Fully Supported Tours
I took part in 10 fully supported tours over the past 13 years. They varied greatly in duration, numbers of riders, and the nature of the routes, but they also shared many similarities.
Tent rentals at Bike Florida.
On each tour, we stayed in campgrounds, parks, schools, colleges, fairgrounds, or convention or recreation centers. On most tours you can camp out, sleep on the floor in a building, pay a tent rental service to handle your camping needs, or book lodging on your own. You usually have the option to sign up for catered breakfasts and dinners for an extra fee. On many days, you often have the option of different routes of varying length.
Cycle Maryland, which I went on 2006, was discontinued a year or two later. That year it was based at Princess Anne on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and was similar in nature to the Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride described below.
One of the rewards of biking in Florida: beaches.
Takes Place: late March or early April
Duration: 7 days
Where: Different regions throughout Florida
Routes: Loop routes among 3 or 4 host sites
My Tours: 2004, 2013, 2014, 2016
Bike Florida was my very first bicycle tour, and the only one I’ve gone on more than once. I enjoy exploring Florida, and this tour makes for a nice end of winter getaway. Bike Florida has taken me through the springs-rich region of northern Florida between Gainesville and the Gulf of Mexico, the citrus-growing region of central Florida south of Orlando, the Atlantic Coast region of northeastern Florida, and the Gulf Coast region around Sarasota.
At Gasparilla Island State Park on the Gulf Coast.
On Bike Florida tours, you can look forward a lot of flat riding, although some regions have more hills than you might expect. Another thing you might not expect is the wide temperature range. It can get surprisingly cold at night—down to the low 40s—in northern or central Florida in early spring.
I plan to publish a blog post soon on Bike Florida, its past routes, its plans for the future, and next year’s spring tour.
Bon Ton Roulet
A typical view in the Finger Lakes region.
Takes Place: July
Duration: 7 days
Where: Finger Lakes region, New York
Route: Loop route among 6 host sites
My Tour: 2012
Besides cycling in Florida, I’m partial to exploring my home state. The popular Bon Ton Roulet tour introduced me to the Finger Lakes region of central New York. Each year the route and overnight locations vary. But you can always be sure of lovely rural and lakeside scenery, farms, wineries, handsome historic towns, lots of rolling hills, and the occasional steep climb.
Exploring the gorge in Watkins Glen State Park.
My tour led me through beautiful areas and towns I’d missed seeing during all those dozens of times I’d driven straight across the state. Among the places where we stayed were Cortland, the starting and ending point; Auburn, at the head of Owasco Lake; Geneva, on one end of Seneca Lake; Watkins Glens, on the other end; and a state park just outside Ithaca.
I decided to try the tent rental service, which included a roomy tent, thick air mattress, chair, and other perks. I enjoyed letting someone else do the work of setting up and breaking down camp. One particularly memorable experience: the fierce, blinding downpour during the tour’s final couple of miles—one of the worst storms I’ve ever been caught in while on a bike, and an experience my friends and I still talk about.
BubbaFest – Florida Keys
The Bahia Honda Bridge in the Lower Keys.
Takes Place: November
Duration: 6 days
Riders: Up to 200
Where: Florida Keys
Route: Key Largo to Key West and back
My Tour: 2009
Bubba’s Pampered Pedalers, those cheerful folks who provide tent rental services on many bicycle tours, run BubbaFest. As the name implies, Bubba aims for a rollicking good time. The result is partly fun and partly tacky. It has its fans; many people do BubbaFest year after year.
I had mixed feelings about my tour. I came alone and at times felt like I was crashing some stranger’s party. I rented both tent and bike, so it was a pretty carefree trip. But I wasn’t in a carefree mood at the time and never got into the festive groove.
The old highway bridge from the top of the current Seven Mile Bridge.
