Nabbing Free Souvenirs At The Tour De France

Rob Annis

So you’ve promised all your friends and family you’d bring them back souvenirs from your Tour de France trip. Although buying everyone a €20 T-shirt will help solve the lingering effects of the European financial crisis, it’s also going to put a bigger dent in your bank statement than those $1,300 plane tickets to France.

Before the start of each stage, a massive convoy of vehicles called the publicity caravan travels the day’s stage route. Imagine a massive carnival on wheels, filled with water-spraying acrobats, comically oversized plaster bike riders and lots of students throwing out free candy, hats, laundry detergent and more to the fans waiting for the race action to begin. Depending on the number of stages you see, you could easily fill an extra carry-on bag with the trinkets.
Advertisers pay tour organizers more than €150,000 for three or more spots in the caravan, which numbers in the hundreds. But with millions of people lining the route over the 23 days of the Tour, it’s probably a solid investment.

An estimated 11 million items are given away during each year’s Tour, and I managed to snag more than a few of them. But there’s one thing that stands out more than any of the others.

Standing on the side of the road leading up to the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, I desperately tried to nab one of the more prized freebies of the day, a green T-shirt modeled after the Tour’s sprinter jersey, but came up just short. When a couple of candy packages landed at my feet, I handed them to the excited young boy standing next to me rather than stuffing them into my jersey pocket (and later, my mouth). His happiness was contagious, and as more items kept landing next to me, I, in turn, handed them to him.

As the caravan began winding down, I began walking away when I felt a tap on my shoulder. The boy’s grandfather held out one of the T-shirts I attempted to grab earlier, the boy standing behind him with that same smile on his face. I held up my hands, attempting to decline the offer – after all, it didn’t seem like a fair trade – but the grandfather put the T-shirt in my hand and clasped my fingers around the fabric. I offered a heartfelt merci, and the two walked away to rejoin their family. I was grateful for the shirt, but the boy’s generosity will stay with me forever.

Australia’s 2013 Great Victorian Bike Ride Heads Down The Ocean Road

The Great Victorian Bike Ride on the Great Ocean Road
Great Victoran Bike Ride

We’ve noted before just how popular cycling holidays have become in recent years as active and adventurous travelers look for new ways to explore their favorite destinations. Few of those holidays can rival Australia’s annual Great Victorian Bike Ride, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year by riding the Great Ocean Road, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful routes that you could ever hope to pedal.

The 2013 edition of the GVBR will get underway on November 23 and run through December 1. The nine-day tour will set out from the spectacular Blue Lake, located near the town of Mount Gambier in South Australia. From there, the route will wander for 610 kilometers (379 miles) along the Great Ocean Road and into the Otways, a lush and ecologically diverse rainforest punctuated by dramatic rock formations and towering waterfalls.

Tickets for the 2013 GVBR went on sale a few days ago and are already moving fast. The ride is limited to just 6000 participants, which sounds like a lot but previous years have actually sold out quite quickly. Anyone interested in joining in on the fun should book early to avoid getting completely shut out. Organizers say they have already seen a record amount of interest in the ride this year with entries going quickly.This is a fully catered camping tour that provides riders with such amenities as luggage transport, a medical team, traveling cycling repair facilities and a cafe. That frees up participants to just climb on their bikes and enjoy the ride, which should be a spectacular one along a very scenic route. It also gives the riders an opportunity to interact with the local Aussies and experience the hospitality that they are so famous for.

Entry fee for the GVBR is $895 AUD for adults, $655 AUD for children ages 13-17 and $330 AUD for kids 6-12. Riders who are 5 and under can join the tour for free.

If you’ve been considering a cycling tour but weren’t sure exactly where you’d like to go, the Great Victorian Bike Ride may be just what you’re looking for. It is a wonderful blend of adventure, scenery and Australian hospitality that shouldn’t be missed. For an idea of what to expect on the road, check out the video below.

Gadling Gear Review: Cannondale CAAD8 5 105 Road Bike

Cannondale CAAD8 Road BikeOne of the fastest growing segments in adventure travel over the past few years has been in the area of cycling tours. Many active travelers have discovered that rolling along on the back of a bike provides a unique and personal perspective to the places they visit. A cycling tour gives riders a chance to travel at a measured pace, allowing them the opportunity to savor the environments they pedal through while interacting with the locals on a completely different level. Each of these elements has helped to contribute to the rise in popularity of these types of tours, which are now offered on six continents.

