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sudtirol bike path

13 Countries, 2 Flats – European Bike Tour Stats and Favorites

Sudtirol bike path magic

I’m one of those weirdos who loves tracking numbers. They help me understand and frame the world, my data-gobbling brain dining happily when served courses of city populations, distances traveled, workout stats, or even Quicken files tracking our spending. I’ve dialed this back over the past few years to avoid turning into Spock, but still find it fun.

Did I mention that we’re done with our summer bike tour of Europe? We are! And since I enjoyed compiling stats for our 2014 U.S. tour, I repeated it this time – welcome to the summary of our 3.5 month bicycle tour through Europe in 2015. We’re currently relaxing post-trip (i.e not biking) in New York City before we head west to Idaho (on a plane). 

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains, finishing in Prague.

This tour we aimed to mix cycling with maximum enjoyment, a shift from the mostly physical challenge of last year. To accomplish that, we rode less mileage and parked the bikes for more days off. Both touring styles are worthwhile, but I had more fun during this European cycle tour thanks to mixing up the activities.

Below is the breakdown, a compilation of favorite places, distances and time on the bike, and other random tidbits. Data can’t fully capture the experience, but perhaps it helps an aspiring cycle tourist wrap their head around the hard data and think, “hey, I could do that.” (You can!)

Onward.

A big brdige span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

A big bridge span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

All the Info

  • Total distance ridden: 2,440 miles (3,935 kilometers), the same distance as flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, London to Toronto, or Amsterdam to Timbuktu.
  • Number of countries we pedaled in: 13 (almost as many as the 15 states as we crossed during last year’s U.S. tour).
  • Favorite cycling area: Italy’s NE Sudtirol region, followed closely by Slovenia (which still wins my favorite country award). Ah, the Alps are so fantastic!
  • Biggest surprise about Europe: there is a ton of farmland and animal agriculture, which I hadn’t encountered during previous travels since I kept to metropolitan Europe. Corn fields are everywhere and the stink of animal feedlots tinted the air in many areas of the continent. Some countries (Belgium, parts of eastern France, and Hungary) hinted of the American Midwest in terms of their crops and landscapes.

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

  • Total days touring: 103 (June 13 – September 23, 2015)
  • Days pedaling: 64
  • Days NOT bike touring: 39, almost 40% of the trip. Compared to last year’s U.S. ride (only 18 days off), our aim for Europe was more time to explore, relax, and hang with people we met along the way. We gave ourselves permission to laze about, explore cities with friends, lace up the running shoes, sit in cafes and read, or mountain bike. Mixing it up was very fun, and we’ll aim for this style of touring in the future.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

  • Average time pedaling each day: 3.8 hours, barely a part-time job.
  • Extra calories burned per day: 3,000-5,000. I ate almost non-stop (but what’s new).
  • Average distance per day: 38 miles (61 km), close to our initial plan of 40 miles per day.
  • Total pedal strokes: 934,000, give or take a few.
  • Longest day: 55.7 miles (90 km) and 5.25 hours of pedaling in Slovenia.
  • Elevation gain: 85,754 feet (138,000 m). That’s 16 miles straight up, but only 1,355 feet per day on average.
  • Number of cycling networks traversed: 11, though I’m probably missing a few. Europe has fantastic cycle networks and resources for cycle touring.
    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

  • Days without a shower: Zero! Ah, Europe, the lap of luxury.
  • Number of other bike tourists encountered: Hundreds! Compared to the U.S., where we went 61 days without seeing another cycle tourist, Europe was a buzzing hive of activity. We’d see at least a few long-distance tourers per day and dozens of people out for day rides.
  • Favorite things about touring in Europe:
    • Well-signed, no-car bike paths made route planning easy, plus lowered stress levels since we rarely spent time fencing with big trucks.
    • Frequent towns or cities, which meant easy logistics for water, food, and lodging. Even the tiniest villages had historic guest houses or inns, so we stayed in cities far more than our U.S. tour. Lodging values were fantastic too.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn't seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

  • Things I missed about the U.S.:
    • The wide open wilderness of the States dwarfs the nature in Europe. The U.S. is BIG, and though it makes logistics tougher, pedaling for hours in the middle of nowhere carries a special magic. The east side of Glacier en route to Canada comes to mind.
    • Communication created some headaches. With 10 languages over three months (none of them Spanish, argh!), the constant roadblock to speaking with people sometimes made us feel frustrated and isolated. I acknowledge that I have no room to bitch since people were accommodating, friendly, and spoke pretty good English (along with French, German, Dutch…).
  • Longest continuous climb: 11 miles from Austria up up up to the Czech Republic. This was also our biggest elevation day at 3,500’, though an honorable mention goes to the hilly Ardennes region of Belgium for working us over.
  • Steepest climb: multiple 19% passes in the Alps. The toughest pass was from Austria up to Slovenia, a 6-mile onslaught so consistently steep it was almost laughable, followed closely by Resia Pass from Italy into Austria. (Moral: don’t try to cross the Austrian border!)