However, for me the biking’s the thing, and I really enjoyed cycling in the Keys. About half of the riding is on bike paths, and most of the rest is on reasonably wide shoulders. The views of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico (sometimes from the same spot) can’t be beat. You go over many bridges, including the iconic Seven Mile Bridge, which takes you about as far out to sea as you can get on a bicycle. You’re usually going with the wind on the way down the Keys and against it coming back. It was an easy two-day ride from Key Largo to Key West, where we had a day off to explore that end-of-road town. A bicycle is the best way to get around Key West, and one of the best ways to see the Keys.
C&O Canal / Great Allegheny Passage
Entering Pennsylvania on the GAP trail.
Takes Place: Early summer or fall
Duration: 8 days
Riders: Up to 70
Where: Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh, PA
Route: C&O Canal towpath and Great Allegheny Passage rail trail
My Tour: 2008
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath begins in the nation’s capitol and connects with the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail trail at Cumberland in western Maryland to provide a continuous off-road route from Washington to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a distance of some 335 miles.
Many cycle touring organizations run tours along this route. I took mine through the Adventure Cycling Association. At the time, the GAP trail hadn’t quite been completed, so the tour ended in the town of Boston, a little short of Pittsburgh. We were bused back to Washington from there. It’s easy to plan and execute a trip on your own as well, given the availability of campsites, towns, and lodging along the way.
A view from the GAP trail in southern Pennsylvania.
This isn’t a route for those who want to ride hard and fast, but for those interested in biking past, across, or through transportation relics of bygone days and getting away from it all—you’re really out in the boondocks for much of the way. You encounter lots of wonderful tunnels, bridges, aqueducts, canal locks, and countless other historic structures. The canal towpath is rough in places, but the crushed gravel GAP trail is smoother. By the end of the trip, you’ve traversed the better part of two states and crossed the Appalachian Mountains without hardly realizing it.
Cycle the Erie Canal
The Erie Barge Canal lock at Lockport.
Takes Place: July
Duration: 9 days
Where: Buffalo to Albany, NY
Route: Erie Canal trail, some on-road routes
My Tour: 2011
Another great canal trip is the annual Erie Canal tour offered by Parks & Trails New York. They have been doing this tour over the same route for nearly two decades, so it’s very well organized and run. For me, it was quite a thrill to bike 400 miles all the way across New York State from the Niagara River to the Hudson River.
The finish line along the Hudson River in Albany.
You can park in Albany and (for an extra fee) take a shuttle bus to Buffalo, where the tour starts. The tour route generally follows the still-working Erie Barge Canal and sections of the historic Erie Canal that are no longer used. The riding is mostly off road, and the sections on roads are safe and easy. You go through lots of historic canal towns and small cities. There are many historical sites and museums to visit along the way. Like the Bon Ton Roulet, this tour introduced me to many places in my home state I’d only heard about or seen in passing from a car window. Like the C&O Canal/GAP tour, this tour attracts a more family-oriented, history-appreciative crowd than your typical bicycle tour. Riders range from surprisingly young to surprisingly old. Some have taken the tour many times.
Among all the fully supported tours I’ve taken, I think the Erie Canal tour was my favorite. It was the first tour on which I made friends—and other friends through them—whom I now reconnect with when I go on other tours.
Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride
Camping along the river in Washington, NC.
Takes Place: April
Duration: 3 days
Where: A town in coastal North Carolina
Route: Loop routes from the host site
My Tour: 2015
Each year this early spring weekend tour is hosted by a different town that lies in the low country bordering Pamlico Sound, the body of water separating mainland North Carolina and the offshore Outer Banks. My tour was based in Washington (NC rather than DC), a nice little riverside town I enjoyed exploring. Other recent tours have been based in Oriental and Edenton. The daily loop rides (you have a choice of routes from under 30 miles to 100) are rural and flat.
Except for the first night’s dinner, you are on your own for meals. This keeps the tour cost low and encourages riders to patronize the local restaurants and eateries. I’ve come not to expect memorable catered meals on bicycle tours, so a particularly tasty one always comes as a welcome surprise. The fried fish and shrimp dinner served to us on the first night was one of the best meals I’ve ever had on a bicycle tour.
David Romanowski, 2016