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Everything you need to know about bicycle tourism

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bicycle transportation 29 Jan 2024 By Travis Reill

What exactly is bicycle tourism?

If you’re a serious cyclist, you’re certainly familiar with the feeling of arriving at your vacation destination, looking around and seeing amazing routes or trails, and wishing you had brought your bike along. You are not alone, and the travel industry, as well as many popular tourist destinations, are making bringing your bike on vacation an attractive proposition, so much so that the term “bicycle tourism” was coined.

Bicycle tourism is what it sounds like: it is travel to a destination for the purpose of cycling. It is vacation, but with bicycles being the main focus. It is also getting out of your hometown, where you live your daily life, but doing so by cycling or with cycling being the emphasis of your time upon arrival at the destination.

cycling in spain

But wait, it encompasses more! “Bicycle tourism” can be expressed more broadly than just a cycling vacation. It can be easy to think, “Okay, I load up my truck with all my camping gear, throw in the mountain bikes, and head for a weekend at those trails I’ve been itching to ride.” Yes, technically, that is bicycle tourism. Bicycle tourism can also be riding your road bike one hundred miles or more between hotels and lodges while your partner drives a support vehicle, meeting you at checkpoints. You may continue like this for several days, switching riding and driving responsibilities every few days with your partner. Cycle tourism can be climbing on a plane and heading to one of the biggest bike festivals in the country, renting a bike at the festival, and joining in on as many group rides as possible. It can also be heading to a trade show in a major metropolitan city, far away from trails, where time on bikes may be limited, but staring at and drooling over handcrafted bicycles, the kind with a two-year waiting list, if you want to own one.

The point is that “bicycle tourism” has a pretty broad reach. Think “vacation,” but with cycling being the purpose. It is a growing corner of the tourism market, with many towns and destinations taking advantage of the trails they have in their area, or purposefully building out cycling infrastructure to attract cyclists. With such a vast expanse as far as any definition goes, it is hard to know where to start or what avenue of bicycle tourism you may be most interested in. There may be a right and a wrong fit for you, so we’ve laid out some of the most popular adventures on two wheels and what you need to know to have the most enjoyable time possible.

Destination cycling

One of the most common forms of bicycle tourism is destination cycling. Destination cycling is traveling to a destination to ride a bike. This destination may be a few hours in the car or plane away from you. It could be here in the States, or it could mean traveling outside of the country.

The most accessible form of destination cycling is going to an area relatively close to your home. This area may have an abundance of trails or roads to support a weekend of biking. Such a trip requires little planning or time commitment since you’ll be traveling with your own car and the only thing you’d need to take care of is lodging.

bicycles on a truck

As a mountain biker, a popular cycling destination that you may visit is Bentonville, Arkansas, or, as many now know it, “the mountain biking capital of the world.” Bentonville is one of many cities nationwide going all-in on mountain biking, seeing the benefits of providing easily accessible trails in and around the city. Miles and miles of mountain biking trails can be accessed without driving to a trailhead. Simply walk out of your hotel or Airbnb, climb on your mountain bike, and ride the short distance to a trailhead. You can be guaranteed that there is a trail at this trailhead that will connect you to another, and another, and so on. Need a coffee break? Ready for lunch? This is easily accessed via trail by working your way back toward the city, which is likely not far away. There might even be a coffee shop on your way!

If you’re a roadie itching to stretch your legs, you should consider destinations like Sonoma County in California, where a weekend or even a week of riding amongst lush vineyards and stunning vistas can be put together. Known for its stunning natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and world-renowned wine production, the area has also become known as a road cycling destination with routes to fit all fitness levels. Countless roadside cafes, markets and restaurants are situated along the way and endless dining options are available in many of the county’s towns. The area has a plethora of lodging ranging from RV campgrounds to exquisite resorts, with most locations being very cyclist friendly.

cycling in california

Events and festivals

Traveling to an organized event or a festival is the best way to immerse yourself into the cycling culture, challenge yourself, and make new friends and memories. Whether you want to “dip your toes” with a smaller event like a regional race or “dive head first” with an international-scale festival, you just may have the best time of your life, and all you have to do is show up.

Gran fondos (means “big ride” in Italian) are mass participation cycling events that have been popular in Europe for decades and are now equally as popular in the US. These road cycling events are enjoyable for a number of good reasons. Gran fondos typically offer participants a choice of route distances, ranging from shorter routes around 30-50 miles to longer distances of 100 miles or more. Since these events are popular across the country, they have significantly varying terrain and difficulty. While gran fondos are not traditional races, many feature timed sections or segments along the route; participants can push themselves during these timed sections, aiming for PRs and seeing how they stack up against the rest of the field. Most gran fondos have a number of rest stops with food, water and mechanical assistance. At the finish line the riders are greeted by the festive atmosphere, celebrations, food, music and an award ceremony. The most notable gran fondos are Gran Fondo Hincapie in Greenville, SC, Mammoth Gran Fondo in Mammoth Lakes, CA and Levi’s Gran Fondo in Windsor, CA.

group cycling in gran fondo

Sedona, Arizona, hosts one of the biggest mountain bike festivals of the year, the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. A festival like the one they throw in Sedona is not only a great way to see what is going on in the bike industry, see new products, and test ride all sorts of different bikes, but it is also a great excuse to meet and ride with new friends. The rocky and chunky trails like Mescal/Aerie/Cockscomb and Hangover will challenge even the most experienced riders. Group rides with pro riders and bike brand ambassadors are leaving the festival throughout your time there, so be sure to check in and see when things are happening. Some of these group rides may even include shuttle rides out to areas like Dry Creek or Broken Arrow, where you will find multiple trails varying in difficulty. If you’re not ready to set out on a group ride, sign up for one of the many skill clinics at the festival.

