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Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 1/5
Section - 4.6 Touring Europe Guide

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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Date:    Mon, 5 May 1997 22:30:56 -0700


This guide has been written in an effort to help prospective cyclists get the
maximum out of their European cycling experience.  It based on knowledge gleane
from my many European tours and those of others, most notably, Chris Wiscavage
who never gave me an incorrect piece of advice.


It is important to set some sort of goal for your trip.  This can be as simple
as "I just want to have fun!" or, "I gotta get up the north side of the
Stelvio" .  For instance, in 1988 my goal was to see as much of the European
Alps as possible, particularly those passes that have played roles in major
European professional cycling races (Tour de France thing, Giro de Italia,
Tour de Suisse) as could be had in about three weeks US to US.

One thing that will be noticeably different to the American cyclist is the
respect that European drivers have for cyclists.  Cyclists get much more
respect in Europe then they do in America.


There are two basic ways you can tour Europe.  The first is to sign up with an
organized tour group.  The tour package usually includes lodging, meals, guide
service and transport of gear to and from each day's destination.  The other
basic option is to self plan a tour where you, or your small group of friends,
are responsible for lodging, meals, route selection and hauling your gear from
place to place.

The big advantage of guided touring is that you can benefit from the experience
of your touring company and its guides.  These people usually have a familiarit
with the area you will be visiting and they can make arrangements for decent
lodging, meals and cycling routes.  If you are new to traveling in Europe and/o
you cannot speak the language of the countries which you will be visiting, then
a guided tour may help ease the tension of being a stranger in a strange land.

One disadvantage to guided touring is that you are part of a heterogeneous grou
of people who may differ widely in cycling ability.  Also, there is no guarante
that everybody will get along and become friends.  Some may see the chance to
meet new people as a positive side to guided touring.

Another disadvantage to guided touring is that in most cases, hotel reservation
have been made in advance which means two things.  First, your daily route is
not particularly flexible since when you leave town A, you must be in town B
that evening.  Secondly, if the weather is bad, you usually do not have the
flexibility to layover and let the weather clear.  You either have to ride in
bad weather, which is a real drag in the high mountains, or take the support
vehicle or other forms of transportation to the night's destination.

Self-guided touring has the advantages that you can choose your companions,
you can choose the dates you want to travel and if you haven't made hotel
reservations in advance, you can vary your itinerary to meet your prevailing
attitudes and weather conditions.

The downside to self-guided touring is that you are basically on your own.
You make all the decisions.  If you are somewhat familiar with the area or
have down some research, you are more likely to make good choices of cycling
routes and places to stay.  However, every once and a while you may pick
an unfriendly town or a horribly busy road, both of which looked good on a map
or came recommended in a book.  Also, if you experience any equipment failure
you will be responsible for either making the repairs or finding someone who
can do them.  Most guided tours bring a mechanic and enough parts to be able
to handle most equipment problems.

This may seem counterintuitive, but I think the more ambitious the tour, the
better off you are doing it in a self-guided fashion.  If you are going to be
riding lots of miles with lots of climbing you want to know who you are going
with and also have the flexibility to be able to modify your route if something

Because I prefer self-guided touring, this guide is written with that type of
touring in mind.  However, I feel it contains enough valuable information for
those taking a guided tour to make it worthwhile reading for all potential



When planning which flight to take, there are a few guidelines that may be
helpful.  I think the key here is that you want to go through customs and
change planes as close to your final destination as possible.  If you miss
a connection because of flight delays or custom delays, you have a better
chance of catching a flight out the same day.  Reasonable places to clear
customs are Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Washington DC and Newark.
New York's JFK is hit-or-miss.  I have had both very good luck and very bad
luck at JFK.

Also, allow 2-3 hours for making your international connections.  Most
airports have separate terminals for international and continental flights.
There may be some distance to be covered to make plane changes which may
result in either you or your baggage not making the flight if you cut the
connection time too closely.

I have had both good luck and bad luck with just about every major airline, so 
think all carriers are basically OK.  One thing to note is that Delta Airlines
and United Airlines are smoke-free on every international flight.  Also,
Alitalia offers good fares to Italy but be forewarned that the workers for this
airline like to go on strike at very short notice.

Most airlines have beefed up their security on International flights, they now
verify that all passengers who checked luggage are on the flight.  This means
that every time you change planes you have security checks and potential delays
Suffice it to say, the fewer plane changes the better.

Air fares differ between high and low seasons, arrival and departure
locations, date of purchase(I am a terrible procrastinator), etc..  In 1986
I flew Denver- > Frankfurt->Denver during low season for $620.  In 1988 I
flew Denver->Geneva-> Denver during high season for $1050.  In 1990 I flew
San Francisco->Barcelona then Geneva-> San Francisco on the return during
high season for $1200.  High season runs from about June 1 to September 30. 

An interesting note, one year I was flying to a town near Pisa, Italy.  The
far e from San Francisco to Rome was $1000.  If I added the Rome to Pisa
connection the fair only increased to $1007.  The extra $7 charge was well
worth getting closer to my final destination as the alternative was to take
a 4 hour train ride.  So, check when booking fares to see if you can get
closer to your final destination for just a little extra money. 

