Level of Difficulty and Conditioning
The Garden of England tour is fun for both novice and experienced riders. Each day, and especially on days 4 and 7, there are a few fairly sizable hills which will likely be challenging for newer riders. In addition, the hybrid bikes we use are heavier than a typical road bike, and we do some hills off-road. These factors provide a satisfying workout even for experienced riders. Every participant must have some experience cycling, and must be comfortable handling a bike on bumpy, steep downhill descents, sometimes with gravel at the bottom.
However, the mileage is not overwhelming and there is no rush – we have all day. We ride slowly with a lot of breaks, and this has enabled our newer riders to be able to successfully finish the ride and enjoy it. My recommendation for the hills is just to get into a very low gear, go really slooww…, and you’ll be at the top before you know it (or just walk!). If you are relatively new to riding, I recommend you build up over a period of at least 6 weeks, with your last ride at least 35 miles. This will get your legs and your bottom in shape. The Loire River tour is significantly easier, but some level of conditioning and preparation is still crucial for enjoyment of the tour.
If you are not comfortable with challenging hills, I highly recommend you use an electric-assist bike to enable you to fully enjoy your vacation for the Garden of England tour. You wouldn’t believe the smile on e-bikers as they pass the others going up hills. If you are using an electric-bike, it is not as difficult to get ready for the tours. I would still recommend building up over a period of at least 3 weeks, with your last ride at least 20 miles. Even if you are in great non-cycling shape, this will serve to toughen up your butt a bit. If you find you do not have time to do this (or even if you do!), but are still in decent shape, I highly recommend you purchase and bring a removable padded seat cover – these work wonders, I know from personal experience! These seat covers are really helpful for anyone (regular bike or e-bike) not used to being in the saddle all day long, especially not their own. As stated above, you must be comfortable handling a bike in all conditions, and must know how to ride through occasional gravel, and how to ride safely downhill.
You should be aware that approximately 15-20% of the England tour and 5% of the France tour is on roads with some amount of traffic. I have studied and adopted the routes exhaustively to find every conceivable way around the traffic, but as we are doing the tours continuously, through city and country, this is unavoidable. I believe our route enables a much more rewarding experience rather than one in which you are shuttled around from spot to spot. These locations have so much variety, are so beautiful, and are so much fun it’s worth sharing the road a bit! It is therefore incumbent on participants, whether they ride a regular or electric bike, to acquire enough experience in light traffic to feel comfortable. The statistics do show that cycling in Europe is twice as safe as in the US (https://www.bikecitizens.net/presumed-liability-shrinks-cycling-levels).
Riding in the Rain
It’s possible we’ll be caught in the rain at some point. I have never been caught in a thunderstorm, though, and the rain is usually fairly light and only lasts at most 45 minutes to an hour. If you bring the right gear, you can stay fairly dry and comfortable and still have a super ride. Every day I also bring extra shorts & socks in a plastic bag to change into after the rain stops. I recommend you bring the following rain gear:
- Breathable rain jacket with a hood. The temperatures on our tours are low enough so that you can actually wear a rain jacket and not broil (unlike Alabama!).
- Cap with a brim to keep the rain out of your eyes. A traditional bike cap works the best as the brim is short enough to still see the road.
- Showercap to put over your helmet.
- Something for your feet. I haven’t found the best solution for this, but some people try newspaper plastic bags inside your shoes, and there are plastic bags specifically for this sold on Amazon. Another option are rain gaiters, although these are somewhat hard to find and are expensive and bulky. As long as you bring a pair of dry socks to change into after the rain stops, this isn’t too much of a problem.