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Safety/touring trips for the US and Europe

Old 09-15-10, 10:35 AM
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Safety/touring trips for the US and Europe

Hello Everyone,

I'm fairly new to biking and even newer to this website but I'm determined to catch up with the biking culture. I have been commuting about 15 miles a day every day for a while now and doing longer weekend trips but I hope to extend these mini-travels into longer touring rides. I've been doing some research regarding that but there are some questions I could not find on the web. I'd appreciate it if you can pitch in for an opinon on these:

1) Do you think my first bike tour should be guided? I have no qualms about doing the research, the training, then picking up a map and customizing my own tour but although I have done some traveling I never really attempted bicycle touring and I'm wondering if its worth paying a couple of thousand dollars to someone to eliminate the element of surprise (yes, those things are expensive) for my first trip to say, Maine along the east coast. As a footnote I'd like to mention that I am not planning to camp until I feel completely confident and will stay in motels/hostels the first few tours or maybe always so.

2) Are there safety issues for a single female touring cyclist? I'm not talking about common sense facts like 'Don't go into dark alleys' obviously, but do you believe there are areas/roads/states I should avoid completely?

3) In case I get enough vacation time in Europe, is there a country you would recommend above the others for parameters such as hospitality, easy navigation, climate or even just scenic rides/food etc?

Thank you everybody!
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Old 09-15-10, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by TSaldiran
1) Do you think my first bike tour should be guided?
There is no reason that you need to do that unless you just prefer to.

Originally Posted by TSaldiran
2) Are there safety issues for a single female touring cyclist? I'm not talking about common sense facts like 'Don't go into dark alleys' obviously, but do you believe there are areas/roads/states I should avoid completely?
I am only familiar with the US wrt to touring, but I don't think there are any areas, roads, states that I would specifically recommend avoiding other than the obvious need for use of good judgment. I am a man though, so hopefully you will get some replies from women as well.
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Old 09-15-10, 11:07 AM
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I enjoyed my trip from Southern Ireland , To Northern Scotland , But I had some months to travel in..

Ireland and much of Europe has enough Hostels to find along the way to get a hot shower and a nice place to sleep indoors at night,
and a common space shared by other travelers to talk to each other ..

Netherlands (out side of Amsterdam) and Belgium serve Beer in their Hostels to have a pint
while you sit around and talk with your fellow travelers

Read up on lots of History to appreciate the lands you travel through.

Last edited by fietsbob; 09-15-10 at 11:10 AM.
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Old 09-15-10, 01:10 PM
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Plenty of solo female tourists, wouldn't worry at all.
As for organized tours, with the money you save by not going on one you could solve any problem you'd encounter on the road. I went on my first tour without any real preparation, and did fine. Even camping out, which I'd never done before, was great. I was a bit cold and uncomfortable on the first night with my blanket (didn't expect it to cool down as much, but you learn quickly heheh) but I just bought a proper sleeping bag the next day.

Germany is pretty easy to navigate using the bike network, the climate isn't great though. I can also highly recommend couchsurfing.org if you need free lodging. Free usually includes a free tour of the city.

Being able to fix your bike is a great skill. The knowledge that you can fix your bike if something goes wrong will relieve you of a lot of stress.
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Old 09-15-10, 01:54 PM
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As I'm a european male I'll confine myself to question 3).

My own country Ireland is very hospitable and scenic especially around the coast. The weather though is a bit of a lottery. You could be lucky and have brilliant weather but if you come be prepared for at least some rain but it usually doesn't last long. Changeable is the best description of Irish weather.

I'm a big fan of France which has a great network of good quiet secondary roads, great food, generally good weather and the people are surprisingly welcoming outside of Paris. It is big enough so you can pick your region depending on which time of year you plan to visit. The south obviously is best in winter.


Best of luck with your adventures.
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Old 09-15-10, 02:03 PM
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Originally Posted by lechatmort
Being able to fix your bike is a great skill. The knowledge that you can fix your bike if something goes wrong will relieve you of a lot of stress.
Good tip. I'll also add that many bike shops offer free clinics on basic bike maintenance. I can fix most things, but I keep meaning to attend one and learn the right way...
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Old 09-15-10, 02:43 PM
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Female tourist here.

I have some biases about where in the US it's nice to tour, but I don't know that they have much to do with being female. I prefer the West, especially the mountains and coast. CO, WY, MT, CA, OR, ID, WA and UT are my favorite states, and I like AZ and NM too. I avoid big cities, indian reservations, prairies and the southeast. I felt safe enough in the midwest, but I didn't really like the riding much. I have an open mind about the Northeast/New England, but haven't made it there yet. I definitely have a bias about areas of the country with "redneck" reputations, and also areas known for poverty - often but not always these coincide.

