How to plan your bike holiday, or trainning camp

The cold season is upon us, the season when many bicyclists plan base training(s) or bike vacations to overcome the apathy stemming from the rough weather. 

As a reflection on the above, we have collected a few questions and thoughts for you to consider:

What is our goal?

My biker acquaintances often do not define properly the goal of their trip. Nobody should take this personally, but often tourist trips on bikes in favorable climes are called training camps. Meanwhile there is no training plan deliberately planned, or anything that has any relation to effective preparation for the season. Of course, nothing is wrong with that, just the opposite…

Even for those who train in their spare time, it is very important to relax on a bicycle in the harsh winter season. When short days and the cold get on your nerves, a ski camp superbly disconnects from the grey weekdays. After January, after resuming the daily grind, cold temperatures become annoying and two weeks on the Canary Islands, say in February, could astonishingly well dismiss from mind winter and early darkness. One of such moves could recharge the batteries and you could cheerfully, energetically and in a carefree way start the new season. These are the goals of the hobby biker.

Sportsmen and racers are different, they intend to train, training has its place, reflecting their goals, and efficiency is paramount. Training camps (usually more than one) should be built into the annual preparation and competition schedule. Their role is not only to make us feel better and mentally and physically achieve a metamorphosis, but also to further improve our stamina and prepare ourselves for the first races. Planning for this requires serious professional support and presupposes that we are working with a qualified trainer. Professionals need more special background to recovery, massage, nutrition, calm, chance to do specific training, etc.

“Where? When? How many times?”

Selection of the training camp is obviously determined by the goal. For racers among the determining factors on the list are not only predictable weather, ideal environment for training, road conditions and elevation, but also an environment that is rich in stimuli. If we spend two-three weeks somewhere – racers are also human – a diverse and beautiful countryside positively affects performance, it is much better than training in the same two loops. Obviously, these factors have to be weighed based on the goal of the training. For example, first base camp could be on a level surface, even if the weather is only suitable for long tights, as even in 10 degree Celsius several hours of training can be accomplished with usual intensity.

From the point of the environment and weather, probably the most important is that it be dry; heat is less critical. Because of this, it is no surprise that around December even among professional bikers the South of Spain is so popular, especially because of the dry weather. Around there January is the only month when cold weather could be expected, but that cold is still different from that in a continental climate. From mid-February the weather is clearly ideal for biking. Nowadays, due to the migrant crisis, Turkey and countries around the East-Mediterranean became interesting price-wise. These are less attractive now than the resorts more frequented by tourists, but accommodations and airplane tickets are much cheaper.

In January the Canary island, and South Africa are the preferred destinations of the professional athletes, also because at the beginning of February the weather in Spain, Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean could be fickle. Racers of course do train even in bad weather, but admittedly, for cycle tourists and hobby bikers vacation-like camps are more important. Why would they pay a lot of money to torture themselves in the saddle in difficult environments. Therefore, amateurs should plan even more carefully as to “Where? When? How many times?”

Unless we employ a guide, it is important to select a place well-known by at least one member of the party; this is essential for planning bicycling routes.

It is easy to answer the “How many times?” question: hobbyists usually plan a single such event, while racers as many as are planned by the team and the trainer. The questions of “Where?” and “When?” are intertwined. We already mentioned that if the goal is relaxation and recharging, the ideal time is February. However, at that time there are very few places where good weather is guaranteed. Among the already mentioned places, the Canary Islands could work (probably this is the most reliably warm place), Southern Spain (dry weather is almost guaranteed, but tights will be needed), while Mallorca weather nowadays could be iffy at the beginning of February. There is also Cyprus.

We recommend the above places for cycling tourists, because during summer they are ready for hosting paying guests, the environment is beautiful and rich in stimulus, roads are good, so we are almost on a vacation. Even a cyclotourist can travel, to say Turkey or North Africa, but these may not deliver the same cycling experience. As we go on to March there are more and more places to consider. The above mentioned Southern Spain offers perfect, weather for shorts, but the Adriatic (both Croatia and Italy) is a great destination too. On the other side there are Nice and Monaco, and Cyprus shows itself in the best light from spring too. Depending on how much time we allow ourselves (or how long we can take off from work and family) we should plan one-two weeks.

Accommodation, flights, planning….

I would not like to give precise advice on these subjects. It is everyone’s right to decide what is best: devote some time to arranging everything alone, pay a travel agency to organize the details, or buy a “cyclotourism package” in one of the popular destinations. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. We should make it clear that planning ahead pays off: the closer we get to the departure date, the more expensive flights and accommodation become. Usually by December we are better off soliciting an agency’s help, but if we piece everything together sooner, we can organize everything exactly after our own taste.

Obviously, one of the most important things to consider when planning, is the participants’ list, as together we will form a community. It is hard to advise on this front either, as some people are amused by fundamentally different personalities, some are annoyed by them. Some like to travel with friends, some like to make new acquaintances.

Two things are important to be clear about. One is how much of a well-oiled team the people training together can form on the road. It is not great to have either someone outstandingly strong or someone much weaker than the average of the team. The other is the expectation regarding the level of service and accommodation. At times like these the group obviously eats and spends time together and it is a pain to have a complainer in the group. For cycling tourists half board may be the most ideal, so they need not waste time on preparing food. Professionals usually bring their own chef.

Critical point: the bike

During a cycling holiday or training camp a critical point can be the bicycle itself, as neither transporting nor storing it are easy. Usually airlines charge extra for sports equipment, and the fare differs by company. This should be researched thoroughly. Because of the bike, we should consider direct flights, as there is not only a risk of missing the transfer with our outsized luggage, but there is a greater chance of dropping and thereby damaging our precious cargo. Not to mention that a transfer is more exhausting than a direct flight, it takes longer to recover from; therefore we should choose the latter even if it is more expensive. No matter what, the bicycle should be skillfully wrapped and even in special luggage its fragile bits should have additional cushion. 

We should also contemplate renting a bike at the destination. On the Canaries or Mallorca pretty good bikes are available around 30 EUR/day and it cuts out the hassle with the transport. We also need to inquire about whether we can keep the bicycle in the room or on the balcony at our booked accommodation. They may have “safe storage,” but keeping the bike in the room is still better. If they are not accommodating this request, we should choose another hotel.