Chris Wiscavage advised against flying by charter.  He said that charters are
notorious for being overcrowded and if they run out of baggage space on the
plane, then the bikes are one of the first items to be left behind.  On one of
his trips flying charter, he had to wait 5 days for his bike to arrive.
Obviously, the conditions vary between charter companies, if you have one that
you trust and the price is right, go for it!

On most international flights, if you check your bike as one of your 2 pieces
of luggage you will save the $50 (or whatever) charge(each way).  Current
international baggage requirements (as of 6/94) are: 1st bag - may not exceed
62 linear inches and 70lbs.; 2nd bag - may not exceed 55 linear inches and
70lbs.  I have checked two bikes as my two pieces of luggage and not been
charged for an overage.

Flight delays seem more and more common. I have found that if your flight is
delayed going to Europe, unless there is some catostrophic problem that
cannot be fixed, it is best to stay with your original flight and wait out the
delay.  If you try routing yourself through another airline or reaching your
destination by hopping through many cities, you may have a much bigger problem,
especially with your luggage catching up to you.  Be patient, sitting out
delays seems to be the best alternative.  This is a good reason to avoid
booking hotels in advance.  You can almost always get a room somewhere, but
trying to stick to a regimented schedule may cause for major stress.


This is a commonly asked question.  There are a number of pros and cons to both
renting a bike in Europe and bringing your own bike.  Also, there are several
factors that can influence your decision.  Note that on international flights,
your bike can be checked as one piece of luggage, so there really is no added
expense to bringing you own bike on the plane.

First off, if you are planning an ambitious trip with lots of miles and/or
lots of climbing, you will definitely feel better riding your own bike
rather than renting.  Add to that the fact that, these days, most rental
bikes are are mountain bikes.  This may be an advantage if you are planning
lots of climbing since the gearing tends to be lower, but a mountain bike
is not as nimble as a road bike and can be significantly heavier than a
road bike.  Of course, if you r primary bike at home is a mountain bike,
these differences may be less noticeable than if your primary bike is a
road bike. 

Secondly, if you are combining your cycling vacation with large portions of
non-cycling segments at the beginning or end of the trip, it may be better
to not worry about lugging a bike halfway across Europe, especially if you
are going to use trains as your primary mode of travel (see "Taking Your
Bike on th e Train" in a later section).  Another option in this case, is
to ship your bikes , by train, to the destination where you will need them
if your cycling comes at the end of the trip or to your departure
destination if your cycling comes at the beginning of the trip. 

Personally, I prefer to bring my own bike.  I know the condition of all the
components and since everything should be in good working order, I can be
assured that barring any catastrophe, my bike will not let me down.  Also, it
just feels a lot better and hence more enjoyable to be astride my trusty steed.


There are many ways and specialized containers to help facilitate packing a
bike.  I have flown frequently with my bike for the last 10 years and have
never had any damage when my biked was packed correctly.

Get a cardboard bike box from your local friendly bike shop.  Mountain bike
boxes are best because they are a bit wider and easier to pack, but as mountain
bike frames get smaller, road bike sized mountain bike boxes are getting harder
and harder to find.

Here is how I do it:

1) Use 3/4" foam pipe insulation to protect the 3 main tubes (top, down and
seat) and tape in place.  Make sure to get the insulation with an inside
diameter that most closely matches the diameter of your frame tubes.

2) Take the seat, pedals, and front wheel off the bike.

3) Use a bit of string to attach the LEFT(non-chainwheel) crankarm to the LEFT

4) Remove the rear derailleur from its hanger and just let it hang.

5) Remove the handlebars and stem from the frame(this may necessitate removing
the cyclocomputer mount, and the front brake cable from the brake - a good
reason for soldering the ends of your cables!) and hang on the top tube.

6) Place a spacer in the front fork (see below).

7) wrap downtube shifters and brake levers with thin foam to minimize
metal-to-metal contact.

8) Put the seat, pedals and other small parts in a bag and place the bag in the
front of the bike box.

9) Slide the frame in such that the forks are just ahead of the bag.

10) Spread the box a bit and slide in the front wheel on the LEFT side(non
chainwheel) of the bike with the front axle about 8-12" in front of the
seat tube.  The end of the handlebars should fit between the spokes of the

11) take the pump off the bike and securely tape it to one corner of the box.

12) use foam squares(I have about 20 1' X 1.5' X 2" pieces procured from
shipping crates at work) to pad the bike from any potential metal to metal
contact. Be sure to put padding on top of the bike, as you never know which
way the bike box will end up.

13)  Close the box and tape with strapping tape.  Check to make sure the bike
cannot move around inside the box, there should be sufficient padding to keep
any shifting from occurring.

You can make a very inexpensive, yet very effective spacer to prevent damage
to the front fork from an old front axle.  Leave the cones and lock nuts in
place and use the quick release skewer taken off your front wheel to secure
the spacer in the fork.

Bring a small amount of grease (35mm film cannisters work great for this)
to aid in re-assembly and throw in some rags or paper towels for wiping
off the excess grease.

