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First bike tour, need advice (Europe).

Old 06-19-18, 02:15 PM
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First bike tour, need advice (Europe).

This is my first post so I apologize in advance if I miss any format requirements.

A quick intro, my name is Nathan, I'm a college student at the University of Minnesota, and am doing a bike tour summer 2019 with my friend Owen.

Both of us have been bike enthusiasts since we were kids, and often bike around the Twin-cities nice trails and lakes. I have never biked 40+ more than two days in a row probably, Owen has done a 200 mile 3-day tour in Banff. We are pretty fit and will train this next year for the tour.

I will be studying in Spain for the sixth months prior to our trip, which we plan on starting the first week of June. The rough plan we have right now is to start on the Basque coast, bike up through western France to Paris, through the low countries, on to Berlin, then Prague, Vienna, Croatia. From Croatia, depending on time and money, we will either finish by going through Italy (at least the north), Switzerland, and finish in southern France. Alternatively, we could spend the last week/s in other parts of Eastern Europe.

We plan on finishing around the end of July, but our schedule is flexible. At this point our planning is still in its early stages, so I am open to any advice and opinions. It is about 2200 km (1350 miles) from Bilbao, Spain, to Berlin. It is about 1400 km (870 miles) from Berlin to Zadar, Croatia. We plan on taking trains for the less accessible (which are hopefully the less scenic) portions of our trip. The plan thus far has been to use trains more in Eastern Europe, after we arrive in Berlin, but I am open to any ideas. I know some trains more less biker friendly like in France. We are bringing a tent to cut down much on costs (broke students), but we have both saved several thousand dollars each in preparation. We are both of European descent if that matters, and I have some old relatives in Germany we may be able to stay with for some time as well. We also have friends with family in Austria. We are both fluent in English and in Spanish.

I'm looking for anyone who has experience biking these segments of Europe. What parts should we take the train, and what locations/cities are best to stay in for a couple/few days? Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin are obvious to me but I have only been to southern Germany, Switzerland, and Venice when I was younger. Would it be cheaper/less touristy to explore south-eastern Europe at the end of the trip instead of going to Italy and southern France. I know most Europeans start their travels in late July and early August. Sorry if this post is messy, I'm just putting this out there for any advice. Thanks in advance!
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Old 06-19-18, 02:39 PM
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You might check out some of the info and journals on Crazy Guy on a Bike.
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Old 06-19-18, 02:58 PM
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Hostels are a great place to stay for low costs. Different hostels have slightly different rules, some prohibit alcohol, some offer a discount if you have your own bedding (which you would since you will have a tent), you should have your own towels, soap, shampoo, etc. Bring a padlock or two for lockers.

HI Hostel membership is good for a year, there is no advantage to sign up early but if you signed up a couple months before your trip then you would get your membership cards in the mail before you leave.
https://www.hihostels.com/explore

If you are going anywhere during a busy season, they can fill in advance so reservations may be needed. But I like to make reservations only a few days in advance when I can because on a bike trip I like to travel at a pace that varies by the weather, etc. But I make reservations months in advance for just after my flight arrival and just before my flight leaves to come back home as those days I will know well in advance so there is no advantage in waiting.
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Old 06-19-18, 03:08 PM
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I'll second the advice about hostels, especially in the cities. I imagine you are traveling like I like to, in that the cities hold at least some interest and are not something to avoid. hostelworld.com is great for booking, they even have a "bike parking" option in their search (although, verify with the individual hostels what that actually means before booking, it can be anything from a post out front to private indoor secured space). In some cases, you can find deals that are nearly as cheap as camping. I've stayed downtown Madrid for $9 a night, downtown Prague for $12, and in Camden Town (5 minutes by tube from London Bridge) for $25 a night.

