungary.
Gear Up: Consider taking along a light rain jacket and fingerless gloves. You'll ride on rainy days. I should say: You can choose to ride on rainy days; you don't have to. A jacket and gloves will help keep you dry and comfy -- and avoid blisters. Also, I bought a pair of biker shorts. You know, the tight compression kind that leave nothing to the imagination. Yeah, those. They come with a padded seat the exact shape of a bike seat and help greatly in keeping your tush from getting too sore. Plus, you'll be strutting around Europe in true biker style! Also, see my packing list for a trip with Backroads and AmaWaterways.
Choices Galore: Backroads and AmaWaterways are in the second season of their bike-cruise collaboration, and the sailings are expanding. They feature 58 trips in 2016 and at least 58 more in 2017. You can pick journeys on the Rhine, Danube, Seine (France) and Douro (Spain).
I urge you to check them out. I had a blast sailing the rivers at night with all the comforts and fabulous food and service onboard (spa treatments, free Wi-Fi, heated pool on the sun deck). Plus, you unpack once for the week and get to make wonderful new friends -- you're biking with about two dozen like-minded adventurous travelers. What's not to love?
Thanks for reading,
Travel fit. Travel happy. Travel often!