By Kelly McPherson — Cycling while on vacation is one of the best ways to explore an area. Some might argue that walking is just as good, but I feel that is too slow to see very much and whizzing past in a car you miss some of the best area treasures and sights. On a bicycle, however, one can go fast or slow, stop to take a picture or sample something yummy along the route. You get to see the views and tiny roadside flowers as well as have a casual chat with a local who can tell you where to find the best out-of-the-way hole-in-the-wall diner. Perfect! The rides I go on while on vacation are always my favorites and well worth the trouble of making them happen.
Taking a bicycle on vacation requires a little planning. Below are some tips to getting you started on a great vacation on two wheels.
Getting your bike there:
- By car – This is the way I usually go. My family likes to take a lot of road trips. Buy, borrow or rent a good bike rack. I prefer a secure hitch mount, but there are tons of options. I wouldn’t recommend the roof racks. I have ruined three bikes running them into the tops of garages and carports. On vacation, you aren’t likely to remember it’s there and might run it into the top of bridge or something. That would be a very bad ending to a great vacation.
I have also been known to put my family’s luggage on a hitch-mount rack on the back of my minivan while my bike rides safely wrapped up in blankets inside the van. It has also ridden, wrapped up in a utility trailer with all our camping equipment. A good bike box would be helpful with these methods. I don’t have one, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
- By bike shipper – I haven’t had a lot of experience shipping my bike, so I reached out to someone who does it regularly.
The following tips are from Sarah Kaufmann professional MTB racer and owner/coach at K Cycling Coaching, [email protected], 413.522.3180
Traveling with your bike can be smooth and easy or miserable. For travel within the US, BikeFlights.com is an exceptional resource. Shipping your bike with BikeFlights is less expensive than almost any airline bike fee and it eliminates having to drag your bike through the airport. It also eliminates much of the risk of damage to your bike as TSA will open your bike box and they will not repack it with the care and concern that you have taken. Make sure you mark your seat-post and handlebar angle so you can recreate your fit easily when you rebuild your bike. I recommend taking along the tools that you used to dissemble your bike. You will be happy to have the full-size tools rather than your travel-size multi-tool. Or find a local bike shop where you are headed, ship the bike there and have them do the build for you. They will probably be happier to give you free advice on the best group rides and routes in the area after you have given them some business!
- By bike – This might seem overly obvious, but there is nothing like an epic ride on your bike getting to your vacation. One of my favorite rides is from my Dad’s house to our campsite at the beach. I get a head start while my husband drives our van with the kids. Usually he will pit crew me somewhere along the way to refill my water bottles and fuel.
- Rent a bike – Many shops will rent a bike to tourists. The benefit of this option is that you don’t need to transport your bike. Someone else maintains it and you get to save space in your vehicle.
[Editor's Note: Bike Share systems such as GreenBike in Salt Lake City or Ford GoBike in the San Francisco Bay Area are great for getting around bigger cities and are a perfect way to see the sites. They typically only allow one to ride for 30 minutes at a time however.]
Where to ride:
- Strava – Strava is awesome for seeing where others have ridden in the area. Do some searches for rides near where you are headed. If there have been a lot of riders on those segments, the roads should be good for you to ride.
- Local clubs – Do an online search for local cycling clubs. Check to see if they have any open group rides that you might be able to join. Sometimes the best routes are only known to locals.
- Organized rides – Coordinate your vacation with an organized ride event or race. It’s a fun time with some SWAG for souvenirs!
- Local bike shops – Research the local shops and plan on dropping by to restock your tubes and CO2 cartridges. At the same time, as the employees about some good routes. They are usually a great source of information.
- Just explore – Sometimes you just have to go ride and see what you can see. This isn’t a great time to have any kind of training goal for the ride as you never know what you are going to find. It might be a great route or it might end up being a pastry shop bike hike. You just never know.
Other random helpful thoughts:
- When to ride – Time this for what works for your family. For me, this is early in the morning before my teenagers are even conscious. I love riding through quiet streets before most of the tourists are up. Oftentimes I will see something cool that I want to show my family later. Make sure to discuss your plans with who you are vacationing with. You don’t want to make someone upset that you weren’t where they thought you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there.
- Bike storage – Make sure to plan to securely store your bike. Check with the hotel before you book to make sure they allow bikes in the rooms. Lock it in a trailer or store it inside your vehicle. Don’t let a bike theft ruin your vacation!
- Take a bag – You never know when you might find something fun on the road or in a shop along your route that you want to take with you. A small string bag folded up in a jersey pocket works great for this.
- Be prepared – Make sure to ride with a little extra fuel, an extra water bottle, tire changing tools as well as your ID, some extra cash and your cell phone. You don’t want to be in trouble in someplace you don’t know well with no way to take care of things.