Franklin Roosevelt did it in his youth, gliding for weeks along the country roads of Switzerland and Germany in the course of an enchanted summer. John F. Kennedy, Jr., did it many years ago, on vacation from prep school. And so have many more from other wealthy, or at least moderately well-off, families.
On the lanes and roads of rural France, on the always-level pavements of cycle-loving Holland, over the softly rolling hills of Vermont, in Oregon, and even in Hawaii, increasing numbers of Americans—of ever-increasing age—are flocking to the group bicycle tour.
But why is this activity is often so expensive—$350 and more a day? Why are bicycle tours more costly, on occasion, than tours by escorted motor coach? After all, it is you and your two legs that provide the transportation, eliminating a costly vehicle.
Or is that the case?
What most of us fail to consider, in scanning the bicycle brochures, is that a vehicle almost always does accompany the group, to carry luggage. Unless you’ve opted for the most rugged form of tour, carrying nothing but your cycling costume, a van or truck and a paid driver follow the bicycling tour at a discreet distance.
Because that group is usually limited to 20 or so people the cost of the vehicle and driver is also divided among fewer people, than on a 45-seat motor coach trip. Thus bicycle tours, except in a handful of instances (see below), will continue to cost an average of $250/day — a sum that’s justified by advantages aplenty: the best sort of exercise in the open air, the closeness to nature and contact with rural people, the scenery, and the relief from urban pressures.
But there are pitfalls. They mainly stem from the ease with which underfinanced or inexperienced people can schedule a bicycle tour. Because so many shaky operators flood the mails each year with ill-conceived programs destined to cause trouble, we’ve sought to ferret out the firms that have made a substantial, long-term commitment to this travel sport. We’ll also warn you about the $350 per day companies, whose prices have no justified basis in reality.
Unless otherwise stated, all tours accept members of any age, provide a supply van, and will rent you a bike (for an extra charge) if you haven’t brought your own. We’ve split our company descriptions into two groups. First up are the bargain operations in “Budget Biking” (and sub-sections—North America, Around the Globe, and Especially for Students), followed by the more deluxe outfits in “Splurge Cycling.”
The National Bicycle Tour Directors Association is a network of bike organizations, many of which are non-profit and run by bike enthusiasts, not entrepreneurs looking to make a buck. Consequently, many of the tours are super-cheap, and beloved by diehards and occasional riders alike. The NBDTA Web site (www.nbtda.com) allows users to search for where and when they’d like to ride, and how much they’re are willing to spend. They can pick a specific area of North America, or just plug in a price and time range and see what comes up.
Most tours limit the number of riders, so it is a good idea to reserve early. In most cases, you bring your own camping gear and other supplies, but vans or buses will transport everything but you and your bike for you. Here is a sampling of what we found on a recent search, priced around $400 per person: A six-day, 330-mile tour of Maine, priced at $420; a seven-day cycle called the Legacy Annual Great Bicycle Ride across Utah for $300; a three-day 85-mile ride across North Carolina for only $85.
Look up more bicycle tours at www.nbtda.com.
Another inexpensive biking operation is “Bike The Whites” a self-guided bike tour company that specializes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Participants travel inn to inn, choosing their itinerary each morning and traveling solo, or if they desire, with a group of their own choosing. Itineraries are customized to each cyclists needs and desires—they can be tailored to the go-getter who’s eager to grind out 50 miles a day, as well as more laid back types interested in seeing waterfalls and lazing by with just 20 miles a day. By emphasizing this self-guided structure, BTW keeps their costs low and passes that savings on to the consumer (they have no group leaders or sag wagon drivers to pay). Tour packages start from $279 in May to $329-$379 from June to September. That price covers a hearty breakfast and three-course dinner each day, your lodgings (at some of the loveliest inns in New Hampshire), customized itineraries and transport of luggage inn to inn. Emergency service is also provided in the event that you or your bike needs first aid. Contact Bike The Whites, 800/447-4345 or Web site: www.bikethewhites.com.
