Biking during travel

One thing that I really enjoy while traveling is trying to put a couple of miles on a bike. It is a great way to explore an area and get a tiny bit of exercise in at the same time. Fortunately, this has become easier in recent years as more cities have adopted bike share programs that make it relatively to get access to a bike while away from home. I’ve never been particularly interested in traveling with one of my own bikes as I’d have to first purchase a bike case that would cost nearly as much as my bike and then I’d still have to pay the various airline fees for oversized baggage, although some airlines have recently removed extra fees for sporting equipment.

As we recently completed 9 months of travel across South America and Europe, I had several opportunities to bike in different places with varying degrees of success.

Cheap bikes for purchase in Perú

Perú has a plethora of options for purchasing cheap bicycles due to the widespread availability of imports. Since we were going to be staying for nearly 5 months, I wanted to get a bike that I would hang onto for the duration of our stay rather than trying to rent a bike each time I wanted to go out for a ride, especially since rentals are not particularly easy to come by in the Sacred Valley. I did spend a little time watching the second-hand market to try to find a bike, but ultimately couldn’t find anything good being offered for a reasonable price, though since we left, I’ve seen good options posted on FB Marketplace (which seems to be the preferred place to buy and sell used stuff in Perú) and a FB group for Sacred Valley folks. Instead, I ended up visiting the Centro Comercial El Molino I to find an import bike. There are a variety of sellers there that offer relatively cheap options. After spending some time visiting each, I eventually negotiated a middle-of-the-road option for 530 soles (about $155). The bike certainly wasn’t anything special and had the “brand name” Ultimate, which is appropriately ambiguous.

The Perú bike, nicknamed Ultimate Junk.

Despite how prevalent bicycles are, finding a bike helmet is another story all together. Eventually with the help of one of our moto drivers, I learned that you can find helmets at the Centro Comercial Confraternidad in Cusco. Like the bike, the helmet wasn’t anything special and was similarly off-brand, but together they allowed me to explore the variety of roadways and cattle paths that the Sacred Valley had to offer. Just no treacherous downhill routes for me without something more confidence inspiring to ride on!

For those with a shorter itinerary who are looking just for a mountain biking experience one one of the fantastic trails in the Sacred Valley, Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking is a well regarded tour operator that provides a good day trip for a couple hundred dollars.

At the end of our stay in Perú I needed to offload the bike and was able to do so fairly easily using FB Marketplace. Ended up selling it for 350 soles (about $104) so for a total expense of ~$50 I had access to a bike for the 5 months of our stay, cheaper than 1, maybe 2, days of rental would have cost me.

Leisure biking in France

I was quite excited at the prospect of spending a month in France as I have always dreamed of biking around the country of France, perhaps following a Tour de France route. To obtain a bicycle, my initial inclination was to purchase a bike like I did in Perú. However, before going that route, we found an AirBnB that had bicycles provided, including for the kids. The provided bikes, including a trailer, proved to be indispensable for getting around town and particularly for grocery pickup.

A grocery pickup. The kids are in there somewhere.

All in all, we didn’t have many opportunities to venture widely across France, primarily due to the early Spring weather. However, we did manage to one day-long journey from Jard-sur-Mer to Les Sables d’Olonne. We took a beautiful trail system called La Vendée à vélo which took us past chateaus, through farm lands and country roads, and eventually to the Atlantic coast. The latter half of the ride turned into a bit of torture as the winds off the ocean picked up and ground our progress to an unbearably slow pace.

Not many options in Aberdeen

Our second month this past Spring was spent in Aberdeen, Scotland. I had hoped with Aberdeen being a larger city, there would be some form of bike share available. Unfortunately, this was not the case, despite some evidence of a bike share program coming and presumably on the horizon. Another option that I explored was beCyCle, which is a bike collective at the University of Aberdeen which says it provides bike loans to the community. However, when I tried to reach them, they were never open during their posted hours, so that turned into a dead end. I wasn’t able to come up with a bike before we left Aberdeen, but I’m definitely planning to return and try out the mountain biking in the Cairngorms.

City bike share programs are great

On our way out of Scotland, we spent three days in Edinburgh, which does have a bike share program. However, with all of the things we were trying to see before we left and the increasing coronavirus restrictions provided no remaining time to make use of it.

Fortunately, an increasing number of cities are offering bike share programs and I will often try to make use of them when visiting cities for conferences or other work travel. I once used the bike share in Columbus, Ohio to make a run to Target to pickup the underwear that I forgot to pack. Since Columbus’ bike share provided 30 minutes of free riding for each check-out, I was able to hop from station to station and keep the cost to a minimum.

The best bike share program I have found so far was in Buenos Aires where bike rentals are free. The only challenge was that my cell phone service, which was supposed to work in Argentina, did not. This meant that I had to request an unlock code using the app while on wifi, then run to the nearest bike station within the 5 minutes that the code was valid.

I really wish that more cities offered subsidized bike share programs as it is a great way to get around a city when you can’t have your own bike for one reason or another.

Published by devinberg

Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

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