What's the best way to tour Europe by bike?
January 11, 2013 6:09 AM   Subscribe

I have a 3-4 week vacation from the army coming up and I want to spend most of it touring Europe on a bicycle. I'm in good hiking shape, but the furthest I've ever ridden my (mountain) bike is 25k two days back to pack. The vacation will probably be in April or May. Where should I go and how should I do it?

Where is a good place to go in April or May? I was thinking that southern Italy would probably be nice at that time, and I could do a loop around the peninsula. I'm also open to places that aren't in Europe but are inexpensive to fly to from Israel.
Is it possible to rent a touring bike for 2-3 weeks? What would that cost in a place like Italy? What should I look out for?
Does hiking stamina translate into biking stamina? I don't really have any opportunity to go on multiple day bike tours between now and then - but I run regularly.
Is it reasonable to use a backpacking pack while riding long distances on a bike or will I have to invest in saddlebags?

Additional advice is welcome.
posted by jrsnr to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't comment on Italy or bike hire prices, but I can advise that:

1. Panniers will be an extremely worthwhile investment. You really don't want to be carrying a pack for a long bike tour (except maybe something minimal with a hydration bladder in it).

2. I think your aerobic fitness will stand you in good stead. If you're not used to biking, your rear end will probably be your weak point (but you'll get used to it after a few days). Make sure you have a decent saddle!
posted by pont at 6:32 AM on January 11, 2013

I could recommend the Danube Bike way https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donauradweg. I just know the Part from Passau to Vienna but that some very nice landscape to travel through.
posted by ironicon at 6:42 AM on January 11, 2013

The Swiss national bike routes are well marked and well maintained. All your questions should be answered on the web site.
posted by jazh at 7:20 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

that's a great plan.

pont has the practical points down -- although your muscles may need to adjust too for the first few days. After getting adjusted, 75+k per day in not too hilly terrain should be very feasible.

My guess is that renting a bike for such a long time may work out as expensive. Maybe look for a good used one and sell it after the trip?

Will you be camping? You'll need panniers anyway, but if you have to carry tent, sleeping bag and cookware, you'll likely need 4 and a front rack. Don't go too far north if you camp, April can still be quite chilly north of the Alps. Italy would be great that time of year.
posted by gijsvs at 7:26 AM on January 11, 2013

Build in rest days into your schedule. My ideal touring had three days of consecutive travel, usually about 100km per day, with a day of hanging out, with usually a shorter ride. In terms of panniers, get the smallest that will fit your gear. Buying too big a bag means you will almost certainly overpack. Having a few bungees will mean you can fit extra stuff as needed outside the bags on the rear rack.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:35 AM on January 11, 2013

There's a lot of great info on the touring forum at bikeforums.net


Sounds like an awesome trip!
posted by beau jackson at 8:00 AM on January 11, 2013

Check out bikely for route ideas (Italy >500km).

Switzerland and France could be really nice as well.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:14 AM on January 11, 2013

Whether you rent or buy, be sure to put the effort into making sure the bike fits you well and is adjusted properly. Your general fitness will do you well but you will be using some muscles and joints in slightly different ways for long periods of time, and something like having the saddle 2cm too low can make you sore. You can make adjustments along the way, but you want to have it mostly right to begin with and keep those ongoing adjustments small. As others have said, don't wear the pack, at the very least get a rack and devise some method of attaching the pack to that, and bring extra bungees and cords to attach various stuff as needed. Try to build some flexibility into your route so you're not pushing to keep on schedule at the expense of having fun and checking out cool stuff along the way, or taking it easy if you get tired. Read the bikeforums link. Have fun.
posted by makeitso at 8:45 AM on January 11, 2013

Ireland! My boyfriend and I cycled the West Coast of Ireland this past June and it was AWESOME. MeMail if you're interested and I can send you the details.
posted by floweredfish at 9:20 AM on January 11, 2013

I'd spend the last month before the vacation getting to wherever possible on the bike and I'd take the saddle I used with me to Italy (which is a destination I heartily endorse).
posted by hat_eater at 9:28 AM on January 11, 2013

If you can afford a vacation in Europe, you can afford basic saddlebags. (You can get a decent pair for less than $100). Do it - it will make a huge difference. Having a backpack on your back all day sucks way more on a bike than hiking.

You have a few months, so bike your ass off! If you find a saddle that you like, take it with you.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:15 AM on January 11, 2013

I did a one-week tour in the Dordogne region in France in November and the weather was pleasant even then, so I imagine that April is a fine time to visit there. If you go that route, check out Aquitaine Bike. I dealt with Robert and he was very helpful and accommodating in helping us figure out a good route, and the prices were solid. He probably has routes that will take two to three weeks, and my god does the area abound with beauty and tasty food and nice people.
posted by invitapriore at 12:43 PM on January 11, 2013

I don't have a clue. But I bet the people at the Touring subforum of Bikeforums do.
posted by Doohickie at 12:56 PM on January 11, 2013

This site shows a whole bunch of commercial tours. Even if you decide to "roll your own", you might get some good ideas.

Also, I highly recommend the European section of "crazy guy on a bike", which is a site that helps people record their bike tours. You could get a lot of ideas there too.
posted by sarah_pdx at 3:54 PM on January 11, 2013

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