More Americans wheel into vacations on bikes

Andrew Leckey

July 30, 1993|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

Bike it: That's what many active Americans are doing on their vacations this summer.

The price tag for a bicycle trip can run from very little for do-it-yourselfers using their own bikes and route plans to a bit more for those joining short organized trips.

As might be expected, costs escalate if a bike-tour operator has first-class accommodations awaiting you at the end of each day's ride.

"Cycling is increasing in popularity and enjoying tremendous growth, prompting us to introduce new programs," said Megan McBurney, a spokeswoman for Backroads, a Berkeley, Calif.-based firm that sponsors 700 bicycle, walking and cross-country ski vacations in North America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.

"On the less-expensive side, we have weekend cycling and camping trips in northern California, including some in the wine country, that cost $188."

That group's five- and six-day U.S. inn trips cost around $1,000, with the priciest overseas trip a nine-day luxury chateau trip in France's Loire Valley for $2,800. Bicycle rental fee is about $100 for five- to seven-day trips. (Air fare isn't included in any of the trips mentioned in this column.)

You receive accommodations, most meals, detailed maps and directions, leader services and van support. There are usually 14 to 26 bicyclists in a group.

To cut costs, there's a 10 percent discount for groups of 10 or more that join a regularly scheduled trip, and a 5 percent discount if its your second Backroads trip. Senior citizens receive a 5 percent discount, and there are a variety of discounts for children, based on their ages.

"Our tours used to be just for cyclists, but it's become a mass sport for people who wish to explore an area but don't consider the bicycle the be-all and end-all," said Christine Hoar, marketing manager for Travent International in Waterbury Center, Vt. Travent offers trips in seven European countries, and, through its VCC Four Seasons Cycling subsidiary, trips in Canada and 14 states in the United States.

"Our groups are about 55 percent male and 45 percent female, with the majority of our guests 35 to 50 years of age," she said.

A two-day Vermont weekend package from VCC Four Seasons Cycling costs around $260, plus $52 bike rental, while a three-day package is about $400 with $63 bike rental.

Travent International's posh European tours run around $1,800 for five days to $2,800 for eight days. Repeat cyclers earn bonus points toward future travel awards.

Hoar recommends doing some training before your trip, booking early and choosing a tour -- whether easy, moderate or challenging -- geared to your skill.

"Bicycling is gaining in popularity because it's so participatory, and you're not just sitting and looking at things out a window," said Perry Lungmus, director of sales for tour operator Abercrombie & Kent International in Oak Brook, Ill., which is sponsoring eight bicycle tours in Europe.

"Even in a group, you have the option of doing your own thing by going off on your own and then meeting up with the group," said Lungmus.

The rural beauty of countries such as France and England provides the backdrop, with small hotels and pubs featuring local flavor you don't get in a conventional tour. Per-diem rates for these bike tours is $200 to $250 a day.

"When touring, go with the best equipment possible, wear a helmet and realize gloves and special bike wear can add greatly to your comfort when you're riding for prolonged periods of time," advised Stephen Penny, an executive with the U.S. Cycling Federation, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Backroads is located at 1516 Fifth St., Suite Q333, Berkeley, Calif. 94710; Travent International and VCC Four Seasons Cycling at Waterbury Center, Vt. 05677; and Abercrombie & Kent International at 1520 Kensington Road, Oak Brook, Ill. 60521.

Among other groups offering bike trips, American Youth Hostels, P.O. Box 37613, Washington, D.C. 20013, runs no-frills bike tours as long as 22 days in duration. Outward Bound, U.S.A., 384 Field Point Road, Greenwich, Conn. 06830, runs a nine-day biking and camping tour of rural New England.

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