Other than that, can't help all that much with routes. There is a greenway between Prague and Vienna I have been wanting to do. North Belgium and the Netherlands has extensive cycling infrastructure. Don't try to get locked into too much route detail this far out, I have extensively planned routes just to toss it out when I get on ground and changed my mind. Figure out the places you really want to hit, and let the secondary stops all fall into place from there.
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Old 06-20-18, 07:42 AM
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I biked a lot of the places you listed over my three tours of Europe (21 countries). Prague will be must tho I've heard often that it changes every year. The only country which was not bike friendly with the trains was Sweden, but that's not in your plans. The Po Valley of Italy was boring and the Italian drivers not safe. As for training, you don't need a year to get your body used to it - 3 months is sufficient. Add weight to your bike little by little, add a few more miles every some days and that'll be fine. I never trained more than 20ish miles a day. Read all you can about the subject, talk to as many people as you can, believe what you want and you guys will be fine. 2 mths isn't a lot of time in Europe; you may find yourselves extending it.
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Old 06-20-18, 02:39 PM
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If you're starting from Bilbao and are headed to France, be aware that the part from San Sebastian to the French border has challenges. There's a small road nearest the coast which climbs about 2,000 feet, I think. The direct route is essentially a freeway which you should absolutely avoid. When I was there, I took a commuter train to Irun on the border. I was able to roll my bike on it with panniers. At the time I was there, it only cost 1 euro. It's a short ride.

Rather then riding a more or less direct route from SW France to Paris, I would urge you to meander a bit eastward up the Dordogne river from Bordeaux. The scenery is gorgeous, esp. upriver from Bergerac, though it's fairly nice downriver from Bergerac, too. It's flat riding in the valley, and there are lots of minor roads with little traffic.

In the interest of time, you might want to take a train from Souillac north to the Loire valley. It should be fairly easy to take bikes on those non-TGV trains, I believe. The riding from Souillac to the Loire valley isn't bad, but it's a better use of your time to bike in the Dordogne & Loire valleys. Or, ride through the Massif Central, which I really liked for touring, but it is mountainous. NW of the Loire, Normandy is quite nice for touring, too.

Northern France from Paris to the Belgian border is probably the least interesting part of France to bike through. I suggest a train.

Flemish towns north of Brussels are more interesting than the French-speaking towns south of Brussels.

In the Netherlands, there's a really nice bike trail through the dunes much of the way from The Hague to Amsterdam. I don't recall where it begins and ends.

I haven't biked in northern Germany except near the Danish border. Most of my touring in Germany was in the southern half of the country, which I believe is more scenic.

I toured in Czechoslovakia back when it was one country. The scenery was pleasant.

I liked the Austrian countryside and the Dolomites in NE Italy & southern Austria. I haven't been to the former Yugoslavian countries.

I'm sure that SE Europe would be cheaper than Italy & France, if that becomes an issue. Avoid the Italian & French Rivieras. Too much traffic. I enjoyed touring in Switzerland, and I think there are a lot more bike paths there now than when I was last there.
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Old 06-20-18, 03:04 PM
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You should join warmshowers.org, a group of bike tourists who offer overnight accommodations in their homes to other touring bicyclists for free. It is free to join and very useful to get a taste of local hospitality. If you aren't already a member of couchsurfing, I'd suggest that, too.

I haven't ridden in Spain, but I have ridden in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Austria, and, just last month, Slovenia and Croatia. Depending on what you want to see, I'd question the planning of your route via major cities. If you want to see places like Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin, I'd suggest taking trains into and out of them as major cities have huge suburban rings that often take a day of close navigation and uninteresting riding to get through.

I prefer mountains. So, I plan my rides to take maximum advantage of them. That would be southern Germany, Switzerland, Eastern France, Western Austria, and Northern Italy. I believe all of these places have national bike routes that are usually well marked and on good surfaces. The best places I rode in France were the river gorges of the Dordogne, the Lot, and, especially, the Tarn. There are others, but they are nowhere near Paris.

Both Amsterdam and Berlin are quite far north. Are you sure you want to ride all that way north? Again, maybe take a train there. One idea might be to pick a week to rest and take a train to Paris and, after a few days, on to Amsterdam, before return by train and continuing your ride. Bought in advance, train tickets are cheap. Using warmshowers, you can likely find someone willing to hold your bikes for you until you return.

Were it me, I'd pick the major cities you want to visit, plan to take trains to them, and then plan a route that goes through the places I wanted to see. It is hard to go wrong by staying around the Alps.

