The reality is that life is not always just like riding a bike, even on a cycling holiday. Before you go, you do need to dust off your bike, get the wheels turning, your blood pumping and your heart yearning. A cycling holiday shouldn’t be a boot camp, more of a bliss out camp, and so the more preparation you can do before hitting the likes of Montenegro’s mountains, pedalling around Portugal or seeing Slovenia from a saddle, the better. Here are our top tips on how to prepare for a cycling trip.
Prepare for the joy not the Giro
When working out how to prepare for a cycling trip, the main thing is to aim for an appropriate level of fitness and an ability to cover a daily distance similar to the holiday you have opted for. That way, you will have more time to relax and just enjoy the adventure, landscapes and cultural experiences. And remember, this is your holiday you are preparing for, not time trials for the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia. It’s the joys of travel not time trials that most people will want to remember at the end of the day. That’s what our slow, sustainable cycling holidays are all about.
Be realistic about your fitness levels
If you don’t have a lot of experience of cycling long-distance and for several hours in one day, you can either opt for one of our ‘easy’ cycling holidays, or give yourself a few months and get some training in. So, instead of booking Switzerland’s Valais à vélo or pedalling across the Pyrenees, you can break in a little more gently on a holiday with fewer preparation drills but just as many thrills. Our cycling holidays fall into one of five difficulty grades, so you have plenty of options: Easy, easy to moderate, moderate, moderate to strenuous and then strenuous.
Taking it easy can still be exquisite
If you are starting out gently, you can opt for flatter landscapes such as on our Netherlands, Lithuania or the Danube cycling tours. You can also cycle in the heart of mountainous spectacles, but follow valley or forest trails that avoid the ascents. For example, yodel and pedal your way around Austria’s alpine scenery following the Adige Valley Cycle Path between Innsbruck and Bolzano in Italy. Or combine the cultural wonders of Spain’s Aragon and Valencia following the country’s longest cycling greenway on a converted railway track, covering 150km of mostly flat, traffic-free and dramatic landscapes. Another gentle hilly heaven lies just north of Girona, following quiet country roads and rural woodland tracks of Catalonia’s La Garrotxa Natural Park.
What about e-bike cycling holidays?
The e-bike, which stands for electric but should also stand for eco and easy in our books, is a game changer when it comes to cycling holidays, and we have an ever-growing number of holidays offering an option to rent one. However, be warned. You should prepare for these holidays, as saddles still hurt and thighs still ache even when there is power behind the machine. We also highly recommend getting some experience riding an electric bike before you travel, so that you don’t waste a minute of your holiday getting unnecessary range anxiety or being bamboozled by batteries.
Which type of cycling holiday is for you?
Most of our cycling holidays are self-guided, giving you freedom and flexibility to explore at your own pace. We also have some group escorted tours which may appeal to people who enjoy cycling in a group, or solo travellers who want to meet like-minded adventurers.
Most importantly, it’s important to know that even on a self-guided cycling holiday, you won’t be alone out there on the trails. You have a support team on the ground, reachable by phone 24/7 and they give you detailed instructions, maps or apps (depending on the tour). If you don’t have a smartphone, we will advise you in advance whether you need to bring a GPS device such as a Garmin, to help navigate and we recommend getting this in advance of your trip and practising with it. But on many of our easier cycling tours, our detailed instructions will do the trick.
A good fit
As well as making sure that you send us all the dimensions that we need when you book a cycling holiday, so that we can choose the right bike rental for you, make sure that your own bike is a good fit while training at home. You can have padded shorts and gel saddle covers, but if your bike isn’t a good fit, from the saddle position to the actual size of the bike, then you will start to feel the burn more quickly than you should, and also risk injury. A tweak here and there can make all the difference. This video is very clear about how to get a good fit but, it’s worth getting your bike serviced before starting to prepare for a cycle trip and, while you’re at the bike shop, ask them to check the fit.
Get in training
On all our trips, we give you details of how many kilometres or hours you will cycle every day, as well as the elevations that you’ll cover, if any. No matter which cycling holiday you are planning, it’s good to build up over a period of at least two months (ideally more) before your trip, especially for the moderate to strenuous trips.
Never use trips as a way to get fit, as you risk injury or simply not enjoying it. It’s also worth remembering that the pace we set in our holiday itineraries is based on cycling at a leisurely, gentle pace. We want you to revel in it all, not race it and training will help that.
Build up gently
We advise building up the amount of kilometres you ride by around 10% a week, until you are riding the same amount that your cycling holiday has in store for you. This doesn’t mean increasing speed, just distance, duration and trying tougher terrain. You should also aim to cycle at least three or four times a week, and get accustomed to sitting in that saddle for a few hours for several weeks before you go.
Don’t be a stretcher case – just stretch!
It’s also important to learn some good stretching exercises that will become second nature at the end of one of your cycling holiday days. As well as doing a quick stretch before you head off too. Imagine stretching on the beach after a day of cycling along Italy’s Cilento Coast or overlooking Venice’s lagoon while cycling between Venice and Istria along the Adriatic Coast. If you fancy a mountain view as you stretch it out, there is no shortage of dizzy heights while cycling between Salzburg in Austria and Lake Bled in Slovenia, a route that is categorised as moderate even though it’s mountainous.
