As more travelers seek out experience-based vacations and stray further away from traditional “tourist traps”, bike and barge tours have emerged as a booming trend—particularly among people over the age of 50. With adventure travel and river cruising also rising in popularity, bike and barge tours offer the best of both worlds: the excitement of an active, culturally immersive, off-the-beaten-path experience, combined with the all-inclusive comforts and amenities of a river cruise!
So, with nice weather just around the corner and Witte’s Bike & Barge Tour from Amsterdam to Bruges coming up this September, I’ve answered some FAQ’s about bike and barge tours.
What is a bike and barge tour?
On bike and barge tours, travelers spend the day cycling at a leisurely pace on a guided ride along paved bike paths, with breaks for sightseeing, guided tours, or independent exploration. Meanwhile, the barge (which functions like a floating hotel) meets the riders at their final destination each evening with enough time for freshening up before dinner. Although the word “barge” may bring to mind images of flat-bottomed, cargo-laden freighters, rest assured that the barges used for these tours are either brand new or refurbished into luxury passenger ships that are perfect for cruising along rivers and canals.
Why travel by bike?
Biking is my favorite way to experience a new place! You can still cover a reasonable distance while interacting with your environment in a way that gets lost when traveling by train or car– catching a whiff of fresh bread from the bakery as you pass through a small town, smiling and nodding at the locals that you encounter on the bike path, and feeling the sun on your face and the breeze in your hair. You can pause any time to snap a picture or admire the view. As an added bonus, the exercise releases endorphins that can boost the mood, making the ride even more pleasant!
How fit or experienced do I need to be to participate?
Bike and barge tours are designed to accommodate beginner-level riders. So if you can ride a bike, then you have all the experience you need! Although it certainly helps to be in good shape, you don’t need to be an athlete to participate in rides like this. If you can ride a bike for an hour, you should be just fine. A tour is not a race—the pace is leisurely, and you can pause to rest any time that you need to. You can even choose to ride an electric bike (e-bike) if you think you’ll need a “boost” once in a while! And lastly, no ride is mandatory. If you want to skip a ride, you are welcome to stay on the barge and catch up with the riders at the next stop.
How can I prepare ahead of time?
Even if you are physically active and in good shape, you may still want to do some preparation ahead of time. For one thing, sitting on a bicycle seat for a couple of hours a day can take some getting used to! Besides, it never hurts to start lightly exercising those cycling muscles so that you are in peak condition when it’s time for the trip. If you’d like to prepare in advance, here’s an excellent 12-week training plan to get you ready!
How long is each day’s ride?
The Amsterdam to Bruges route averages about 40 kilometers (approximately 28 miles) per day, with options to lengthen or shorten your ride if you’d like.
What type of clothing should I pack for cycling?
If you already own padded cycling shorts, you’ll want to bring them along. If you don’t own any padded cycling shorts, no worries — they aren’t absolutely necessary. However, if you think you’ll be uncomfortable on a bike seat for a couple of hours each day, you might consider investing in a pair – you can find them in any local bike shop (I’ve included a few at the end of this post). The high-end ones can be $70+, but you can also find very good brands for $20-$30.
Otherwise, just bring some pants or shorts that you can move comfortably in, lightweight tops, and a jacket or sweatshirt in case it gets chilly. A lightweight waterproof jacket is ideal, in case of rain—riding in wet clothes is no fun!
Is it safe to cycle in Europe?
Absolutely. Cycling is a huge mode of transportation in Europe, particularly the Netherlands, so cyclists are well-heeded and respected by drivers. In the Netherlands, cyclists always have the right of way, and cars are required to yield for cyclists entering traffic circles or intersections. Often, the bike paths themselves resembled two-lane roads, with lines painted down the middle. Cycling is an integral part of the culture in the Netherlands; the Dutch begin cycling soon after learning how to walk, so don’t be too surprised if you get passed by a four-year old breezing along on the smallest two-wheeler you’ll ever see.
Do I need to bring my own bike or gear?
Nope! Comfortable touring bicycles will be provided with 24 speeds, hand brakes, pannier bags, lock, water bottle, and insurance. There are different frame sizes available according to height. Helmets may be reserved in advance and it is also possible to reserve an E-bike, a bicycle with a motor that can be switched on if you get tired.
What will the terrain be like?
Smooth and easy! The landscape in the Netherlands is very flat; more than half of the country is less than 3-4 feet above sea level. The elevation of Bruges is only about 40 feet above sea level.
Bike & Barge Tour: From Amsterdam to Bruges // September 16 – 24, 2016
How much does the tour cost, and what is included?
The tour cost is approximately $3,599 per person*, and this includes just about everything but your souvenirs!
– Round-trip flights from Grand Rapids
– Land transfers to and from the airport in Europe
– Seven nights on board Sailing Home
– Meals on board daily: Dutch breakfasts, sack lunches, afternoon coffee/tea, and three-course dinners
– The services of an experienced European tour guide and the ship’s crew
– Tipping and taxes on all tour services
– Bicycles and gear
What is the barge like?
The barge Sailing Home started cruising in 2001. This beautiful passenger ship, rated as a “comfort deluxe barge” has two floors. On the top floor you will find the salon, a roomy lounge, a cozy bar and a sun deck. The lower level has thirteen spacious and comfortable twin-berth cabins with private bathrooms, central heating, and air conditioning.
Who will be leading the tour?
This tour will be hosted by Bruce Buursma, a writer who has traveled widely and especially enjoys biking through the low countries of Europe. As a journalist, Bruce covered religion for the Chicago Tribune and reported from more than 50 countries around the globe and earned recognition as a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Currently, he is an independent consultant who produces videos and crafts written messages for clients. Bruce lives in Grand Haven, Michigan, and travels both for work and pleasure.
The group will also be accompanied by a multi-lingual European tour leader/ bicycle guide.
Where can I find the tour itinerary?
You can find a detailed tour brochure and day-to-day itinerary here. Highlights include vibrant Amsterdam, lovely Gouda, Kinderdijk with its immense windmills, the amazing Delta Works, lively Middleburg, historic Ghent, and charming Bruges.
How can I sign up?
Interested in coming along? Great! There are a couple of ways that you can register for the tour:
Online: Visit www.regonline.com/091616BUUR
On paper: Print out and complete the tour registration form, enclose your deposit check, and mail it to: Witte Travel & Tours, 3250 28th St SE, Grand Rapids MI, 49512
If you want to bring some of your own gear (helmet, bike shorts, gloves, etc.), consider stopping into one of these local bike shops:
Velo City Cycles (Holland)
West Michigan Bike & Fitness (Grandville | Holland | Kentwood)
Village Bike & Fitness (Jenison | Grand Rapids | Cascade)
Have you ever been on a bike & barge tour? Share your stories or questions with us in the comments, or let us know on Facebook.