Whistler, in British Columbia, Canada, is among the most visited bike park destinations in the world. Whistler pioneered the lift access bike park, and since its origins, mountain bikers from all over the world have flocked to the mountain’s slopes to ride iconic trails such as A-Line and Dirt Merchant. This resort also hosts one of the most popular mountain biking events of the year, Crankworx, which includes races and freestyle competitions, bringing professional riders from around the world to the mountain resort. While this may be when some of the mountain is closed for the event, an expansive trail network surrounds the area. Start the morning pedaling some of the most spectacular singletrack in North America, then join the crowd at the mountain to watch the competition unfold. Undoubtedly, you will find many others visiting Whistler that weekend with the same plans.

Organized tours

Perhaps you’re looking for the experience of a cycling tour but without the significant planning. You are in luck, as many organizations take the stress of planning out for you. From setting the course to taking care of all the accommodations, going on an organized cycling tour may be up your alley.

Bicycling tour companies provide tours inside and outside the United States. Think of them as an all-inclusive vacation for cyclists, where everything from route planning, sag support, meals and lodging is taken care of – the only thing you have to do is show up with your bike. Organized bicycle tours vary in duration from 4 to 8 days with 6 days being the sweet spot. Distances range from 25 mi (40 km) to 75 mi (120 km) per day for road and 10 mi (16 km) to 25 mi (40 km) for mountain bike tours. Before you commit to a tour, do extensive research and honestly assess your fitness level.

The Oregon Coast Bike Route is a stunning 360 mi (579 km) cycling route that stretches along the entire length of the Oregon coast, from the northern border with Washington to the southern border with California. Known for its breathtaking scenery, charming coastal towns and bike-friendly infrastructure, this route is offered as a guided tour by a number of local tour operators.

Vermont is a popular fall destination for cyclists who want to be awed by the state’s renowned foliage. Lake Champlain Valley tour has been named one of the “World’s 10 Best Bike Tours”, is a true inn-to-inn cycling trip through rural farmland and countless historic sites in both Vermont and New York states.

cycling in vermont foliage

Those with the wanderlust bug should consider branching out outside of North America and consider booking a bike tour abroad. Experiencing foreign lands from a bike is an experience that can’t be compared to any other kind of tourism, it’s totally immersive and stimulating to the senses, allowing the riders to be truly present within the experience.

Take a road bike tour from Girona to the Costa Brava (“Girona to the Sea”) in Spain to understand why so many European pro riders chose this location as their training base. The route includes a stunning mix of coastal roads, inland hills and winding descends through some of the most picturesque scenery of Costa Brava.

The French Alpes Tour allows the riders to ascend the most legendary climbs of the Tour de France. On this tour riders conquer Col de la Croix de Fer, climb to the top of Alpe d'Huez and Col du Galibier, and finally ascend the stunning Mont Ventoux! Along the way the riders will explore charming villages surrounded by spectacular beauty of the French Alpes.

There’s a number of tour operators that cater specifically to the mountain biking crowd. These companies offer riders a chance to explore some of the most remote, untouched areas like the Sacred Valley in Peru or the Himalaya mountains in Nepal. Days begin with a shuttling to the top and dropping thousands of feet of elevation, while navigating the backcountry. At the end of the day riders get plenty of time to explore local villages, eat delicious local foods, and immerse themselves into the local culture. The shuttles, trails, food, lodging—everything is planned for you; you only need your mountain bike and the skill level to ride the advanced trails.

Overnight bike-packing

Perhaps Peru, Whistler, or even Bentonville are too much of a commitment. A common way to get your feet wet is an overnight bike-packing trip. Bike-packing is an entirely self-sufficient form of cycling, where you can experience the wonders of the backcountry from behind your handlebars. You are taken off main roads, experiencing the land in a way you never could with a car trip. And, since you are on a bike, you can cover much more ground than you could simply hiking. Bike-packing can be done with almost any bike made for offroad use and requires an investment in bike racks and bags for carrying gear.

Set up a route with a destination that is a reasonable distance away. It may be a campsite at a lake or a nearby river. Your route will likely take you on a combination of paved roads, forest roads, and singletrack. Plan accordingly and how you feel most comfortable. You may want to avoid time on paved roads altogether, which may mean adding several miles of forest roads and trails. If this is the case, you will need to factor in additional water, snacks, and rest points. Perhaps one of these rest points is at a well or near a stream where you can filter water. Your local bike shop will likely have good resources for your adventure and may even be willing to help you plan. This is also the place to get plugged into the bike-packing community. If going out on your first bike-packing excursion seems overwhelming, try doing it with others! There will likely be a cyclist or two on the trip with more experience that can help you along the way.

