It's cycling season and I've been thinking a lot about solo bike trips and cycling holidays for solo travelers.
It seems I'm not the only one. I received an email yesterday asking me about the best bike tours to join. I wish I had the answer but I don't. However, a few of our regular advertisers on our Deals page do offer cycling tours for solo travelers. I'll share some of them further down.
But first, let me tell you a bit about my passion for cycling.
When I was 10, or thereabouts, my mother told me stories about cycling from hostel to hostel in the Eastern Townships, south of Montreal.
I was enchanted. It all seemed so romantic to me.
Five years later, I did the same, but in England and Wales. This was my first trip without my family. I joined a cycling tour that would ride parts of Wales and England. It lasted a month. I paid $125 for my second-hand Peugeot with the racing handlebars and about $475 for the entire trip, including airfare!
It was one of those situations where my parents said I could go if I could save the money, never expecting that I would. I did. I went. And I set in motion a lifetime of travel.
Solo Cycling Gets into Your Soul
It's funny how something like this can take hold in one.
I consider myself a cyclist through and through. I have taken three organized bike tours and planned and enjoyed four independent cycling holidays by myself. I use my bike in Toronto in spring, summer, and into the fall. I used to cycle anywhere in the city without hesitation but now, I concede, I prefer trails and bike lanes, which are plentiful. I compete for space with cars as little as possible now.
Cycling is a big part of my life. My identity, even. And yes, I am often cycling alone.
Cycling Holidays Are Great for Solo Travelers
Some cyclists cover a lot of ground in a day. As much as 100-150 km, day after day. That's not me. I'm going to address the benefits of easy and moderate cycling trips.
- The sounds and smells. Traveling by bike puts you close to nature. You can smell the grass in the field, the flowers, the fresh air. You can hear the birds, the sound of the wind in the leaves – and traffic. The point is that your senses will experience your destination in ways not possible if you weren't riding or walking.
- Pace of travel. You can only go so far and so fast in a day. This slows you down to see the small details of a place, its landscape, flora, and possibly fauna.
- Meet locals. Not only will the countryside be more accessible to you but the people will as well. Stop for a water break in a village and you'll be talking to someone in no time. People are friendly to cyclists.
- Camaraderie. If you join a group, you'll be riding shoulder to shoulder with other cyclists and there will be time for long conversations during the day. You'll get to know your travel mates. Even if you're not on a tour, if you are on one of the more common cycling routes, you may still end up cycling with a new friend.
- Eating lots and still staying in shape. What better holiday than one where you can eat and drink as you want and return without having gained weight? In fact, you will almost certainly be in better shape than when you left.
Tour Companies with Biking Holidays for Solo Travelers
There are many reasons to take a bike tour with a specialty company. Most companies offer some or all of the following services.
- A tried and true route that has been tested for the skill level promoted.
- A leader who is responsible for the details of the trip and the well-being of all. The leader has the resources to take care of anything that could go wrong.
- A sweep van that will carry luggage and other gear needed by all on the trip.
- Predetermined places for accommodation, meals, snacks, and pit stops.
- The camaraderie of fellow cyclists.
- An introduction to long-distance cycling by those with experience.
- Support to manage a cycling tour through a more challenging destination.
- If you're traveling overseas, a bike may be provided.
There are hundreds of companies that offer cycling tours. Here are a few that have been supporting Solo Traveler for years:
Solo Bike Trip Tips
- Plan for your skill level. Read the description of the tour you're considering carefully to make sure that your skill level matches the trip. It's not fun to push yourself too hard day after day to keep up nor is it a pleasure spend too much time waiting for others.
- Ride a bike you’re confident in and on. Before heading out on a tour farther than a few miles from home, it’s wise to spend some time on the bike so that you’re comfortable on it. If you don’t know how to adjust the seat, go to a bike shop that will help you. Get familiar with the sensitivity of your brakes and gear system and the range of gears you’re most comfortable with in various circumstances.
- A bit of advance preparation is a good idea. The more riding you do before the trip the happier you’ll be on the trip. Give yourself time to build up to the daily distance expectation of the trip. Your muscles and your butt will thank you for it.
- Pack the following:
- A water bottle. Especially in heat, you'll go through one or three a day.
- A helmet of good quality that fits right.
- Sun block and sun glasses.
- Lights, reflectors, and bell on your bike.
- Cycling gear: gloves that are padded in the palm, padded and tested cycling shorts, Dri-Fit long sleeve white crew neck top to keep sun off your skin and control your body temperature, and rain gear.
- Plan for your nutrition. Research before you go to find out what the local snacks are. Explore the local grocery stores when you're there. You'll need snacks as you ride. You might want to bring protein with you to make sure you have what you need.
- Get familiar with your bike. While it's unlikely that you'll have to do repairs on the road, it is helpful if you know how to change a tire or tighten a cable. If you go with a group, your bike will be provided for you and your leader will take care of this, however, if you're on your own, a bit of knowledge could be very valuable.
- Stay close to home when training. If you’re planning a long ride, map out a route that doesn’t take you too far from home. Twenty kilometers away from home and back could be 12 km away in a big circle. The circle gives you almost the same distance.
- Or, at least, stay close to civilization. While being far from civilization may be appealing, seeing a person now and then can be reassuring. Stick to trails and roads that are used by others.
- Trails first, roads with paved shoulders second. Know your priorities when cycling: trails that are designed for touring. The rail trails that are all over North America are wonderful and safe since you’re not competing with any traffic. If you’re planning on road biking, check to make sure that your route has a decent paved shoulder. If a road does not have a paved shoulder, limit the amount of time you’ll be on it.
- Carry ID and emergency information. Just in case something happens and you’re not able to speak for yourself, make sure that you’re carrying identification and information on who to contact in case of an emergency.
- Carry a charged mobile phone. A mobile phone is now a basic safety device for any sort of travel. Have your phone charged and with you in case you need support.
- Basic repair kit. You can do a lot of riding in one gear, with one set of brakes, or with a missing pedal, but a flat tire is almost impossible to ride with. At minimum, carry a small repair kit and pump.
- Have communication options. Carrying your charged phone with you on a cycling trip is the easiest way to stay in touch when traveling solo. If, however, you are cycling somewhere where it is unlikely that you’ll have service, using an app such as Close Circle, which has a tracker and SOS service among its features, is a good idea.
Five Things Not to Worry About
- Keeping up. The physical demands of your trip depend on the trip you plan or choose. You don't have to be an athlete to tour by bike but you do need to be in decent shape. Easy trips are usually 20-30 km/day while moderate trips are 40-50 km/day.
- Managing your stuff. Saddle bags for bikes are called panniers and they hold an amazing amount. A pannier on each side of your back wheel will hold about the same as a carry-on bag. You can also get bags for your front wheels, handlebars, and more. However, if you take a tour with a tour company, your bags will likely be transported for you.
- Getting lost. If you plan your route without a lot of preparatory research, have a map and GPS with you. That will make it pretty difficult to get lost. On an organized tour there will also be a trip leader and sometimes a sweep van to catch anyone who may have fallen behind.
- Missing the highlights. At 20-30 km a day you are only riding for two to three hours. This leaves plenty of time for stopping off and checking out the sights along the way.
- The expense. Hey, you're providing your own transportation. How expensive can a cycling trip be? Even a tour doesn't have to be expensive, though some are far more affordable than others.