Also, note that if your bike has Campagnolo Ergo levers, it is much easier
to remove your stem and handlebars if you leave a little extra cable during
installation.  Another alternative is to loosen the brake and shifter cables,
but this is a last resort as it requires that you re-adjust the shifter cable
tension when you re-assemble the bike, which is a bit of a hassle if you have
index shifting.

One nice thing about bike boxes is that you can pack a lot of your extra gear
(and presents) inside the box.  I have traveled to Europe using just the bike
box as my only piece of luggage!

I also bring a roll of the 2" wide clear packing tape.  This stuff can be used
to reinforce or repair any damage to the bike box that might have occurred in

One note of caution here.  I would try and obtain a bike box that closely fits
the size of you bike(i.e. if you have a 58cm frame get a box for a 58cm frame
bike).  You want to minimize movement in the box and the box should be packed
tight enough so that you can stand it on end or even possibly upside down.  I
would not recommend getting a box that is too big and trying to cut it down to
size.  I tried this one year and suffered minor damage to the bicycle because
when I cut down the top of the box, I could not get it to fold over very well
and lost some of the structural integrity of the sides of the box.  A heavy ite
was placed on top of my box and the sides of the box could not support it.

Different bike manufacturers use different strengths of cardboard with their
boxes.  And the same manufacturer can change the strengths of their boxes from
year to year.  Suffice it to say, the stiffer the better.

I have had poor results using the soft sided bags (both padded and unpadded
versions) and I would not recommend them.  I think the foam padding gives a
false sense of security to the consumer, but more distressingly to the baggage
personnel who may attempt to place heavy items on top of the bag.  

Another method is to use minimal packing and minimal padding to force the
airlines to handle your bike with care.  This method entails removing the
wheels, crankarms and rear derailleur.  Turn the handlebars and lash the
wheels to the sides of the bike frame.  Enclose the whole package in a
sturdy plastic bag.  I have never used this method, it works for some
but necessitates some tools like a crank extractor and crank bolt wrench.

Hard plastic cases are becoming popular.  However, I am not particularly
fond of them.  Besides being expensive, their weight empty(i.e. no bike) is
between 25 and 30 lbs.  Ouch!  In comparison, an empty cardboard bike box
weighs only about 5 lbs.  The extra 20-25 lbs. can be a real factor if you
have to carry your baggage any substantial distance.

In any event, if you would like to begin and end your trip from the same
airport, you can leave the bike box in "checked" or "left" luggage and pay
a small daily fee for storage.  One nifty trick if you have multiple bike
boxes is to tape them together and check them as a single box.  Hotels near
an airport may also allow you to store your bike box, usually for a small fee.


In general, the availability of bike parts varies greatly from bike shop to
bike shop.  The larger European cities contain well stocked shops, however the
smaller towns(as you find in the mountains) are not as well stocked and parts
may be hard to find.  This goes for service as well.  It is a good idea to come
prepared to be able to deal with about anything, or have a bike that is low
maintenance (sealed components).

Here is my pre-tour bike preparation:

	1) new chain
	2) new tires and tubes
	3) 4 new cables(2 - brake, 2 - derailleur, esp. if STI)
	4) repack or replace bottom bracket
	5) repack or replace headset
	6) repack hubs
	7) clean derailleurs
	8) check brake pads for wear
	9) true wheels
	10) oil/grease freewheel/freehub
	11) wash bike thoroughly(check frame for any cracks!)

I would recommend soldering the ends of your brake and derailleur cables.  This
keeps the cables from fraying and you can take them in and out of their fitting
and housing when packing and unpacking the bike or doing maintenance and you
don't have to worry about losing those silly little aluminum end caps!


This portion deals with the equipment that I take.  Note that my lists reflect
that I am doing lightweight "credit card" touring where I sleep in hotels at
night and eat food at restaurants.  Some of this equipment may also be
appropriate for fully loaded touring, but that is not discussed here.

Also, since the riding clothes that you will be wearing during the day will mos
likely get washed every night, an important consideration is that they be made
of a quick drying material.

		Cycling Footwear

When it comes to cycling footware, I think the best option seems to be one of
the walkable clip-in shoe systems such as the Shimano SPD.  Having a shoe that
you can walk in has two big benefits.  First off, if you have never toured, you
will be surprised at the amount of off-the-bike walking that is done during the
course of the day in order to buy food, take photographs and check out historic
sights.  Secondly, having to carry a pair of walking shoes means extra bulk and

I would not recommend Look cleats for touring.  I do a lot of walking which is
unavoidable.  It has been my experience that even a little bit of wear on the
Look cleat can make it behave differently in the pedal.  While Look cleat cover
are available to protect the cleat during walking, during a normal day on the
road you do so much on and off the bike activity that it seemed like too much
bother to take the covers on and off and on and off, etc.

		Baggage Systems

There are many options to holding gear on the bike, I will describe two that I
have used.

The first method of carrying gear uses the Quix brand Max Contour Trunk rack an
bag in one.  A small clamp slips onto the seatpost and the bag clicks into the
clamp.  One restriction is that the seatpost must be round (i.e. non-aero) to
hold the clamp.  Another restriction is that the bag must ride high enough to
clear the rear wheel by 2-3" as the bag may bounce a bit up and down.  The Quix
bag is incredibly stable, it is easy to attach and detach and it does not
require a rack(just a small seat post clamp).  It is a very nice system for
ultra-light touring.

