Guest Blogger Omer Rosenbaum draws on years of experience to offer readers this beginner’s guide to bike tours! This post has the answers to the questions you might have when you start thinking about your first bike tour. Plus, it features a detailed account of a first time bike tour along the Moselradweg in Germany.
Have you ever considered going on a bike tour?
The first time this idea came into my mind, it was exciting, interesting and yet, somewhat frightening. I was actually thinking about going on a bike tour in Europe! Many questions started running through my head:
- How would I carry my bags?
- Where would I get my bicycle?
- How would I return it?
- How far should I cycle each day?
- Where would I spend the night?
- Would it be safe to leave my bicycle and bags alone for a couple of hours while I went exploring by foot?
After my first bike tour in Europe in 2013, I fell in love with this way of traveling. I have now gone on 5 different bike tours in Europe, and I already have a list of my next destinations.
In this post, I hope to help you answer all those questions that troubled me before my first trip. This post is written for Average Joes, not necessarily expert cyclists, with no prior experience in bike tours. In other words – for first-timers or newbies.
In the first part of this post I will provide general information about bike tours to help you understand the broad picture and decide whether cycling vacations are for you or not. In the second part, I will go into detail about a specific bike tour that I highly recommend for people who would like to go on a bike tour for the first time – the totally flat and beautifully scenic Moselradweg in Germany.
Why Travel by Bike?
The first obvious question to ask is, why travel by bike? If you’re a reader of this blog, you probably don’t need convincing that bicycles are a great way to move around. But when it comes to vacations, wouldn’t one prefer to use a car and be able to see more places in a short amount of time?
While doing the research prior my first bike tour, I came across a quote that I really liked here:
“Traveling by car, train, or bus is like watching an amazingly beautiful movie go by. Traveling by bike is like being in the movie.”
Basically, when traveling by bike you get to feel like you’re traveling the whole time, not only when you are out of your car. It is faster than walking and combines physical activity with the travel. For me, this combination is great. Yet, it is true that traveling by bicycle limits the distance you can cover in a certain amount of time.
Should You Do an Independent Bike Tour or Go On an Organized Tour?
When going on a bike tour, there are two different approaches:
- independent; and
- organized tours.
An independent tour means that you carry your equipment yourself from one place to another, you book your own accommodation, etc. When going on an organized bike tour, a lot of the organization is taken care of by a traveling agency. There are plenty of agencies that will offer to book your hotels in advance, and carry your equipment for you so you avoid carrying the weight yourself. Most agencies offer different kinds of tours:
- a self-guided bike tour where they provide you with the bikes, accommodation, and luggage transfer, as well as information regarding the routes; and
- a guided tour where you join a group of cyclists and have a personal guide taking you around.
While organized tours certainly have their advantages, I have personally only gone on independent tours. For me, the most important thing was flexibility – I didn’t want to arrange in advance where I would be each day, but rather wanted the flexibility of traveling shorter or longer distances each day, depending on the weather, difficulty, how I felt, etc. Especially before my first tour, I wanted to see how much I liked cycling each day, and didn’t want to commit to a specific route.
On the other hand, if you are new to cycling, or perhaps some members of your group are very young or very old, you may prefer a guided tour where you have plenty of support, but less flexibility. Some of these tours even include vehicle support, to pick you up if you become exhausted or are injured.
Advice for Going on an Independent Cycling Tour
If you go on an independent bike tour, there are a few things you need to take care of:
- You will need to contact local stores in order to rent your bike, preferably a long time in advance. After deciding on my vacation destination, I usually email the local tourist information offices, and they provide me with information regarding bike rentals.
- To carry your clothes and other supplies, panniers are very effective and comfortable. This blog post provides lots of information about panniers. If you don’t own panniers, most bike shops will offer to rent you some of theirs.
- Perhaps the trickiest part is finding the right route to cycle. Make sure you do a lot of research and planning, so that you choose a suitable route, and are prepared for it.
