Bike travel can seem intimidating to even seasoned active travelers. But with a range of tour styles, a growing proliferation of e-bike options and itineraries that can accommodate would-be Tour de France types as well as first-timers, experiencing a region on two wheels offers just the right amount of adventure. Plus, people are unbelievably friendly to bicycle travelers — be prepared for lots of curiosity, hospitality and envy.
Bike: Nearly any kind will do. Unless you’ve got an unwavering affinity for your own ride, it’s often easier to rent at your destination, especially internationally. Ride a high-end carbon road bike on the weekends at home? You’ll be fine on a similar style for a multiday trip. If it’s been a while since you’ve been on two wheels, consider a “hybrid” bike with flat bars, which offers a mix of comfort and efficiency that even experienced cyclists appreciate. If you’re carrying gear, make sure you have a rack and panniers (bicycle-mounted luggage) or soft “bike-packing” style bags that attach to the frame, bars and seat post with Velcro. Either way, plan to carry rain gear, snacks, a few layers (depending on the season) and a camera with you all day. You can wear a backpack, but riding without a pack is vastly superior for multiday trips.
Clothes: You don’t need a special cycling kit or clip-in shoes and pedals (counterintuitively called “clipless”) to have a good trip. Really, a good pair of cycling shorts with a padded chamois is the only piece of clothing you shouldn’t leave home without. We each carried two pairs of cycling shorts or liners (to be worn underneath a more casual short) so we could alternate days. Otherwise, the sort of thing you might wear to the gym or on a hike should be fine for moderate mileages. With luggage transfer, the sky is the limit for luxury at day’s end.
Safety: Spanish drivers proved to be unfailingly considerate, but it’s wise to affix a reflective safety triangle (or similar) to the back of your bike and/or run a blinking LED rear light to make yourself extra visible. There’s no guarantee of safety, but following local traffic laws, choosing a low-traffic route and riding defensively can go a long way.
Training: Plenty of bike travelers aren’t avid cyclists. While it’s always nice to have a little cycling-focused fitness before a trip, choosing an itinerary that fits your fitness enthusiasm is the most important thing. If you are worried about making it to the hotel, consider an e-bike. This widely available option provides an assist (you still have to pedal) that can turn previously unrealistic mileages or mismatched partners into non-issues.
Tools and gear: It’s always good to carry basic tools to tighten a bolt or fix a flat tire, and know how to use them. Even with a support and gear wagon, it might make sense to make a repair on your own instead of waiting for a rendezvous. Sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses and the like are usually appreciated, but don’t be fooled into thinking you need a full complement of the latest tech wizardry nor a Tour de France bike. People of every shape, size, fitness level and age travel by bike all the time. You can too!
Tour operator: There are numerous tour operators who can design an unforgettable journey for you. Butterfield & Robinson are the best-known for bespoke luxury options. For our trip through Andalusia, Spain, we used the local, family-run company Cycling Country.