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Insider’s Guide to Bike Trips

by | March 9, 2017
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Silk Road, China, biking

The Silk Road, China. Photo courtesy: Butterfield & Robinson.

Where to Bike

Best place for biking
Burgundy, France. Old World wine regions offer some of the best recreational cycling on the planet; vines tend to thrive in scenic and hilly (but not mountainous) countryside; wine towns tend to be small, non-industrial (no heavy truck traffic) and cultured; and where there is good wine, it’s generally a safe bet that you’ll find good food. Burgundy is the most perfect little place on earth to journey by bike: Ridiculously beautiful villages are 10 kilometers (about six miles) apart, and there are paved bike lanes through some of the world’s best vineyards.

Worst place for biking
Shanghai: The pollution is bad, and the traffic is insane.

Best country to bike from end to end
Many countries have to be split into smaller regions to be seen by bike; however, you can get a good sense of the whole of Vietnam, from north to south, in the space of 10 days. A typical itinerary involves riding loop routes from Saigon, Nha Trang, and Hanoi, and biking from Hoi An to Hue. Travelers hop short flights between the other cities, while their bikes and luggage are driven by van for seamless transitions.

Vietnam, biking

Biking in Vietnam. Photo courtesy: Butterfield & Robinson.

Best bang for your buck
The Puglia region of Italy: You can get a great dinner and a bottle of wine for 50 euro; in Tuscany, that same meal would cost you 250 euro. Portugal: It’s another beautiful old part of Europe that has been largely forgotten by the current trends of travel, and so a hotel room that would cost 550 euro in Paris costs 125 euro there. Vietnam: You can have a delicious lunch of street food for just $3.

Best bike trip for families
Ireland: With the castles, cliffs, green pastures, falconries, and the playfulness of the culture, it feels like you’ve stepped into a Harry Potter book. Around Galway, there’s a huge fringe art scene—clown school, trapeze school, and the like—that I often incorporate into family trips. (While the parents do a long ride in the morning, the kids can enjoy a different activity, then everyone meets for lunch and a mellow afternoon ride.) Music and dancing, which Ireland also does well, are other great ways to communicate a sense of place to younger kids.

France’s Loire Valley: Here you find lush vineyards, primeval forests, storybook towns, and legendary chateaux strung like pearls across the countryside. The kids can go canoeing or learn swordsmanship, leaving mom and dad time for biking and wine tasting.

Best bike trip for solo travelers
Having spent years as a single traveler myself, I’ve always found Southeast Asia to be particularly welcoming. I think it has to do with the Buddhist culture, which is so open to, and supportive of, solo pilgrims. When you stop somewhere, within 30 seconds someone will ask you where you are from and where you are going.

Best bike trip for foodies
France’s Burgundy and Italy’s Piedmont are both regions with great wine, as well as slow-food traditions that have grown out of necessity—poor farmers making the most of every scrap available to them. Japan is another fabulous bike destination for foodies: You can spend a week riding from ryokan to ryokan on the Noto Peninsula, famous for its expertise in pickling.

Best bike trip for adrenaline junkies
The Tour de France. Most people do not realize that each morning of the Tour De France, before the pros come through, the roads are open for the public to bike. I choose the prime section of each stage for my clients to ride, then find the perfect spot, away from the masses, to watch the Tour come through while enjoying a champagne and caviar lunch. Down on the course itself, there is always a fun Mardi Gras-like atmosphere.


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Bragging rights

Because we have long-term relationships with many Tour de France sponsors, I can get clients into the private V.I.P. section at the end of each stage, where the pros hang out. It’s also impressive to be up close to their ultra-high-end bikes.

Places best seen by bike

The Forbidden City in Beijing. Most tourists have to wait in long lines at the southern gate to enter, which can be unbearable in the heat of the summer months. But there is a road through the city that only Beijingers know about; here you can approach by bike and avoid the crowds. Tiananmen Square also has a huge bike lane that is used only by locals and vendors, and you can ride it all the way to the Temple of Heaven Park.

Petra, Jordan. There is a public paved road that takes you to the back entrance of this UNESCO World Heritage site, and which is normally used only to bring in supplies to the vendors and lunch spots inside Petra. You’ll feel like an insider, biking the 25 miles from Shobak Castle down to the ruins; the road continues all the way down to Wadi Rum.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. You can bike along the flat ring road that surrounds this vast complex, stopping along the way at temples and to climb on top of the old city wall. (You don’t have to worry about fumes, as these routes are off the main road that the buses and tuk tuks ply.) Travelers are always impressed when their guide surreptitiously pulls out a hand-pumped espresso machine.

Most overrated bike routes

Some of the most photogenic places on earth are terrible for biking—because they have only one main road, which is heavily trafficked. This is true in the Canadian Rockies, the west coast of New Zealand, and anywhere on the French or Italian Riviera.

Biggest Rookie Mistake

Underestimating the hilliness of Tuscany. If you’re dead-set on exploring these hill towns by bike, we can harness an electric motor to your ride, to give you just the amount of assistance that you need. (For that matter, on a private trip, we can arrange for you to have an e-bike anywhere in the world.)

Worst Bike Tour Rip-Off

Bike quality. The pictures on a website might look nice because the bikes have a fresh coat of paint, but if the gears don’t work, riding can be a nightmare. Ask the operator how often their bikes are tuned, and how the mechanics are trained. In Europe, for example, each of Butterfield & Robinson’s bikes is tuned after every trip.


When to book

This varies by region, but seven to ten months prior to the trip usually means that you can reserve the best rooms and top guides.


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