Bike tours, like other kinds of adventure travel and active travel trips, demand slightly different preparation than other types of perhaps more traditional holidays. For example, fitness training in addition to packing and shopping! Fitness training needed for a bike tour should not be taken for granted or be at the bottom of your pre-trip planning list.
How much you will need to focus on training for your multi-day bicycle tour will depend on the type of tour you choose and also your current level of fitness or biking fitness (two different things). If your tour includes pretty casual, quite short, mostly flat riding (perhaps only two to four hours each day, maximum), then basic overall fitness with a little cycling experience should be fine. But if you are going to be on the road pedaling for 20 or 30 miles or more each day, day after day, for a week or even more, perhaps also climbing some hills, you need to develop some cycling-specific strength – not to mention get your body used to being in the saddle for a number of hours each day!
How we trained for a recent bike tour with ExperiencePlus!
We signed onto a more advanced tour along the Danube River for 14 days that promised an average of nearly 80k (50 miles) a day. Granted, there were a couple of days that were 60-72k (37-45 miles), but that means there were also a few that were 90-100k (56-62 miles).
Cycling along a river promises mostly flat riding, and indeed that was the case; however, there were some shorter but significant climbs when we veered from the river for particular sights or to make our way to a hotel (a former castle perhaps, which of course means at the top of a hill!). And then there was that day where the wind was in our face, all afternoon (can we say resistance training?). That made for some interesting pedaling.
Therese is more of a runner, while Michael is more of a cyclist these days. We have both done bike tours in the past (including two with ExperiencePlus! — one in Croatia and one in Greece). What did we do to train for this Danube tour?
Therese’s story: A runner trains for a bicycle tour
Although I have done quite a bit of mountain biking in the past, I am not currently a regular cyclist. I am a distance runner, which does includes hills and trails since we live in the mountains (including ultras like the Western States 100 Mile Run). Still, I knew my butt was not ready for 6-7 hours a day in the saddle, nor were my muscles ready for being in the cyclist’s posture for that long.
I knew I had cardiovascular and muscular strength from my running, but any training is specific, and I needed some bike-specific training.
Along with my regular weight lifting and yoga, I started adding cycling into my schedule about 8-10 weeks prior to our departure. At first, I would just get out on rides from our front door once a week for an hour or so. After a couple of weeks, I upped that to twice a week, sometimes heading out to trails or nearby paths for a ride that was a couple of hours, in addition to a shorter ride or two around the neighborhood. I also continued to run and do weights. Although I wasn’t doing technical trails, as I had a few years earlier, I really enjoyed that feeling of the wind in my face that you get on a bike – and my body enjoyed the break from the impact of running.
In the last month, I was able to get in a few longer rides, albeit casual, since I knew my intent on this trip was not to power it out each day, but stop for photos and enjoy the scenery. Certainly, I wasn’t the fastest on the trip, nor did I plan to be or want to be. Still, with my training, my muscles and endurance cooperated just fine for 14 beautiful fulfilling days cycling from medieval Regensburg, Germany, to historic Budapest, Hungary.
Michael’s story: A cyclist ups his outdoor mileage
I have always loved cycling. Been in my blood since I jumped on my Schwinn Varsity one weekend and on a whim pedaled 120 miles from Muncie, Indiana, to Brown County when I was just 16 – dad was not too thrilled when I called for a pickup. With a friend, I also penned in the 1980s what was at the time one of the top mountain biking guidebooks to the San Francisco Bay Area. But in recent years, my biking moved more indoors and less exploratory – pedaling for fitness really. Sure, I was averaging 45 minutes to an hour “in the “saddle while watching ESPN or the History Channel, but it was no replacement for the real thing, and I knew it.
So, the Danube adventure provided the perfect opportunity for me to return to my roots with a new bike purchase and head outdoors. I started small at first, upping my time and intensity in the saddle indoors, and heading outside for a longish ride on the weekends – longish meaning 25 miles or so. My goal was to become more comfortable with handling a bike, pedaling up real hills, and sitting in a bike saddle for more than an hour at a time.
In the month prior to our Danube trip, I was heading out several times a week on my bike with my long ride topping out at 40 miles – plenty far to ensure I was comfortable with my fitness level and handling my bike. Best of all, my biking smile returned. Nothing like being on a real bike again to do just that!
The end result? I was completely comfortable with any distance, speed and incline on our trip, and able to pedal comfortably with the fastest in our group, when I wanted to, while also enjoying pedaling at a more relaxed pace to enjoy the scenery slipping by.
Our tips on training for your multi-day bike tour
Every bike company offers suggestions and even bike touring training programs. In fact, ExperiencePlus! offers a range of quite detailed training plans for different goals and tour levels. Use these suggested training schedules to plan your training. But do not obsess if you cannot precisely follow any training plan. Your goal is of course to be able to comfortably ride 25 or 30 miles a day – more for higher-level bike tours.
If you have not been active in some way or this is your first bike tour: Pick a less challenging tour so you can be sure to enjoy yourself. Better to err on the less-is-more side and go home wanting to do another tour. Then, get yourself on a bike and start training for your multi-day bike adventure.
If you are not regularly active: Don’t stress, but do start 2-3 months in advance – more if you can – to build overall fitness with a range of activities. Include easy cycling and then increase the number of weekly rides and their length as your training progresses. And biking indoors only does not suffice. You also need to become comfortable sitting on and handling a bike.
If you are not a regular cyclist and have only casual to moderate fitness: Start doing some cycling at least eight weeks in advance and as many as 12 weeks if your schedule permits. Fill out your week by mixing up outdoor rides with other activities like walking, jogging, yoga or gym workouts.
If you have a higher level of fitness from other activities: Focus on getting your body, mind and muscles used to being in a saddle. Do not stop other cardiovascular workouts since they will help too.
If you are a regular cyclist: Well, do what you do anyway! However, if the tour is going to be hilly and you are used to riding flat terrain, do add in some regular hill climbing. If you do not have hills where you live, ride a little longer, increase the resistance on the bike on the flats, or head indoors periodically and use higher resistance on the bike trainer to help simulate hills.
Our last piece of advice: You are taking a bike tour to some exotic or fun location to, yes, have fun and see new things. Do not get so wrapped up in getting from Point A to Point B that you miss all the great stuff along the way! If you see something interesting, by all means, stop! Really, you are making memories not just logging miles.