You’re tired of the roads that you ride on every day and you have vacation time you would like to use. What better way is there to combine two of your needs than going on a cycling vacation? There are a number of different approaches so depending upon your style and preferences you can find your perfect bliss.
What to Look for in a Cycling Vacation Destination
It is likely that when you are planning a cycling vacation you are looking for something that will be a change of pace from your everyday riding and life. That could mean anything, as long as it is different from your regular grind. Beyond that, what should you look for?
- Friendly Roads – Taking the time to travel somewhere and then finding out the roads are filled with belligerent drivers, no shoulders, and bad pavement will be a colossal mistake. Research where you would like to go ahead of time and make sure the infrastructure supports your goals.
- Terrain You’re Looking For – After finding good roads, you want to make sure that your cycling vacation destination has the terrain you’re looking for. If you’re a more fit rider and want a challenge seek out someplace with long mountain climbs. If you don’t want to ride uphill for an hour or more, find someplace with smaller climbs and rolling terrain but lots of roads to choose from. If you want flatter rides, seek out the coast, deserts, or scenic farm roads somewhere in the middle of the US.
- Cycling Infrastructure – Knowing that there are cycling amenities at your destination can make packing and traveling easy. You will not have to pack extra tubes, tires, energy bars, or other cycling needs. There will also be plenty of cycling specific roads and paths to explore along with people to ride with if you want company on your rides. A place with a built up cycling community will also have shops with quality bikes to rent, meaning you can leave your bike at home and travel lightly.
- Good Food – A cyclist runs on his or her belly. Finding a place that will fit your culinary desires is a huge bonus. You will have a good meal to look forward to after every ride.
- Culture – You cannot ride your bike the entire day (right?). You are going to need other things to do once you are done for the day. Find some interesting things to do and see in the place you are visiting. The culture is what makes a place and experiencing it by bike is one of the best ways to do so.
Where to Go On A Cycling Vacation
#1 – Someplace You Dream Of
It’s your vacation away from home and your day to day life. Go someplace you dream of riding. Everyone dreams differently but a few awesome places follow.
California is a place many dream of living in or visiting. It has great weather and miles of beautiful roads. For a complete vacation that includes the full cultural experience, stay in one of the three main cities – San Diego in the south, Los Angeles just up the coast or San Francisco in the north.
San Diego is known for Mt. Palomar, a long, challenging climb and Fiesta Island, a flat and safe route that cyclists flock to. Los Angeles has great riding both east up through the Angeles National Forest to Mt. Wilson and Dawson’s Saddle and to the north into the canyons above Malibu. San Francisco may have the most picturesque views of all with rides in the Marin Headlands and Mt. Diablo. All three cities have bustling cycling scenes and cultural amenities to fit every taste.
Colorado is another place that people travel to and wish they lived. There is an incredible amount of variety from flat, ranch land in the east, to 14,000 foot peaks that hold snow virtually year round, to sand dunes in the south, and an endless amount of everything else west all the way into Utah including Zion National Park. You will find breathtaking (literally, you’ll be at altitude) roads and views around every corner. You can stop in little old mining towns that dot the mountains, some barely still there while others are bustling with excitement such as Georgetown. The best time of the year to go is June through the early fall as if you’re looking to get up into the mountains, snow storms can be a regular occurrence during the cooler months.
North Carolina is chock full of exciting things both on the bike and off. The Blue Ridge mountains form an incredible backdrop in the west of the state with Asheville being the mountain town hub of outdoor pursuits. The riding is endless with gazillions of rolling country roads and long climbs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway is an incredible ride but beware of traffic as in the summer months it can be a zoo. Hit it in the off-season if you can otherwise try and ride it mid-week when there are fewer people. The mountain biking is also incredible in this neck of the woods, particularly Pisgah. Off the bike there are endless options from hiking to rafting, to brewery tours, to checking out the sites at the Biltmore Estate.
#2 – Go Watch a Race (in North America)
Here are three options for a cycling vacation to watch races as well as to ride. The first is attend the Tour of Utah in the beginning of August. It is a week long stage race with world class teams over beautiful terrain. Either before or after each stage, you can ride on the roads that the race uses to get the full perspective of what the pros experience. The crowds at the race are tremendous. It is some of the top racing in the US and the weather should be excellent.
The second race is the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic held in the beginning of June. Watching the races are a huge party, especially at the Manyunk Wall. There is a full day of racing to watch with the women’s race part of the UCI World Tour, the top level of racing following the men’s race. There are amateur time trials to compete in the day before if you want to test yourself and the day before you can ride the course and the infamous Wall. Philadelphia is a historic and fun city that will leave you many options from good food to country roads outside the city to interesting cultural sites to check out off the bike. The Liberty Bell, Reading Terminal, and the Art Museum are three must sees.
The third race is the Tour of Alberta held in the beginning of September in Canada. The race course changes year to year but generally starts or ends in Calgary or Edmonton, both cool cities to check out with a cycling scene. The race also heads into the mountains, the Canadian Rockies to be exact, which are some of the most picturesque mountains in the world. There are a few cool rides to do and a lot to do and check out off the bike as well.
#3 – Visit Cycling’s Motherland
An article on taking a cycling vacation would not be complete without a section on visiting the low countries of northern Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. The cycling infrastructure will blow you mind; it is a way of life. Bikes are a viable and accepted form of transportation. If desired, you could do all of your travel by bike – go to dinner, visit a museum, go sightseeing, whatever you choose.
Cycling is also one of the top sports in these countries so there is no shortage of riding for fun either. There are endless kilometers of cycling routes to take you away from the urban centers to get in an awesome ride. Check out the cobbled climbs of Belgium and the Spring Classics if you’re keen.
#4 – Major US Cities
Many major US cities are making big headway in the acceptance of cycling. Bring your road bike to roll out of the city for a proper ride but use one of the bike share programs to get around town such as Citi Bike in New York City. A large city also doubles as a popular place for the rest of your family to have plenty to do if they’re not riding also.
New York City has made major changes to infrastructure to encourage cycling. It is also relatively easy to get out and go for a ride. Check out Central Park or roll across the George Washington Bridge to jump on the tried and true training routes many New Yorkers use. And there is a never ending list of interesting things to do in New York. You cannot lose.
Another great city to check out is Pittsburgh. The city’s bike share is new and expanding. Be aware that it is built on the hills and valleys of three rivers, so the terrain is very steep. That can be an attraction too. It is a breeze to get out and roll into farm land. There is great food and a thriving cultural community so you will not have a shortage of things to do off of the bike.
Minneapolis, Minnesota is also a cycling heavy city with infrastructure everywhere and plenty of cyclists using it. Check out the rides along the river along with farm roads outside of the city. If you’re looking for gravel roads there’s a lot of that there as well.
#5 – The Local Option
There is probably someplace relatively close to where you live that you have never explored by bike. Chances are that it will be fun and interesting too. It is easy to jump in the car and drive a few hours to explore new roads close to home on a weekend even. You can even camp and keep it cheap. Take a look at a map and see what is in your own region a few hours from home. You may be surprised at just what you can get to and you’ll be wanting to head there every weekend to ride.
Make it a Cycling Vacation
Shake up your routine with a cycling vacation. Visiting new places can wake you to experience everything fully with all of your senses. It can also reopen your mind to what great cycling you have at home and what you would like to improve upon.