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria.

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria. We stayed in the lakeside village (Resia) for a few nights.

  • Most memorable song along the way: A cheery five a.m. wake-up whistled rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on the ferry ride from England to Holland.
  • Oldest accommodation: a 1,000 year-old monastery in England featuring a fun, challenging obstacle course. We stopped for a couple nights to celebrate my 33rd birthday, but my attempts to beat the obstacle course record were thwarted by old age.
  • Most countries biked in during one day: three – Luxembourg/Germany/France, Italy/Switzerland/Austria
  • Hottest temperature: 110℉ in Venice – our weather app said “feels like 125℉.” We agreed.
  • Numbers of days over 95℉: ~30, plus a handful over 100 as Europe busted through many heat records. We made two personal videos documenting our vow to never bike tour in July-August again unless it’s in Scandinavia or a place with outdoor A/C and lakes every three miles.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

  • Most scoops of gelato in one day: Six each, a three-visit day to our favorite vegan-friendly gelateria in Rovinj, Croatia when temps soared to triple digits. Cycle touring and burning a few thousand extra calories per day has its perks.
  • Swimming-in-humidity award: Hungary, where we got up at five a.m. to beat the heat.
  • Favorite cathedral: the stunning Strasbourg spires. We happened to be there for the  booming sound and light show celebrating the 1,000 year anniversary of the cathedral.
    Strasbourg cathedral
  • Most days off in a row: Eight, including no-bikes-allowed Venice and five days relaxing in Croatia with our buddies to avoid scathing heat.
  • Flat tires: Two for C, 0 for D.
  • Tires replaced: Always an FAQ from people we meet… But not a single one! C’s rear tire was getting a bit thin by the end, which is why she picked up two quick flats with just a week left in our trip. My rear tire (a Schwalbe Marathon) now has 7,000 miles on it and is going strong.
  • Other bike troubles: Two broken spokes for my bike thanks to cobblestone beatings. The rear wheel on my tough Salsa Fargo managed to survive a week of pedaling before we found a bike shop and ate lunch as the delightful old-school, long-haired owner in cutoff jean shorts grooved to jazz and fixed my rear wheel.

    Austrian sunflowers

    Austrian sunflowers

  • Number of push ups done to avoid turning into an all-I-do-is-bike upper body wimpo:  6,035. (Yes, I track weird things.) Since cycling is so exclusively lower body, I also did pull ups (usually at kids’ playgrounds), core work and elastic band exercises to stay physically balanced. I highly recommend doing this while on tour, not to mention stretching frequently so hamstrings don’t shrink to one-third their previous length.
  • Probability of returning to Europe with bikes: 100%
On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple who took this picture was 1) headed up and 2) not as happy in their flex shot.

On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple of bike tourists who took this picture were 1) headed up and 2) not happy about it.

Thanks to all the new friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Thanks to all the friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Resources, Links and Apps for Bicycle Touring in Europe

Bicycle touring in Europe has something for everyone, with terrain ranging from flat, well-signed bike paths to mountains and the challenge of the Alps. After 3.5 months exploring by pedal power, I absolutely recommend a cycling trip here. Whether your trip is long or short, self-guided or with a company, there’s great times to be had for both newbies and seasoned cyclists.

Why? Logistics are easy, with frequent lodging, water, and food sources; it seems there’s town every 5 miles in most of Europe. Plus, businesses cater to cyclists. And if you’d like to skip certain areas, train routes are plentiful. Throw in the fun of varied languages and cuisine, tons of history, and beautiful architecture and it’s simply a fantastic cycling destination.

This post describes technology and online resources to help make your European bicycle tour a success. I also list each of the 13 countries we visited and link to my favorite cycling and lodging networks in each of them. Using my external brain in Evernote, I compiled and organized these as we traveled, which made sharing easy. Hopefully it saves you a ton of time!

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

Technology to Make Your Trip Easy

Given my love of technology, I’d be remiss to not start here. In fact, only one set of paper maps were harmed during our trip (it was in England, I confess). Otherwise, we didn’t use hard-copy maps at all.