Unlike many other types of travel, a cycling tour is the kind of trip that you actually have to physically prepare for long before you actually embark. For instance, you’ll want to ensure that your body is up for the long days in the saddle and capable of pedaling for extended distances. You’ll also want to be sure that it is actually something you’re going to enjoy, otherwise the trip will quickly turn from a relaxing experience into endless days of misery.

One of the key elements that can sway your decision in either direction is the quality of the bike you train on. You’ll want something that is lightweight, properly sized for your body and just plain fun to ride. Take for example the CAAD8 5 105 from Cannondale, a bike that is designed with beginner and intermediate riders in mind that offers a refined cycling experience at a surprisingly affordable price.Cannondale was generous enough to loan me a CAAD8 to test drive for a few weeks and as an avid cyclist, I can honestly say that it has been a blast to ride. It features an aluminum frame that is both tough and incredibly lightweight, and the included components are of a higher quality than I would have expected for a bike that falls into this price range. Those components include a Shimano gear set, Tektro brakes and plenty of Cannondale’s own proprietary equipment. The CAAD8 has even inherited some design elements from Cannondale’s more expensive, upscale models, giving it a premium feel without breaking your bank account.

All of those technical specs don’t amount to much if the bike doesn’t perform well out on the road. Fortunately, over the past 40+ years Cannondale has learned a thing or two about putting a great bike together. The CAAD8 handles extremely well, hugging corners like a sports car and accelerating along straightaways with impressive bursts of speed. The gear system was quick to respond when shifting either up or down and the breaks brought the bike to a halt quickly, smoothly and quietly.

Of course, a lot of bikes handle well when they aren’t put under too much pressure, but add a few decently sized hills to your route and you’ll quickly gain a better understanding of just how well they truly performs. With its lightweight and nimble frame, I found myself effortlessly pedaling the CAAD8 up some challenging slopes that looked a lot more daunting when approaching from the bottom. The bike’s ability to climb so well will be much appreciated by beginner cyclists who are still learning the nuances of riding as it provides for a more forgiving approach on longer and steeper hills.

I’ve mentioned several times throughout this review that the CAAD8 5 105 offers great performance for the price. This really can’t be stated often enough as this bike does deliver a surprisingly great value. While putting it through its paces on a variety of roads I was continually amazed at how smooth it rode and how well it handled. If I hadn’t already known the price tag on this bike you could have told me it cost twice what Cannondale is charging and I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least. The fact that this bike can compete with bikes in an entirely different price class says a lot about what has been delivered here.

And just how much does this model of the CAAD8 cost? The MSRP on this bike is $1450, which puts it well out of the range of those who would typically buy their bikes at Walmart. But that price is actually quite affordable for a someone who is serious about cycling or is hoping to get into the sport more fully. Cannondale hasn’t skimped on the extras either as the bike ships with a basic pair of pedals, a fairly comfortable seat and even a water bottle cage. Some of those items will actually cost extra on a lot of bikes from the competition. That said, you’ll probably want to upgrade the pedals at some point, as I found myself missing the clipless models on my personal bike while I test drove this one.

So, just how well does the CAAD8 perform as a training or touring bike? In both cases, I’d say it does a remarkable job. The bike is fast, agile and just plain fun to ride. That is the magic formula that makes you actually want to take it out on the road, which is just what you need when you’re prepping for a cycling tour of Italy or France. And should you decide to take this bike on one of those tours, I think you’ll find that it is more than up to the task.

Beginner cyclists will love the CAAD8 for its forgiving ride that allows them to build their skills without crushing their new-found love for the sport. More experienced riders will find the bike more than exceeds their expectations for the price. Those poor saps are apt to wonder why they paid so much for their bike without getting an appreciable gain in performance.

[Photo Credit: Cannondale]

Food And Wine Bike Tours Visit Italy’s Dolomite Mountain Range

Food And Wine

Food and wine may already be an embedded focus of vacation plans for many travelers. It’s not something to put on a to-do list, pencil in on an itinerary or even think all that much about when traveling. But maybe it should be. Travel companies feature and package food and wine bike tours in sizes that fit just about anyone and in 2013, there are plenty of them.

Discovering and experiencing unique cuisine around the world can make for rich, vivid travel memories. Tasting a wine in the region it was created can make us fans of a label for life.

