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The World’s 10 Best Bike Tours?

Posted March 18th, 2011

A little over a year ago, we wrote about 10 Places To Ride Your Bike Before You Die – a list of the favourite places we’ve been on our bicycles.

Now, we’ve come up with 10 more dream bike tours – our own personal list of the top places we’d like to go next. Some we’ve been to in part, but we’d like to explore more. Others we’ve never seen but we’ve heard so many great reports that they’re on our short list.

Of course, reducing the world to just 10 bike tours could rightly be described as a great injustice to all the potential routes out there. Think of this as a little inspiration to get you dreaming, and share your ideas of the best places to cycle by leaving a comment.

1. North Sea Cycle Route

Route de la mer du Nord, allemagne

 

This 6,000km marked route traces the coastline of the North Sea. It goes through the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and it’s easy to do just a section if you don’t have time for the whole thing. Much of the route is on dedicated bike paths or small roads, making this a very tranquil bike tour. More info: North Sea Cycle

 

2. Pacific Coast, United States

The Bike Tour

 

The Pacific Coast Highway has always intrigued us. We’re talking spectacular ocean views, massive redwood trees, classic cities like San Francisco and plenty of facilities for cyclists as you cycle through the states of Washington, Oregon and California. Maps are available from the Adventure Cycling Association. More Info: ACA Pacific Coast route

 

3. Danube Cycle Path

Danube Bike Path

 

We’ve already cycled the start of the Danube Bike Path; a perfectly paved trail running through Germany and Austria to the Hungarian capital of Budapest. This stretch is great for families, beginners or anyone who doesn’t want to spend much time figuring out logistics.

Now we want to finish the job. Apparently the path gets less refined as it goes along. We like the idea of that slow progression.

There are tons of guidebooks describing the route from the river’s source to where it empties into the Black Sea. Ride it on your own or pick from the many package tours. More Info: The Danube Bike path is part of EuroVelo6.

 

4. Japan

Japanese Temple

 

We were in Japan many years ago, and we’ve been dying to go back on our bicycles. We want to check out more temples, soak in the hot springs and gorge on sushi. Many people think Japan is expensive but to keep costs low, you can cook your own food and take advantage of the free campsites and local hospitality clubs. More Info: Japan Cycling and Journey of 1000 Li (We wrote this before the terrible 2011 earthquake in Japan. Hopefully the country will recover quickly and be ready to receive tourists again soon.)

 

5. The Silk Road & The Pamir Highway

Andrew in front of a Bukhara Mosque

 

A trip along the ancient Silk Road trade route and the Pamir Highway is a real adventure. First you’ll cross Turkey and Iran, heading for the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Then you’ll head for the mountains, where you can still get a wonderful glimpse of nomadic life. Continue on down Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway and you have enough cycling to keep you busy for a good 4-6 months.

We’ve done the first part of this trip, but we missed out on southern Kyrgyzstan and the Pamir Highway. Now that would make a great summer tour one of these days! It’s a pain to get visas (and they’re not cheap) but the rewards are spectacular scenery and a real sense of exploration in this little-touristed region of the world. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Central Asia and Tim Barnes’ Totally Knackered tour

 

6. Carretera Austral, Chile

Towards the Cordillera

 

Pack a sturdy bike and your tent for this 1,000km mostly unpaved road. It passes through the region of Patagonia and encompasses some of Chile’s most stunning terrain, including mountains, lakes and glaciers. This is definitely a summer route. In the off-season it can be closed by snow and heavy rain. More Info: A journal of a bike tourist in the Carretera Austral and Patagonia.

 

7. Southeast Asia

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

 

International bike touring doesn’t get much easier than in Southeast Asia, and there’s a lot to explore. We’ve spent 6 months here, and still not seen it all. Next on our list? The east coast of Malaysia and a jaunt into Myanmar / Burma. We also want to return to the Cameron Highlands tea growing area in Malaysia (pictured), where the air is refreshingly cool, for some day rides and hikes, which we didn’t have time for on the last trip.

Throughout the region, costs are affordable (even for the most budget-minded bike tourists), traffic is generally relaxed, hotels are easy to find and the food is great. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Southeast Asia and the slightly old but still helpful Mr. Pumpy

 

8. Morocco

 

Cheap flights and ferries from Europe make Morocco very accessible and it’s a great first taste of bike touring outside of the developed world. We’ve been to Morocco several times, and while the country is becoming increasingly touristy, it still offers plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track.

Classic rides include the coastal route between Agadir and Essaouira and the trip from Marrakech, over the mountains and through the Draa Valley to the Sahara desert near Zagora. We’ve done all of these. Now we want to do a backroads tour of Morocco: no asphalt and lots of camping. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Morocco and the video (above) from our friends Blanche & Douwe. They’ve biked Morocco’s paths and tracks several times, so we’ll be picking their brains if we do this trip!

