There’s nothing quite like exploring a new destination by bike! Here are some top tips for your next overseas trip, and a few scenic European spots to visit with your bike in tow.
Preparing for a European Cycling Trip
Packing up your bicycle, helmet and bare essentials for a couple of days abroad, and embarking on some exciting new trails in places like France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, or even Denmark (a true bike-friendly country) can be a rewarding and fulfilling journey. European bike tours and cycling trips combine a healthy mixture of culture, luxury and adventure for a perfect spring or autumn getaway.
With a bit of planning and preparation, your two-wheeled excursion can be safe and memorable. Even if you can’t take your bike specifically to your chosen destination, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the euphoria of feeling free while enjoying all that travel and cycling have to offer! Here are some key tips to bear in mind when planning a cycling-first trip abroad.
Tips to Make Your Cycling Holiday Memorable and Safe
Perform a Safety Check
First and foremost, before you embark on your European bike tour, make sure that your bicycle and all its components are in good working order. Make sure that all the tyres have sufficient tread and air pressure, check that the brakes are working correctly, and make any urgent repairs or adjustments.
Check that all the lights, reflectors, gears, and bells are intact, functional and reliable. Even if you’re only going for a few days, interspersing your cycling with sightseeing, relaxing and other activities, you can’t afford to overlook safety. The last thing you want to have to deal with is a malfunctioning bike that results in an accident while abroad, leaving you with injuries and the long-winded process of submitting a personal bicycle injury claim with your insurer.
Research Cycling Laws and Etiquette
Some countries have more stringent bicycle laws, norms and infrastructure, while others are much more relaxed. Some may have night riding or pavement riding restrictions, meanwhile others have designated bike lanes or trails which is where all riding should be done.
Make sure that you understand and research the relevant local laws and restrictions of anywhere that you plan to cycle. Knowing the rules of the road will do wonders for personal and collective safety, not to mention avoiding legal headaches.
As far as cycling etiquette is concerned, your best bet is to observe how local cyclists conduct themselves and emulate their riding habits. This can prove useful if you’re biking in unfamiliar areas for the first time.
Each country has unwritten rules or expectations of the road that cyclists should respect. For instance, allowing room for passing pedestrians or other cyclists, patiently waiting at crossings or intersections until permitted to go, and using proper hand signals. Doing this will mean that you aren’t generating unnecessary friction between you and any locals.
Use Hand Signals Properly
Hand signals will come as second nature to seasoned cyclists, but don’t assume that all road users at your destination will be aware of them.
As standard, the hand signals for turning and stopping on a bike involve using your left arm straight to indicate a left turn, bending it 90 degrees upwards for a right turn, and 90 degrees downwards to alert drivers and other cyclists that you’re stopping.
However, it’s always worthwhile making a courtesy check to see whether any countries do things differently, adapting signals as needed.
Pack Cycling Essentials
While a pre-departure safety check will be a lifesaver, you can feel more reassured if you can fit any of the following useful items into your luggage:
- Portable bike pump
- Tyre levers
- Multi-tool with common fittings and fixings
- Spare chain
- Waterproof saddle bag
- Basic first aid supplies
Even if you’re not a proficient bike mechanic or engineer, having essentials like the above can help significantly when on a bike tour far from home, allowing you to do simple repairs and be back on the road quickly.
Learn Basic Bike Maintenance and Repair Skills
Speaking of repairs, it pays off to learn some basic bike maintenance skills before setting your wheels on foreign soil.
Learn how to change and repair a flat bike tyre, how to adjust your bike brakes, how to lubricate your chain and cables, and how to check bolt tightness, among other useful skills.
You don’t need to take a bike mechanics course before travelling, but having these key skills in your repertoire will make handling common issues easier and instil more confidence in your abilities on the road.
Be Extra Vigilant Riding at Night
Riding your bike at night obviously presents a few additional risks. Make sure that you use bright, visible lights on the front and rear of your bicycle, and wear high-visibility, reflective clothing. Look for jerseys, jackets, vests, shoes and gloves in fluorescent yellows and greens, with retro reflective strips and contrasting colours if possible. High-vis cycling gear also helps you when riding in busy and crowded areas.
Be extra cautious when riding at night time, especially on dimly lit roads or trails with minimal foot traffic. Even if you’re in rural areas, use hand signals as you would and allow extra time for travelling. The darkness hampers visibility and you are much more difficult for motorists to see at night. If possible, avoid riding after dark in areas that don’t feel safe or familiar.
Familiarise Yourself With Emergency Procedures
It’s always prudent to adopt a ‘hope for the best and prepare for the worst’ mindset. Make sure that you understand what you need to do in case you suffer a bicycle accident or injury.
Note down the following:
- Emergency numbers to call
- Where your nearest hospital or medical facility is located
- Procedures for filing an accident or injury report
- Availability of emergency transport
- Insurance coverage logistics
Keep your travel insurance provider details close by. Before travelling make sure your travel policies cover emergency medical treatment should you need it. If your coverage does not include certain activities, you may wish to consider supplemental insurance. Planning ahead means you aren’t paying extortionate fees for services and medical bills that are not covered within your policy.
If you are going to be taking longer journeys in remote areas, it can be handy to travel in pairs or groups so you can keep tabs on how you are all doing. This also makes emergencies easier to manage and less stressful.
Enjoy the Ride!
Perhaps most importantly, enjoy yourself and take delight in the journey. While maintaining perspective and using common sense are both crucial here, it’s just as important that you revel in the freedom of exploring new locales and taking in all the new surroundings. Above all, you are in control and have every right to enjoy your cycling holiday and all it offers. Appreciate each day on the bike as an adventure and allow yourself to get lost in the moment. Just be cautious and safe and you will be unlikely to encounter any major problems.
With a little bit of safety awareness, preparation and familiarising yourself with some local customs, your next bicycle tour promises to be a memorable and magnificent experience. Embrace enriching challenges and memories to last a lifetime but don’t let those come at the price of your safety and health. May the wind be at your back!