How to go on a cycling holiday with your partner and not kill each other
Are you interested in joining your cycling obsessed partner on a bike holiday, but are worried about having a cardiac arrest before you make it to the first coffee stop?
Or maybe your partner is interested in going on a cycling holiday and you’ve been convinced it’s a great idea.
From experience I will give you one piece of advice. If you don’t want your relationship to end very quickly, you should probably spend a bit of time researching what a cycling holiday involves.
Brochures paint a perfect picture. You imagine pedaling through the provencal countryside, stopping by the side of the road to share a picnic of cheese, grapes and a fresh baguette that you picked up at a local boulangerie.
In reality, you soon realise the provencal countryside is stinking hot in July, you got lost and ended up on the motorway, and you ate all your food in the first hour and now can’t find a place to stop for lunch because it’s a Monday and all shops in Europe seem to be closed.
Cycling holidays can be incredible. Pretty much every holiday I’ve been on in the last seven years has been on a bike with my partner - even my honeymoon! And yes there were a couple of times we almost got divorced. I particularly remember one day when we went out on the bikes for a gentle 20km tootle, got lost, and ended up doing 80kms through the hills in a rainstorm. Our vows were tested that day.
Being prepared is a must. There is nothing worse than imagining sharing an amazing experience with your significant other, solving the problems of the world as you pedal along quiet roads...then find yourselves arguing half way up the first climb.
Often the issue is that one person is fitter than the other, and either one or both of you have unrealistic expectations about your holiday.
So, from my personal experiences, here are a few tips that might help.
Consider booking an organised tour
If it’s your first cycling trip together, you might want to consider booking yourself on a tour. Your entire route will be pre-planned and there is little possibility of the trip turning into a disaster. There are plenty of cycling tour companies out there that will book your accommodation, plan your meals, organise bike hire, plan the routes. All you need to do is show up. So that takes out the first stress.
Often they give you ride options throughout the day that cater to your abilities. This is great, because if you feel like a harder or easier day there is no pressure on the other person to choose the same option. If you book a supported tour, there is also the option of getting in the bus if it gets a bit tough.
I often disregard organised tours as I think i’ll end up being shackled with a few crazies that I don't particularly want to hang out with. However, this can work in a couple’s favour - if there are people on the tour that are a bit weird, then you end up bonding with your partner as you will spend half your time thanking your lucky stars that you are with each other and not the weird guy. Also, having other people on the tour can break the tension that can build up after a tiring, intense day of riding. It’s great to have a few others to chat to if you are sick of each other!
Be smart about planning the route
If you are organising your own holiday, then make sure you plan your route well. Take it from me, your relationship will take some battering if you accidentally take your less experienced partner up a 20km climb because you didn’t read the map the night before.
If you’ve got a garmin bike computer, you can upload maps into it before you go on your holiday. Beware of Google maps - they are often not as accurate as using a Strava route. Google maps don’t take into account what type of bike you are riding. For example if you are on a road bike, you don’t want to end up on a dirt trail on top of a mountain somewhere. Google Maps also often direct you to ride on bike paths. This is ok, but make sure you check the quality of the path as Google doesn’t think about that - have a look on Google Earth/Street View before you start riding. If the bike path is of poor quality you don’t want to end up having to ride on a major busy road with no other option but to backtrack 50kms.
When you are planning the day’s ride, make sure the distance and amount of climbing are within your comfort zone. If the day is too much physical strain on one or both of you, it is really easy to get tired and start snapping at each other.
Check out route builders online to help plan your rides. Websites like Strava allow users to create routes based on the most common rides all users have done over the years. This is great as it will generally take you on the quieter roads and some more scenic hills. But beware and check where the route takes you. Around cities for example some routes include main roads as many racing cyclists do big bunch rides and it doesn’t use the more touring friendly cycle ways that are better to ride on if you there are only a couple of you.