The next part of this post focuses on a specific route that I highly recommend.
Recommended Beginner’s Bike Tour – Moselradweg (Mosel bicycle path)
If I had to recommend one tour for first-timers, it would definitely be this one. It was also my first-time tour, and it made me fall in love with bike touring.
The Moselradweg is a cycling path in western Germany. I recommend this trip to first-time bike tourers for many reasons. Most importantly, it’s a relatively easy ride, without very steep ascents. The route is very varied, going near the river, through vineyards or forests, so you do not get bored. The road is extremely well marked, so navigation is easy and there is a lot of information available in local tourist information centers. In addition, Germany is a very bicycle-friendly country, with very good paved routes, maps, and attitude toward cyclists. Specifically, we were able to find inexpensive and bicycle-friendly accommodation very easily.
Day 1 – Arriving in Frankfurt am Main
Starting cycling tours always takes some time, as the beginning of the routes is usually not very close to an airport or a big city. From Israel, we flew to Frankfurt am Main. We spent a few hours sightseeing the city, which is nice to visit, and we also spent the night there.
Day 2 – Frankfurt am Main to Trier
On the second day we took a train to Mainz, and then another one to Koblenz, where we would actually finish the trip. At the train station we met Harro from ebike Koblenz. We had contacted them in advance and they came to the train station with our bikes and panniers and it all worked out perfectly. Then we managed to pack our equipment into the panniers. From there – we were set to go.
We then took the train to Trier, the oldest town in Germany. We also had another new experience – Couch surfing (for the first time). Couch surfing is a full experience that is too broad to cover here, so I’ll just tell about our own experience. Once we arrived in Trier, our hostess, Nadja, picked us up from the train station and we toured Trier together by foot.
Then we had dinner in a local pub. We had “pizza salad”, which is actually a normal pizza margarita with salad on top. Awesome! From there we went to a wine festival. As I’ve mentioned, it was the first time I tried couch surfing. And I LOVED it. It provided us with a real opportunity to meet local people and their way of life. If we hadn’t hosted at Nadya’s, we wouldn’t have eaten pizza salad, we wouldn’t have gone to the festival and we wouldn’t have stayed in a local students apartment and talked with awesome local students.
Day 3 – Trier to Neumagen-Dhorn – start of the actual cycle trip, with many vineyards on the way (45 kilometers)
Before starting our cycling trip, we made our couch surfing hosts some Israeli breakfast – shakshuka.
We then started the actual cycling part of the trip. We quickly found out that getting around the route is really easy as you have clear signs throughout the whole way mentioning distances and directions.
Straight from the beginning, the route was very flat. I was surprised to realize how perfectly flat it was almost the whole time. The route is actually very varied and goes sometimes near the Mosel river, sometimes through little towns and sometimes through the plentiful wine fields of the Mosel valley.
It is also recommended to try the local wine, and get something to eat on the way.
We kept cycling till we reached Neumagen-Dhorn, meaning we cycled for 45 kilometers (28 miles) in the half day we actually rode. In Neumagen-Dhorn we easily managed to find a Zimmer to stay in – that is, a nice room in a family’s house. Deciding not to pre-book accommodation for the trip allowed us to be flexible and cycle for as long as we want and stop whenever we felt like it.
Day 4 – Neumagen-Dhorn to Enkirch – very beautiful views (62 kilometers)
The 4th day was harder yet more beautiful than the days before, as we rode 62 kilometers (~38.5 miles) and had some amazing views of the Mosel.
We started by going backwards to Trittenheim. Going there and back to Neumagen-Dhorn (were we had spent last night) added 10 kilometers to our way, but we got this panoramic view. I’ll let you decide whether it’s worth it.
We cycled till we reached Bernkastel-Keus. Its a relatively large town and has a really nice market. We stopped there for lunch. We then kept cycling, stopping by picturesque towns along the route. We finished our ride in Enkrich, which is 51 kilometers (~32 miles) away from our starting point.
