Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Amazing Race 24, Episode 10 (European Bicycle Touring Resources)

Mt. Titlis (Switzerland) - Seville (Spain)

European Bicycle Touring Resources

I was in Switzerland, Belgium, and the UK on business in March, and I’ll be back in Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK in June and July on a bicycling trip.

We’re flying with our bicycles to Zurich on June 2nd, taking the overnight ferry from Rotterdam to Leeds on July 2, and flying home from Manchester on August 4th. We have almost nothing else reserved in advance between these dates.

Our route, subject to change day by day, will be anchored by visits to places linked to my family history and that of my partner, visits to friends, and a chance to see the start of the 2014 Tour de France in England. (I’m not a racer, but I’m looking forward to the spectacle.)

Our general idea for June is to cross through the Black Forest to Freiburg, then down the Rhine to Karlsruhe. From there, we’ll either go west, connecting roughly with EuroVelo 5, or further north down the Rhine (continuing roughly along EuroVelo 15), before heading west to Hazebrouck (France), Brussels, and then the Netherlands.

We have much less idea where we’ll go in July in the UK.

If you are interested in meeting up with us along the way, please get in touch.

See the sidebar of this blog under “Bicycle Travel” for links to my FAQs and other articles about bicycle travel.

Below are some of the resources we’ve been using to plan our trip. I’ve travelled in all of these countries, but never before by bicycle. I’ll update this list after our trip, when I find out which of these, and which others, turned out to be more or less useful than we expected.


MAPS (multinational):

See also my series on smartphones and digital maps for international travel: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

  • Bicycling maps from Omnimap (The largest selection of international maps available from any source in the USA. Mainly a wholesale distributor, but happy to sell directly to retail customers. Highly recommended.)
  • EuroVelo (European Cyclists’ Federation planned network of international bicycle routes. Note that many of these are aspirational and do not yet exist on the ground in the form of signage or dedicated bicycle rights-of-way.)
  • Ride With GPS (Despite the name, this mapping service is useful even if you don’t have a GPS. Free, but you have to register. There are other online route planning services, but I like it that this one allows you to switch back and forth at any time between Google Maps, Open Cycle Maps, and ESRI topographic base mapping and provides elevation and grade profiles in a format I find useful.)
  • (“A place for bicycle tourists and their journals.” The best place to start looking for reports on routes, road and riding conditions, weather, etc. from those who have gone before you by bike.)

ACCOMMODATIONS (multinational):

  • (Free, worldwide, members-only hospitality exchange for touring bicyclists)
  • (Lists more hotels, hostels, and B&B’s than any other online booking service. Many lodging places listed in the other directories below, such as “Bed + Bike” in Germany, can be booked through Useful when your plans are subject to change, since most reservations don’t require prepayment and can be cancelled without penalty up to 24 hours before scheduled arrival. Read the fine print for the rules for specific places and prices. Be sure to mention in the free-text notes when you make your reservation that you will need bicycle storage, since even if there’s secure bike storage it may already be full of other guests’ bikes if you don’t request it in advance — I’ve had this happen.)



Prices are often lower in the USA than in Europe, and many Europeans buy bike components from online shops in the USA. But sometimes I’ve gotten lower prices on specific items, even including the cost of shipping to the USA, by buying them directly from some of these European suppliers. More importantly, if something on your bike breaks while you are travelling in Europe, and you can’t repair it or get it replaced locally, these companies can probably get you a replacement part much faster than if you had to have it shipped from the USA. All of these have at least partial English interfaces to their online stores, although detailed descriptions aren’t always available in English, and customer service in English may be limited. Deliveries from any of these companies to the USA can sometimes be as quick as deliveries from the West Coast of the US to the East Coast, or vice versa, but any international shipment can be held up in customs for anything from a few days to a few weeks, through no fault of the shipper. Base prices are substantially lower for some items in Europe than in the USA, especially for items that are mainstream in Europe but exotic in the USA, such as generator lighting. There can also be a price advantage in tax-free purchasing from outside the EU. Advertised prices from sellers in the EU (and most of the rest of the world) always include the sales or value added tax (VAT), unlike in the USA. VAT in the EU is much higher than sales tax in the USA: at least 15%, sometimes more than 20%, depending on the country and item. If goods are purchased in the EU for shipping directly to the USA, the purchase is exempt from VAT. If VAT is charged on such a purchase, the VAT is at least in theory refundable. Getting a VAT refund after the fact from the USA is difficult if not impossible, and so far as I know the law doesn’t prohibit sellers in the EU from charging the usual VAT and leaving you to try to chase down a VAT refund later on your own. But sellers can, and some do, deduct the VAT from the selling price when they are shipping directly to the USA. It never hurts to ask. If the price on an e-commerce site goes down by 20% or so when you change the country of delivery from the EU to the USA, that’s why. For all but the smallest purchases, exemption from VAT more than makes up for shipping charges from the EU to the USA.


I was in Geneva for a week this March, and it was just as overpriced as when I was there at the same season last year. In addition to the bicycle-specific links below, see my previous notes on prices and advice for visitors to Geneva and “La Suisse Romande” (Francophone Switzerland).




Information for tourists and bicyclists, like almost everything else in Belgium, is bifurcated. There are separate tourist offices and cycling resources for French-speaking Brussels and Wallonia (“Wallonie” in French) and for Dutch-speaking Flanders. Note that “pavé” or “pavés” in French refers to a road surface of paving stones (“Belgian block”), not to asphalt pavement!



  • Cyclists’ Touring Club (National UK cycling advocacy organization.)
  • CTC Maps (Includes cycle routes and a map-based index of “Cyclists Welcome” services.)
  • Cyclists Welcome (Directory of lodging and other establishments recommended by CTC members.)
  • Beds For Cyclists (Private, unofficial commercial venture, newly launched for the 2014 Tour de France stages in the UK.)
  • (Online route planner using UK government Ordnance Survey topographic map details.)
  • (International First World War centenary project led by the Imperial War Museum, London.)

Something I haven’t listed that you’d recommend? Leave a comment or send me a message.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 4 May 2014, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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