My favorite biking season is around the bend, making now a perfect time to plan your next city bike vacation. Fall is superb, not only for travel in general, but to visit cities and bike in them because of lower travel costs, milder temperatures and finished construction projects (thank goodness!).
I remember the first time I planned a city bike vacation in 2010. New York was getting so much buzz for closing down Times Square to cars and installing protected bike lanes throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn and I couldn’t wait to see it all because my last two visits to the city could be characterized by claustrophobic sidewalks and subway journeys. And yet, I was still apprehensive because if you mention“biking” and “New York” to anyone now, you’ll be met with wide eyes, much less in 2010 before Citibike share was installed and normalized culture around biking.
But the gamble and all the logistical scheming, which included bribing a Chinatown bus between Boston and New York to take our bikes underneath, paid off to be one of the most memorable trips ever! Finally, I had experienced New York through a bike lens, viewing what it might be like to live there.
A local’s perspective with efficiency and convenience is the ultimate promise the bike brings to city vacations over other means of transportation. So if you’re sold on a city bike vacation, how do you plan one?
Luckily with a resource like my site, Bikabout, you have a much bigger advantage than I had back in 2010, a main motivation for me founding it in the first place. You can now access 24 travel guides for North America’s best biking cities for free, which has all the recommendations for transportation, bikes, lodging, food, sights, as well as cultural bike tour maps. Bikabout is your concierge for casual city bike vacations.
If you need more guidance, check out my 7 tips for planning a trip and 7 tips for enjoying 2-wheeled tourism.
BEFORE YOUR TRIP
1. Pick your destination & season
Forget about the bike for a second, what city have you dreamed of visiting? If it’s a first or second world city, most likely it’s bikeable so go where your heart wants to go. Cities are empty in the summer, but the shoulder seasons of spring and fall offer the most comfortable riding weather.
2. Print or order a free city bike map
Most cities offer printable PDFs or actually mail you an official bike map. Check Bikabout.com first and if we don’t have that city’s travel guide yet, google “X city bike map”.
3. Travel with a bike friendly airline, train or bus
Bringing your bike with you to your destination is the ultimate luxury and not as hard as you might think. Did you know that Southwest Airlines checks bikes for FREE!? There’s a handful of other airlines with friendly bike policies so go to Bikabout, pick your destination city and check out the bike friendly air, train and bus lines.
4. Ride a bike that fits your style
If you’re not able to travel with your own bike on a friendly airline, bus or train, you have excellent and sometimes cooler alternatives if you like trying different bikes. But overall, find a bike that lets you be you. Like shopping? You need a bike with carrying capacity. Like riding at night? You need lights. Want to carry kids? Try to get a cargo bike rental from a shop or Spinlister. Want flexibiltiy to hop between the bike, subway and taxi? Get a bike share.
Two words for my favorite new rental: electric bike. And no, this is not cheating, it’s glorious to cover so much ground in one day and not feel taxed and sweaty.
5. Stay in a bike friendly neighborhood or hotel
Once you have a bike map, research neighborhoods where you’d like to stay. Airbnb neighborhoods offers guidance for a select few cities. Bikabout has curated a list of Airbnbs that are bike friendly either because of their location and/or because their hosts offer bikes. We also list 170+ hotels with bikes in our lodging directory.
6. Pack light
This should always be a rule, but even more with city bike vacations. You’ll want the flexibility of throwing something on your bike or your back as you make travel connections. A complimentary accessory to a small travel bag is a Po Campo Kinga Handlebar Bag that clicks onto any bike and stores your map and other necessities you need to access quickly.
7. It’s not about the bike, it’s about getting you to your favorite places in the best way possible
What are you into: food, architecture, art, shopping, coffee, bakeries, ice cream, parks? Pick a few places in each neighborhood you’d like to visit and jot it on the bike map, Pin it or better yet, check out our Pinterest boards or Foursquare lists for recommendations in each city.
DURING THE TRIP:
1. Take a group bike tour your first day
Hands down, the best way to get your bearings in a new city, whether you plan to bike or not for the remainder of your vacation is to take a bike tour. I would say that local bike tour operators know their city better than anyone and we love their personalities. During the tour, you’ll get a feel for the biking etiquette and culture and notice things that you want to go back to.
2. Bike Benefits
Bicycle Benefits is a website that works with local businesses to offer discounts to people who arrive by bike. Check out their site or look for their sticker on storefronts.
3. Talk to Locals
Locals who bike are usually super friendly and are a wealth of route knowledge. Make sure to ask people that have simliar riding styles and look like they share your risk assessment levels.
4. Visit local bike shops
I love visiting local bike shops, especially those that have a huge stock of unique accessories like the newest Po Campo bike bags. They also often have free and for sale bike maps.
5. Google maps
As a compliment to a paper map, I like using Google Maps with biking directions when I have a specific destination to get to in a hurry. Turn on that voice navigation and go! Just be weary that some cities don’t update Google on their bike infrastructure improvements as much as others do.
6. Use bike wayfinding signage
Sometimes it’s nice to put away the paper map and phone and just follow the city prescribed bike routes denoted by wayfinding signage. Our favorite cities for this include New York, Vancouver and Portland. You will ride on safe and convenient bikeways, most likely past bike friendly businesses with lots of bike parking.
7. Smell the roses
You’re not commuting to work, you’re on vacation! There are so many nooks and crannies in cities, hidden public art, tucked away watering holes and bakeries…so pretend you’re in a parade, adopt an upright city posture, ride leisurely and look around. Some of our favorite memories come from wandering off the beaten path into something we weren’t planning.
All photos from Bikabout unless otherwise noted.
About the Author
Megan is the founder and Chief Traveler of Bikabout.com, recently relocated to the windsurfing capital of the world, Hood River in America's #1 bike tourism state of Oregon. She's excited about adding electric and cyclocross bikes to her ever growing fleet of cargo, folding, city and touring bikes and can't wait to take her young daughter mountain biking for the first time.
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