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5 Tips for Planning a Bike Trip Through Wine Country

Start daydreaming now …
Photo by: Mark Weinberg

Posted: Mar 4, 2014 12:40pm ET

By Jennifer Fiedler

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.

Richard Lee
Napa —  March 4, 2014 4:36pm ET
I knew right away, once I say the headline that this article would be just like the weatherman on TV telling me that it is raining and to use my windshield wipers/Umbrella!..Lol!....

Why is it that people in the media act like everyone out there is clueless and that "only" they know how to live!.....

Btw, check the weather before you leave work today. It might be raining and....Lol!
Michael Barrasso
Bay Head, NJ, USA —  March 4, 2014 5:02pm ET
Nothing like 12 bottles in your panniers at the end of a day to make you rethink whether you should have spit a few times in the tasting rooms.
Harriet Guthertz
St. Paul MN USA  —  March 4, 2014 7:07pm ET
Anyone have any experience biking the Alsace? Sounds like a fascinating place to visit for good wine, food, and some serious biking.
Jennifer Fiedler
New York —  March 5, 2014 2:42pm ET
Hi Harriet: I don't, but I definitely agree. If you go, please let us know how the trip went!
Lisa Mattson
Santa Rosa, CA —  March 5, 2014 2:48pm ET
I'm always amazed at how many tourists try to do bike tours on Highway 128 in Alexander Valley and West Dry Creek Road in Dry Creek Valley. Very dangerous with no shoulders. Do you know of any tourist resource guide that lists true, bike-friendly wine roads?
Jennifer Fiedler
New York —  March 5, 2014 4:24pm ET
Hi Lisa: Great point--many of the prettiest roads through wine country are not the safest for biking. Helmets, bright clothing and reflectors are a must. I'm not aware of any guide like that, but I hope there's one out there somewhere!
Vince Liotta
Elmhurst, Il —  March 5, 2014 5:42pm ET
Harriet, I highly recommend a trip to Alsace. Beautiful. And very bike friendly. We met up with friends of ours from Switzerland who were there specifically to bike. George Lorentz, of Gustave Lorentz, is an avid biker. (I'm sure he would be happy to have you visit his winery)
The wines, although perhaps somewhat of an acquired taste for some, are splendid, and you can get some very fresh Alsatian Pinot Noir which simply isn't the same here.
There are numerous pristine little villages to stay between Strasbourg and Colmar, especially nice if you are an early to bed early to rise sort--they start to die out around 8pm, while church bells can ring at 6am the next morning.
Food of course is great. My only caveat is a lot of rich food and pork, with every meal if you want. We finally found some restaurants with a bit more balance.

Tom
Jim Edmiston
Chino,CA, USA —  March 6, 2014 10:32am ET
My wife and I recently did a wine and bike trip to the Solvang area with another couple (two tandems) and had a wonderful time. The key was not to combine the riding with the wine tastings and eating. Breakfast EARLY at Ellen's Pancake House in Buellton, thirty miles of biking on Santa Rosa Creek Rd, clean-up at our motel then out to taste and enjoy the countryside by car... no problems! Paso Robles also offers plenty of the same.
Brian Adams
Glenview, IL —  March 7, 2014 9:59am ET
Ms Fiedler's checklist is spot-on, but I'd like to add one more: Spend a little more, if possible, and upgrade your experience. Our more expensive Butterfield & Robinson bike trip through Bordeaux many years ago was thoroughly more enjoyable than the trip we took through a discount operation. Both trips included meals, hotel, bikes, and accessories, but the discounted trip was...well...a less memorable experience. Bottom line: you really do get what you pay for.
Richard Kim
Anaheim, CA, USA —  March 10, 2014 7:25pm ET
I'm an avid cyclist as well as wine lover, but I would personally never want to combine the two. I've passed many wineries on rides and the last thing I'd want to do is interrupt a great ride, tromp in with my cycling shoes and lycra tights, and taste. I've also ended many afternoons of tasting, satisfied and happy, and the last thing I'd want to do is have to ride a bike to the hotel! Therefore I combine my passions by riding in the morning and tasting in the afternoon, after a nice lunch has filled my stomach. Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Napa and Sonoma all have great scenic roads to ride that are not on the main highway. Without having to stop at wineries, you can plan the ideal ride for the day. Then shower, eat, and you're ready to taste!
Michael P Redden
Ontario, Canada —  March 13, 2014 10:55am ET
This past fall we completed a one week biking/walking trip through Burgundy. Lots of safe trails and roads through the vineyards. Even when we had to bike on the roads we felt very safe. And the wine....
Chambers And Chambers
San Francisco, CA —  March 14, 2014 12:59pm ET
We used Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours in Santa Ynez, and it was perfect for our group. We all wanted to get a nice ride in before any tasting, and the route they took us on was amazing! After the first mile or so from their shop, we were on pristine, secluded roads (I think we saw 6-8 cars all day). We were able to get a 40 mile ride in with some climbing and then stopped at a winery for lunch and tasting. They had beautiful salads and cheeses and fruit laid out for us. The wines were great, and the tour company took bottles back to their shop for us. After lunch, we took the short cruise back to their shop, went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and then hit the trail for a couple more tasting on our own based on their recommendations. It was an amazing day with true professionals and just great people.

Sorry, this sounds more like a plug for them than it was supposed to, but the point is, working with a tour company may cost a little more money, but definitely has its advantages. We LOVED it!!

OH... also, they had a pretty great "bike map" of the area that they'd developed with route descriptions and color coded hills based on difficulty. Really great map for that area.
Sean P Clifford
Vail, Colorado —  March 19, 2014 6:56am ET
If you love biking, France is a better experience than the US. You can jump on trains to bypass dull areas. The French are biker friendly. New Zealand is great bike touring. Australia has pristine bike "rails to trails" in Mclaren Vale and Barossa. I still enjoy biking in Washington, Oregon and California. Car camping is cheap and you will get a true sense of the place after biking up the hills and against the wind

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