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How to plan a bike tour

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How to plan a bike tour

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April 28th, 2016

Ness KinghtWritten by Ness Knight, Endurance Adventurer

It’s two days into my recce of a new cycle tour route through three countries and I jolt awake with a start. It’s 1.37am, my pen is stuck to my arm and I’m still holding the notebook I must have been writing in when I fell asleep earlier that eve jotting down info from the day’s recce. When I got the call that I would be running this trip out to Europe to recce the route I had no idea it would be as full on and exhausting as this. I mean, how hard could it really be to test out cycle routes, restaurants and top notch hotels?


Well two days in and I’m struggling to peel back my eyelids after hundreds of miles already driven, hours of audio notes taken, dozens of Strava route updates, and a few new grey hairs after finding out just how many of the roads you meticulously planned out on Google maps turn into dead ends. Seriously, they just disappear or, better, have had walls built right across them! Turns out the seemingly glamorous job of recceing luxury cycle holidays has a lot more to it than sipping coffee on the Rhine and watching the sun sink behind snow covered mountains. Finding these glorious moments and locations are so vital to us creating the most memorable and epic experiences, but so too is ensuring the roads to them are safe, quiet and stunning.


ness knight-adventurer-rhine-alsace


A lot goes into planning a bike touring route if you are going to do it properly and come away with something truly spectacular. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are planning to go, the rules of a good recce are the same. Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail. So where do you start when you are staring at a map, faced with a plethora of roads and no idea what they are like in reality? Follow these steps and tips and you will be onto a winning formula for your cycle tour planning:

 1.Plan your initial recce route based on key sights and locations


I learnt this one the hard way and had to scrap hours of initial route plotting and start over after amazing advice from Ride25 founder John Readman (he’s got years of experience doing this and a bucket load of tools and processes he passed on to me). It’s easy to look at the most ridden routes on a cycling heatmap and assume they are the best. Oftentimes these are simply cycle highways to get people from A to B the fastest – not always idea. They key to a good route is making sure you pass through scenic wilderness, amazing lunch stops and idyllic towns rich in local culture. Map out these key points (they could be famous winelands, mountain passes, old towns, castles, lakes etc), then delve into the roads between and piece it all together using the likes of tripadvisor to find the best food stops. A good cycle route is one that is memorable and takes you to places that take your breath away. And finally, it is worth calling up local bike shops to get their take on the top roads – almost all will be cyclists themselves and their intricate knowledge of local areas is unmatched.



2.Use Strava and Google Maps to set the route


I use both as each has a very important role for me during a recce. I use Google Maps to mark out the route and then plot potential sights, lunch stops, cafes, bike shops, great photo spots, hotels and supermarkets. I keep a digital and printed copy of each day’s route as reference for when I’m on the road testing it out. I also add notes and images to each pin drop I add on the Google map so I have phone numbers and info to hand. Once the recce is complete I update this with the final choices. Second is ensuring a Strava route is created for each day of the cycle tour. The easiest way to remember what roads you choose for your final route is to update them in real-time as you go on Strava. I was zig-zagging across a 10-30 mile wide area hunting down potential roads parallel to my main planned route just to ensure we have the best of the best, so real-time updating was vital! It also gives you an immediate view of the elevation, helping you get a better feel for how much of a challenge your route presents.


Geneva to Milan elevation and route

3. Smaller roads are better


If you want to enjoy the freedom of cycling without trucks buzzing past then you will want to stick to the smaller roads. We take country lanes wherever possible as they tend to be the most beautiful, quiet and safest.


4. Go armed with a great checklist


If you are going to invest in the costs of a full recce for a group bike tour, then you better go prepared with a list of things that are essential to making it a magnificent journey. Here are our top priorities when it comes to creating the world’s best cycling experiences:


  • Make sure the roads are safe and the surface/tarmac is good (you don’t want punctures every 30 minutes!)
  • Choose roads and passes that are scenic and have beautiful vistas
  • Find roads that are quiet and free from trucks and heavy traffic
  • If you have no option but a busier road choose one that has a long paved cycle path/highway
  • Try to avoid complicated routes as riders will need to navigate without fear of getting lost
  • Make a list of the locations and attractions you don’t want to miss out on
  • Check online to ensure there is decent availability/inventory for hotels if you are planning for a large group, especially in peak season times of the year hotels get booked out well in advance
  • Ensure you call ahead to see if hotel managers will in fact let you reserve rooms for very large groups, especially if only for one night
  • Make sure available hotels are good quality and priced right
  • If you are eating at the hotel, book in advance
  • If you are eating out, research their reviews and ratings beforehand and call ahead to check if they accept bookings for large groups as arriving without warning may mean they have no space
  • PLan food stops that will give you the best taste of local wines and cuisine
  • Make sure you plan well to find out which towns and cities offer incredible experiences in culture and history as you cycle through
  • If you are going with a large group test out the distance and elevation to make sure it is doable for all levels of riding ability
  • If you are heading out with an experienced group make sure there is enough climbing to create a good challenge with great vistas as reward!
  • If you are heading up into altitude make sure you are going at a warmer time of year to avoid bad weather and freezing conditions
  • Check what airports and flights are available at the stand and end points of the cycle holiday, and also look into pricing to make sure it is economical


tour crew ride25 1

5. Take audio notes


It sounds a little over the top, but taking audio notes of great viewpoints for a photographer to take images of riders as they go past or any confusing signposting could really help when it comes to the day of the ride. These kind of notes will allow you to prep the group in the morning ahead of the day in the saddle, making sure they are keeping an eye out for various milestones and turn offs.


And that’s a wrap! I’m back on home turf after clocking up a few thousand miles on my recce, but happy in the knowledge that we have just created a magical cycle route through Switzerland, France and Germany. Recce’s are an incredibly crucial part of creating a phenomenal experience that no-one on the trip will forget (and for all of the right reasons!). Be prepared to work hard during the planning and recce stages, but enjoy every little bit of brilliance you find along the way. Happy cycling!

Stuck for ideas? Have a look at our Paris to Geneva and Milan to Rome cycle tours this summer. We also have some great videos to inspire you HERE

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