I’ve had lots of questions about how we went about planning and executing our recent Germany cycling trip. Well, this post will answer those questions. This was our first overseas do-it-yourself (DIY) cycle tour, and while I think we did a darn good job, I don’t claim to be an expert. My recommendations are based on our experiences along the Rhine and Mosel cycle routes in mid-late September. They are geared to fairly easy-going, non-camping trips that are heavy on sightseeing and enjoying local food and drink. Please take a look at my posts on the Rhine Cycle Route and Mosel Cycle Route for descriptions of these gorgeous rides.
Why do it yourself versus using a tour company?
The main reasons to consider a DIY bike trip are cost, flexibility and adventure. We estimated that our trip cost about half of what we would have paid using a tour company. The flexibility of tweaking our plans to stay in a town holding a wine festival or to run with a recommendation from a local was hugely rewarding. And, we felt a real sense of adventure and satisfaction from planning and figuring things out for ourselves. Germany has a well-developed bike culture and is probably one of the easiest places in the world for a DIY cycling trip. It is not difficult to plan/execute a trip like ours, but it is time consuming and requires some effort and adaptability.
How do I select and plan a route?
Germany is loaded with great cycle routes. For a first DIY cycle tour, I highly recommend a river valley trip like the one we did along the Rhine and Mosel. The flat, primarily bike-only paths are signed and well-maintained. There’s great tourism infrastructure and the scenery is incredible. During my planning, I found it super helpful to read the itineraries of organized cycle tours in Germany. Bike touring websites like Ride+Reisen (there are many others) have detailed descriptions of routes and daily distances. They are invaluable in selecting routes and planning details like where to overnight and what attractions to see. I was initially surprised by the low daily mileage of the organized tours but it became abundantly clear on our trip— lots of off-bike time for castle visiting, wine tasting and cute town wandering.
Should I rent a bike or bring my own?
We were away for a month so it made financial sense to bring our own bikes. There’s also the advantage of being familiar with your own bike. However, renting a bike may be the preferred option for a shorter trip or if you don’t want the added time and stress that comes with transporting a bike on an airplane. For a Mosel/Rhine trip like ours, the city of Koblenz is a good bet for renting (just google bike rentals).
What kind of bike works best?
We used our Specialized hybrid bikes and they were ideal. The Rhine and Mosel cycle routes are paved, so mountain bikes aren’t needed. Road bikes would work but I think hybrids are more comfortable for this type of trip. We saw tons of Germans on e-bikes, which are also available for rent (though the routes we did are easy on a normal bike).
Whether it’s your own or a rental, you’ll need bike bags/panniers, a helmet, lock, bell, water bottle holder (I like two), and ideally, front and rear lights. I also like an odometer to keep track of mileage. Many rental places include some of these items in the standard rental and offer others at an additional charge. Our bikes don’t have kick stands, which was inconvenient. I’ll be adding one soon.
What is involved in transporting a bike via airplane?
First, check with your airline. Some have stipulations around packing and registering bikes, and prices vary. With Air Canada it cost $50/bike each way. There are many ways to pack a bike—cardboard box, soft bags, rigid bags—and many posts and videos dedicated to this subject. We bought inexpensive, foldable bike transporting bags from Amazon. Wheels and pedals need to be removed and tires partially deflated. We wrapped delicate parts in bubble wrap before putting everything in the bag. We also stuffed some of our other gear into the bike bags so we only had our panniers as carry-on, thus saving money. As an added precaution, we had the bags shrink-wrapped at the airport (you know… that stuff that helps keep bulging suitcases from exploding). It might have been overkill but our bikes weathered both flights without a scratch.
What about bike bags and panniers?
We used rear mounted Sherpani bags and MEC handlebar bags. This worked really well. I loved having the three compartments in the back. They look small but hold a surprising amount. A handlebar bag is a must have. It’s perfect for stashing maps, phone, lip balm, wallet, etc. and it comes off easily when you want to keep valuables with you while sightseeing. We’ve had these bags for a few years and didn’t want to spring for new ones. If you’re buying for the first time you may consider waterproof options (we just lined the panniers with large sealable freezer bags and luckily didn’t have much rain).
What about bike clothing/gear?
Here’s what I brought for our month away (mid-September to mid-October): two pairs of biking shorts, two short sleeve biking tops, two long-sleeve Merino wool tops (ideal on and off the bike), one pair of wind/rain resistant bike pants, a wind/rain jacket, biking gloves, skull cap, helmet and water bottles. I cycled with running shoes that I also used for hiking and sightseeing. I brought a pair of arm and leg sleeves (warmers) that didn’t get much use. Mike’s male version list was fairly similar. He also carried a small bike repair kit, Swiss army knife and lock. There are lots of other gadgets and specialized items that can be useful but it comes down to how much stuff you want to schlepp.
We washed our cycle shorts/tops as soon as we got to our hotel. Mostly they were dry by the morning, especially when the bathrooms had those great heated towel racks.
What about other clothing and stuff?
I brought one pair of jeans, one pair of black leggings, two short sleeve t-shirts, two long sleeve tunic tops, one scarf, one light-weight Lululemon jacket that also worked for cycling, one pair of flat slip-on shoes, two pair all-purpose socks, undergarments, and a bit of cheap jewelry. As you can see from the photo below, I kept it all to a coordinated colour scheme. Mike went more minimalist and had no regard for colour scheme.
We kept toiletries/medical kit to a minimum, sharing where possible. Chamois cream (anti-chafing) is essential. I brought a Kindle, and small journal. Mike had his tablet and our good camera. I packed a small, cloth bag which did duty as a purse and shopping bag for picnic purchases. We both had our cell phones/chargers and purchased SIM cards.
What about navigation?
I love paper maps and the ADFC Regional Maps (1:150,000 scale) produced by the German Biking Federation are awesome (also tear-proof and water-proof). They’re available online and in bookstores in Germany. Mike played with Google Maps and Open Street Maps—both helpful but we preferred the paper map. The good news is that it’s almost impossible to get lost on the Rhine and Mosel cycle routes. The bike paths are extremely well signed and the locals are friendly. Whenever we showed even the slightest hint of confusion some helpful German would rush to our rescue.
Should I book accommodations in advance or on the fly?
This is a matter of preference and comfort with uncertainty. If you’re travelling during European summer holidays or are on a short trip where you don’t want spend time finding accommodations on the fly, it’s a good idea to book in advance. We enjoyed keeping our itinerary fluid. We either looked for a place at the end of our cycle day or booked a night or two in advance. We only had two somewhat stressful times finding lodging and they both turned out fine in the end.
There are lots of accommodation options along the Mosel and Rhine routes. We mostly stayed in small, reasonably-priced B&Bs that had consistently comfy beds and amazing breakfasts. Tourist information centres, found in many towns on the route, helped us find nice lodging on several occasions. We found some fabulous, bike-friendly places using the Bett+Bike app, and TripAdvisor and Booking.com both came in handy.
Can I take my bike on a train?
Bikes are allowed on many German trains. This is very helpful for linear cycle routes where you can bike one way and return via train, or for travelling to different regions if you don’t want to cycle the whole way. When checking the online Deutsche Bahn train schedule, click on “further details” of a particular route/train to find out whether bikes are permitted. In the Rhine/Mosel region there is no extra charge for bikes after 9:00 a.m. Train cars are marked on the outside with a bike symbol so it’s easy to know where to get on.
If you’d like more detailed information, don’t hesitate to comment below or connect privately through my contact page.
More to come soon on cycling in Germany and France.