iding your bike in a foreign country for the first time where the cars go the wrong way around the roundabout and traffic controls are ignored, might seem daunting.
Quite often, the warmer climate countries are more cycle-friendly than in your home country!
Let's take Italy as an example. Their reputation as car drivers isn't the best. But they are a nation of cycle lovers and cyclists.
Drivers give cyclists a very wide berth when passing and are always considerate. Why? Well, Italy has a long history of cycling greats and a handful of huge international cycling competitions.
Here are my Top Tips for Cycling Abroad.
1. How Popular is Cycling in your Chosen Destination?
Choose a country where cycling and cyclists are held in the highest regard.
Italy is one such country. Every Italian village seems to has its own local cycling legend and every weekend large number of cyclists tour the Italian country roads, enjoying roadside restaurants and cafes while clocking up the kilometres and counting down the calories.
Italy has a great cycling history and culture and other road users are very considerate towards cyclists giving them a wide berth when passing.
2. Consider the Terrain
In reality, cycling on the flat in the valley bottom is pretty boring and the views are a little tedious.
If you don’t cycle regularly the idea of ‘hills’ probably puts the fear of God into you! For example, Tuscany is 92% hills. This means 46% of the time you are climbing. So how can you have an enjoyable cycle trip in Tuscany? Take an eBike. The various power-assist settings allow those cyclists wanting more of a work out to get just that while others wanting to take in the view can increase the assist and take things a little easier.
And everyone rides together!
3. Rules of the Road
If you’re travelling with a tour operator, ask for a guide to cycling in your destination.
These guides often only tell you about the law or regulations and not the general conduct and attitude towards cyclists. For UK cyclists, riding on the ‘wrong side of the road’ in Europe may cause some angst. For American’s riding on roads can be an issue. In reality, it is much easier to adapt when riding the bike on the left than driving a car.
Use your hand signals and road discipline as you would at home and exercise a little more caution on your first day, and you will be fine.
4. Ride with Confidence
This is a simple rule, often overlooked, particularly by the casual cyclist.
Don’t ride right in the gutter. Occupy a space about 1m in from the roadside. This gives you enough room to maneuver left and right if there are obstacles in the road such as small potholes.
You have as much right to be on the road as any vehicle and you should ‘occupy your space with confidence’.
5. The law of Liability
In the EU (except for UK, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus, and Romania), the rule of 'presumed liability' applies.
This means that “The motor vehicle driver is responsible, for the risk created by driving such vehicles, damage to persons or property caused through his driving.” The driver is liable unless it is proven that the incident occurred solely due to the conduct or negligence of the other party.
Make sure and check that your holiday insurance covers cycling abroad as well as the standard holiday coverage such as medical, security and travel disruption.
Here is something that is often overlooked - make sure that your holiday insurance is in place from the moment that you book your holiday!
7. The Best Time of Year to Cycle Abroad
It depends on your personal preference and the specific destination.
However, most people prefer spring or autumn (Fall, if your Stateside) for a cycling trip. But these two seasons are significantly different in themselves. Daylight hours in April, May and June are considerably longer than in September and October.
Personally, my favorite month abroad is from mid to late May.
8. Cycling in Warm Weather.
You will dehydrate much quicker.
Make sure that you keep well hydrated with regular drink stops and make sure that you carry plenty of water on your bike. Ideally, take something like a banana or a snack bar to enjoy along the route.
9. Can I Drink Tap Water?
We recommend that you stick to bottled water.
This is only because the tap water you have at home and the water in your destination will not be the same! The only way to be sure that you are drinking good quality water that won’t upset your stomach is to drink bottled water.
10. What to Wear.
If you use clipless, then take your own pedals and shoes with you.
If you use normal pedals, flats, then make sure that you have a good pair of sports shoes with a sturdy sole. Otherwise, do invest in a pair of padded pants, whether you choose liners or the actual short, doesn’t really matter. But the additional padding will aid your comfort.
Do make sure that you have a lightweight, and windproof top for the early morning chills!
