Is there a bicycle tour for you?
With some justification, tour companies claim they offer cycling adventures for almost everyone. If exploring on two wheels seems appealing, there are a variety of organized outings that you can choose from, based on interest, cycling ability and--a very important consideration--cost.
Some tour companies will put bicyclists up in the swankest lodgings in town, tote their luggage in a van and treat them to gourmet meals at the rate of about $200 to $300 a day per person.
But not every tour is so fancy or so expensive. On an American Youth Hostel holiday--at the lower end of the price spectrum--pedalers sleep in bunk beds in hostel dorms, haul their own gear and share the cooking chores--for the budget price of about $350 per person for a full week. Camping tours are even cheaper.
And who has the most fun is a matter of personal outlook.
For hardy cyclers, there are rugged, mountain-topping itineraries or 100-mile marathons to challenge legs and lungs. The majority of tours on the market, however, are aimed at recreational cyclists who are looking for gentle terrain and modest distances of no more than 25 to 35 miles a day. And a good tour company will rate its trips from easy to hard.
If you're still uncertain about going the distance, consider the following:
Most inn-to-inn tours offer "sag-wagon" service, with a van accompanying the cyclists. Anyone who falters can flag it down for a ride. On some tours, pedalers stay in a centrally located inn throughout their holiday while making day trips into the surrounding countryside. This gives them the option of playing hooky.
Are you a social animal or a loner?
With some companies, all cyclists travel as a group and are rarely out of sight of each other. Other companies provide everyone with a detailed map, and each pedals at his or her own pace. If people get lost, the sag-wagon will go looking for them.
Independents may prefer a third alternative--the self-guided trip. The tour outfitter provides the bicycle, makes inn reservations and transports luggage daily. But cyclist are on their own, without a guide or sag-wagon.
Where to cycle, of course, is of major importance. As interest in cycling vacations has grown, outfitters scheduled new destinations in this country and abroad.
Now there are cycling tours in most states--including Alaska and Hawaii--as well as in Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean, Kenya, China, Japan, Australia, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
Other factors may also influence a biker's decision on whether to take such a vacation. Tours can be picked for singles, families, adults or students for a weekend, a week, two weeks or a month or more. Cyclists can even take a tour based on the type of bicycle: a thin-wheeled, multigear cycle or a fat-wheeled, mountain cycle.
And tours to national parks quite naturally focus on splendid scenery.
For example, Backcountry Bicycle Tours of Bozeman, Mont., is offering a five-day trip over Canada's Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park.
Tours abroad usually are routed through country villages, providing a glimpse of the local culture. History buffs may delight in a tour of France's chateau country, where they may spend as much time exploring regal architecture as they do pedaling the French byways.
Other specialty tours combine cycling with daily visits to the wineries of California's Napa Valley or with evening cooking lessons in Italy or with French lessons on the back roads of France. Tours can be chosen, too, because they offer the most romantic lodgings or feature gourmet dining.
Backroads Bicycle Touring of Berkeley, Calif., explores Louisiana's moss-draped Cajun Country to sample Cajun cooking.
Athletic adventurers can combine a cycling holiday with such outdoor recreational activities as ballooning, white water rafting, sailing, fishing, hiking and--in Switzerland--mid-summer glacier skiing.
Some of the most pleasant tours highlight visits to hot spring spas or are mapped past inviting beaches or refreshing mountain pools.
Although dozens of outfitters, large and small, operate bicycle tours, it's important to find a reputable one.
Get references, advises Pat Halty, owner of All Adventure Travel, a Boulder, Colo., firm that represents about 30 bicycling companies in this country and abroad. Ask someone who has taken the tour if the outfitter showed proper concern for the safety and comfort of participants.
Other factors to check: How long has the company been in business? Look for a company with at least three years' experience.
What kind of equipment is offered? How old is it, and how well is it maintained? Are the guides trained in mechanical repairs and first aid or other emergency procedures? Does at least one of them speak the language of the country you are touring? Does one of them speak English? Have the guides led the tour before or even been to the destination? What is the ratio of guides to participants? One guide for eight cyclists is a good ratio.
Will the tour be canceled if too few people sign up? If you have chosen an exotic destination, this is important.
For a listing of tour operators: "The Tourfinder," a publication of the League of American Wheelmen, lists 225 domestic and foreign tour operators and the types of tours they offer. For a copy, send $5 to 6707 Whitestone Road, Suite 209, Baltimore, Md. 21207, (301) 944-3399.
Bicycling magazines also carry announcements of tours. All Adventure Travel distributes a catalogue listing 300 biking, hiking and combination tours. For a free copy, contact All Adventure Travel, P.O. Box 4307, Boulder, Colo. 80306, (800) 537-4025 or (303) 499-1981.