The Quix system is ideal for carrying about 550 cu. in. of gear, however severa
easy modifications to the bag should be made.  First, I removed all the foam
insulation from the bag and replaced the two side pieces with .8mm ABS plastic
pieces cut to the same dimensions as the foam pieces they replaced(round off th
edges to prevent abnormal wear).  Adding the side stays gives the bag some
integrity and allows it to stand up making it easier to pack.  I purchased a
small tool bag shaped like a pack of cigarettes and added some velcro tabs whic
allowed it to be attached in front of the Quix bag, giving about an additional
50 cu. in. and bringing the total carrying capacity up to about 550 cu. in.
This is enough space for a multi-week tour, see my equipment list below for

One nice advantage of the Quix bag over the standard rear rack mounting systems
is that for rain protection you can slide a waterproof sack completely over the

For occasions where I needed to carry over 550 cu. in. of gear, I have used a
Blackburn SX-1 rack and rear trunk bag.  I have a racing frame, so I had to use
the "eyelet mounts" which worked fine.  I replaced the outer washer(black
neoprene) with a wider one, (get them at a plumbing supply store) and used a
piece of bicycle innertube as padding between the frame and the aluminum piece,
which worked well.  I had to file off the protruding tongs on the bottom of the
rack so it would not contact my seatstays; I left enough of the tong so that a
bungee cord could still be hooked onto it.

The bag I use with the Blackburn rack is a Cannondale rear trunk bag.  This is
one of the multitude of shoe box shaped bags that sits on top of the rack.
Unfortunately, most of these bags are foam lined(for 6-packs) and they do not
have the 800 cu in. minimum capacity that was necessary for my gear.  I removed
the plastic liner and sewed nylon sleeves into the two sides(not front or back
side)of the bag.  I made two 5"x12"rectangular pieces of 1/32" plexiglass (or
.8mm ABS plastic) that fit into the sleeves to hold the bag up and give it some
shape.  I also sewed some lash points on top of the bag in case of overflow.

The Cannondale bag listed at 800 cu in., it had one big compartment, two side
pockets, a rear pocket(with reflector) and a top pocket.  All my medical stuff
fit inside the rear pocket, eliminating the need for a toilet kit/stuff sack.
I put my long sleeve shirt, hat, gloves, leg warmers and jacket in the side
pockets so they were easily accessible.  The camera, map(s) of the day, money,
road food go in the top pocket.  I hit upon a great way to pack the tennis shoe
which takes up minimal space.  Rather than crunch them together and lose the
dead air in between, pack them to each side and stuff clothes in between.

A friend has used a rack top bag made by Lone Peak of Salt Lake City.  It was
a 1200 cu in. top loading bag and worked well.

I bought a plastic "rack top" that snaps onto the top of the Blackburn rack to
provide a flat surface for the pack and also, some rain protection.  I made a
rain cover which fit over the entire bag, since panniers are notorious for

Another option for holding a rack top bag is the new rigid, aluminum racks whic
attach to the seatpost.  Headlands is one popular brand.  These racks weigh in
at about 1 lb. and offer an interesting alternative to a full rack.  They
require an aforementioned rack top bag and a non-aero seatpost and may provide
a good alternative to the Quix system if more than 550 cu in. of gear is

		Equipment List

My normal equipment list(7-8lbs. total weight) is the following (assume you
are starting with a completely naked cyclist).  The current miracle fabrics
are Thermax, Coolmax and Capilene.  Polypropylene is no longer recommended.

1 pr. cycling shorts(with quick drying synthetic chamois)
1 short sleeve cycling jerseys (quick drying synthetic)
2 pr cycling socks 
1 pr cycling shoes(SPD type)
1 helmet and/or cotton cycling cap(washable)
1 pr leg warmers(Pearl Izumi are the best!)
1 medium weight Thermax long sleeve top(converts SS jersey to long sleeve)
1 waterproof jacket (Gore-Tex, etc.)
2 pr gloves 1-cycling, 1-warm(Patagonia Capilene)
1 pr sunglasses
1 pr lightweight pants(North Face North Shore)
1 polo shirt or t-shirt (Patagonia Capilene)
1 pr walking shorts(Patagonia Baggie Lites are light and not bulky)
1 pr undershorts(or Speedo swimsuit, doubles for jacuzzis and swimming)
1 handkerchief/bandana(for cleaning glasses and neck protection from the sun)
1 rain cover for pack(panniers are notorious for leaking)
2 spare tubes(new)
1 patch kit with 8 patches and new glue + several tire "boots"
1 tool kit(spoke wrench, tire irons, chain lube, screw driver, chain tool,
	3-4-5-6mm allen wrenches, Swiss Army "Classic" knife)
2 water bottles(20 oz. or 27oz. depending on your preference)
Maps(see below for brand recommendations)
Toilet kit(aspirin, cortisone cream(saddle sores), neosporin, toothpaste,
	toothbrush, shampoo, razor, soap, sunblock, comb, fingernail clippers)
Camera + film(see below for recommendations on type to purchase)
Small "hotel" type sewing kit for emergency repairs
1 extra derailleur cable (a must for those with STI)
1 extra brake cable
Notepad and pen
Cash(Traveler's Checks)
Credit cards(Visa or Mastercard, not Amex)
ATM Card
Driver's License (and extension if expired)
Health Insurance Card
Earplugs(for sleeping at night)
Watch with alarm
Wallet (leave the stuff you don't need at home)