An operation similar to Bike the Whites, offered in a similar region of the country, is Country Inns Along the Trail (also known as Inn to Inn), a Vermont-based bike, hike, and ski touring company. Inn to Inn takes care of accommodations at lovely inns and B&B’s in the Green Mountain State (with dinner and breakfast usually included), and maps out an itinerary for you. It also provides some limited pickup and drop-off services if inns are spread farther than your legs can carry. Prices vary depending on what kind of accommodations is selected and the time of year, but expect to pay between $135 and $165 per person per night. Inns tend to be family run operations, and meals are usually delicious, many times featuring home-grown vegetables and homemade bread and pastries. For more information, contact Inn to Inn at P.O. Box 59, Montgomery, VT 05470, phone: 800/838-3301 or 802/326-2072, e-mail email@example.com. Find more details on the Web at www.inntoinn.com.
Bike and the Like, a small pedaling outfit run by Suzie and Roger Knable, offers a handful of tours each year along the East Coast. Rides feature accommodations in inns and inexpensive hotels and motels, and usually average well around $70/day. Suzie and Roger test out each route before offering it to clients, and come up with interesting itineraries (usually away from busy roads) in places such as Cape Cod, Cape May, and Lancaster, PA.
Bike and the Like’s Cape Cod trip, usually offered in early June, is one of its most popular. The trip costs $740 per person with two people sharing a room, and that price includes seven nights’ lodging, all your breakfasts and five dinners, luggage transport (so you don’t have to pedal with all your gear and clothes), and, of course, guides to lead you around the Cape. Accommodations for this inexpensive adventure are hostels and simple hotels and motels. On most days you’ll bike between 30 and 40 miles, but the scenery is lovely and roads are reasonably flat. Ferry rides to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are included in the package price. Another popular trip is a three-day, two-night tour that usually takes place in mid-April, priced from $220/person in past years. Two breakfasts, a welcome party on Friday night, and a Saturday night dinner are included. The riding is nearly perfectly flat too.
If big groups scare you off, take into account that weekend Bike and the Like trips tend to be a bit larger (40 to 60) than typical weeklong tours (around 40). Check in with the Bike and the Like Web site, www.bikeandthelike.com, or call 410/960-6572 or toll-free 877/776-6572 to get the inside scoop.
Tour Baja is a California-based outdoor adventure tour company that offers biking, hiking, sailing, and kayaking trips in the famous peninsula south of the Mexico-California border. Owner Trudi Angell has lived in the laid-back Baja region since the mid-1970s, and started offering kayak tours of coastline in the early 1980s. Now there are a variety of tours to choose from: kayaking, bicycling, horseback riding, hiking, sailing, and whale-watching cruises. Most of the guides are transplants like Trudi or natives to the region, all of who know the area and culture very well. Prices are usually decent, $995 for seven- to nine-day trips. A nine-day mountain bike tour, with accommodations in simple hotels and no meals, was priced from just $995 in 2005. In some instances, bike tours can be combined with kayak trips or whale-watching cruises for an additional cost. For bicycle trips in the Baja, contact Pedaling South (Tour Baja’s bicycle division), P.O. Box 827, Calistoga, CA 94515, call 800 398-6200, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find Tour Baja on the Web at www.tourbaja.com.
Cyclevents of Hilo, Hawaii (formerly located in Jackson, WY): The most important reason you’ll sit up and take notice of this company is its attitude—it strives to put together the best trips at the lowest cost. Mostly, it keeps its prices down to $150 per night or less (some under $100 a night if you camp). For example, its 14-day ride through the Swiss, Austrian and Italian Alps, called “Tour of the Alps” starts at a lean $1,250 if you camp along the way (opt for hotels and pay-as-you-go per night: prices vary, but expect to pay between $50 and $80 a night). Cyclevents also organizes groups for annual event rides such as a five-night “Spuds: Cycling Around Idaho” trip at the end of August, which starts at a cost of only $400 for camping accommodations. For many of Cyclevents tours, if you stay in hotels, prices hardly qualify as budget. Toughing it out by camping will save you a lot of money. While some of Cyclevents’ rides can be handled by a relative novice (albeit a novice who is in very good shape), inquire about all the details before you sign up. Beware that this organization’s “easier” trips typically log in over 30 miles per day. For more details, phone Cyclevents at 888/733-9615, or see the Web site at www.cyclevents.com.
