When my family goes on vacation together, we ride bicycles. And I don't mean cruisers at the shore – we pick a destination, pack padded spandex shorts, and get up every day to ride anywhere from 20-50 miles, staying in hotels and B&Bs, taking in the scenery from our saddles. Over the past decade or so, I have been lucky enough to pedal my way through parts of the Netherlands, the south of France, the Veneto region of Italy, western Ireland, Cape Breton Island, and -- just a few weeks ago -- the Czech Republic. We have always gone through some kind of tour company, so someone moves our luggage from place to place for us. (Self-supported bike touring is admirable, but it’s not our thing.) We’ve journeyed with and without guides, and in groups ranging from just the four people in my immediate family up to a record seventeen extended family members.
It is safe to say that at this point we are completely sold on bike touring. A lot of people have told me that they think we’re crazy, that there’s nothing relaxing or vacation-like about our trips, and I’ll admit: there’s a lot of sweating involved, and rain pants are unquestionably the least-attractive garment ever invented. So why do we do it?
Biking gets you off the beaten path
Our bicycle trips, without fail, include exactly those “not in the guide book” experiences seasoned travelers crave. It’s true that we saw St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Roman arenas in Provence, and the Cliffs of Moher on the Irish coast – but I appreciated just as much the chance to glimpse something of the fabric of daily life in these countries, and it’s a lot easier to explore outside the tourist areas if you’re on a bicycle. An older Frenchman out in his garden in overalls, Italian teenagers playing soccer in an empty lot, a Dutch mother of two towing her kids to the playground on a bike – these are the sights I treasure from our trips. Moving at a pace that’s faster than walking but not as fast (and hermetically sealed-off from the world) as motorized travel allows for all sorts of surprises. On our most recent trip, we stopped for lunch on our last day in a tiny Czech town that was setting up for a carnival in the main square. After lunch, we all tried out the bumper cars, while a number of Czech locals stood by, watching and giggling.