ItaliaOutdoors Food and Wine is a private guide service that creates biking, skiing and hiking adventures with world-class culinary programs. Last year, in Bike Tour Cycles Through Culture, Food In Italy, Gadling shared information about ItaliaOutdoors‘ Summer Chefs On Bikes Tour. That seven-day, June 2012 event took cyclists on one of the former trade routes that distributed spices and goods from the East throughout Western Europe.

This year, ItaliaOutdoors has several bike tours through the Dolomite mountain range in northeast Italy, starting this spring. Each tour is a challenging climb and riding exploration that gets up close and personal with Italy’s rich culinary heritage.

Train Like a Local – May 26 to June 1, 2013
As close to a beginner/intro bike tour as one might get, this one focuses on climbs ranging between 900 and 1700 meters in the foothills of the Dolomites. Train Like a Local prepares cyclists for more challenging climbs in the upper Dolomites and the Alps. Along the way, group members sample regional cuisine and discover local wines unknown beyond the area.
The tour repeats September 1-7, 2013.The Agony and the Ecstasy tour – June 9 to 15, 2013
For more experienced cyclists, this tour brings one of the hardest climbs in northeast Italy. Designed for cyclists who have trained hard and are ready for difficult climbs, this tour features the regions of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia, with stops to sample and savor local delicacies such as prosciutto, homemade gnocchi and grappa.

The Classic Climb tour – July 7 to 13, 2013
Adventure travelers will like that this tour traces a path through the heart of the Dolomites, combining little-known passes with the rigorous bike climbs that have made the region a sought-after destination for cyclists. Experiencing the blend of Italian and Austrian/Germanic cultures that define the region, expert cyclist and mountain guide Vernon McClure and cooking instructor and chef Kathy Bechtel, also an avid biker, will be along for the ride. The tour repeats September 8-4, 2013.

Limiting groups of 12 people or less, ItaliaOutdoors makes daily customization and refinement changes to itineraries, based on participants’ interests, pacing and real-time finds along the way.

ItaliaOutdoors also features private bike tours where a custom trip is planned and your tour is personally led by their owner/expert guides, as we see in this video:




Other sources for cycling tours include the Bike Tour Network, BackRoads and Bike Tours Direct.

[Photo Credit-Flickr user will_cyclist]

Take A Cycling Tour Of Brooklyn

Get Up and Ride Cycling Tour of BrooklynWith its rich history and ethnic influence, Brooklyn remains one of the most interesting and unique places to visit in all of New York City. The borough features numerous neighborhoods that exude equal parts big city sophistication and small town charm, and the local cuisine, heavily influenced by its immigrant roots, is simply heavenly. Put simply, a visit to NYC isn’t complete without a visit to Brooklyn and now travelers have a new option for exploring the city in the form of Get Up and Ride – Brooklyn’s first cycling tour company.

Cycling tours continue to grow in popularity and Brooklyn seems tailor-made for exploring on a bike. With that in mind, Get Up and Ride offers two different tours that vary in duration, distance and price. The Classic Tour, for instance, is just 10 miles in length and takes approximately 3 to 3.5 hours to complete. Riders visit such neighborhoods as Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights and the Brooklyn Navy Yard while making stops for food and drinks in the Dekalb Market. The tour, which features excellent views of Manhattan, even wraps up with a ferry ride at the end of the day.

Stretching five hours in length and covering a distance of 15 miles, the Best of Brooklyn Tour requires a bit more of a commitment. Riders will pedal deeper into the heart of the borough itself and get an even better sense of its urban setting. The route takes them through some of the same places as the Classic Tour but adds Clinton Hill, Fort Green and extended looks at some of the other neighborhoods. The stop at the market and ferry ride remain a part of this itinerary as well. The Best of Brooklyn Tour runs $95 while The Classic is priced at just $65.

The company uses bikes that are designed to be fun, comfortable and easy to ride so even if it has been awhile since you’ve ridden you should feel right at home. Safety is of the utmost concern so tours stay on routes with dedicated bike lanes and each participant is issued a helmet at the start of the ride. Group size is limited to just 8 people, which not only helps to keep the group organized but provides for a more intimate experience.

Tours run nearly every day but you’ll want to check the calendar for availability. For more information, or to book a tour, visit the Get Up and Ride website or Facebook page.