Some optional items may include (if you have the space!):

second pair of cycling shorts
second short sleeve cycling jersey
1 foldable clincher(can be shared with another rider)
1 pr Tennis Shoes(get something with good support for days off)
Bike cable and lock(5/16" X 5' coated Flexweave(TM) cable)
1 pr pajamas
1 Freewheel puller + spokes - if you have a habit of breaking spokes
10-15' of thin cord to use as a clothesline
Electronic language translator (see below)

		Miscellaneous notes

Having a cyclometer can help to keep from getting lost.  A cyclometer that can
be switched to kilometers (standard unit of distance in Europe) is a big plus.
Also, I like having an altimeter function as well.  On the big passes it really
helps me to know how much climbing I have done and how much I have left before
the top.

The synthetic material used in Federal Express envelopes, called Tyvek, makes
great thin, lightweight tire boots.  Cut them to fit the size of your patch kit

"Fiber Fix" makes an inexpensive kit for use in an emergency to replace a broke

If you are going to begin and end your trip from the same destination, you can
bring extra clothes for the flight over and the flight back which can be stored
in your bike box while you are on your tour.

The "going light" method does not leave much room in your bike bag for momentos
or gifts.  However, if you find something you really like, it is quite easy and
not expensive to mail the item back home.  Most post offices sell an assortment
of boxes so finding the correct size is easy.  Also, if the item is valuable,
I would suggest sending it air mail.  For smaller, more valuable items like
film I put everything in one or two well-sealed plastic bags before placing it
in the box.  That way, if the box somehow springs a small leak, you won't lose
that one roll of film wth the killer photos.


I would recommend a good set of brakes, some of the descents are long, steep
and quite tricky with off camber and decreasing radius turns, usually
accompanied by lack of guard rail.  Make sure your brakes are working well!


For gearing a 39x26 or 39x28 seem to be a reasonable low gear for the sustained
climbing in the Alps.  Some people prefer triple front chainrings.  Your mileag
may vary.


This section deals with the basic trip details, road conditions, weather, food,
hotels, changing money.


The yellow Michelin regional maps are the best.  There is so much detail, it
is almost impossible to get lost.  Having the elevation of the towns helps
plan out the climbs and having the different types of roads(see below) marked
out helps me stay off the more heavily traveled arteries.  The Michelins are
only available for France, Switzerland and, parts of Italy.  Also, note that
these maps now bear a date(on the back at the bottom) as to when they were last
updated, get the latest version.  The yellow maps are in 1cm:2km (1/200000)

Michelin is now making green regional maps that are 1cm:1km (1/100000) scale
and are much more detailed than the standard yellow maps.  They are also more
expensive and larger which makes them great for pre-planning a route before you
leave home but maybe a bit too bulky for taking with you on your trip.  These
maps are also date labeled and have numbers in the 100-200 range.

For Italy, I would recommend the Touring Club Italiano (TCI) maps, they are
almost as good as the Michelins and come in 1cm:2km (1/200000) scale.

Also recommended are the Institut Geographique National(IGN) maps, which are
marked with contour lines.  There are three flavors green is 1cm:1km, red is
1cm:2.5km, and blue is somewhat finer than the green (blue is usually used by


First, there are different classes of roads, delineated by the color of the
signs.  For example, in Switzerland, the freeways use green signs (verboten for
bicycles), the blue signs are for primary roads(bikes OK) and the secondary
roads are in white (bikes OK).  Primary roads tend to be a little more direct
than secondary roads, but they have more traffic as well.

The colors for road signs may differ from country to country.  Note that in
France, freeway signs are in blue and primary road signs are in green. 

One important sign to note is that in Europe, a red circle with a bike in the
center means that the road is closed to bicycles.  In the US we are more
familiar with a red circle with a red slash through it meaning the activity in
the sign is prohibited, but in Europe, just the red circle means the activity i
the center is prohibited.

Many tunnels in Europe do not have lighting, and some are very long.  For the
most part the road surfaces inside are OK, but it's best to play it safe and
slow way down, don't forget to pop up the sunglasses.

The mountain roads are generally good, but deteriorate as you go higher.  Also,
the width of the roads can change dramatically from 2 lanes to 1 lane, etc.,
tunnels spring up out of nowhere, and the turns are not marked.  However you
can avoid just about anything by being careful.

The roads in Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein are the best.  France, Ital
and Spain are very good as well.

		Guides to Paved Climbs

Written guides to paved climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees exist.  There are four
separate guides to the mountainous regions in France that describe the paved
mountain passes which may be of use to anyone planning a trip.  The guides are
written in French, but each pass has a sort of topographic layout of the actual
climb, giving the percent grade for each kilometer, which is very useful.

