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Best Advice for a 2-Wheel Family Vacation

Need an idea for a trip with your husband or best friend? Late spring and early summer are great times to book guided biking trips, especially in Europe this year.

Why? Besides the favorable U.S. dollar-to-Euro exchange (currently $1.10 to 1€), early season in Europe—those weeks between spring and summer vacation and when the weather is more inconsistent—sees fewer people book trips. This means groups are smaller and fees are lower. The weather may be dodgy, but the scenery and the experience stay the same.

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In preparation for an upcoming spring biking trip, I reached out to Gerry Slager, who, since 1979, has been a lead guide on hundreds of biking trips with VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations (formerly known as Vermont Bicycle Tours).

"The thing with a cycling vacation is, the more you cycle before you go, the more fun you are going to have on the trip," he says. "You can't just show up and think you are going to be able to do it. You'll tire, you'll be in the van, you'll have sore muscles, you'll miss seeing things and you won't put on as many miles. Yes, we can shuttle you back to the hotel—there's always that choice. You just can't do enough for yourself before you go."

If you can't get in the saddle on local trails and roads before a trip, the next best way to get saddle time in is indoor training.

"If you are going to do a bike trip, train on a bicycle. But if it's winter, and you can't train outside, that means getting into the gym," says Slager. "Spinning classes and the stationary bike are not the same, but those who train in spin classes are going to do much better than no training at all. Get on any bike to avoid the aches and sore butts. It's a vacation, why would you want to hurt?"

Besides training in the months leading up to a trip, supporting the body with a clean diet, Slager says, helps riders avoid blood sugar fluctuations and energy crashes. Most guided trips will provide snacks, even for those with dietary restrictions. Access to fresh local food is offered to clients on VBT trips, he says.

Most guides are local to their destination and providing a small gift from your hometown is always a nice way to share your own culture, as they introduce you to theirs.

If you will be adding miles to your daily ride, he suggests bringing a favorite packaged organic snack that your body responds well to. "We hope more people stop and smell the roses, but leaders always have extra miles if you want it," Slager says. "Even if you want to go solo, they will give you pump, tire iron and tube as long as you know how to change (a tire)."

Planning clothing in advance for all weather scenarios is also important, and it's all about layers. "Clothes that you can wash out at night and dry out the next day are best," he says. "Guests always bring too many clothes. I only bring two of everything and rinse stuff out in the shower."

For cool or foul weather, Slager suggests a packable, lightweight rain jacket, arm sleeves, lights without padding to put over bike shorts and, if possible, bright clothes so people can see you. He recommends technical, synthetic clothing that let's your skin breath, covered by a merino wool upper layer. For those who don't bring their own bikes, a company's bike will be fitted for you. However, bringing your own shoes, pedals, helmet and, in some cases, bike seat, will make your rides just that much more comfortable.

"It's a cycling vacation, and you will be getting off your bike to explore. So if you have mountain biking shoes, that will help you not walk like a duck. Or you can throw a pair of slip-on shoes in your bag," he says.

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Last but not least, Slager suggests bringing a small token from home for your guide. Most guides are local to their destination and providing a small gift from your hometown is always a nice way to share your own culture, as they introduce you to theirs.

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Image via Twenty20/AlexanderMelck

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