For the Benelux countries turn to 4Winds Specialty Tours (formerly known as Bon Voyage Specialty Tours). Why is 4Winds a “specialty” tour operator? Well, instead of coughing up copious amounts of cash for nightly accommodations in hotels or B&Bs, participants sleep on the 4Winds barge. Double cabins with private bath spare the bikers the annoyance of packing and re-packing each night; the barge winds along the many rivers of the region, so bikers have their rooms follow them. Eight days in the famed Loire Valley runs for only $1095 (double occupancy and private bath) between May and mid-September. Many trips start at around $100 per day. Some hotel-based bike tours are also available. Check out the Web site www.4windstours.com or write to 4Winds Specialty Tours, 4500 Victoria Court, West Richland, WA 99353. Call 509/967-3448; fax 509-967-3392; or e-mail email@example.com.
Forum Travel International, of Pleasant Hill, California: In business for 40 years, it claims to be one of the oldest and largest of America’s bicycle and hiking operators. It achieves that status, in part, by offering — in addition to the standard forms of group bicycle touring—a non-group method of cycling (self-guided tours) in some of the countries it tours. How does that work? Every morning, you’re given a highly detailed map to your next destination, are told when dinner will be served, and then have the entire day to pedal as fast or slowly as you may wish, stopping to sightsee or slumber at the side of the road. When you eventually arrive at your hotel, your luggage awaits, having been delivered there by a van that morning. In this manner, the bicycling tour operator does not need two escorts per group (one to accompany the group, one to drive the van), but only one—the van driver. Non-group tours of this sort average only $70 to $120 a night per person (plus airfare) for breakfast and fine lodgings, and are offered in France, Bavaria, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, the Czech Republic, and Italy. Tours in Europe and other parts of the globe are also offered with escorts in the standard group fashion, and tend to cost more. Contact Forum Travel International, 91 Gregory Lane, Suite 21, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523 (phone 800/252-4475 or 925/671-2900, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Web site at www.foruminternational.com).
The International Bicycle Fund, of Washington State: For a very special type of traveler, full of adventure and insight, this organization offers two-week-bicycle tours to two, main destinations (Africa and Cuba), and a handful of other spots around the world. The Bicycle Africa program visits countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal, Malawi, South Africa, Mali, Tunisia or Benin throughout the year. Because no traveling van is used, and accommodations are spartan, costs start $1690 for a trip to Guyana. Including airfare to Africa (which can easily cost around $1,100 round-trip to West Africa, $1,500 to southern Africa). “We journey through culture, history, landscapes, cuisines, and lifestyles, close enough to touch them, ” says a spokesperson from the IBF. “We enjoy this fascinating and diverse continent on a personal level not usually attainable by tourists.” A recent participant adds, “the trip, a month long, is worth four years of college anthropology courses; it was the greatest experience of my life.” The IBF’s Cuba People-to-People Program, operated in tandem with the “Atenas de Cuba Cycling Club”, offers 14-day bike tours starting at $990. A handful of bike tours are offered in other parts of the globe, such as Korea, Ecuador, and North America’s Pacific Northwest. Payment for all tours must be with either check or money order (no credit cards accepted). For detailed information and brochures, contact the International Bicycle Fund, 4887 Columbia Drive South, Seattle, WA 98108-1919 (or phone 206/767-0848, e-mail email@example.com). Or view the Web site at www.ibike.org/ibike.
Active Journeys is not exactly a company aimed at the budget traveler, but its set of active and adventurous itineraries are priced reasonably considering the competition. Some of its self-guided biking tours seem to be especially good values. A 17-day ride through Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, for example, is priced from $2,350. Included in the price are all hotels and all breakfasts, seven lunches, a support vehicle, and a bike rental for the trip duration (airfare is extra). Another decent offer is an 11-day ride through Denmark and Sweden, offered from June to mid-August. Prices start at $1,160, and include bike rental, all breakfasts, five dinners, luggage transfers, and ferry transportation around the Baltic Sea. Some Active Journey bike tours are on the expensive side, however. Find out more at the Active Journeys Web site (www.activejourneys.com), by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 800/597-5594.
