ExperiencePlus! Blog

gravel riding portugal

If you were lucky enough to travel in Europe between May and August 2022, you likely experienced one (or more) of the following: unseasonably hot temperatures, lost luggage, crowds, high prices. Seeing some of the world’s most amazing places can come with a few drawbacks.

But this doesn’t always have to be the case, especially if you love to bicycle tour. Who doesn’t want mild weather, fewer crowds, and more bang for their buck?

As an operator that runs most of our trips in Europe, our trip calendar is driven by the ebb and flow of peak- and off-season travel. That is to say, what ExperiencePlus! defines as peak- and off-peak season. For instance, Europeans consider September and into October their shoulder season, that month or so that ramps up to or relaxes after the peak season. Yet for us, September is our busiest month of the year.

Our “off-season” is from November to March – those cooler, more wintery months when North Americans are less tempted to bicycle tour (unless the destination, such as South America, is warm). That’s why we’ve always offered at least one or two trips in the Southern Hemisphere during the “off-season”. We know many of you want to bicycle year-round. We get it!

If the idea of going on a bicycle tour in February blows your mind or feels out of reach (see item 3 below), consider the following three little secrets. They just might help you embrace the idea of off-season bicycle touring at last.

1. The bicycle industry has your back (and legs, arms, feet and hands covered).

I’ll never forget that rainy, windy, and cold spring day when my gruff German soccer coach announced to me and my fellow teammates who were complaining about practice in what we considered icky conditions: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes!!” That was the late 80s, well before Pearl Izumi, Castelli, Giro and all the rest were producing feather-weight wind-proof bicycle shoe booties that keep your feet snug and warm.

The outdoor industry is crammed with gear and apparel companies producing space-age fabrics meant to increase your comfort and time outside. While you certainly can drop hundreds of dollars on cool-weather cycling gear, and some items are worth it (such as the booties mentioned above), chances are good that you already own a few items that serve multiple purposes. My leather gardening gloves work excellent on 55-degree days. My lightweight fleece buff joins me back country skiing as well as gravel riding. My windproof Nordic pants double as my winter riding pant.

The point is, don’t let cooler temperatures get in your way of experiencing off-season bicycle touring. And, we generally still schedule our “shoulder” season dates to be in weather that is comfortable, not cold! So take that, climate change!

2. It’s always warm somewhere (so head to South America).

Just like retired Minnesotans winter in Arizona, you too, can head south for warmer weather. The irony here is that you would likely be heading to another continent’s peak season. But, we think the overall number of travelers from across the northern hemisphere who bicycle tour in Patagonia in February is significantly less than those who bicycle Europe in summer. Furthermore, Argentina and Chile have shoulder seasons – December and March (when grape wine harvest peaks in Chile’s remarkable Colchagua Valley) – that are great times to travel as well.

“But,” you protest. “I’m not in cycling shape in February!” Alas, our third secret may be the key to lifelong happiness.

3. Stay in cycling shape year round

Aside from September being shoulder season in Europe, we know that one of the main reason’s many of our customers prefer to travel in September is because folks have had all summer to train. Our travelers tell us they aren’t ready to ride come March or April. But spring! The colors! The flowers! The fresh green grass! The migrating birds! Dishes prepared with bountiful cool weather crops! Why not keep your legs strong enough to ride all year long?

Maintaining a base level of fitness is one way to maximize the opportunity to bicycle any time of the year, such as early December in Portugal. In fact, we just confirmed our Dec. 4 Cycling the Algarve Explorer tour (and there’s still space!)

Even if you live in a cold, windy, dark, or wet environment that makes cycling indoors or out as much fun as preparing your taxes, there are tons of options for keeping yourself active in winter. Work out with a buddy who keeps you accountable to your goals or shares the same ones. You don’t have to go to a gym. You’d be surprised what you can do with a yoga mat, a wall, a resistance band, and a jump rope. Mix it up. Keep it fun. YouTube is full of trainers with free work out programs!

When the sun shines, grab your bike, dress warm (read number 2 above), and get out on a bike path, gravel road, or anywhere you feel comfortable riding – even if it’s just for an hour. You’ll remember why you love to ride, even if your nose gets a little chilly.

Ready to contemplate bicycle touring in the off-season? Considering joining us this December in Portugal’s Algarve, choose from one of three Patagonia’s Lake District tours, enjoy Chile’s wine country in March, or take the ultimate journey bicycling Chile’s Carretera Austral. Soon enough, you’ll be enjoying the freedom to explore the world by bike regardless of the season. Call 800-685-4565 or email tours@experienceplus.com to hold a space on a tour.

Check out our “off season” trips for next year!