You do not have to be a super fit athlete to go on a weekend bike ride or a short cycling holiday; all you need is the right spirit, and a liking for gentle exercise every now and again. The most important thing is that you are aware of your own physical condition and limits, and that you choose those cycle routes which are in keeping with such factors. It goes without saying that if you only cycle occasionally, you should avoid excessively long rides, and in particular, those routes featuring steep climbs. In fact, the worst thing you can do is to choose rides that are beyond your own capabilities, as doing so can turn an enjoyable day out into an unnecessarily tiring, depressing experience. The best way to avoid such a pitfall is to start off with the easier rides described here, so that you can assess your own fitness ‘on the road’; if you can do these rides easily, then you can gradually move on to try more demanding rides.
The easier rides described in the present guide do not require you to have done any specific training beforehand; you only need to be a relatively active person who perhaps goes out for a gentle cycle ride two or three times a month just to keep in shape, or who keeps fit ‘spinning’ on a bike in the local gym. However, simply doing gentle exercise at the gym or the swimming pool, for example, would be enough to start with, and remember the golden rule when you do start out cycling to keep fit: don’t pedal too far or too fast.
The medium routes, ranging from 30 to 60 kilometres, have been specifically designed for those with some experience of cycling: people who perhaps cycle for 1 to 2 hours, 4 or 5 times a month, and are able to tackle the occasional short climb without too much trouble. In order to be able to cope comfortably with these medium rides, the ideal thing would be to train for, say, one and a half hours during the 2 months beforehand. Once again, a couple of spinning sessions a week in the gym would be enough to ensure you were sufficiently fit to cope with rides of this kind.
The more difficult routes, on the other hand, are specifically designed for the experienced cyclist who rides on a regular basis, at least during the period prior to the cycle trip or holiday. The substantial length of these routes, and in particular the climbs involved, mean that they are only really suited to those cyclists with experience of tougher riding: people who cycle regularly (a couple of times a week at least), who can do so for up to 3 or 4 hours at a time, and who are used to long climbs of 10 kilometres or more.
The cycle tourist does not really need any special cycle wear, and in the case of the easier rides, a pair of shorts and a T-shirt may well be sufficient. However, it is a good idea to wear cycle shorts, given that the specially-designed padding makes cycling considerably more comfortable and enjoyable. Cyclists should also wear a cycle helmet for their own safety (there is a vast range of attractive, light models currently on sale at affordable prices).
You should also have a pair of sunglasses, if possible those specially designed for cyclists, to keep the sun, wind and insects out of your eyes. For those who intend cycling on a regular basis, you are also advised to acquire the following: a pair of padded cycle gloves to protect your hands and provide a better grip; a cycle jersey made of a breathable fabric, with rear pockets to store all the various items you may need during the course of a ride; and a pair of cycle shoes to be used together with pedals with cleats or with quick-release pedals.
Things to take with you
Those travelling with guides or on organised tours will have no problems to deal with, as they will be well advised what to take with them on their rides, and will probably have assistance on hand as they ride. For those, on the other hand, who wish to cycle independently, then there a number of things to remember: as well as the obligatory cyclist’s water bottle, you are advised to take along a light snack (such as fruit, small jam or honey-filled rolls, an energy bar or two), even though those cyclists who go cycling for fun, or go on a proper cycling holiday, generally prefer to stop off at some point and taste some of the local dishes on offer: in the latter case, the important thing is not to overdo things, as you still have to pedal back to your starting point, which you should definitely not do on a full stomach. Other items you ought to take with you on your ride are a spare inner tube, a bicycle pump and a repair kit, which can be easily attached to the bike in a small pouch fitted beneath your saddle.
The repair kit should contain tyre patches, levers, a chain-link remover and size 4, 5 and 6 Allen keys. It would also be extremely useful to have a small cycle computer fitted to the handlebars – the kind that tells you how many kilometres you have ridden so far, your speed, and so on - in order to make it easier to follow directions and find turnings on smaller roads, although all directions are in general signposted. In the summer you may also wish to carry an insect repellent stick.
Finally, you should also have a few euros on you for emergencies, together with the ‘phone numbers of the local emergency services and, if need be, a mobile ‘phone, although this should only be switched on and used should you be really necessary.