I’ve long wanted to bicycle through Europe, but a few things have held me back:
Do I really want to carry all my gear on a bike?
Is it too complicated to make all arrangements for accommodations along the way, especially if I’ve planned too ambitiously and wear myself out?
What if my bike breaks down and I can’t fix it?
If I go with a bike tour (which will essentially solve the first three problems), can I afford the expense?
And what if, in the end, I just can’t tackle the terrain if there are too many hills?
So I end up taking the train or driving — not that I don’t love European trains or roadways, but I still don’t get to experience Europe with the same intimacy as on a bike.
This is where a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based outfit called Bike Tours Direct can come to the rescue.
Bike Tours Direct has been in business for almost a decade, putting Americans — including lots of baby boomers — together with European bike tour operators in 35 countries throughout the Continent: from Belgium to Belarus, Ireland to Italy, Scotland to Slovakia and points between and beyond.
Bike Tours Direct doesn’t operate any tours itself — but it serves as the booking agent for local tour operators throughout Europe, and now, due to recent expansion, to some 100 countries in six continents around the world. If you want to hit the pedals in Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tibet, or Turkey, that can all be arranged. There are about 400 available tours in all, including several in the U.S., from Block Island to Hawaii.
The company offers plenty of flexibility. Both guided and self-guided tours are available, and routes are rated by four categories of difficulty: easy, leisurely, moderate and challenging, ranging from up to 20 miles per day to 40 and above, and also ranging from mostly flat terrain to extended and frequent climbs.
For cyclists on a budget, the self-guided (without escort) tours are the least expensive, but include bikes, hotels with breakfast, luggage transfers and route information, so if you’re comfortable going out on your own, that’s a great deal.
The guided tours, which include guides, support vans (in case you break down or get tired) and dinners as well as bikes and hotels with breakfast, cost somewhat more, but still much less than what most U.S.-based tour operators would charge. Most prices are no higher than what the local tour operators themselves charge, but Bike Tours Direct handles all the bookings and payments.
Now, here’s what could be the best part for baby boomers with aging legs: Bike Tours Direct now lists some 90 tours in 19 countries that offer electric bikes for their tours. E-bikes give cyclists a battery-powered engine push to help them over hills and keep up with faster members of the group.
Don’t confuse e-bikes with mopeds or motorbikes: they look just like regular bikes, but produce extra power — up to 150 percent of your own — when you slow your own pedaling. As Bike Tours Direct puts it, they “make trips more leisurely or difficult terrain more manageable….and remove physical and mental barriers that make some travelers hesitant to book a bike tour.”
This could be the answer to multi-generational family biking in Europe: boomer grandparents, their adult children, and their grandchildren could all pedal on the same tours and keep up with each other. Note that e-bikes are more expensive that regular bikes — but they’re worth it if you have any doubts about your long-range biking abilities.
Bike Tours Direct will also set you up on combo bike and boat tours along rivers such as the Danube and on barges through Belgium, Holland and France.
The company was started by Jim Johnson, a former corporate executive and recreational cyclist who had pedaled around Europe but bristled at the prices charged by American tour companies. He found that both self-guided and guided tours offered by European companies were considerably less expensive. So, using his contacts in Europe, he went into business for himself as the broker between the cyclists and the tour operators.
For this baby boomer, Bike Tours Direct answers all my doubts about tackling Europe by bike — so hats off (not helmets, though) to Johnson for a terrific idea. You can check out Bike Tours Direct’s website here.
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This Week’s Travel Quiz:
According to a holiday travel survey by Choice Hotels, what was the most common anxiety felt by holiday travelers who end up staying with relatives rather than at hotels?
A. Having to wait in line to use the bathroom
B. Getting stuck in long conversations with “odd” relatives
C. Having to sleep on an air mattress or on the floor
D. Being awakened before they wanted
I’ll have the answer in my next blog post.
Meanwhile, happy holiday season to all — whether you’re traveling or not!