The four guides are(denoted by the subtitle "ALTIGRAPH Edition"):

1) Atlas des Cols des Alpes - North(everything north of the Col du Galibier)

2) Atlas des Cols des Alpes - South(everything south of the Col du Galibier)

3) Atlas des Cols des Pyrenees

4) Atlas des Cols du Massif Central

They cost about 110ff($20 US) each (they take credit cards!) and are
available from:

	Au Vieux Campeur
	14 Rue des Ecoles
	75005 Paris France
	Telephone # +33- (magasins/shops, librairie/book shop)
	Fax : +33- & +33-


Choosing the correct port of entry can depend on a number of factors.  If you
have lots of time and resources, but not much money, you might try to fly into
an airport that has great fares, but is relatively far from your starting point
Frankfurt is a good example, with lots of reasonable fares from the US and with
rail service right out of the airport to many of the starting points for popula

If you have a time constraint, you may want to try and get as close as possible
to your starting point.  Another option is to get a one-way rental car so that
you can drive directly from the airport to your starting point.  Be warned that
with gasoline prices in Europe between $4 and $5/gallon and with freeways in
France and Italy charging tolls to use their roads, the oveall cost of renting
a car can be much greater than the actual car rental charge.

Below is a list of points of entry to the various mountainous regions of Europe

1) Geneva - good for the Alps and the Jura mountains.  There is a train station
in the airport to get you out of town fast.

2) Milan - good for the Italian and Swiss Alps.  You can leave luggage in the
airport.  The airport is a fair ways northeast of the city, there is bus servic
to the train station downtown.

3) Nice - very nice starting point for the Maritime Alps and Provence.  You can
ride your bike right out of the airport.

4) Barcelona - about 100 miles south of the eastern end of the Pyrenees.

5) Paris - you can take a TGV (bullet train) south to the Pyrenees or east to
the Alps.

6) Zurich - close to the Swiss Alps.


First off, it should be noted that Europeans are embracing credit cards.  One
big advantage to using credit cards to pay for everything is that you get a muc
better exchange rate than by changing your US cash (or Traveler's Checks) into
local currency.  In 1996, using credit cards gave about a 7% savings over cash.

ATM cards are also becoming popular.  They offer similar savings as credit card
as long as you are not charged a high fee by your bank for using it.  I have
heard that sometimes the transaction fee can be as high as $5.  Interestingly,
most banks charge about $5 for exchanging money!

If you are in the Alps, you should keep a good supply of the local currency as
banks are not always easy to find(except resort towns).  Hotels will change
money, use this as a last resort as the exchange rate is not always good.

I have found that most banks have the same exchange rate, so shopping around is
seems to be a waste of time.  Remember, you can change your current currency as
well as your US stuff when you change countries.  However, if you are in France
and want to change US currency into Italian lire, you will most likely be
charged two transaction fees, one for changing from US to French francs and one
 for changing the French francs to Italian lire.

As a general rule, you cannot change small denomination coins.  If you are
anticipating leaving a country be sure to use up all your small change or be
prepared to just give it away at the border.


Jet lag is a problem, especially if you are coming from the West Coast which
means an 8-9 hour time difference.  It is advised that you try to get on the
local time standard as soon as possible.  If you arrive in Europe in the mornin
try to stay up and sleep when night comes to Europe rather than taking a nap
right away and then lying awake when it is dark outside.


Except in big cities, everything in the towns shut down from 12pm(noon) to
around 3pm.  This means markets, banks, basically everything you need.
Restaurants are open, but a big meal is a no-no.  I found it was better to buy
food at a super market in the morning and just munch a bit about every 2 hours.
Typical road food was fruit(bananas, nectarines, peaches), cookies, candy bars
and bread.

In Spain, everything shuts down from 1pm-4pm and dinner is not usually served
until 8:30 or so.  In Italy and France, everything shuts down from about 12:30
pm to 4pm and dinner is not usually served till 7pm.


The "Office of Tourism" is a good place to start looking for hotels.  The
tourist office can provide a list of hotels graded by stars and may also make
recommendations.  I prefer the 2 and 3 star hotels(out of a possible 5), the
firmness of the bed and noisiness of the street outside were the major factors
influencing my decision.

The average price of 2-3 star hotels for 2 twin beds and a toilet with shower
was $40-$70.  I have found that in France and Italy, 3 star hotels are quite
nice and 2 star hotels are adequate.  In Switzerland 2 star hotels are very

It should also be mentioned that since most hotels do not have air conditioning
you need to do everything possible to get a cool room.  If you need to keep the
windows open, try and get a room away from the street side of the hotel or the
noise will keep you up(believe me, this is important).  Earplugs help somewhat.

A couple of tricks to stiffen up soft beds are to put the mattress on the floor
or you can take a door off of a closet and put it between the springs and the

Many European hotels use down comforters instead of blankets on their beds.  If
you sleep hot, like me, you can remove the comforter cover and use it as a



Most hotels in Europe are now charging ($5 to $7) for their continental
breakfast (le petit dejuneur).  If you are unsure if there is a charge it is
best to ask.  If you don't need a latte to get going in the morning a less
expensive alternative is to buy some pastries at the local bakery the night
before and eat them in your hotel room before departing.  Most hotels are open
for breakfast from 7:30am to 9:00am.


Most bars and restaurants offer simple sandwiches at reasonable prices.  A
cheese sandwich runs about $3, while ham and cheese is around $4.  In Italy,
these simple sandwiches are called paninis.


