Everything you need to know about Bike tripping

WHEN you're traveling on a bike, you become an adventurer. You don't just watch scenery go by from the confines of a motorized vehicle. You actively experience your journey by creating movement and feeling its excitement. Once you get the feel of biking, you may decide to sign on for a bike tour vacation, as I have several times. A wide variety of tours are available throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.

On a trip I took through Central Europe, members of our American Youth Hostel tour stayed overnight in an 18th-century hostel in Dinan, a small town in northern France. When I first looked at the town, hidden on a forested hillside, I felt as if I were stepping back into the 1700s.

In Werfen, Austria, and Bacharach, West Germany, our group stayed overnight in castles. We toured a medieval museum in Kufstein, Austria. While in Grindelwald, Switzerland, we went to a local dance festival and hiked up the Jungfrau. On another tour in Cameroon, Africa, I watched the production of oil palm soap and rubber.

Closer to home, on a tour of northern Vermont, I've often stopped with other people at lakes nestled in the mountains to frolic, laugh, swim, and eat. I've learned how cheese is processed at the Cabot Cheese Factory. And I've taken a close look at the first downhill ski slope constructed in the United States, near Woodstock.

These kinds of experiences are usual on bike trips. Tours range from ones in which bikers are booked for overnights at country inns or hotels to camping or hosteling tours. The best companies provide detailed information about their trips. They'll say whether the terrain is primarily flat, hilly, or mountainous and how many miles will be covered each day. And they'll include thorough instructions for your pre-tour planning and packing, as well as providing qualified leaders.

Equipment checklist

Most bike tours use rental bikes with front handlebar packs and helmets. However, you may choose to bring your own bike. You'll need at least a 10-speed model and, if you're going to be traveling through mountainous terrain, probably a 12-speed touring bike. The derailleur should be rugged enough for climbing. It's necessary to have a wide range of gears, including low ``mountain gears.'' Consult your bike shop about this. Toe clips, which are mounted on your pedals, can save a lot of energy.

Regardless of the length of the trip, you may want to have a front handlebar pack for personal items. In addition, you should always take liquid refreshment with you. Bike shops sell plastic water bottles and holders that can be attached to your bike.

Even though many tours use a sag wagon (a vehicle that follows up the cyclists and carries supplies and tools), I usually bring a few tools of my own, such as a screwdriver for my derailleurs, allen wrenches for tightening bolts, and tire irons for replacing inner tubes. In addition, I always carry a tire pump on my bike and bring two spare inner tubes. If you're on a tour that doesn't use a sag wagon, your tool kit should also include working gloves, WD-40 lubricant, a ``third hand'' tool for brake adjustments, extra brake and gear cables, a tire patch kit, brake pads, a spoke wrench, extra spokes that fit your wheels, and wrenches for your bolts.

What clothing to pack

Biking in summer is best enjoyed in cool, loose-fitting clothes, such as shorts and T-shirts. You can buy special biking shorts made of stretch material with chamois crotches for added comfort. They tend to be expensive. You will probably need a lightweight windbreaker. A waterproof jacket that doesn't allow perspiration to evaporate will become uncomfortable after a couple of hours of pedaling, unless the weather is very cool. Sports clothing of Gortex fabric is waterproof and breathable, but expensive.

Planning for overnights

If your tour group is booked into country inns, you can expect large breakfasts and luscious dinners. The inns also provide support vans that carry your luggage, act as a portable bike shop, transport tired cyclists, and can usually provide bikes.

Hosteling and camping tours require more preparation, since they usually don't have a support van. They also depend on more group involvement for everyday needs, such as cooking. You'll carry your own belongings with you in ``panniers,'' specially designed, waterproof bags that fit over your bike's rear wheel, balancing on either side. It's important to travel as light as possible, carrying no more than 15 or 20 pounds. Add a pair of pants and one other (compact) outfit to the basic wardrobe mentioned earlier. If you're going on a long trip, you might want to put your belongings in plastic bags and line your panniers with plastic trash bags to keep the clothes dry.

Before you start

Get in shape for whatever distance your tour is planning to cover. If it's 50 miles per day, you should have biked that distance several times before departure. Develop a program that starts at a short distance, such as 5 to 10 miles, and gradually builds up to the expected daily mileage. If you're going to carry several pounds on your bike, get used to biking with that much weight before the tour.

Camaraderie on the road is special, particularly when tackling challenging terrain. Many tours are arranged so that people can bike with others at their level. Usually each tour has a special orientation. Some combine an unusual activity, like ballooning, with biking. Some focus on nature, others on the culture of the area.

Choosing a bike tour

Tour leaders are a most important aspect of any tour, particularly if it's longer than a weekend. They should be experienced cyclists who know the route well, and they should be able to foster a group spirit for support and enjoyment.

If you have to stop cycling, the guide should make every effort to keep you with the group. Even though a lot of tours don't include lunch in their cost, the best ones usually arrange for the group to meet somewhere so participants can eat together, share experiences, and relax.

On a tour of Vermont, our leaders collected money from each person in the group and had a picnic waiting for us every day.

The best tours in non-Western cultures give you a thorough orientation before the trip departs, telling about expected temperatures, food, and conditions like sanitation. They include time at the beginning of the trip for you to acclimate yourself to the surroundings. Your guide should also speak the native language.

If you go

Here's a small selection of organizations that manage tours in the United States and abroad:

BikeCentennial, Missoula, Mont. (PO Box 8308-D1, ZIP code 59807, phone [406] 721-1776) sponsors bike/camping tours of the West Coast and a 90-day Trans-America trip for experienced cyclists.

Country Cycling Tours, New York, N.Y. (140 W. 83rd St., zip code 10024, phone [212] 874-5151) tours the East Coast, Nova Scotia, France, England, Ireland, Holland, and China, with winter trips to Florida and the Caribbean.

Open Road Bicycle Tours, Haymarket, Va. (1601 Summit Dr., ZIP code 22069, phone [703] 754-4152) tours the mid-Atlantic states, Cape Cod, Nova Scotia, China, France, Holland, and Ireland.

World on Wheels, Highland Park, Ill. (650 Onwentsia Ave., ZIP code 60035, phone [312] 433-8660) visits England, Ireland, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Iceland, Morocco, Israel, and Egypt.

Vermont Country Cyclers, Waterbury Center, Vt. (Box 145, ZIP code 05677, phone [802] 244-8751) tours Vermont, the Maine coast, Maine, France, Ireland, and Nova Scotia.

Bicycle Adventures, Olympia, Wash. (PO Box 7537, ZIP code 98507, phone [206] 786-0989) specializes in West Coast tours: Puget Sound, Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Coast, and the San Juan Islands.

Backroads Bicycle Touring, San Leandro, Calif. (PO Box 1626, ZIP code 94577, phone [415] 895-1783) features California, Glacier National Park, the Oregon coast, Canadian Rockies, Puget Sound, Yellowstone National Park, Bryce/ Zion Canyons, the Grand Canyon Rim, Alaska, Hawaii, and New Zealand.

Asian Pacific Adventures, Los Angeles (336 Westminster Ave., ZIP code 90020, phone [213] 935-3156) features China, Tibet, and Japan.

American Youth Hostels, Washington, D.C. (PO Box 37613, ZIP code 20013-7613, phone [202] 783-6161) has councils throughout the US sponsoring hosteling, camping, and hotel tours in Africa, Europe, New Zealand, and the United States. -30-{et

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