Overnight bike-packing

Long distance touring

Eventually, the overnight trip will turn into two nights, then three, until you are eager to go on longer cycling adventures. Your time long-distance touring may incorporate many facets we’ve already discussed. It may have elements of long-term bike-packing, where you’ve established a route that takes you in and out of cities to buy more food or perhaps stay a night at a hotel.

The Sierra Cascades route is a popular multi-day cycling route that stretches from Mexico to Canada, running along the Sierra and Cascade mountains of the western United States. While taking on the nearly 2,500-mile route may seem a bit too much, many break the trip up into sections. Depending on how much time you have and the distance you want to go, just planning a route through Oregon or Washington on the Sierra Cascades isn’t unreasonable. Of course, you must plan your route accordingly, considering how many miles to ride each day, where you will sleep each night, the food you must bring, where you will resupply, etc.

Why should your next vacation be centered around cycling?

If you are passionate about cycling, you will likely find that your vacations no longer have a cycling aspect but are focused on cycling. And why shouldn’t they be?! Traveling with a bike, whether by car or airplane, has never been easier. These vacations take you out of the big cities and immerse you in the solitude and peace of nature, allowing you access to tremendous areas and scenes you wouldn’t otherwise get to without a bike. They also help you maintain your healthy lifestyle as you are focusing on the activity of cycling. New friendships are likely to be formed as you will surely meet other people engaging in the same activity as you are. And, depending on exactly how you planned your adventure, something like a long-distance bike-packing trip dramatically reduces the impact on nature as you are not relying on fossil fuels to get you to your destination.

So, how do you get started? First, pick your adventure. Is it an overnight bike-packing trip or an all-inclusive mountain bike adventure in Peru? Next, plan accordingly. This may mean mapping out exactly where you will travel each day or contacting a cycling tour company that takes care of everything. Third, make sure you have the right bike. Lastly, get involved in the community. Whether it is a trip around the world or a trip to the trails two hours away, a group of riders have been there and want to share the experience with you.

cyclists in mallorca

Consider insurance

Not to jinx your next weekend to get away and ride bikes, but imagine that you are traveling with your $6,000 mountain bike secured safely behind your car on a hitch rack you recently purchased. You have one more city to go through before you are in the mountains, finding the cabin you’ve rented and hitting the nearby trails. At the last stop light, another driver is on their phone, unaware that you are stopped in front of them, and slams into the back of your car. While there is some damage to your car, your mountain bike takes the brunt of the impact. Unfortunately, your mountain bike weekend is over, as your bike is unrideable.

This scenario would be a major disappointment for anyone. Adding salt to the wound would be finding out that your car insurance, or the other driver’s, may not cover the damage to your bike. Many car insurance policies only cover damaged items permanently attached to your vehicle, which your bike is not. So, not only is your weekend over, but you may also have to be forking over the money to replace your mountain bike. However, this could be avoided by simply purchasing an insurance policy with Velosurance. If you’re in an accident while transporting your bike, Velosurance has you covered, providing peace of mind while you drive to your destination. Velosurance will pay to have your insured bike repaired or replaced if it is damaged in a car accident. And adding the optional uninsured motorist coverage will keep your bike safe regardless of the other driver's insurance situation.

We often head to cycling destinations for races or events. Let’s take that fender-bender scenario and say you were on your way to compete at a race. Now, we know that the damage to your bike will be covered by your bike insurance policy, but Velosurance also has your race in mind. Since your bike is damaged, you can no longer participate in the race, Velosurance will help with any race entry fees that are non-refundable. If you do still want to participate, they reimburse for a bike rental of up to $250, so you don’t have to miss out.

Whether you are riding in Bentonville, Napa Valley, or on trails near your home, Velosurance covers your bike if you have a crash, damaging it. We often lean heavily on the warranty coverage that comes with our bikes. These warranties may only be for a handful of years from when you originally purchased the bike, or they could be for the lifetime of your ownership. However, nearly all of these warranties only cover manufacturer defects, meaning a crash can leave you covering the cost of repairing or replacing the components or frame. Warranties don’t always come through, and a denied warranty on a cracked carbon fiber frame can have you paying thousands for a replacement. Our bikes aren’t the only thing hurt in a crash. With Velosurance, you have the option of adding optional coverage that will help with the cost of medical bills if you are injured in a crash. There is also liability coverage if you should happen to cause a crash, which, believe it or not, happens in busy bike destinations more than you think.

Of course, getting to Peru will have you and your bike on a plane to South America. Airlines are notorious for losing luggage and bikes are no exception. Fortunately, if your bike is covered by Velosurance, it is covered if the airline damages or loses it during your travels. This coverage is extended to postal carriers if you ship your bike. Although this coverage only covers the U.S. and Canada, worldwide coverage can be added for a reasonable amount to ensure your bike is protected while you make your way to Peru, or anywhere your adventure takes you.

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