“Real” maps weren’t necessary – really! And neither was a turn-by-turn GPS device; a smartphone loaded with the right apps made navigation a cinch. That said, the correct tool spells the difference between pedaling happily along versus pushing your bike through stinging nettles on a forgotten animal trail. (I did both, but prefer the former.) Below are specific tools that I used, and perhaps also read my post about tech details for traveling:

  1. Galileo Offline Maps – my go-to phone app for touring, Galileo pulls info from the Open Cycle Map database. I tried others (Long Haul Trekkers have a great list of offline navigation apps), but Galileo is my favorite. It costs just $2 and you can download individual countries (for free) as you need them. I toyed around with downloading .gpx routes into apps like Bike Hub from biroto.eu, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. If you use a GPS, perhaps it could help you out.
  2. ACSI – this app dials into the ACSI European database for 8,500 campgrounds that are inspected on a yearly basis (i.e. they don’t suck). You can buy individual country info or just snag the entire continent’s worth of data for $13.
  3. WifiMap – if you aren’t traveling with a hotspot or don’t have Google Fi service, this offline list of wifi hotspots and their passwords can come in quite handy, though the utility varies depending on the area because the info is crowdsourced.
  4. Warmshowers.org – this network of cyclists is a great resource for staying with local people. We used it frequently during our U.S. tour in 2014, but found it tougher to arrange in Europe with everyone on holiday. It’s definitely worth checking out! There’s a great app for it as well.
  5. Booking.com and AirBnb.com – after a long day of cycling where you don’t feel like camping (such as when it’s raining or 100 degrees outside), it can be nice to book a place and not search around at the end of the day. We used the Booking.com app mid-ride some days to nail down a place so we could land without having to search for lodging. It was our favorite since there isn’t any time-sucking back and forth communication with a host, but we used Airbnb probably 25% of the time, especially for longer stays in one place when we wanted a kitchen or a full apartment. I should note that Booking.com also has apartments in some locations.

    Enjoying the view from a balcony in Resia, Italy.

    Enjoying the view from our balcony in Resia, Italy. I loved how many balconies were festooned with bright flowers.

  6. Google Maps – an oldie, but a goodie. Same as with Galileo, I’d save locations or map things before we left for the day. I tried voice navigation using ear buds initially, then decided it was unnecessary.

With the above, you’ll be fit as an Olympic marathoner for figuring out where you are, where you’re going, and where the heck you’re going to sleep. The pedaling is still up to you – I haven’t found an app for that. But now that you know how to find routes, which ones should you follow? Read on!

Crossing from Italy to Austria, Switzerland in the background.

Crossing from Italy to Austria, Switzerland in the background.

Dedicated Bike Routes, Cycle Paths, and Other Resources

We landed in London with no set route beyond a ticket out of Prague. That’s always our favorite method for exploring, though we knew of 14 EuroVelo cycle routes criss-crossing Europe like strands of a golden cycling spiderweb. Following those routes or regional networks, we spent many days on quiet country roads or bike paths, not to mention that many cities also had great cycle-only routes.

 Just follow the stickers! Crossing into France from Germany on the EuroVelo 5.

Just follow the stickers! Crossing into France from Germany on the EuroVelo 5.

Compared to the United States, there are far more resources in Europe for bicycle touring. I used the below to plan:

  1. EuroVelo (EV) routes –  the backbone of any route planning for a European cycling trip for those seeking to follow bike paths or cycle routes. The EV frequently follows local/regional maps (see below), but this overview is great for developing a general route plan.
  2. Updated October 19, 2017: Bikeroll.net looks like a great service to check out. I haven’t used it during a tour, but it looks clean and simple to use. Here’s the instructions for using it.
  3. OpenCycleMap.org – this compiles both the EV routes and regional maps to show low-traffic roads or bicycle paths. Most touring apps that I found pulled from this database.
  4. Bikemap.net – if Google Maps doesn’t have cycling options in the country (Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic), this is a great option to scope out potential elevation profiles, such as this quad-tester from Sudtirol in Italy.
Jen and Dave from Long Haul Trekkers cruise through a misty day in the rolling valleys of Slovenia.

Jen and Dave from Long Haul Trekkers cruise through a misty day in the rolling valleys of Slovenia.

Regional Bike Routes in European Countries

The EuroVelo routes are great, but what if you want or need to deviate from those? Fear not – there are many local resources available. Here’s each of the 13 countries we visited and the resources I used to navigate, all arranged in alphabetical order:

Many of the bike paths are old train lines, which means we rode through many cool tunnels like this.

Many of the bike paths are old train lines, which means we rode through many cool tunnels like this.

  1. Austria – not only is the scenery fantastic, but it doesn’t get any better than Austria’s bike infrastructure. Clear signage, car-free paths, and even bike maintenance stops. The best part? The word for “bike” in German is RAD. North to south, the Alpe Adria route rocks through the Austrian Alps. East-west, try the mountain-cutting Inn River Path from Switzerland to Germany and the Drau Cycle Path from Italy to Hungary (we rode both of them). Or just check out all of the country’s paths.