Be smart about the area you choose to ride in. For example if it is your partner's first trip to the mountains, ideally pick a region with long steady gradients (e.g. the French Alps). Going straight to an area like the Dolomites with many steep grinding climbs will make it more of a 'character building' trip...but that may not be what you both wanted!
Honestly, just knowing what you’ve got ahead of you will take the stress out of the day. I would much rather know that the route for the day is 70 kms long and includes 3 big hills than going in blind. That way you can just pedal away, knowing what’s ahead of you and enjoy it together.
Build up your fitness before you go
It sounds like a no-brainer, but the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy your holiday together. You don’t want to end up so exhausted that you start resenting the whole “this will be fun!” notion that was presented to you. So do a few rides, go for a run or whatever exercise you enjoy so you have a decent level of fitness before you go.
If you are not a cyclist it is a good idea to do some cycling before you go just so you get used to riding on a road, which is different to an exercise bike. Even if you are fit, cycling fitness is quite different to running/swimming fitness. You use different muscles when you are cycling (and you will know it by the end of the ride!!) so try and work on building up the muscles you will use on a bike.
You want your holiday to be fun! And you don’t want to be so exhausted at the end of the day that you can’t be bothered leaving your hotel room.
Do a test ride together
When Phil and I first bought touring bikes we were planning a two week touring holiday around Tasmania, we decided to go for a “test tour” over a weekend to see if we enjoyed it. This was a good way to iron out all the bumps that you might encounter when you are carrying all your gear on the back of your bike. It also allowed us to get used to our bikes, and figure out if we needed to change anything on them before we went on a bigger trip.
It’s also a good way to figure out if you can handle riding together all day & gauge how you react when you start to get tired.
Hire a decent bike and buy a good pair of knicks
If you are hiring a bike, i’d suggest upgrading to one that is comfortable, light and has good gearing on it. It will be worth every penny. It is amazing how much difference a good quality bike makes to a long day in the saddle.
Also, make sure you have a good pair of cycling knicks (shorts). Lose that lycra phobia if you have one and embrace the chamois. You will love that padding at the end of the day!
Take some R&R days
Cycling tours can be tiring, particularly if you are not a regular cyclist. So take some rest days, it is a holiday after all! A good way to convince a reluctant partner to come on a cycling holiday is to sell the sights you will see along the way. I’m pretty sure the only reason I went on my first big cycling tour to France was because I thought I’d be visiting lots of castles, going truffle hunting and gorging myself on fondue. In reality I spent most days slogging it up mountains, cursing my husband on every pedal stroke.
This experience taught me one thing - don’t let your husband organise cycling trips. Now I’ve taken over the planning of our holidays there is much more sightseeing involved...and way more gelato stops...and our trips have a great balance of cycling and relaxation.
We are still going on the holidays together, so this formula must be working!
Don't treat it like a training camp. Point out scenery, not watts.
Ok, this advice is for the die hard cyclists out there. Remember you are on a holiday. With your partner. Who you have somehow managed to convince to come on a cycling holiday rather than going to the Maldives. If you want this holiday to not go down in the history of worst ideas ever, then make sure you chill out a bit. It’s not all about getting a Strava segment or the KOM, it’s more about your relationship still being intact when you get to the airport to fly home.
Look away from your Garmin and take in your surroundings. That’s what you are here for right? Surely that view of the Alps as you come around a hairpin is more memorable than whether you were holding your FTP. Chat to each other, stop to take photos and if you really need to grab a Strava segment, give you partner some warning before hand, don’t just take off!
However if you don't want to take a certain climb easy then you are better off climbing at your own pace and meeting at the top. Don't push your partner to kill themselves just because you want to smash yourself.
Also, for couples who are both strong riders, make sure you do take some time to relax and enjoy the ride rather than simply smashing yourself every day. That’s what your training rides were for!
My biggest tip? Enjoy yourselves and appreciate the fact you are both fit and healthy and enjoy doing things together. Happy travels!