I'm not a big food gourmet.  For dinner, I stick with the basics.  Spaghetti,
lasagne, pizza, grilled meats, etc..  If you try something exotic and your
stomach gets upset, you won't be able to ride.  If you are looking for good
food, get some recommendations before you leave or be prepared to swig some
Pepto.  As we say in America, "If you can't pronounce it, you might not want
to eat it".


You should come to Europe prepared to get wet.  Yes, it rains there in the

It can be hot at the lower elevations in the summer, if you sleep at higher
altitudes(>1000 meters) you may be able to beat the heat.

Some regions have predictable weather conditions such as the 15-20mph wind that
seems to always blow up the Sion valley from Maritgny towards Brig.

The best month to tour in the Alps is July.  The weather is reasonably settled
and the days are warm.  September is a good second choice, though the weather i
a bit more unsettled and it can turn cold and actually snow.  Also, in
September, it is possible that the hotels at major ski resorts, like Sestriere
and Isola 2000, may be closed as they prepare for the upcoming season.  Check
before heading up that next climb.

I would not recommend going to the Pyrenees Mountains during the month of July
(possibly even August).  Even though there are a lot of 4000' climbs, the passe
are for the most part low altitude compared to the Alps(1500-2000 meters versus
2000-2700 meters) and because of this it is quite hot.  A better time for the
Pyrenees is May, June or September.  Also, I found the Pyrenees to be quite
beautiful but, I really like the ruggedness of the Alps and the roads in the
Pyrenees did not pass by much of this type of scenery(though it does exist via
hiking trails).

August seems to be a bad time for a tour.  All of Europe goes on vacation.  Thi
means that the roads and accommodations are crowded and the air pollution is
also bad.


Because I am on vacation, I am not going over to Europe to suffer on every
climb, so being in shape is of tantamount importance.  Plan your pre-trip
riding depending on the type of trip you are going to do.  I live for
switchbacks so I go to Europe to ride the passes, so I try to do a lot of
climbing on my rides in the US.


I find everybody pretty friendly.  In most countries, the people attempt to
speak English once you attempted a conversion in their native tongue (especiall
the French).  Try to respect the native customs.


I would avoid checking baggage(this includes bikes) on a train unless you
can afford to be separated from it for up to a week after you reach your
destination.  This is because on European trains, the baggage cars are not
necessarily hooked up to the passenger trains which means you can wait for
days for your luggage to arrive(I saw this happen to a Canadian guy in 1990).

I have been told that there are some trains in Italy  that include a special
baggage car the will hold bikes.  You may want to check into this if your
proposed itinerary includes travel by train.  The key here is that you want
to make sure that both you and your bike are on the same train.

On Swiss and German trains there is space at the end of most cars where
you can leave baggage, which is where I put my bike.  In France and Italy,
I suspended the bike above the seats in the two opposing luggage racks(great
trick!).  There is a chance that a conductor may be displeased by the bike
and start making all sorts of gyrations about the bike having to be sent
as baggage.  Just play dumb and as long as you are not taking up too much
space they will usually let you slide.

Unfortunately, in 1992, I came under the wrath of every train conductor in
Europe.  I never got separated from my bike, but I had to pay an extra charge
for having my bike with me on the train($30 US).  However, I would rather be
verbally abused than be separated from my bike!

On interesting thing about bikes on passenger trains, in 1992 I took the
TGV from Paris to Pau and was not hassled about my bike because it was
still in the box and in the back of the car.  You may be able to cut
down on your hassle quotient by keeping you bike in your box until you
really need it.  Just a thought.

Train service is not available in all towns (especially in the mountains).
However, bus service usually is available and you can use the bus to connect
to a train station.  Your bike has to travel in the baggage compartment,
it is a bit risky since the bike may move around a bit with all the luggage
so take care in helping the driver put it in a good location.


1) I have a ritual for taking care of necessary business (most notably
washing my cycling clothes) when I arrive at my day's destination and
get into my hotel room:

  a) take off all my cycling clothes and place them in the sink with soap
  to wash

  b) after 5-10 minutes rinse soap out of cycling clothes and use the fresh
  clean bath towels to ring them as dry a possible.   A quick way to help
  wring out your freshly washed riding clothes is to spread the wet garment
  on a dry towel.  Roll the garment up in the towel and use your knee to press
  the rolled towel.  Unroll the towel and hang the garment to dry.

  c) hang the clothes to dry, if done properly they should be ready for the
  next morning.  Theft proof hangers may present a problem.  One trick is to
  bring some thin clothesline to hold the hangers.

  d) take my shower and use the slightly wet towels to dry(this works fine).

  e) there are some really good, super-concentrated laundry soaps such
  as ultra-strength Wisk which work well for washing clothes and are
  concentrated enough so that a little goes a long way.

2) Be careful when buying film in Europe.  Some of the film prices include
processing charges.  It is best to ask what's what. 

3) I did not find it necessary to take a travel guide(such as the Michelin
Red Guide), but it may be helpful for pre-trip planning.