    Digging the views near Innsbruck on the Inn River Path.

  2. Belgium – you’ll need multiple resources here. First the Fiets Routes for the Dutch-speaking Flanders (northern Belgium), where we followed the famous Tour de Flanders. Then the southern, French-speaking part has two – RandoVelo and Ravel will help you through the famous WWII battle zone of the Belgian Ardennes. Fair warning that an 80k day will stack up 1000 meters of climbing in these steep hills. Here’s my post about our Belgian experience.
  3. Croatia – cycle routes here are more, shall we say, suggestions? Narrow, winding coastal roads with no shoulders and a few country roads for a breather. I recommend riding here in the shoulder seasons and getting up early to avoid traffic. It’s beautiful, but stressful riding. We joined two friends and their dog for this portion of the trip.
  4. Czech Republic – this country features an insane number of cycle routes. I can see why cycle touring is one of the favorite activities in this country, as routes are well-signed and typically follow quiet country roads. It holds a special place in our hearts since Chelsea and I met there in 2006.

    Cesky Krumlov in the southern CZ.

    Cesky Krumlov in the southern CZ.

  5. England – the National Cycle Network is the place to go for designing your cycle tour through Britain. We spent a week riding from Oxford east to the coast, and I’m looking forward to returning to explore the Lakes District up north.
  6. France – sorry, not much help here as we simply followed the EuroVelo 5 route through eastern France into the pretty Alsace wine region near Strausborg and Colmar. The super-popular EuroVelo 6 runs from France’s western edge straight east and is reportedly quite good.
  7. Germany – as you might expect, the Germans have cycle touring figured out. Their cycle network is solid, as is their list of accommodations (bike and bed, as they call it) for cyclists. We didn’t spend many days in Germany, but I found it easy to navigate.

    Storks are good luck in Europe and we saw nests like this all over.

    Storks are good luck in Europe and we saw nests on houses all over.

  8. Hungary – the EuroVelo 6 is the most common way people ride through Hungary, which is predominantly farmland. We came in from Slovenia/Croatia and pedaled around Lake Balaton, which was…ok. The beautiful north side of the lake is the only part of the trip I’d recommend (here’s the blog post about our experience).
  9. Italy – we only cycled in the NE part of the country, the beautiful Sudtirol. These two resources laid out the routes nicely. A German traveler in England insisted we visit this place and described it as a combination of Austrian efficiency and Italian quality of life (all menus and signs are in both languages, which was interesting). He was right: go here. This was our favorite mix of scenery and silky cycle paths, most next to rivers through the Italian Dolomites. (Side note: the mountain biking here rocks. Check out the riding in Reschenpass, which starts in Italy, into Switzerland and Austria, and then back to Italy. First time I’ve been to three countries in one ride. Did I mention there are four gondolas that haul you and your bike uphill?)

    A perfect bike path through Sudtirol.

    A perfect bike path through Sudtirol.

  10. Luxembourg – this tiny speck of a country has a great cycling network both in the countryside and in the picturesque capital. And lots of steep hills.
  11. The Netherlands – all you need is Nederland Fietsland. Flat terrain, perfect cycle paths, and more e-bikes than you’ll see anywhere in the world, Holland is a cycling paradise. It also has a “friends of cyclists” network where locals host cyclists. According to my friends there, the downside is the terrible weather. Here’s my post about our time there.
  12. Slovenia – a favorite country from our trip, especially the NW portion in the Julian Alps. Nice people, laid-back cities, and varied, pretty landscapes made for a great time there. However, while Slovenia lauds its cycling, I couldn’t find a digital copy of their bike routes. Luckily, the Galileo app worked well.

    Chelsea gives a final switchback into Slovenia the what-for coming over the pass from Austria.

    Chelsea gives a final switchback into Slovenia the what-for coming over the pass from Austria.

  13. Switzerland – of course the Swiss have their cycle network totally dialed. We didn’t spend much time there, but look forward to coming back.

And that, my friends, is the logistics download for countries we visited during our European cycle tour. For countries not mentioned, I recommend simply Googling “country name + cycling network” to see if there’s a regional resource. It seems there usually is.

Europe has my vote as a great cycling destination. And we weren’t the only ones out there – I saw an incredible number of people of all ages using the excellent bike infrastructure. Don’t let the language barrier intimidate you either, as nearly everyone speaks English and people are very helpful. For your next trip there, leave the backpacks at home and try exploring on your bike. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

What resources, tools, apps or other intel do you have for anyone looking to cycle tour in Europe? This post is intended as a long-term resource that will build over time, so please add your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email.

Heading up to the top of Reschenpass in NE Italy.

Climbing to the top of Reschenpass in NE Italy. With views like this, we lingered and spent over a month in the Alps.