At the foothills of the Dolomites, 40 miles north of Venice, lies a region of mountains, small villages, and winding roads that tourists rarely see. Hardcore cycle enthusiasts know this place quite well, however, and flock to the area as soon as the snow melts. The Italian Cycling Center makes it easier for vacationers to join into this bike-a-thon in northern Italy, by offering a reasonable and flexible package for pedaling enthusiasts: 140 euros ($158) per day for lodging, three meals, and one of several bike tours. You can stay one night, two nights, or several weeks, if you like. A non-riding companion can come along for 100 euros/day ($113), and a single room will cost 25 euros ($28) extra per night.
An Italian Cycling vacation is aimed at the more serious biker. The “easy” touring rides log in 30 to 50 miles per day, and though they sometimes cruise through flat farmlands, you will encounter steep, winding mountain roads. Still, riders as young as 12 and as old as 79 are welcomed. There are also gran fondo, or one-day endurance rides, of 50 to 80 miles per day, in which you can pedal alongside the Italian National racers and tri-athletes training in the region on certain days. Summer is busy season for bicycling in Italy and the hotel fills up early for many dates. The Italian Cycling Center’s Web site (www.italiancycling.com) recommends emailing them at email@example.com. You can also call their American office at 215/232-6772.
As its name indicates, Discover France is a Gallic-focused operation, and among its many packages are self-guided hiking and biking trips. Accommodations are usually simple two- or three-star hotels (some of which are in charming old villages that may be pretty but have less than modern facilities), which helps to keep costs down. In most cases, trips average a little over $100 per day in double occupancy lodgings. For example, an eight-day, seven-night ride through Brittany, including Mont St. Michel, is priced from 765 euros from April to October. The single supplement is 175 euros. Prices include breakfast and dinner each day, baggage transfers from hotel to hotel, detailed maps, and emergency support. Bike rentals cost around $130 per week. For more information, visit www.discoverfrance.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 800/960-2221.
Another intriguing option in France is the opportunity to pedal along the route of the grueling Tour de France on the same day as the world’s greatest cyclists. Based in England, Sporting Tours offers reasonably priced packages to the Tour de France ranging from single-day trips to two-week journeys. From start to finish, you can choose which parts of the 3300-km race you want to experience, and you have the option to go by bike, by bus, or both. No matter if you’re a die-hard cyclist or simply a curious chap, the tours cater to all physical levels. Packages scheduled during the extreme mountain stages of the race are among the most popular tours. For example, the “Week in the Pyrenees” tour in July each year takes cyclists through extremely difficult climbs. Participants spend a week following the professional cyclists and even have a chance to meet the riders and get autographs. For that price (£650), six nights are spent in tents, two in moderate hotels.
In general, Sporting Tours packages include lodging at two- and three-star hotels, guides for both groups (bikers and busers), luxury coaches equipped to transport bicycles and luggage, most breakfasts and dinners, and drop-offs along the Tour. Single supplements vary between £140 ($244) and £300 ($480). Expect between 40 to 45 people on tours with one bus and double that for the longer tours. Find our more at www.sportingtours.co.uk or by calling direct at 011-441-132843617.
Ibex Treks specializes in Swiss trekking and biking. Trips run during the months of July and August and average five to 16 nights. Trekkers stay in family-style hotels, guesthouses and “mountain huts”. Be advised: the company requests that you pack lightly, as transportation for luggage is difficult in the rugged, mountainous region. Those who must have a suitcase can arrange to have it sent ahead earlier to the final destination. One of the least expensive Ibex treks is the the Bernese Oberland self-guided tour, a seven-night tour for as low as $749, with three nights in double occupancy inns and six nights in dorm facilities. Participants trek during the day and then at nighttime, bunk down after a hearty Swiss meal. If you want to bike as well as hike, Ibex offers a seven-night guided combination trip that costs $877. On guided tours, groups average six participants with two tour leaders-a maximum of 14 are permitted on most tours. Contact the company at 505/579-4671, e-mail email@example.com or visit the Web site at www.ibextreks.com.
