Cycling through mid life rather than having a crisis has become the mantra of a growing number of baby boomers choosing bicycles rather than sports cars. Cycling holidays, especially in the over 50 demographic, is fueling an ever growing international tourism industry.
In the past five years, with helmets and cycling shoes included in our vacation packing, the question often is ” Why would you want to pedal up some mountain on a holiday?”
Here’s a secret. I love cycling and I hate cycling. It’s one of the best things that happened to me in my 50’s. There is a small problem however. I sweat more than an average football team. I huff and puff and gasp as if some bagpipe accordion combination gone mad while pedaling up hills.
How to pick a cycling holiday that’s right for you
The variety of cycling tours available continues to grow as more people discover this spectacular way to travel. Deciding on the type of tour to suit your experience and fitness level will help to make it the trip of a lifetime.
Guided tours take the guess work and the stress of navigating out of the equation. Having local guides who can speak the language, share history and information about the area and arrange meals and lodging means all that is necessary for you is the pedaling and gazing at the astounding scenery. The fact that they know first aid and are competent in the use of a defibrillator doesn’t hurt either.
A support vehicle accompanies the group so if fatigue sets in or a cyclist has had enough for the day the bike and cyclist can load up and sit back and relax. This my friends has made the difference for this boomer bicycle rider, whose lungs sound like they are doing some off key bag pipe pulmonary chorus. It’s not that I have used the support vehicle that often but the knowledge that it is there as back up keeps me pedaling.
Self guided cycling holidays are for the more adventurous and confident cyclists who feel they can get from point A to B with a map. Supported trips can be booked where guides can be called in case of mechanical or navigation issues. Lodging can also be arranged by the tour company.
For the strong and experienced cyclist, I silently detest, I mean envy, these people, an independent trip can be an exhilarating accomplishment. A cyclist of any age must assess their fitness, experience, emergency back up before proceeding on a cycling tour of any kind.
Why are cycling holidays popular with Baby Boomers?
Many people on cycling tours have been active all of their lives. Once running or hiking may have been the sport of choice however with time the knees and hips begin to complain about the incessant pounding. In my case I had been rock climbing for 15 years when the bike became far more appealing than taking long falls on cliff faces. Go figure.
On a bike those who love the open air and being on the go can pursue this without further damaging joints. The addition of electric bikes to tours opens up the possibility to this age group who may have never before considered cycling. Hills no longer are barriers for those on a powered bicycle.
Last fall in Italy one of the riders in our group had an electric bike. As J zoomed by me with her beautiful, sweat free hair blowing in the wind on many a Tuscan hill I had visions of losing my mind and pushing, I mean nudging, her into the ditch beside the cypress trees.
The sound of her battery powered electric bike as it sped by me with her cheerful greeting, ”On your left” made my eye twitch uncontrollably. It was either that or the sweat dripping into my eyes. One or the other.
In all seriousness it allowed J who had a recent knee injury to cycle beautiful Tuscany with her husband and friends on their long planned holiday. The electric bike will be there for me in the years ahead too.
What are some of the best locations of bicycle tours?
The possibilities are endless on all continents so be prepared that once you get on your bike you may be hooked and find yourself planning future cycling holidays for decades to come! Italy, with its beautiful vineyards, rolling hills, castles, not to mention amazing food and wine, is often a great spot to start.
Slovenia’s quaint and fairy tale like setting delighted us. The Picos de Europa in Spain challenged our fitness level. Let’s be honest here. In Spain the cows followed me in packs in hope of a lick off my permanently salt stained face. Did I mention that sweating problem? They were only outnumbered by the vultures circling me.
Cycling Turkey was a historical journey back in time. Peru is next on our list. At least I can blame the high altitude for any gasping.
Tips for the newcomer to cycling holidays
Get on your bicycle at home and get comfortable with cycling. Sounds simple enough but I have arrived on a trip where a fellow rider had done no training. She lasted half a day and after a nasty fall spent the rest of the trip in the support vehicle.
The more you train at home the more enjoyable your cycling vacation will be. Get comfortable with changing gears, doing hills (even if you must gasp and sweat like me, just watch out for cows and vultures), going downhill (many say this is harder than going uphill – not my experience but controlling speed can be frightening).
Do not decide to try clipless pedals on a tour. Having your cycling shoes attached to your bike adds to pedal power and it also requires practice to unclip in a timely manner when coming to a stop.
Most cycling tours try to keep you off main roads however there will be times you are riding with traffic. Getting used to the rules of the road, hand signals and the sound of vehicles, not to mention animals, beside you will keep you calm.
There is no polite way to say this. If you are squeamish stop reading. No matter how comfortable your bike seat is if you sit on it for 6-8 hours per day for days on end (pun intended), you may not want to sit anywhere for a very long time. Buy the best padded cycling shorts or pants you can find. Spare no expense here.
If you have a comfortable bike seat bring it with you. Wash your shorts after each day. Girls bring some vaseline and I don’t mean hand lotion.
Eat, drink and sleep. Learn what your body needs for fuel when you cycle so that you can carry those healthy practices with you on tour.
My Top Tip for Enjoying a Cycling Holiday
Pick a tour that fits with your ability. You don’t want to sign up for the cousin of Tour de France if you are a beginner. Watch for words like ‘very hilly terrain’ and ‘for experienced riders’.
You do not need to be fast. I can not stress this enough for the enjoyment of your vacation. Constantly feeling like you are on the verge of some cardiac event is no way to vacation. I am typically the slowest rider on a cycling tour. Cycling holidays are not races, well not the ones we are on (see note above about not choosing the Tour de France).
Besides if you are at the back of the pack someone else will have refreshments organized by the time you arrive at the end of the day. If you are a fast rider and enjoy that, fantastic. If you are a slow rider and enjoy that, fantastic. You both paid the same money.
Do you think is a cycling vacation for you? Any other cycling tips to share?