Day 5 – Enkirch to Bullay – hard rain and amazing views (19 kilometers)
Our fifth day was much shorter than we had planned, as we were surprised by a sudden storm. Yet we managed to see the most beautiful views so far.
We started in Enkirch, considered the pearl of the Mosel. It includes a tour by foot, but we decided to do only part of it by bike. The ascent was really hard. Then we started our way towards Zell, which was quite steep at certain points, compared to the previous days. We arrived in beautiful Zell, and ate a terrific Apfelstrudel, definitely one of Germany’s (and Austria’s) great attractions.
The next part provided one of the best view points of the Mosel river. We climbed to the Marienburg (Marien castle). The castle itself can’t really be reached by bike so we left them and started climbing by foot. Then I decided to continue walking 800 meters to the Prinzenkopf tower. At 233 meters above sea level, the top of the tower provides a 360 degrees panoramic view of the Mosel.
When I got off the tower and started walking back towards the castle, the thunders left no doubt: It was storming. Descending fast on a bicycle down a mountain during hard rain is, well, quite an experience. We went quickly yet steadily, towards the closest town we could spot: Bullay.
Bullay is a nice town, though obviously not one we had planned to stay in. Considering the weather, we made a mistake and found a Zimmer to accommodate us for the night. The Zimmer was nice, yet in 30 minutes (around 1.5 hours after it had started to rain) the sky got really clear and blue. I started to think the sun was mocking us!
Bullay was not the destination we had hoped for, and left us with a long way for the next day. Yet we had a great dinner with two different kinds of Schnitzel, and took some time to sit by the river.
This day shows the advantages of flexibility during a bike trip. Not booking in advance allowed us to make a shorter trip when facing surprising weather.
Day 6 – Bullay to Moselkern – castles and views (40 kilometers)
Something interesting we noted on this day is that throughout the Mosel there are numerous camping sites. Many of them are filled with vans.
We cycled all the way to Beilstein. Its a nice town, that really stands for the gorgeous castle of Metternich on top of it. We climbed to the castle by foot for some great views of the river.
We left Beilstein after lunch and headed towards Cochem. This is one of the bigger towns on the river, and it had an even more impressive castle above. The streets of the town center are also quite nice.
Day 7 – Moselkern to Spay – fairytale castle and by to the Mosel river (35 kilometers)
We started by going to Eltz castle (Burg Eltz). The route from Moselkern includes a few kilometers by bicycle and an additional few kilometers by foot, and takes you through a nice forest. Soon enough we reached the Eltz Castle, that seems like it has escaped a fairytale and gently located itself in reality.
After taking a guided tour (in English) inside the castle, we headed back to where we had left the bicycle, and the time already reached 13:00. We started to hurry a bit towards Koblenz. From there we continued all the way to Koblenz, which marked the end of our Trier-to-Koblenz 210~ km ride. Koblenz is impressively bicycle-friendly, having numerous signs especially for cyclists as well as traffic lights aimed at cyclists only.
In Koblenz we went to the Deutsches Eck (“German Corner”), which is the headland where the Mosel river joins the Rhine. From Koblenz we start the Upper-Middle Rhine (or Gorge Rhine) tour. It is a 65 km part of the Rhine that includes over 40 castles. We could only spot some of them on our way to Spay.
Day 8 – Spay to Cologne, end of the tour
From Spay we cycled to Boppard, where we took the ferry to the other side of the Rhine.
Then we cycled to view the legendary Loreley rocks from the opposite side.
Then we went to the train station in St Goar, which was really tiny. We went back to Koblenz, returned the bikes, took the luggage and started heading towards Cologne. By that we finished our cycling part of the trip.
If you’re interested in more details, you are welcome to read further in this post from my blog.
In this post we have talked about bike tours in general, and then described a specific recommended tour in detail. I hope it has helped you to get a better picture of what this kind of bike tour might be like, and understand even a little bit of the enthusiasm I feel about it.
Thanks to our Guest Poster, Omer Rosenbaum
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