No, you won’t be trekking up Mount Everest with Sherpa Expeditions. It’s actually a UK-based hike and bike packager that offers several self-guided cycling trips throughout Europe and the world, including England’s Cotswolds region, France’s Loire Valley, Tuscany, and Hungary. Least expensive is an eight-day ride through Hungary, priced from $559/person with double occupancy in a combination of three or four-star hotels and pensions (breakfast included every morning). A transfer by train from Budapest to the Baroque city of Eger (where the tour really starts) is also included, as is your final night’s accommodations in the capital city itself. The other cycling trips offered by Sherpa are all reasonably priced between $530 to $749 per person for an eight-day self-guided ride. Sherpa’s cycling tours are not lollygagging pedaling trips through the countryside. They are comprehensive tours around vast expanses of scenery, and since your legs are the means of transportation, you are sure to get a workout. Daily itineraries are fairly strenuous (usually 25 or more miles per day), so you should ride regularly before joining in such demanding trips. All trips are rated for difficulty: ratings and a detailed explanation of the rating system can be found on the website. Contact Sherpa’s at 011-44-20-8577-2717. Online, go to www.sherpaexpeditions.com.
The Buffalo, NY branch of Hostelling International-USA, of Washington, D.C. offers numerous bike tours for teens all over the U.S., Canada and Europe. This is HI, so the tours are reasonably priced (most averaging well under $100/day, including most meals and camping gear). Overnights are spent in hostels (where else?) or camping, and participants are expected to chip in with chores such as setting up tents, shopping for the group, or making smores before bedtime. The program provides two guides experienced in handling teens, as well as more mundane matters such as fixing flat tires and cooking chili at a campfire. All teens have to bring a touring or hybrid bicycle, sleeping bag, saddle bags, foam mattress, and a helmet and lights.
So where do the kids go? The 16-day Canadian Trek 101 tours around Niagara Falls, Toronto, and 1,000 Islands region for a price of $1195. To the west, there is a 16-day trips for older teens (15 to 18). The Pacific Northwest Trek ($1,695) is a round-trip from Seattle, with a chance to explore several of the islands north and west of the city. The Cape Cod Trek is available both for ages 12 to 14 and 15 to 17, and takes 14 days to ride from Boston to Cape Cod and back again, all for $1495. These are but a few examples.
HI’s bike trips are small (usually eight to 12 teens and two adult leaders) and often fill up early. Contact Hosteling International, 667 Main St., Buffalo, NY 14203 (phone 716/856-3764 or view the Web site at www.teentreks.com.
The Student Hosteling Program (SHP), for teenagers age 12-18 only, offers 17 different itineraries throughout the US, Canada and Europe, including a trip from Niagara Falls to Montreal for 25 days ($2,59), one from Amsterdam to Paris for 28 days ($4,955), or a 60-day cross-country trip from New Jersey to Oregon ($4,095). For what you’ll pay, your child will have everything he/she needs: the price includes transportation, equipment, food, lodging (mostly camping, but some B&Bs, inns, and hostels), hostel membership, activities, laundry and guides. Meals are relatively modest—camp-fire cooked meals in the countryside (leaders must carry all the supplies on their bikes), restaurants in cities. Bike rentals are available on most trips for between $120 and $170. Each of SHP’s trips are guided by a senior leader (generally aged 21-25) and one or two assistant leaders (age 19-22), usually alumni of SHP themselves. Visit the Web site (www.bicycletrips.com) for information on upcoming trips. You can also call 800/343-6132, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Student Hosteling Program, Ashfield Rd., P.O. Box 419, Conway, MA 01341.