 

9. Great Divide Route

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Few places do “pure nature” as well as North America and the Great Divide is at the top of our list of routes to cycle on the continent. This off-pavement mountain bike route traces the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada all the way south to the Mexican border. It takes about 3 months to complete. A mountain bike with front suspension forks is often recommended to help cope with the tough terrain. More Info: ACA’s page on the Great Divide cycling route

 

10. Karakoram Highway

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A classic route between China and Pakistan, and one that may change significantly in the coming years (for the worse) as the road improves and becomes more accessible to heavy traffic. Go now, before it’s too late! More Info: Cycling The Karakoram Highway

 

What are the bike tours on your “to ride” list? Tell us. Leave a comment.

Photos: The Bike Tour by Tommy DavisRoute de la mer du Nord (by Vocivelo, flickr)Cycling Along Pakistan’s Gilgit River Valley (by Yodod, flickr)Towards the Cordillera (by Magical World, flickr), Cycling The Great Divide (by rich drogpa, flickr)

Dutch Cyclists: A Photo Essay

Posted October 9th, 2010

Today was beautiful, sunny day here in Holland; the perfect day for a special bike ride.

The idea for today’s ride goes back a few months, when we promised our friend Shirley Agudo that we would take her on a tour of the area where we live. She wanted to photograph local cyclists for her Bicycle Mania book, especially on the bike paths that run along the beaches of the North Sea.

The only problem is that it’s hard for Shirley to cycle AND take pictures at the same time, so…. we rented a Dutch cargo bike as her chariot for the day. Voila!

These bikes are huge. Traditionally they were used to move large loads of goods around towns. Today, you hardly ever see them in use. Sometimes they’re used to move house, but more often than not they end up in a driveway as an ornament. Like this one we saw a few weeks ago…

Because they are so rarely used, these bikes gather a bit of attention when you drive one around town; even more so when you put someone in the front like this. We made a lot of people smile!

As we were cycling, we got some great photos of other people out enjoying the late autumn sunshine. There was this man out walking the dog…

Someone taking a break…

Racers and people out for a leisurely ride…

But best of all were the cyclists we saw as we headed back into town at the end of the day. They were side by side…

Two on one bike…

And just going home from shopping.

At the end of the day, many headed for the train station to go home. How do they ever find their bikes here, amongst the thousands in the racks??

We headed home too, after a long but very fun day. Thanks Shirley!

Want to see more photos from the weekend? Here’s the full set of 25…

Bicycle Touring In The Netherlands

Posted September 22nd, 2010

Dutch WindmillHot off the press: Transitions Abroad has just published an article by yours truly on bicycle touring in the Netherlands.

It gives tips on some of my favourite places to cycle in this country: the Hoge Veluwe national park (near Utrecht), the North Sea cycle route and wonderful Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands, as well as plenty of useful links and tips if you’re planning to cycle here. Check it out.

Had I been writing the article now, I might have added a destination to my list of favourite places: the Green Heart of Holland.

We spent a day exploring this area, around the town of Gouda (yes, the one famous for its cheese) and not far from Rotterdam. We loved the picturesque scenery, canals and tea gardens. Here’s a slideshow, to entice you over here for a ride.

The Not-Quite-As-Planned Bike Tour

Posted July 23rd, 2010

Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. The unexpected happens occasionally in our everyday routines, and always on a bike tour!

So when we set out last weekend to bike tour along as much as we could of Stage 1 of the 2010 Tour de France, we should have known our tour would look nothing like this map of the Tour de France route.

We were barely out the door when our route changed. We could have cycled to the official start of the Tour de France, in Rotterdam, but those racing cyclists don’t always take the nicest routes. Far better to ride along the dunes just north of The Hague. The sandy beaches run all the way to Hook of Holland (where many ferries arrive from England), and so do the traffic-free bike paths. In the summer, it can also be very bright. Sunscreen is still required in the evening, as you can see from these photos.

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Bike at the beach

So far, so good. We hopped on a ferry across the channel of water that leads from the North Sea to Rotterdam, and paid the princely sum of €1.15 for our cruise. Entertainment on deck was provided by taking close-up photos of our bike, against the stunningly aqua paint job of the ferry. Could this photo be in a modern art museum somewhere? It’s a little odd and out of focus, but we like it.

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From here on in though, our plans quickly went sideways. Oh, we found the campground and squeezed ourselves in between the hordes of people out for a weekend. We even had a nice meal before toddling off to bed. But then, at 2am, Friedel felt sick. That get-me-out-of-the-tent now sort of urgent sickness. Happily Andrew was there (and awake!) to get the door open quickly. The next morning, the tummy bug had done enough work to put Friedel off coffee and most food. Now, the tour was going to look a little different.

Slower and shorter became the name of the game. We pedaled at a gentle 12km an hour and we stopped regularly for breaks. Lots of them. We took photos of this bike, covered in flowers, with a tulip-themed back basket.

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And of this pub, decked out for the final between Holland and Spain in the World Cup. Can you fit another strip of flags in anywhere?

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And we stopped to chat with the local horses. This one tried to eat Andrew’s handlebar bag.

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Our slow pace wasn’t getting us far along the Tour de France route, but it did lead us into the path of these two Belgian guys, out on a 10-day bike tour. We chatted for a good 20 minutes, admiring their go-for-it attitude and the way they’d set out on a tour just using normal bikes (quite heavy ones at that!), saddlebags that are normally for commuting in town and a kid’s bike trailer, re-purposed to carry cargo. More proof that you can tour with just about any setup you can hack together in your backyard.