Just keep your wits about you, and you'll be fine.

In terms of "should first tour be guided" - well, guided/supported and self-supported tours are such completely different activities that you should just do the one you want to do. Apart from carrying your own stuff, self-supported tours require/allow you to make your own decisions about everything - where to go, how far, when to start/stop, where to stay, what to eat, when to take a day or a half day off, who you meet, etc. etc.

On a supported tour, you usually just kind of do what they tell you and hang out with the other folks on the trip. You can get a lot more actual riding in that way, but if you also want some exploring and adventure, self-supported offers more. I think an exception to this might be the Adventure Cycling self-supported / guided trips - there is a pretty strict itinerary, but they do all the self-supported stuff, just in a more structured way, so that could be a good learning experience. They also offer how-to classes, which might be a good use of money - less expensive, only last a few days, you learn a bunch and then go apply it on your own.

I was lucky enough to go on my first tour with a (boy)friend who knew what he was doing. I learned a lot from that, and then modified it to suit me when I started soloing.

Happy travels!
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Old 09-17-10, 07:51 AM
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fixing your own bike on a tour

Thank you so much everyone. I'm already psyched for spring and I think I will start small - a week or 10 day trip and hopefully after that just expand as much as I can. Thank you for all the Europe tips as well, I will keep that in mind

I guess my only concern is 'do you know how to fix your bike' part. I have to say that's a big no in my case and the bike shops in NY -at least the ones I've been to- are very secretive about what they do - so far I haven't managed to get permission to go to the back and watch how they fix my flat or tune my brakes etc. and I'm wondering how people learn this stuff at all. I watched some youtube videos but they can be a bit overwhelming if you're as new to this stuff as I am.
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Old 09-17-10, 11:44 AM
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# 2 For safty:

For America bring Bear Spray.

For Europe bring Condoms!
 
Old 09-17-10, 12:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Gordon P
For Europe bring Condoms!
oi!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 09-29-10, 02:54 PM
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Originally Posted by TSaldiran
3) In case I get enough vacation time in Europe, is there a country you would recommend above the others for parameters such as hospitality, easy navigation, climate or even just scenic rides/food etc?
I am an American who for the last two summers has toured ten countries in central Europe from Poland to Serbia. I have been storing my touring bicycle in Budapest over the winter so that it is there for me each summer. Otherwise, it takes too much time to transport, pack, assemble, dissemble, and so forth.

Eastern Europe is cheaper than western Europe and the United States. Only the larger cities have hostels, but campgrounds, guesthouses, and cheap hotels are very plentiful. Locals advertise rooms for tourists in many areas, sometimes as "Zimmer Frei" (German) or "Camera" (Italian) or even Bed and Breakfast, to attract some local breed of cross border tourist.

Many Europeans travel on bikes, both solo and in small groups. Solo women are less common than solo men, but I have seen a few of them. Some bike travelers do wild camping, which is relatively easy away from cities and is sometimes even legal, although you have to check the local laws.

I liked both the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia the most for bike friendliness and the best overall experience. I also liked the coastal zones and islands of Croatia.

It makes a huge difference to be able to buy a map that gives you sufficient detail. On this score, I would recommend Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia among the formerly communist countries. You generally need a map of a scale 1:200,000 or better for bike touring ... highway maps do not have sufficient detail. The best selections are in bookstores. Petrol stations tend to have only local maps at this level. I haven't bicycled in Austria or Germany in the last decade, but they are outstanding for bike trails, safety, maps, and hospitality, though a bit more expensive. Poland was lovely, but the roads were poor and it was hard to find better than a detailed highway map.

If you are looking for freedom and open road adventure, you will never find it with an organized bike tour. The people who are taking an organized tour are certainly going to be far more adventurous, culturally aware, and travel savvy than those who require air-conditioned motorized coaches, but they are not the same as bike tourers. I think you will find that in a few days time, you have developed wonderful self-confidence about travel on your own. Except for the occasional unwanted pushy macho male, to whom you just have to say no, you probably won't have any problems as a woman.

In summer 2010 I traveled a circular route from Budapest to Trieste, Italy, via Slovenia, down the coast of Croatia via ferries, then back to Budapest through Bosnia, Montenegro, and Serbia. I highly recommend the islands along the coast of Croatia for beautiful scenery and little traffic. You can use the web to create an island hopping vacation along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. I met new people every day.