VBT Bicycling & Touring Company, of Bristol, Vermont: The pioneer in country inn cycling, 32 years old, it used to operate primarily in the unspoiled state of Vermont, with its well-maintained and relatively traffic-free roads, but now itineraries are available throughout the U.S. (including Hawaii) and Canada, Australia, Europe and Morocco. Exciting if overly costly trip options include “California Wine Country,” “North Carolina Coast,” and “The Tuscan Coast.” Lodgings are in multi-starred hotels of a very high quality level, and therefore cost as much as $300 a day, which is to me unthinkable for a bicycle tour. Some of the more affordable tours include a six-day ride in Vermont’s Lake Champlain Valley (from $1,495), or an nine-day tour of Prince Edward Island (from $1,695 without air). VBT’s international trips are listed with airfare included (although you can purchase air from other sources), such as a 12-day trip in France’s Loire Valley (from $2,495) or a 16-day ride in New Zealand’s South Island (from $2,995 out of Los Angeles). In addition to international roundtrip airfare, all accommodations, most meals, and guided tours come with each package. Most trips average about 18 people One plus to these tours: no singles supplements for those who don’t want to share a room.A A mouth-watering 111-page catalog can be had by contacting VBT, 614 Monkton Rd., Bristol, VT 05443 (phone 800/245-3868, e-mail email@example.com). Or view the Web site at www.vbt.com.
Brooks Country Cycling Tours, of New York City, is another long-established (30 years) operator of bicycle tours in the eastern United States and Europe. Among this small family-run touring company’s most affordable trips are its three- and four-night rides and day trips in New England and upstate New York. In past years, for example, a four-night camping trip in Massachusetts Berkshires range costs $699, including breakfasts, dinners, a half-day kayaking trip, and an evening of entertainment at Tanglewood. Three-day weekend trips are offered in Vermont (from $529) and Cape Cod and Nantucket (from $795). Overseas options (airfare additional) include a six-night ride in the Loire Valley (from $1,998) and a seven-night biking and barging tour through Holland (starting between $699 and $1175, including bike rental). Private group tours can also be arranged although these can be quite costly. Contact Brooks Country Cycling Tours, P.O. Box 20792, New York, NY 10025-1516 (phone 917/834-5340, www.brookscountrycycling.com).
If biking, walking or hiking through Europe on your own sounds appealing, Randonnee Tours’ “self-guided” trips might be the thing for you. Trips run year-round (May to October is the high season) primarily through France, but also to Italy, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Canada. Most cycling trips average over $200 a night, and some as much as $300 per night. Each day, you follow a detailed itinerary that Randonnee has created specifically for you, based on your abilities and preferences. The only restriction is that you must arrive each night at a proscribed destination—usually a small hotel. Luggage is transported separately from place to place. The company is in its 15th year now and has built a loyal following with a generally older, wealthier crowd of travelers. For more information, contact Randonee Tours, phone 800/465-6488 or 204/475-6939. Or view the extensive Web site at www.randonneetours.com.
REI Adventures, PO Box 1938, Sumner WA 98390 (phone 800/622-2236 ) offers year-round biking trips (as well as nearly every other outdoors sport you can imagine) all over the globe. Sample European adventures include “Prague to Budapest” (ten days from $2,299) and “Emerald Isle Cycle” (10 days from $2,199). In Asia, one can explore the “Treasures of China” (15 days from $2,599) or choose the “Cycling Vietnam” option: 14 days for $2,199. Accommodations vary according to destination and range from camping to bed and breakfasts or local inns and hotels. Most trips also include luggage transfer from place to place. View the REI Web site for further information at www.reiadventures.com.
International Bicycle Tours of Essex, Connecticut, specializes in tours for cyclers over 50; the company lays heavy stress on the gentle pace of their tours. Says manager Frank Behrendt: “Our trips are more leisurely, not races or marathons. We make many stops and take it slow so that people can enjoy the scenery. We once had an 88-year-old man on one of our tours.” Traveling primarily to Holland (whose flat terrain is ideal for the older cycler), Austria, Ireland, Sweden, England, Italy, France, and Germany, IBT’s trips use high-quality hotels, supply breakfast and daily dinners. The company also offers domestic rides in spots such as Cape Cod, San Diego, Wisconsin, and Arizona. Tours average out to cost between $160 and $200 per night in most instances (not including airfare). Contact International Bicycle Tours, P.O. Box 754, Essex, CT 06426 (phone 860/767-7005, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). Or view the Web site www.internationalbicycletours.com.