If the weather is a bit grim and you aren’t a hardy cyclist, brave it out and try a spin class at your local gym, or consider buying or borrowing a turbo machine to turn your bike into an indoor one. These are also good ways to get familiar with cadence, which may turn out to be your best friend if you get it right. Cadence is the rate at which you pedal, measured in revolutions per minute or RPM. There are lots of schools of thought on what the perfect cadence is to avoid injury. For hills, the general rule of thumb is to have a slower cadence of around 60rpm.
Chill on the hills
If you are planning on a cycling holiday with a few ascents in the itinerary, you need to start incorporating a few of these into your regular cycles, or at least cycling in a lower gear to get the feeling of a steeper gradient. If you are lucky enough to have a few hills nearby, one of the secrets of conquering them is to slice it up into segments, and focus on a target point at each segment, such as a signpost or a tree. Aim for that and cycle at your own pace, then take a sip of water, ride out of the saddle for 30 seconds or so, then pick another identifiable marker and head slowly for that next one. The other trick is to keep breathing – deeply. See the mountain as something to meditate on, rather than something to fear.
Go up a gear
If you are already a keen cyclist, but you’re upping your game a little by taking on a more moderate to strenuous cycling holiday, then we recommend pushing yourself in the gym a little too. So if the UK’s Coast to Coast Cycle Trail is calling or the ancient and awesome ascents of North Macedonia and Greece, where you cycle between 40 and 80km a day, or you are contemplating cycling the Camino, you need to press your inner power button at weekends, not just the snooze button.
As well as committing to regular cycling, we recommend an hour’s workout in the gym, three times a week with, for example, 20mins on the treadmill, 20mins on the cross trainer, followed by 20mins of core and leg strength exercises, in particular focusing on quads, glutes and hamstrings.
Hitting the heights
For strenuous (but always stupendous) cycling tours, such as Switzerland’s Valais region, or Cycling the Grand Crossing of the Alps, you need to double your efforts in the last few weeks, but always taking rest days to ensure you don’t injure yourself. As well as short cycles every day you can, for example, increase your gym workout to include 60mins of cardiovascular exercise, including a good circuit of strength exercises such as squats and lunges, four times a week, plus a five hour cycle, with plenty of hills, at weekends.
Do we need to prepare our own bikes too?
We know that many of our natural adventurers are attached to their own bikes and often bring them on holidays with them. However, we do offer bike rentals on all our cycling holidays too, so you don’t have to get tense about your cables or stressed about suspension. We charge a supplement for bike rental and so this is something you might want to consider before booking. This charge varies depending on the country you are travelling in and they come fully equipped with a pannier, handlebar bag, bike lock, pump and repair kit.
We do recommend that you bring your own helmet and one that you are used to wearing. Some sussed cyclists opt to bring their own saddle and pedals, especially for our road cycling tours, but always check with us first to ensure that we provide the right match for your gear.
Cyclists get psyched about gear, but you don’t have to go over the top on this front. However, there are a few basics that will change your life or at least stop chafing your life. Padded cycling shorts are one, and breathable cycling tops are another. In addition, cycling gloves, comfy trousers, a waterproof cycling jacket, suncream, sunglasses and cycling shoes or sturdy trainers are high on the list. We will send you more details in your trip notes after booking.
Also, don’t save your cycling gear shopping for the week before your holidays either, but get used to wearing padded shorts or cycling shoes so that they feel like a second skin by the time you hit the holiday hills.
Learn the rules
Swot up on the cycling rules of the country you are going to visit. Your support team on the ground will advise you on this too, of course, but it’s good to be in the know so that it becomes second nature.
In Spain and Germany, for example, it’s illegal to ride outside a cycle lane if there is one provided. Same goes for Italy where you also can’t ride two abreast when out on the open road, outside urban areas. We never advise drinking alcohol during a cycling day and it’s worth noting that, in most European countries, it’s illegal and you will be fined if you are over the limit as a cyclist. In some countries, such as Belgium, you can cycle the ‘wrong’ way down a one way street, but it will be signposted accordingly if that’s the case. Read more in this very informative article.
Prepare for an emergency
During your preparations for a cycling holiday, it’s worth keeping in mind that, although rare, emergencies do happen. This is our advice in the event of an emergency: remain calm, move yourself and the injured person (if feasible, taking care not to aggravate any injuries) away from any imminent danger, such as rock fall or avalanche, and apply first aid if trained to do so. Keep the person warm using the foil blanket in your first aid kit, or any spare clothing available. If you are travelling as a part of a party, make a careful note of the precise location where the victim can be found and either call for help using the numbers we will give you in your trip notes or send a member of the party while someone remains with the injured person.
The emergency signal
Should it be impossible to go for help, the international distress signal is six blasts on a whistle (and flashes with a torch after dark) evenly spaced for one minute, followed by a minute’s pause. Repeat for as long as necessary. The response is three signals per minute, followed by a minute’s pause.