Europe on Two Wheels
Bike tours and cycling tour travel companies
A trip with a company like Bike Tours Direct gets you to tiny hilltowns the big bus tours skip.Cycling is the best way to see Europe at your own pace. You can rent at train stations or private agencies in just about any city or town and in some countries can pick up a bike in one train station and drop it off at another.
In parts of Germany, Scandinavia, and especially the pancake-flat Netherlands, biking is a way of life, and the opportunities and resources for pedallers are extensive, from specialized bikes paths even on downtown city streets to free bikes for anyone who wants them.
Organizations like Prague Vienna Greenways (www.pragueviennagreenways.org)—some 250 miles of bike trails linking Prague and Vienna—have sprung up to help lay out and maintain trails and advise riders.
Avid cyclists who plan to tour a whole region by bike, however, will probably want to bring their own bicycle. Some airlines charge extra to bring a bike; many count it as one of your pieces of checked luggage. Either way, your bicycle must be properly boxed—remove the pedals and front wheel; buy the box at a bike shop or the airport for around $10.
You can take a bike onto just about any train in Europe, but on many you have to pay a fee ranging from nominal to ridiculously high (up to 75% the cost of your own ticket).
Neophytes might want to try a short trip at home first to learn the basics and figure out the essential gear. Perhaps the best way to do it the first time is to hook up with a cycling tour:
Bike Tour companies and resources
You can find a long list of bike tour companies around the world at www.bikeleague.org, but they merely list them in alphabetical order, so you'll have to click and click to figure out which ones run tours to Italy.
There's an excellent new crowd-sourced navigation service for biking in Europe called Naviki (www.naviki.org) that allows you to plot routes between any two places, near or far.
Adventure aggregator RealAdventures (www.realadventures.com) canvases some of the best bike tour outfits out there (along with other adventurous trips), from more than 150 major international outfits (like Bike Tours Direct, Bike Riders, Bike Riders Tours, Radonee, and DuVine) and local operators all around the world.
iExplore (www.iExplore.com) is the number one–ranked website for adventure and experiential travel—and it provides the adventure tour booking engine for everyone from Expedia to the Travel Channel to Frommer's and Lonely Planet's websites. It's been around for more than a decade now and was recently acquired by TUI, which owns more than 30 major travel brands. That means iExplore incorporates all the tours from sister company Adventure Center, a major player able to maintain low prices on hundreds of adventures on all seven continents by contracting with expert local outfitters and other specialist operators.
A few other favorites I'll single out are Italy specialist Ciclismo Classico (www.ciclismoclassico.com) and Bike Tours Direct (www.biketoursdirect.com), represented by RealAdventures, above, and a sort of middleman that can hook you up with smaller, local bike tour outfits, which are often much cheaper than the big international agencies and tour companies.