Butterfield & Robinson, of Toronto: A highly elegant (and quite expensive, in our view) company based in Canada. Tours go to places as varied as Chile, Cuba, Ireland, Morocco, China, and Alaska, with an especially strong representation in France and Italy. At night you’ll rest in high-quality villas, castles, country homes, and chateaux. Two meals a day (with minor exceptions) at top restaurants are usually included, as are occasional wine tastings and other treats. Prices are very high, most averaging well over $500 per day without air (examples: five nights from Moab to Telluride for $4,995, or seven nights in Tuscany from $5,495). For a beautiful catalog (like a costly picture book), contact Butterfield & Robinson, 70 Bond St, Toronto, ON, M5B 1X3 Canada (phone 416/864-1354, or toll free 800/678-1147 anywhere in North America). Or view the Web site at www.butterfield.com.
One Canadian company that offers an impressive array of bike tours—both in Canada, the U.S., and abroad—is Great Explorations. Its founder, Robin McKinney, worked for the upscale (read, expensive) touring company Butterfield and Robinson before starting his own business in 1985. The truth is that Great Explorations offers a few inexpensive trips (such as its Kettle Valley tours in British Columbia for under $645), but most of its tours are almost as pricey as Butterfield and Robinson. Tours to great biking destinations such as Provence, Baja Mexico, Morocco, and Tuscany, tend to average at least $200 per night. Surf Great Explorations’ easy-to-use Web site at www.great-explorations.com, or contact its reservations office at 800/242-1825.
Gerhard’s Bicycle Odysseys, of Portland, Oregon: From May through September, one to two-week tours to Germany, France, and the Czech Republic,at an average of $300 to $350 a day, plus airfare. All are personally led by German-born Gerhard Meng, now nearing his third decade of bicycle-tour operation. Gerhard started the company in 1974, and he has personally visited over 100 countries since then, guiding tours, inspecting accommodations, or simply pedaling around. Fine country hotels are used on tours; cyclists receive daily breakfast and almost all dinners. In late summer, a bike, balloon and barge trip on the canals of France for nine nights is also on the roster of itineraries. Contact Gerhard’s Bicycle Odysseys, P.O. Box 757, Portland, OR 97207 (phone 503/223-2402 or 800/966-2402, or visit the company Web site at www.since1974.com).
Backroads of Berkeley, California. Operating more than a thousand trips a year, it has recently become one of the largest of the active travel companies, and its trips span the globe: the U.S, all of Europe, China, Thailand, Bali, New Zealand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Nepal, Morocco, and South Africa — all well described in a slick 200-page catalog. Trips tend to be active, usually based on hiking and walking, biking, or multi-sport adventures that may involve kayaking, golfing, rafting, sailing, snorkeling, and cooking. Groups are of all ages; if seniors find some itineraries too taxing, they can ride in the support van (the aptly named “sag wagon”) for part of each day. Tours include most meals daily (lunches are not included on some tours), plus accommodations in fine inns, and average over $300 a day (many an obscene $500 per day). Some camping itineraries start at $220 a day (Backroads claims to cook remarkable meals in its “kitchen on wheels”), but this is still expensive for a camping-based vacation. Contact Backroads, 801 Cedar St, Berkeley, CA 94710-1800 (phone 510/527-1555 or toll free 800/GO-ACTIVE or find Backroads online at www.backroads.com.
Woman Tours, as you might guess from its name, operates trips for persons of the female persuasion only. The founder of Woman Tours, Gloria Smith, leads many of the international and Western North American tours. The tours, of which there are about 30 per year, are designed to accommodate all levels of biking experience, and are all van-supported (they transport luggage and the tired bicyclist). Woman Tours offers trips within the United States, including specialized trips for women over 50, lesbians and breast cancer survivors. The company has six and seven night excursions averaging about $200 per night, as well as a handful of longer tours (two weeks in South Africa from $2,990, and two-month cross-country rides from $6,980). For more details, contact Woman Tours at 800/247-1444, 2340 Elmwood Ave, Rochester, NY, 14618, or visit the Web site at www.womantours.com.