Wheel a Deal
The perfect bike tour is about more than looking good in spandex shorts. An outfitter must meet your needs: be it five-star dining and luxury digs or three hots and a cot. "Don’t rely on the catalog; pick up the phone and call. Get specifics on distance, terrain, demographics, and support service," advises Cari Noga, author of Road Biking Michigan (Falcon, 2004). That said, these four outfitters guarantee your main worry is road rash.
REI Adventures From the same knowledgeable folks who bring you tents and backpacks comes stress-free bicycling in places such as Prague, Patagonia, and Puglia. For the time- or money-strapped, REI also offers shorter, four-day rides in the United States. Want things your way? Like most operators, REI can customize a private departure for your own group of pedal pushers ($765 to $2,899; 800-622-2236).
Bike Riders Middle-of-the-road Bike Riders takes an intimate, upscale approach to cycling across Europe, Ireland, and North America. One nifty offering: Guest Chef Adventures, which puts top toques in the saddle and blends a typical tour with cooking lessons, vineyard stops, gourmet tastings, and fine dining ($1,980 to $3,980; 800-473-7040).
Experience Plus! Expect family-style dining and first-rate hotels, as well as the only routes marked with chalk-dust arrows so there’s no scrambling to decipher maps. New ExpeditionPlus! tours venture into uncharted territory, such as an upcoming St. Petersburg-to-Istanbul tour ($1,830 to $4,500; 800-685-4565).
Butterfield & Robinson If Rolls-Royce produced bicycles, B&R would use them. Instead, riders choose between custom-made Pinarello racing bikes or Rocky Mountain hybrids on luxe adventures to Vietnam, Japan, Sweden, South America, and beyond ($4,195 to $16,000; 800-678-1147).
Get in Shape
If your brain is happily visualizing scenic country vistas but your muscles are already screaming in protest at the thought of pedaling for four to six days, you’d best shape up before taking a tour. Joe Friel, author of Cycling Past 50 (Human Kinetics Publishers, 1998) and co-owner of Ultrafit, a training program for cyclists, suggests the following routine:
Train for at least 12 weeks in advance.
Ride at least three times a week.
Ride on hilly routes once or twice each week—it will make you a stronger rider.
Alternate longer and shorter riding days up to six weeks before the tour starts.
With six weeks to go:
Ride at least four times a week. Aim for five times a week in your last three weeks of training.
On weekends take long rides starting on a Friday, and lengthen one of these weekend rides each week. Weekday rides should be no more than half the length of your weekend rides.
Try to increase the longest ride each week—aim for at least three hours.
On every third week of training, take five consecutive days for rest and recovery.
Finally, take five days off for rest and recovery before your tour starts.