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We liked this set-up so much, that we made a plan to find a kids trailer and do the same. We were inspired!

And that’s the nice thing about the not-quite-as-planned tour. Whether the plans go wrong because you got sick, lost or just wanted to do something different, the change of plans doesn’t stop the trip from being any less interesting. Sometimes, the tour might even be better because of the new plans.

We carried on slowly, stopping to admire the fields, the geese, the flowers and the abandoned bicycles in front of nearly every home.

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And our way home, we discovered another great ferry that wasn’t on our original route. We couldn’t believe how many racing cyclists were on it! It might not have been the Tour de France, but it felt like we were in the middle of a peleton as the cyclists rushed off the boat.

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Going the other way was a bit more lonely. We didn’t mind.

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They say to save the best for last, and perhaps the best part of our unplanned weekend and our unplanned route came when we arrived in the small town of Schipluiden, and discovered a tea garden. Under the shade of some trees, in a narrow garden, we ate this: a wonderful plate of pancakes, ice cream and rose jelly!

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Now just 20km from home, we toddled off towards the luxury of a bed and a shower. And we made plans to do the Tour de France route another weekend. Maybe next time it will go as planned…

Insider Tips For Bike Touring In Holland

Posted July 20th, 2010

Riding past rich, green Frysian fieldsWe’ve been living in Holland for nearly 10 months now, and there’s no doubt this is a great place for bike touring.

Bike paths are everywhere, the flat landscape means the cycling is rarely strenuous, and there’s always something interesting around the corner to explore, including historic towns, national parks and some of the world’s best museums.

Now, here’s the good news: it can be even better! In addition to the staple activities like cycling along canals and snapping photos of windmills and tulip fields, there are some less obvious things you should know to make your trip even easier and more enjoyable.

1. Get A Map

Heading for Amsterdam? No, Flavoland...Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Apparently it isn’t. Many cyclists don’t because they assume the extensive bike path network in the Netherlands is be easy to follow.

The bike paths are certainly everywhere and they’re usually well marked, but there are so many options that a map is essential. Just as with roads, on bike paths you have to know if you want the ‘highway’ (a straight bike path that might run between 2 towns, literally tracing the highway for cars) or the scenic route through green areas.

For paper maps, you can either buy something from any bookstore when you get here, or order online. De Zwerver is one internet map store, with an excellent reputation for service. The site is in Dutch but you can either use Google Translate or call them, and they will talk you through it in English.

A good overview map is the Sterkste Fietskaart Van Nederland. It’s made of a laminated paper that holds up in the rain and 2 maps cover the entire country, one for the north of the Netherlands and one for the south of the Netherlands. Countless regional maps are also available, many produced by Falk.

GPS-users can download the OpenFietsMap – a free open-source map showing cycle paths across the country. For pre-trip planning, there are also a number of bike route planners. Type ‘fietsrouteplanner’ into Google and away you go.

2. Join The Clubs

For any trip longer than about a week, there are a few organisations you might want to join.

  • Vrienden Op De Fiets – A network of over 3,700 B&Bs that are only open to cyclists and walkers. There’s a small €9 registration fee (€15 if you live outside of Europe). For that, they’ll send you a book all the addresses of the B&Bs. The cost is never more than €18.50 euros for the night (less than a youth hostel).
  • Natuur Kampeer Terreinen - These are natural camping spots with small and tranquil tenting sites, often in the woods. Spots are reserved especially for cyclists. You will not be turned away if you arrive before 7pm. One membership costs €14.95 and can be used for up to 4 people.
  • Wereldfietsers – There’s no cost to join this friendly group of bike tourists for a day trip or a weekend. They go all over the Netherlands. Come along and make some new bike touring friends. Summer trips can be very busy, with up to 100 people. Winter trips are much quieter.

3. Use The Bike Parking

Want to go see a museum in town or just stop somewhere to stretch your legs and do some shopping? Use the guarded bike parking! Every town of just about any size has bike parking or Fietsenstelling.

Sometimes it is underneath the train station. Other times, it is a fenced area, watched by a security guard in the middle of town. The cost is never very much. It could be as little as €0.50 or at most €2 for the day. Now you can leave your bike and not worry a bit about whether or not it will be there when you return.

4. Be Prepared At Campgrounds

Dutch windmillFor us, being prepared at Dutch campgrounds means 2 things.

First, pack your own stash of toilet paper for camping. As we found out to our peril, it often isn’t provided. Only the most expensive campgrounds supply toilet paper. You can also expect to pay extra for showers, on top of camping fees, but happily camping costs are fairly reasonable in the Netherlands. There’s usually a small charge for the tent (€3-4) and then an additional cost per person. Altogether, it should never be more than €10-15 for 2 people.

Second, remember to ask for a trekkers site. If you ask for a camping site, they may assume you want one with power, like a caravan would need, and that costs a lot more! Trekkers sites are much simpler, often just a field, but for a night they’re just fine.

Alternatively, there’s always free primitive campsites if formal campgrounds aren’t your thing.