Thank you so much for your email expressing interest in this. First thing to say is that I am on annual leave, so I won’t be doing anything more until the start of November.
I had no idea if I’d get any interest in this, but I have enough email replies to suggest that it’s viable and probably enough to suggest that I might have more demand than supply. I’ll hold off promoting it further and update you when I am back from holidays. I will prioritise according to the order people emailed me.
As noted in the information I posted up yesterday, I plan to do this as something of a hybrid between a package trip and an independent bike tour, so some of what is below is already stated but, I’ll try to make the plan clearer with notes below. Apologies if it becomes a long email:
Background: I ran cycling holidays in the past, but shifted focus to events after Ride the North began to grow at a rate holidays couldn’t! So now I have a contact list of 3,000 cyclists, I thought something like this was worth a go. This plan was a little influenced by the London-Paris type products …which I’m sure are great, but I fancied that I could come up with something different …and this was the result.
What will we provide? The route thoroughly planned out to link towns that are nice places to visit along a route that is good for recreational cycling. The average day is about 70 miles and I’ve tried to ensure that we go through a town somewhere in the middle of the day …if possible a town with a market square with a couple of cafes. Each day we’ll agree collection times for bags at your hotel and your luggage will be dropped to your next hotel. We’ll give you a quick briefing about the day ahead. The route won’t be signposted but everyone will be supplied with digital route files …if you haven’t tried it, it’s pretty easy to load a course to many Garmin models (or similar products) and they you get prompted at every turn or can follow a map. We are not going to have a vehicle waiting for you at every town and every hill, but if you encounter a problem, then we’ll be able to come and help you. It is important that you arrive with a bike in good working order and fully serviced. We are not travelling with a dedicated bike mechanic, but we’ll help you wherever we can. We will carry spares and we shouldn’t ever be too far from a bike shop. A support vehicle has to be for the things you didn’t anticipate and we’ll expect you to ride with the essentials that you’d take on a normal day ride from home.
Bikes: Another issue that can make cycling trips complicated is how you transport your bike. We will run a van of boxed bikes (proper bike box or just cardboard) from North East Scotland and will identify a couple of pick-up points on the way south. It means your bike will depart a day or so before you and will return a day after. This saves the challenge of getting a boxed bike to/from an airport. This will be an optional element (it’s not going to work for everyone/every location) and it will be priced at a rate that is comparable to transporting your bike with an airline. It will be possible to hire a bike for the trip, but I’ve not worked out rates for that yet.
Accommodation: I’ve run a couple of trip for friends in the last two years and my assessment is that for a small scale operator (buying 15 or 20 rooms) hotels will give me no better deal than they give an individual and on more than one occasion when I have booked direct, they’ve given me substantially poorer cancelation terms than they have to sign up to use booking.com (or other booking sites). The conventional package does include accommodation …but in a world where you can book a Hotel in France, in 30 seconds without trying to remember any O’Grade French then there seems little to gain by adding a middle-man to that! Until I’m booking hundreds of rooms rather than a dozen, you can get the same deal as me! I also appreciate that booking a single hotel for all doesn’t satisfy individual requirements, it you want to book the spa hotel or the budget option, then that’s fine, as long as we are all staying in the designated town, that’s easy.
The Route: To be finally confirmed but it has been planned out as:
Maastricht (NL) to Anhee/Dinant (BEL)
Anhee/Dinant (BEL) to Charleville-Mezieres (FRA)
Charleville-Mezieres (FRA) to Wlitz (LUX)
Wlitz (LUX) to Monscahu (GER)
Monschau (GER) to Maastricht (NL)
That’ll get you exploring Google maps!! Most days will be 70-75 miles but with the final day a little shorter at 55-60 miles. Having gone to try this out last year, I have (of course) changed a few thing, mostly to skip cities that weren’t so attractive or cycle friendly. So I’ve a little work to do, to re-assess the parts I’ve changed.
Getting there: If we are to tick the box of 5 nations in 5 days, we have to start in the Netherlands, but not too far from Belgium and Germany!! We are beginning in Maastricht which means probably means a flight/train journey for most. You can choose from flights to Amsterdam, Brussels or Dusseldorf. From both Amsterdam Schiphol and Brussels you can take a train from the airport and have to make one change for Maastricht. Amsterdam is probably the most likely route and if you go via the city there is a direct train to Maastricht.
The Cycling Bit: This is a holiday but it does require an understanding of what’s involved before signing up. We will set up our support to help you if you are ill or injured or have mechanical issues, but are not running a sweep vehicle that will be there for you at every hill or during every rain shower. You have to sign up being confident that riding 70-75 miles for multiple days is within your capability. Your day might begin at 0830 hrs and you’ll have plenty of time to ride at your leisure. Some people do underestimate the terrain in this part of the world – it is not flat! Even the corner of the Netherlands we are in is not exactly as you might envisage. This is not to say that it’s mountainous, as that’s not true either. The highest roads in the Ardennes area of Belgium are higher than the highest roads in Scotland (such as Glenshee or The Lecht ski stations), we’ll be riding up a hairpin bend climb in Luxembourg and there will be one (maybe two) of the climbs that you might have heard of if you follow the ‘Spring Classics’ bike races from the low countries. There are much easier sections along River Valleys or former railway line paths too. It will be a mix. What else could it be?
Weather: A total unknown. I’ve cycled twice in the region …in June (25C and sunny) and July (16C and wet). It’s not a route picked for pure sunshine, but we can probably expect weather like mid-summer Scotland …but maybe warmer when the sun comes out. I’d expect seasonal average is about 20C.
The Group Dynamic: I’ve put this together first and foremost as essential services for all to share, rather than as an effort to group 25 people together constantly for 5 days, but mostly people enjoy a bit of interaction with the wider group. Everyone can make their own decision about what time they depart each morning, although we’ll suggest a meeting point for those looking to link up. We’ll suggest a lunch rendezvous point – but again you can do your own thing. I am not expecting everyone to eat dinner at the same time and the same place each night (you are free to do as you please), but I’ll put out a note and everyone can opt in as they please.
Cost/payment: I’ve given an estimate of £400-£450 per person and again will confirm this. This rate will be £100 less if we are not transferring your bike (which may have an availability issue). I suggest that I’ll invoice for £50 deposit at the point of booking and then a balance to be paid closer to the time.
Dates: It will be the first week of June. I have spoken with hotels to try to avoid a possibility where we are in one town on a day of a big conference and there no rooms (or they are 3 times the rate). Again I’ll confirm this on return from leave in early November and give you dates so you can decide and make travel bookings.
The Politics: The UK is in the midst of leaving the EU …you might have heard!! We have to assume that really isn’t going to have big implications for future holidays in Europe, but at the time of writing, it is a possibility that driving a vehicle to Europe and then around Europe could get more complicated/expensive. It’s possible (hopefully unlikely) that we need a permit for driving in each individual country …which would make this itinerary look less of a genius idea!! We’ll wait and see on this as it might be clearer before we start bookings.