11. Guided or Self-Guided?
Gone are the days of map reading, arduous decision making and route planning.
Today's modern cycling GPS systems allow tour operators to preplan your route and itinerary so that you can follow the simple GPS turn-by-turn directions. But while the terrain may be beautiful and the views astounding, a self-guided trip misses so much of the local culture, personality and ‘colour’. A good guide, someone who lives in the area, provides a deep insight into the community, its history, culture and even the local gossip. A local guide brings your ride to life with tips, snippets and insight.
Make sure that you understand the background of your guide before booking.
Signs and road numbering are not always as expected!
And if you are used to detailed maps such as the OS maps such as those that are available in the UK, you may be disappointed with the maps that are available in some countries.
My advice is to use good quality GPS. Again if you’re travelling with Inspired ITALY, we provide a full GPS and you can have the gpx files in advance so that you can use your own bike computer.
Of course, if you’re really concerned about navigation, take a guided trip!
13. How Many Days in the Saddle?
Your itinerary includes the arrival and departure day, ride days and rest days.
It would be unusual to ride on the arrival or departure day. Your bike will most likely be delivered on the first full day of your trip. This is to avoid issues with delayed transfers and unexpected late arrivals. Use your arrival night to relax after your journey. Once you have your bike and it has been adjusted to your ride position, you're ready to go!
Whether 3, 4, 5 or 7 nights make sure that your itinerary has a rest day or is balanced for you and your needs.
14. Who is There, On The Ground, to Help You?
Make sure that your tour operator provides you with a full briefing, from information on riding to how to use the bike and the GPS.
What support is available out of hours and how is this provided? What information is given to you and in what form (do you really need to carry sheets of printed information?).
15. Do You Need to Wear a Helmet?
If you are over 16 then in most European countries it is not mandatory to wear a helmet but clearly, it is advisable.
16. What is the Mobile/Cell Phone Coverage Like?
This is more to do with your data plan.
Having data while abroad is critical not only for safety but for your enjoyment. At Inspired ITALY we support all our guests using WhatsApp groups and the use of Google Maps and GPS coverage is hugely valuable. We monitor guest WhatsApp groups - we call it a virtual guide - 24/7 and send daily updates on weather, your day's activities and general information.
In emergencies it proves invaluable.
17. Leisure Cycling Holiday or Hardcore?
Can you do hardcore on an eBike?
Yes, for sure. Taking an eBike doesn’t necessarily reduce your effort. Because of the assist, you can ride further, climb higher, so why not take the long road? Inspired ITALY eBike itineraries tend to cover more ground than their standard road bike equivalents.
And if you want a tough workout, just turn down the assist!
18. eBike or Standard?
A Story about Bob & Jane, Phil & Margaret.
On a Cycling Holiday in Tuscany
You may have gathered we are eBike fans!
Why? eBikes enable all cyclists to do more and get more from their efforts. eBikes enable you to cycle greater distances and reduce barriers.
Bob and Jane, Phil and Margaret came on a week-long GPS self-guided cycle tour of Tuscany. Bob and Phil insisted on taking hybrid bikes against our advice.
Day one of their trip was a 66-kilometer ride from Cortona to San Quirico d’Orcia, estimated to take around 3hrs 25 mins on the eBike. Bob and Phil took 9 hours to reach their destination.
But the story doesn’t stop there.
Phil asked us to exchange his hybrid for an eBike and the next day he set out with Jane and Margaret and they cycled together through the Tuscany countryside for a further five days. Bob carried on with his Hybrid. Each evening Bob would eventually arrive at the hotel to find that Jane, Margaret and Phil had been in the pool for an hour, had enjoyed a nice lunch, and Phil, being an enthusiastic cyclist, had blue-toothed his heart rate monitor into the Bosch eBike computer and was very happy with the work out that he had.
Jane, Margaret and Phil had a wonderful cycling holiday together, seeing the sights, enjoying wonderful lunches and most importantly, each got what they wanted from their cycling adventure.
We don’t really know if Bob enjoyed himself. No one saw that much of him!