Here is a link on bikepedia to the bike I have been using, the exact model and specifications. I have replaced with Schwalbe Marathon tires with 700X35 Performa Panracers. In 2010 I didn't get a single flat tire. Hybrid bikes are ideal for eastern Europe, where travel is predominantly on roads but good off-road opportunities are available.

https://www.bikepedia.com/quickbike/B...X600&Type=bike

My Trek X600 awaits me this winter in a Budapest garage. I will need to arrive a few days early in 2011 to get the hub bearings replaced. Once I am back I am free to go in any direction. Maybe in 2011, I'll finally get to Romania and Bulgaria.

Last edited by metzenberg; 09-29-10 at 03:06 PM. Reason: Add link to my bike
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Old 09-29-10, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by TSaldiran
3) In case I get enough vacation time in Europe, is there a country you would recommend above the others for parameters such as hospitality, easy navigation, climate or even just scenic rides/food etc?
France. Both cheap AND easy. ;-)

Norway is epic, but can be isolated (I'm thinking repairs -- it's perfectly safe). Shockingly expensive.
Sweden is somewhat epic, and less isolated.
Denmark is extremely easy to get around in, but surprisingly expensive. And a little boring.
Germany is easy to get around in. The farther easy you go, the cheaper it is. The farther south, the more fun.
Italy can be cheap, but might be hard to navigate. Hit Tuscany if you go.
Spain is the same as Italy, only moreso.
Switzerland is outrageously expensive, but epic.
Belgium and Luxembourg are surprisingly hard to get around in.
Holland is much better, and not too expensive.
England is no fun. They speak too much English. And you'll kill yourself in a left-handed roundabout.
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Old 09-29-10, 06:45 PM
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Originally Posted by TSaldiran
3) In case I get enough vacation time in Europe, is there a country you would recommend above the others for parameters such as hospitality, easy navigation, climate or even just scenic rides/food etc?
IMO, France comes the closest to meeting all of your parameters. Certainly, for scenic rides, food, and easy navigation, it's hard to top. Most of Europe north of the Mediterranean has very unpredictable summer weather, unlike much of the US in the summer where you can count on it being sunny and hot, even if you get a thunderstorm on some days. You can easily get one cool and wet day after another in mid-summer in places like Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands. And it can be plenty wet in many other places in Europe. Western Europe is not cheap if your expenses are being paid with US dollars, but some countries are much pricier than others.
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Old 09-29-10, 07:12 PM
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I worked for a commercial bicycle tour company for one summer, I learned that supported/guided bicycle tours have very little in common with real (independent) bicycle touring. Your 15 mile commute and your weekend tours are probably better preparation for a longer tour than any guided tour.

Learning to fix your own bicycle can save you time and money, and boost your confidence whenever you are on your bicycle. https://sheldonbrown.com/home.html is a good source of information, probably more than you ever wanted to know about bicycles. No repair shop wants customers in the work area, but there's got to be shop near you that offers introductory repair classes.

countries to cycle in, based on my experience:

Italy: scenery, food, wine, people, decent roads, culture, history. Italy's got it all. I spent two weeks in Tuscany/Umbria in 2006, 3 weeks in Sicily in 2008 and I'm saving up to go back in 2012 (Florence-Genoa-Corsica-Sardinia). Go there in the spring, before the summer crowds arrive and it gets too hot.

France: lots of good secondary roads, pretty countryside (the Alps and the Pyrenees are spectacular), and friendly people.

Austria: Lots of good scenery, lots of good roads and bike paths, good beer. The hotels and pensions around ski areas drop their rates in the summer.
Summer time has the best weather, especially in the mountains.

UK: Wales and Scotland (especially the Highlands, north and west of Pitlochry) are great places to cycle. The National Cycle Network (Sustrans) can get you into some very scenic areas, but the routes can also be poorly marked and badly surfaced in places. Spring weather is variable at best, summer weather is better but the midges (mosquitoes) can be nasty in summer in Scotland. England has some scenic areas, but it's a crowded country.

Ireland: Southwest Ireland is laced with scenic little roads with little or no traffic, and the west coast of Ireland is very scenic. The weather can be rotten, and Ireland is not cheap.

If you don't already speak the language of the country you're visiting, any effort to learn and use the language of the country you're in will pay off in good will, whether you actually communicate anything useful or not.
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Old 09-29-10, 07:20 PM
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I don't think a guided trip is a good idea if you want to do regular touring, it is a lot like saying you want to take a guided trip of your local city in order to learn how to walk the streets yourself. Basically a different agenda. Solo touring is all about the freedom of th e open road and self-reliance for me, but for the most part it is pretty docile stuff. I'm an ardent fly fisherman, and don't really like using guides. I mean, like any people they can be great, I just prefer to figure it out for myself. Never used one in the Florida Keys for instance, but didn't catch anything there, two big a hurdle at the time to do myself. Still happy I went on my own. Hard to think of a camparable situation where a guide for cycling would bring anything to the table, comparable to a boat, and knowledge of a half dozen completely foreign species, and tides, weather, etc... Cycling is just easy.

