Why you should consider a vacation bike tour

I am particular about what I want to do with the free time I have. And on vacation, I want to move, travel and explore. Not from the confines of a tour bus or a minivan trapped in construction traffic, but on the trails of a mountain or the paths through the woods. 

Or, give me a bike helmet, water bottle, carbon frame, disc brakes, two wheels and a winding road through …  

The Dolomites of Italy. The Canary Islands. The Pyrenees. Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast.  

Or Iceland or Costa Rica.  

Or the Adirondacks. Glacier National Park. Yellowstone.  

The Trek bicycle company offers all of these active destination vacations, and the bike too.  

Madison, Wis.-based Trek Travel began in 2003 with vacation bike tours that went along with the major bike races in Europe, the Tour de France.  

It has expanded to 54 trips in North America, Europe, Latin America and beyond.  

You pick a tour based on your ability, how much you’d like to ride and where you’d like to go.  

Here’s what you get: A minimum of two guides. One will ride along with you on a planned route, another will follow along in a support vehicle in case you have a flat tire or, for example, a medical need.  

The vacations include most meals and hotel rooms. Transportation to and from the location are not included.  

Trek Travel has trips for the hard-core cyclist who can ride 100 miles a day or the family with kids who just want to tool around for 25 miles or less a day.  

Most of the vacations are geared toward adult couples or friends, but there are ride vacations specifically designed for families with riders of varying abilities.  

Cyclists also pick their own Trek road bike, hybrid or electric-assist bike.  

Bob Joy, a retired architect from upstate New York who has relocated to Florida, took his first Trek vacation in 2005 with the Tour de France at age 55. He was there when Lance Armstrong won for the seventh time.  

“I thought, this is so cool,” said Joy.  

He’s now done 13 Trek Travel vacations, including twice with the Tour and twice with the Giro D’Italia during race week, when he was able to interact with the competitors.  

His wife, Priscilla, soon after joined Bob on a Trek tour of wine country in California’s Napa Valley.  

“Trek Travel does a great job of planning routes so that people of different cycling abilities can all have a good time and arrive at the same place,” said the 66-year-old. “In Napa, you can ride up the Silverado Trail, one of the relatively flat roads that goes up the valley, or you can go up into the mountains.”  

He’s been in groups as small as three, but they usually average about 10. No group is bigger than 20. Everyone usually seems to get along well, having the common ground of the love for cycling and traveling.  

“The world is a beautiful place at 17 miles an hour,” Joy said. “You’re not going so fast that you zip by things. You have time to see a deer on the side of the road or a beautiful estate in Italy. You really have time to savor it. You can get off the bike much more readily and much more easily than if you were in a car.”  

Riding at his own pace, Joy said, he can take in the smells and the sights of the environment, making the travel more enriching. 

“We did Tuscany last year,” he said. “You come into a little village on a bike and people are very friendly. They’re interested in the bike; the culture there — they’re very amenable to cyclists on the roads. You feel very safe, and the drivers seem to be very cautious. It’s a wonderful way to see things.  

“Plus, you feel the topography in your legs. And you feel like you earned that wonderful pasta dinner you ate that night.”  

Joy is Facebook friends with 20 Trek Travel guides after getting close to them on his adventures. He vouched for their reliability and competence.  

Joy did break an elbow in a fall once, but he said the guides usually put cyclists on routes with good shoulders and light traffic. Every day starts with a safety lesson.  

Mark Thomsen, a guide for seven years before he became the marketing manager at Trek Travel, said the California wine country trips and the Bryce Canyon and Zion national park rides are the most popular in the United States and the Tuscany region of Italy and Provence in France are most popular in Europe.  

“Experiencing these trips by bike, you’re not behind glass in a bus or walking where it takes all day,” Thomsen said. “You really get to cover a lot of ground and still be out in nature.”  

If you’re looking for a cheap, all-inclusive getaway, this isn’t it.  

You’re paying for the convenience of an itinerary and the expertise, knowledge and security of the guides. That sounds like a good idea on the Rhine River Cruise for $6,999, an eight-day, seven-night trip that begins in Basel, Switzerland, and cruises past medieval cities and castles until it ends in Amsterdam. Or Cuba ($7,199 per person), from Santa Clara to Havana.  

“It’s wonderful to be challenged and feel a sense of accomplishment on a vacation,” said Joy. “And not just relaxing on a beach somewhere or going on a tour bus somewhere. You come back with great stories and great photos.  

“And you can spend a week indulging in food and come back weighing no more than when you left.”

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