Have you had the pleasure of exploring a new place from the seat of a bicycle? Pedaling along, you are part of life all around you, breathing in the fresh air, smiling and nodding at people, feeling present and alive and vibrant. You can stop and hop off to admire a view, dip your toes in a lake, or run in a local store for a pastry. You’re not behind the glass of a car or train — you are in your world, soaking it all up. It’s an experience to savor.
You may have a choice of joining a tour or renting a bicycle and riding off on your own. For me, the decision sometimes comes down to how much traffic I’ll encounter. I’m fine on my own riding on a designated bike path. In cities with lots of cars and unfamiliar streets (ah, Paris!), I opted for a tour. When 12 of us on bikes ventured onto the Place de Concorde with it’s crazy cars darting in circles, we literally stopped traffic. I wouldn’t have wanted to try that by myself. For the same reason, I haven’t rented Velib bikes when visiting a bustling city. I’m not confident I could cycle and read my Google Maps and dodge traffic all at once. Or you may be braver than I am.
Choosing a Rental Bicycle
I don’t own a bicycle, so when we travel and plan for a bike ride, I rent. Just be sure before you leave the rental shop that you are comfortable on your bike. Ride around the parking lot or square and test the pedals, the seat height, and any gears that change. I’ve rented bikes I absolutely did not want to turn in, they fit me so well and were in excellent condition. If you’re riding with a tour group, you may feel pressured to keep up and hurry, but take your time and make sure your bike is a good fit. Also attach any saddle bags, water bottles, or baskets and stash your belongings securely before you begin. Here are a few of the bicycling tours I’ve enjoyed. I’m hoping to add many more!
This may be my favorite travel bike ride ever. Biking near Bruges comes with several pluses. The farmland is flat. You can go for miles without tiring. You can follow a canal and never get lost. And the landscape is dotted with windmills.
We rented bicycles from Eric Popelier, whose shop is right off the market square. We planned to ride to the next town, Damme, then eat lunch and bike back to Bruges. The young man who rented the bikes suggested we aim instead for the town of Sluis, much farther away and right on the border of the Netherlands. He instructed us to follow the canal and enjoy ourselves. Why not ride to the next country?! A few blocks from the center of the town we found the canal and began our tour of the Belgian countryside. We figured out we rode about 26 miles — just a comfortable distance and a full day of fun.
Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe is more than 70 miles around, and bike trails run right along the lakeshore. My favorite is the section from the Tahoe City dam south to Homewood ski resort. Last summer we enjoyed this more than ever because we took our pup Bailey along with us in his basket. We rented a bicycle for me, and we spent the day gliding alongside the crystal blue waters.
A highlight of our time in Paris was an all-day bike tour of the town and palace of Versailles with Fat Tire Tours. Discovering the little city of Versailles proved to be one of the unexpected pleasures of the day. Many people ride the train from Paris for about 30 minutes, get off at the train station, and go right to the palace. We headed instead to downtown Versailles to pick up our bikes at the company office there. We shopped the markets for lunch, then packed up and headed to the palace. Our guide filled us in on the history of Versailles. Biking down the the tree-lined lanes is a great way to cover some of the extensive grounds and gardens. We also stopped to explore Marie Antionette’s play village. We rode to the end of the canal, parked our bikes, and spread out our lunches and wines. I highly recommend this way of touring Versailles.
The memorials of Washington, DC are clustered in one area, but it can seem like you’re trudging a long way between them when you are walking (and it’s 95 degrees with high humidity). A bike tour allows you to cover more ground and save your tired feet. We enjoyed an evening bike tour of the memorials with Bike and Roll DC. Taking off at sunset, you pedal around the mall while an excellent guide fills you in on the history of each monument. A storm cut our tour short, but we would gladly book this again (even though they made us wear these dorky neon vests and helmets!).
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Biking on the Cape Cod Rail Trail is a treat. This path covers 22 miles through forests and along the shores of Cape Cod where the railway once carried trains. It’s flat and takes you through towns like Rock Harbor, where colorful old lobster pots hang on wooden cafes. You can rent bikes in the town of Brewster and ride all day. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy under the canopy of green. You’ll feel like you’ve really visited the Cape.