4) There are a number of pocket calculators that serve as language translators.
I have one that translates between English, French, Spanish, German and
Italian.  It also converts miles to kilometers, degrees farenheit to degrees
centigrade and currency rates(you enter the ratios) and all for about $40!

5) Beware of national holidays.  Once I was out of francs in France during
Bastille Day, not pleasant.

6) Many mountain passes have restaurants on top which is great for getting
a soda or candy bar.  However, be forewarned that a can of Coke can cost
3-4 times as much at a bar than at a supermarket.

7) If you need to make long distance phone calls you can save a significant
amount of money by using a pay phone and your calling card rather than
using the phone in your hotel room.  Most hotels use a computer to estimate
the actual phone charges and these estimates can sometimes be over three
times the actual charges.  The calling card method bills you for only the
actual charges.

8) Phone cards are becoming the norm in Europe.  You can buy them at newstands
and at Bar/Tobacco shops.

9) Some countries may require a separate Visa(like France used to), be sure
to check with your travel agent or the State Department.

10) When buying stamps for postcards, make sure you ask for Air Mail stamps
otherwise it can take up to 3 months for the cards to arrive in the US.
Also, it is much cheaper to mail postcards in France ($0.80 US) than
Switzerland ($1.80 US), so if you are sending lots of cards you can save
quite a lot of money by mailing them in the correct country.

11) If you are shipping and parcels to Europe(or vice versa), allow 8 weeks
for delivery if sent surface, about 2 weeks for air mail.

12) If you have Shimano Hyperglide shifting, I would consider also carrying
a chain tool.  In the past several years, with the popularity of STI,
I have noticed more and more people stopped by the side of the road
with a broken chain.  Some emergency versions of a chain tool, such as
the Ritchey CPR 5 are very light.

13) If you buy bus or train tickets, you should specify up front if you
would like a one-way or round trip ticket.  Some locations assume the
default is one-way, others assume round-trip.

14) Staying hydrated(i.e. drinking water) is really important.  Most towns
have fountains or pipes flowing into water troughs.  The general rule is
that unless there is a sign that says the water is not fit for drinking
("eau non potable", "verboten") then you can drink it.

15) Instead of carrying lots of medicines that you may or may not need
like cold medicines, write down the name and amounts of the ingredients
of your favorite US medicines so that you can compare and buy the same
products if needed.

16) Plastic bags can be your savior in wet and/or cold weather.  Plastic
bags placed on your feet before putting on socks, plastic inside your
leg warmers or on your chest can help cut the cold dramatically.

17) Food labeling is not the same as it is in the US.  For example,
the Nutrasweet label is not found on diet soda, so beware.

18) I take 2-3 energy bars for use from the time my plane touches down
and I have my bike together and have hit the road.  There are a lot of
things to do when you arrive at the airport and before you reach your
first town.  Having an easy source of food makes those hectic moments
much easier.

19) if you are going to leave your bike box at the airport (or hotel)
you can stash things like extra clothes, et. al. to make the trip over
and the return a little more comfortable and hygenic.

20) rather than change your foreign currency back to US money when you
return home, save it for future use when you return for your next adventure.

21)  There is an interesting effect that seems to occur in Europe.  Early
in the morning the combination of low light and some haze can make it look
like a bad day of weather is coming.  However, once the sun climbs a bit
in the sky, everything burns off and a glorious day arrives.

22) In Italy, it is cheaper to mail packages back to the states if you
give the customs officials the permission to open the parcel when it is
leaving the country.

23) One way to make a great vacation with a short amount of time is to
arrange a one way drop-off car which can be used to get you to the prime
cycling territory quickly.  Arranging for the car in the states can save
a lot of money.

24) People like to smoke a lot in Europe, especially in their hotel rooms.
If your hotel room is filling up with smoke, place a towel against the
floor of the door jam to stop the flow.

25) If you anticipate doing any cycling in your street clothes, you might
want to think about including a seatcover.  The seatcover keeps any
grease, grime, etc. on your saddle from transferring to your good clothes.

26) A neat trick for drying out wet cycling shoes is to pack them tightly
with dry newspaper.  I have had totally soaked shoes dry out overnight.

27) Some antibiotics increase your sensitivity to sunlight.  Be certain that
you know what the side effects of your medications are before you leave on your

28) On the top of many of the mountain passes, the shop(s) selling postcards
usually has a rubber stamp.  Geting your postcards stamped on top of the pass
makes them more "official" ("you were there") in some circles.


If someone wanted to avoid the hassles of carrying gear and just wanted
to find a nice town for some day trips, my first choice would be
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.  Situated in the heart of the Dolomites, Cortina
has incredible, and I mean incredible, scenery and many great passes(don't
miss the ride up to the Tre Cime de Lavaredo, it's a great walk to
circumnavigate the base as well).  You can plan trips from 30 to 150+ miles
of some of the best riding in the world.

My second choice would be Andermatt, Switzerland gateway to the Susten,
Furka, Gothard and Oberalp passes and close to Wilhem Tell's birthplace(he
didn't really exist but, there's a monument anyway).  The day rides here are
longer and more strenuous but, you won't be disappointed.

Also recommended is the northern Italian town of Bormio.  The Stelvio,
Gavia, Bernina, Foscagno and Mortirolo are all within a day's ride.

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