Bicycling through wine country may have a few unexpected challenges -- but it comes with oh-so-many rewards. Never been on a wine country cycling adventure? These six tips can get you on your way.
1. Determine your focus. Are you a cycling enthusiast looking for a challenge, an oenophile more interested in tasting than pedaling, or an adventurer who falls somewhere in between? Before you go, determine the focus of your trip. If you want to savor the scenery, book a multi-day excursion through the vineyards; on the other hand, if you want a twist on the usual tasting experience, a one-day outing might be more appropriate.
2. Pick an experience. Cycling options range from bringing your own bicycle and camping under the stars to pedaling behind a guide on a rented bike and sleeping in 5-star hotels. For the self-guided option, you can research your own route or pay a tour company to plan one for you, including winery stops. (Many tour companies, like Wine Country Bikes, serving Sonoma and Napa, have online maps and the option to request a customized itinerary.) On a fully-supported tour, the company does everything but pedal and taste the wines for you. Operators plan the route, book accommodations (and sometimes meals), and transport your luggage. Best of all, if you decide to purchase wine at a tasting, they can load it into the transport van that follows as you go.
3. Research and plan. Where and when you go can make a huge difference. If you’re not a fan of bold reds, cycling through Australia makes more sense than pedaling through Italy. And just as important is when. Texas Hill Country is beautiful in the spring when bluebonnets bloom next to vineyards, but in the dead of summer, the ride between wineries can be hot and miserable. You may also want to check local event calendars -- sharing the road with an influx of motorists can be a little nerve-wracking.
4. Know your limits. You don’t have to be in excellent shape or a skilled cyclist to enjoy a wine country tour, but you do have to be realistic about your abilities. If you haven’t been on a bicycle in ages or are concerned about your physical condition, speak to a tour company or member of a local bicycling club about the best options for you. Local cycling experts can also tell you about challenges on specific routes or what to expect on a certain tour. Don’t rely on the Internet or even a company’s brochures; talk to someone who knows the routes firsthand.
5. Get the right gear. There's no need to spend a fortune preparing for a wine country bicycling tour, but the right gear will make you more comfortable. Even if you plan to cycle for one day, biking shorts can wick moisture away and prevent chafing. At the very least, wear well-ventilated socks and good athletic shoes (biking shoes may not be a bad investment for multi-day trip), and always dress in layers. Tour companies usually have helmets available and will provide water, snacks, and a first aid kit. You may want to bring sunscreen, lip balm, and your camera.
6. Pace yourself. No matter what tour option you choose, don’t forget to sip and spit when necessary. We like sampling wines as much as the next person, but drinking too much at once can impair your balance and your judgment, something you don’t want to risk when sharing the road with motorists who have also been sampling. Save the serious imbibing for the evening, after your finished riding for the day.