First-time bicycle touring brings up many questions—how will I feel? How should I prepare? What if I need a break?
BikeTour.com founder Jim Johnson talked with BikeTours.com travel ambassador Jackie Nourse to review helpful tips for first-timers, including the beauty of traveling by bike and how to deal with the weather.
Jackie Q: How will my body respond to being on a bike all day?
Jim A: The tour you’re taking on the Danube is about 20 to 30 miles a day. That might sound like a lot, but when you have all day to cover that distance, it’s easy to break it up. Ride five miles and have a pastry. Ride five more and explore a vineyard and have some wine. Go a few more miles and try a wiener schnitzel.
It’s not a 20-mile day, but a series of short jaunts that break up wonderful experiences you’re having on the bike.
Bicycle touring is not training. You’re not worrying about speed or endurance, but really just enjoying the ride. You’ll look around and see castles, the river, riverboats, and vineyards. You’ll see such amazing things that you’ll forget any aches you may have after day one.
Q: What if I don’t feel up to biking that far one day?
A: On the self-guided Danube tours, like the one you’re on, everything is planned and ready for you. Your hotels are planned, your route is planned, your luggage is transferred to the next hotel, and you have a phone number to call if you run into trouble or are exhausted.
So many places along the way on the Danube you can roll your bike onto a boat or a train. This tour is along a central route where bike touring is very popular and there’s excellent infrastructure for finding rest if you need it. We call them “ample bailout opportunities.”
There are worse things in life than deciding 15 miles in that you’d rather take the riverboat, where you can watch castles go by as you sip wine or coffee.
Q: What else can I expect from this experience?
A: A sense of accomplishment. We have many people come back from their first bike tour and tell us of all the travel they’ve done, this was the trip that transformed them more than any other. There are a lot of people for whom travel involves four wheels or being in one place. On a bike tour, you’ll feel such a sense of accomplishment after each day. At the end of your tour, you’ll be able to say you rode your bike the full length of the Danube in Austria. You’ll always have that.
Heightened awareness. Many of our clients share that after their first or early tours, their senses are heightened. On a bike tour, you’re aware of everything around you, whether listening to the wind or smelling the hay nearby that was just cut by a farmer. On the Danube in September, as you ride by vineyards you smell grapes that have fallen to the ground and are slowly fermenting, which is a wonderful smell. You savor the whole experience.
Being in the movie. One writer describes the difference quite clearly—when you travel through Europe in a car, train or bus, you’re watching an amazing movie pass by. When you’re on a bike, you’re in the move. You’re the star.
Whether you are bicycle touring solo or with a company, here’s what you should consider when picking a tour!
- Decide between guided or self-guided tours.
- Spend quality time in the saddle before your trip.
- Don’t overestimate your ability.
- Be realistic in the distance you want to cover each day.
- Consider a tour on a dedicated bike path.
Q: Will I eat too much along the way?
A: Very few people go on a bicycle tour and gain weight from the delicious food. Three syllables—gelato! On a bike tour, you can dine without guilt.
Q: What if it rains? I’m so exposed on a bicycle.
A: The same things that make people uncomfortable about a bike tour are the same things that are great about bicycle touring.
You’re exposed, but you can smell things around you. Hear things. See things that you wouldn’t otherwise see if traveling by bus, car, or train. A lot of things that cause fear—like being exposed to the elements and using your body to move—I think you’ll find within a short period of time are the same things that will give you the most joy.
Compared to other methods of travel, you’re the most vulnerable on a bicycle. Realistically, you’re balancing on two weeks. Finding the right tour for beginners new to bicycle touring helps immensely. The trip down the Danube has a dedicated bike path and great signage, and it’s easy to find your way to remove some of the feelings of vulnerability.
OK! I’m ready! But do you have anything to say to people who still are a bit reluctant?
Sure! If you’re nervous, talk with one of our tour advisors. We have a lot of tours perfect for first-timers—for example, on dedicated bike paths with no cars and excellent signage. Or make your first tour a guided tour, where you have a guide, other cyclists, and a support van to make you feel secure. A lot of first-timers also like bike and boat tours, where your “floating hotel” moves with you and you always have the option of taking time off the saddle.
View our recommended trips for first-timers.