By Brian E. Clark
October 28, 2012
Summer has vanished. Autumn will soon be slipping away. But that doesn't mean you have to put away your bicycle or your Lycra for the winter. You may live on Montana, but you don't live in Montana.
Bicycle touring companies are offering a variety of rides throughout the winter, most of which include lodging, meals and guides/mechanics to help you with directions or fix a broken chain.
Add to that the "sag" wagon, which you can hop aboard if and when your legs quit or you want to take a day off, and it's pretty much all covered. Most tour companies even provide bikes if you don't want to bring your own.
Moreover, you don't have to camp. On these — some would say cushy — rides, you stay in nice hotels with showers, swimming pools and hot tubs.
Here is a handful of tours that offer everything from spins through desert valleys to grueling climbs that would challenge a Tour de California or Tour de France rider.
This intermediate, six-day Undiscovered Country ride starts in Palm Springs on Dec. 27, when temperatures are pleasant. The route skirts Joshua Tree National Park and includes a warm-up ride to Palm Desert and Indian Wells under the looming San Jacinto Mountains.
Then it's on through the Coachella Valley to the Salton Sea and the badlands of the Anza-Borrego Desert to the oasis town of Borrego Springs, where wide, empty roads stretch across the valley floor.
During the tour's next few days, you'll climb Montezuma Road to historic Warner Springs, pedal by Palomar Mountain to Temecula and then head back to Palm Springs by coach.
Undiscovered Country, (877) 322-1667, http://www.udctours.com. $1,998 a person.
In the summer, temperatures in Death Valley National Park can hit 120 degrees or more. (In 1913, it was much more: 134.) But come winter, it's a pleasant place to bicycle, with temperatures hovering around the 70-degree mark from December through March.
On a four-day tour offered by Backroads, cyclists pedal past brightly colored mountains, rippling sand dunes and spots with spooky names such as Dante's View and Hell's Gate. Cyclists stay at the Inn at Furnace Creek, at the foot of the Funeral Mountains.
Although most of the tour is flat, including a spin across the giant salt flats to the lowest point in the U.S. at minus 282 feet, there's also a 5,000-foot climb over 30 miles to reach Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range, which often has snow in winter.
Backroads, (800) 462-2848, http://www.backroads.com. Tour dates in November, February, March and April. $1,998 to $2,298 a person, depending on the date.
California's Central Coast
A post-Yule tour down the Central Coast usually doesn't require you to bundle up in fleece or polypropylene — or to even wear gloves.
This six-day ride, offered by Undiscovered Country, begins Dec. 27 in San Jose and ends in Santa Barbara. It's not for the meek, however, and is designed with serious riders in mind, so don't plan a lot of time tasting wines, visiting museums, shopping or learning to cook. (You may be too tired.)
At the northern end of the tour, riders pedal through the wine country town of Paso Robles and over rolling hills to the historic town of Santa Maria.
Then it's on through broad canyons to the Santa Ynez Valley wine country and its vineyard-covered foothills. This area is home to the wine country towns of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and the Danish-inspired Solvang.
Undiscovered Country, (877) 322-1667, http://www.udctours.com. $2,196 a person.
Solvang Ride Camp
Trek Travel's Solvang Ride Camp is designed to prepare serious cyclists for their cycling or racing season. Like Undiscovered's Central Coast tour, the frills have been stripped away to focus on getting in early base miles.
But it doesn't hurt that you'll be riding the hills and dales of the Santa Ynez Valley. And you can always take a day off to visit a winery, shop or get a spa treatment.
When you're in the saddle, you should plan on pedaling at least 60 miles a day and climbing a minimum of 2,400 feet. And be warned, some days include climbs of 5,000 feet up to (gulp) 7,500 feet.
Trek Travel, (866) 464-8735, http://www.trektravel.com. Four- and seven-day ride camps are offered throughout the year, $899 and $1,299 a person, respectively. Includes the use of a Trek Carbon 5.2 Madone high-end road bike, lodging, meals, guides, a support vehicle and more.
Coast to desert
If you want to ride along the beach in La Jolla, pedal through the mountain town of Julian (be sure to get some apple pie), then ride to the Anza-Borrego Desert, this six-day Escapades ride in March may be the ticket. It's a relatively easy-to-moderate tour averaging 15 to 45 miles a day; it also cruises by the Salton Sea and Temecula vineyards.
Escapades, (877) 880-2453, http://www.escapadesbiketours.com. $1,995 a person.
The Sonoran Desert around Tucson is dotted with giant saguaro cactuses and flanked by red rock mountains. Participants in this seven-day tour offered by Sojourn Bicycle & Active Vacations will hike trails and ride their bikes in the Sabino Canyon oasis, stay at the Rancho de la Osa guest ranch, go horseback riding, two-step with wranglers and view stars at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Temperatures are typically in the 60s and 70s.
Sojourn Bicycle & Active Vacations, (800) 730-4771, http://www.gosojourn.com. $2,395 for dates in February and March, October and November.
Hawaii's Big Island
If lying on the beach isn't your thing, Backroads' six-day Hawaiian tour offers you the chance to circumnavigate the Big Island on two wheels while passing lava fields, rain forests, coffee plantations and scenic beaches where you can stop and take a dip.
You can also do 30 miles of the Ironman Triathlon's cycling course or an optional 100-mile spin from Kilauea Crater to the lush Hamakua Coast.
Backroads, (800) 462-2848, http://www.backroads.com. Dates throughout 2013; from $2,898 to $3,198 a person, double occupancy. Includes two nights at the Fairmont Orchid.
Vietnam and Cambodia
For something more laid-back and exotic, this 12-day Southeast Asia tour in Vietnam and Cambodia in February is done on mountain bikes. Daily mileage on this Trek Travel adventure averages just 30 miles while climbing a mere 700 feet, with a few steep hills.
That means travelers will have the opportunity to explore floating markets on the Mekong Delta, historical sites, temples, river deltas, coastal beaches and bustling cities. Best of all, the last few days are spent at the breathtaking Angkor temple complex in Cambodia.
Trek Travel, (866) 464-8735, http://www.trektravel.com. From $8,499 a person.
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