My wife did a lot of solo touring before I met her. We live in Canada, so it is a little different, travelled in the US so have some familiarity. I would break the idea of travelling and safety, as a women, down into it's parts. How much of it will really be different than a regular day would be on a risk basis. There are certain risks you bring with you regardless of the situation, a few things that would be different, like the trolling effect of travelling around all day in plain sight, and some advantages like being without a predictable routine. There are unfamilliar elements but whether it ads up to more risk is hard to know. There is also the more risk who cares bit. It is more risky to drive on the HWY than watch tv, at least in the short run. But most people give little thought to either. When I got back from a 2 week cycle tour, one couple I know were asking me about it, and seemed excited, but then they sorta turned on the whole idea like they suddenly felt it was unclean. It scared them, and they came to see it as insanely dangerous, the camping away from home bit. That is just silly, but they didn't have the feel for it, which comes just from building up some experience of it.
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Old 09-29-10, 07:32 PM
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On tour and in daily life I am fearful of only one thing--marriage.
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Old 09-29-10, 09:22 PM
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Try doing a few overnight weekend trips (out-and-back) in your area, maybe even add a Friday or Monday for a two-night trip. You can either camp out at roadside campgrounds (or stealth camp in a wooded area!) or use hotels along the way. Its a great way to do a 'shakedown' to see what you really need before commiting to a longer trip.
 
Old 09-30-10, 08:01 AM
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I met quite a few solo women riders on my recent trip from the UK up to Norway. The North Sea Cycle Route is well used so if you run into trouble, wait a while and someone will cycle past within the hour (or minute)
Denmark and Norway can be expensive if you hostel and cafe your way across the country but both countries have free/cheap camping options.
Ive also ridden in Ireland, French Pyrenees, Northern Spain, Slovenia and can recommend all of them as good cycling country.
My own bit of the UK is good for cycle touring, East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire) has plenty of quiet rural roads, good beer, gentle terrain, pretty villages and coast and strong US connections from the earliest settler days to the US air force bases which are still very active.
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Old 09-30-10, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by TSaldiran
Thank you so much everyone. I'm already psyched for spring and I think I will start small - a week or 10 day trip and hopefully after that just expand as much as I can. Thank you for all the Europe tips as well, I will keep that in mind

I guess my only concern is 'do you know how to fix your bike' part. I have to say that's a big no in my case and the bike shops in NY -at least the ones I've been to- are very secretive about what they do - so far I haven't managed to get permission to go to the back and watch how they fix my flat or tune my brakes etc. and I'm wondering how people learn this stuff at all. I watched some youtube videos but they can be a bit overwhelming if you're as new to this stuff as I am.
I found a buddy to throw some cash to in exchange for tuning up my bike and walking me through everything he was doing. It was well worth the cash and made me feel much more confident about my ability to fix problems with the bike and take better care of it in the first place.

Hope you enjoy your first touring trip! I'm training for my first now.
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Old 09-30-10, 08:23 AM
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Originally Posted by Rusty5329
I found a buddy to throw some cash to in exchange for tuning up my bike and walking me through everything he was doing. It was well worth the cash and made me feel much more confident about my ability to fix problems with the bike and take better care of it in the first place.

Hope you enjoy your first touring trip! I'm training for my first now.
PS: have you looked around for a co-op in your area? They are far less likely to hide their work from you.
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Old 09-30-10, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by TSaldiran
Thank you so much everyone. I'm already psyched for spring and I think I will start small - a week or 10 day trip and hopefully after that just expand as much as I can. Thank you for all the Europe tips as well, I will keep that in mind

I guess my only concern is 'do you know how to fix your bike' part. I have to say that's a big no in my case and the bike shops in NY -at least the ones I've been to- are very secretive about what they do - so far I haven't managed to get permission to go to the back and watch how they fix my flat or tune my brakes etc. and I'm wondering how people learn this stuff at all. I watched some youtube videos but they can be a bit overwhelming if you're as new to this stuff as I am.
Do you live in NYC? If so Times Up offers weekly bike repair workshops. I think they even have a night specifically for women. Check out their calender:

https://times-up.org/index.php?page=b...p#CoopCalendar
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Old 09-30-10, 09:26 AM
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Look for bike classes. If you have an REI in the area, they offer them. The simple classes that teach you how to repair a flat and lube your chain are free. The more advanced classes teaching you how to overhaul your bottom bracket usually have a fee. If there's no REI around, ask at bike shops if they know of any classes.
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