There's nothing like the tail end of winter to set off daydreaming about the year's upcoming vacations, right? This February, I've been reminiscing in particular about a cycling trip I took a few years ago with five friends through Canada's Okanagan Valley wine region. I had done wine-tasting trips before, as well as bike trips, but this was the first time I had combined the two. The good news: We survived, put on some great mileage, drank great wine and are still friends! But we definitely could have planned things better. Here's what I learned:
1. Consider the season along with the destination
The Okanagan Valley wine country is a terrific place to bike around, but our trip in June coincided with a 100° F heat wave (it may be far north, but the valley has a desert climate and regularly notches hot temperatures in the summer)—not the most conducive to either biking or wine tasting. To beat the heat, we had to be out on the road early and done with the biking portion of the day by early afternoon, which meant stopping at wineries around breakfast. May or early fall would have been ideal. If you're planning a trip in the summer, perhaps consider cooler-climate regions, such as New York's Finger Lakes.
2. Choose whether you want a bike trip or a wine-tasting trip
Then make sure everyone in your party knows which one you've chosen and is in agreement. Serious biking enthusiasts aren't going to be that jazzed about stopping every three miles to taste if they want to put in a real ride. Likewise, those looking forward to a leisurely wine-tasting trip aren't going to appreciate clocking 30 kilometers between wineries. Neither option is wrong, but be sure everyone in your group is on board with the route. A compromise: Make time for the cyclists to get some mileage in before the wine-tasting portion of the day.
2b. Some wine regions may be more well-suited to one style of trip
In well-established wine regions with lots of wineries, the stops can come quicker. (Think Napa.) Save the mountainous and more remote regions for a more serious bike trip. We lucked out: The southern portion of the Okanagan wine region was a happy medium. The wineries were somewhat spaced out for a solid ride for my bike enthusiast friends, but not too far apart for wine-loving me.
3. Don't forget biking accessories if you're renting equipment
Biking may seem somewhat fancy free, but there's a lot of gear to consider. If you're planning on renting a bike in your chosen destination (rather than bringing your own), know what equipment comes with your rental. Will you need to bring your own lock, tire patch kit or helmet? How about saddle bags or a trailer (see tip No. 4)?
4. Think about how you're going to carry bottles you buy at the wineries
It's good form to buy a bottle or more at the wineries you visit, especially if you're in a big group, but traveling by bike can limit your options for souvenir purchases. Plan ahead: Do you want the winery to ship home bottles for you or can you swing by later in a car to pick everyone's purchases up? Or make sure you have saddle bags or a backpack in which to safely stow your bottles. On our trip, we took turns driving a support vehicle that carried our luggage (and our wine purchases), which I would highly recommend.
5. Remember to drink water too
With all the wine around, it's easy to forget that you need water. But biking plus alcohol without water equals a headache or worse. Pack plenty of water and refill your bottles at each stop. This also applies to food: Make sure you bring snacks for those low-blood-sugar moments. If you're especially good at planning, you can time your lunch or snack with a winery that has a restaurant or picnic area (not all wineries permit picnics or sell food). If you're biking through more rural areas, considering your food options will be especially important.
Do you have any tips to share about planning a bike trip through wine country? Leave them in the comments below.