As for Croatia, do not miss Plitvice National Park, inland from Senj. I'd also recommend not spending too much time on the coast road where the summer traffic must be horrendous and unsafe. Be sure to plan to spend time in Slovenia and ride up and over the Vrsic Pass and into the Soca Valley.

More specific questions will help with better answers.
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Old 06-23-18, 12:00 AM
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Thank-you guys very much for all the responses! I am taking lots of notes that I'm sure I will incorporate into the tour.

I've had about 6 people suggest Dordogne now, so that is a definite destination now. The original plan was to go to Copenhagen, which is why the tour took us north through the low countries and northern Germany. I have heard northern Germany is much less scenic than the south, so that could be missed. I love the alps and would love to see them, but am hesitant about the long uphills. As a Midwesterner who has never biked in the mountains, I am somewhat intimidated. Some have suggested taking trains/buses to the top of tough passes.

If going through the alps is a possibility, then maybe going France-->Switzerland--->Italy--->SE Europe--->Vienna--->Prague, would be a better route? I could take a train to Paris instead, and I'd love to see Amsterdam too, but if its a worthwhile sacrifice, I'd be willing. I've signed up on warmshowers- I'm sure it will be greatly useful in finding places to stay. Thanks again!
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Old 06-23-18, 01:29 AM
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so many great routes throughout europa, hard to pick just a few. two that i did and would recommend that are scenic, not too hilly, and have hostels reasonably spaced.

1. ride along the moselle (i rode from luxembourg city) from trier, to koblenz where you can then follow the rhein river either north or south depending on your goal.

2. ride along the donau, start maybe at regensburg, thru passau, then thru austria to vienna. [i rode thru southern bavaria south of munich past the chiemsee and joined the donau at passau] from wien, continued on to graz and klagenfurt.

check crazyguy.....there must be some routes from graz/klagenfurt, only a couple hundred km to zagreb.

riding in/out of major cities is possible but trafficky and time-consuming. you should be able to find a hostel in a smaller town nearby where you can store your bike for a few days, then take bus/train into the metropolis to explore. public transport in the cities is fast and cheap.
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Old 06-23-18, 08:16 PM
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Originally Posted by NathanMN
Thank-you guys very much for all the responses! I am taking lots of notes that I'm sure I will incorporate into the tour.

I've had about 6 people suggest Dordogne now, so that is a definite destination now. The original plan was to go to Copenhagen, which is why the tour took us north through the low countries and northern Germany. I have heard northern Germany is much less scenic than the south, so that could be missed. I love the alps and would love to see them, but am hesitant about the long uphills. As a Midwesterner who has never biked in the mountains, I am somewhat intimidated. Some have suggested taking trains/buses to the top of tough passes.

If going through the alps is a possibility, then maybe going France-->Switzerland--->Italy--->SE Europe--->Vienna--->Prague, would be a better route? I could take a train to Paris instead, and I'd love to see Amsterdam too, but if its a worthwhile sacrifice, I'd be willing. I've signed up on warmshowers- I'm sure it will be greatly useful in finding places to stay. Thanks again!
The Alps and the Pyrenees are both well worth seeing. Put the lowest gears you can manage on your bikes, keep your luggage and bikes as light as you can sensibly manage, and make sure your brakes are in top condition, and you'll be fine. While you're going through Italy, northwestern Tuscany (the Garfagnana) is very scenic. It's also very rugged, with lots of steep hills.Florence is well worth a visit for all the art and history, even if it is flooded with tourists.

Taking trains into and out of big cities is a good idea, if you can't find a bicycle friendly route. Railroad schedules will usually tell you if bicycles are allowed on a particular train, whether you're looking on line or at a paper schedule.
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Old 06-23-18, 08:23 PM
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I enjoyed northern D-land very much. North of the Elbe River is a very different Germany. If you go to Denmark, don't miss Legoland! Best place I visited in Europe.
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Old 06-25-18, 11:40 AM
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Rivers

Follow the rivers. Dordogne, Loire, Rhone, Rhine, Doubs, Neckar, Elbe. The riding is much easier than going cross country and very scenic.
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