Newer cyclists assume that going up hills is all a matter of having good leg muscles. That helps — but technique and mental attitude play a big role. We’ve had many Floridians on trips who were experienced cyclists but had never biked on hilly terrain. The first day, they had trouble on hills and were the last ones to reach the top. Within a few days, they were out in front. Their legs didn’t get that much stronger in a couple of days; their technique and approach changed. Here’s what they learned.
Use those gears! Switch to your lowest gears before you need them. If you’re spinning too fast, it’s easier to switch into a higher gear.
Adjust your weight properly. You want most of your weight on the back tire, to get traction, but you need to keep enough on the front to provide traction for steering. Experiment with different positions, to see what works for your body, your bike, and this incline. Many cyclists find that a semi-standing position, with their crotch just in front of the saddle and above the horizontal bar, works well.
Breathe! It’s natural to hold your breath during a tough stretch; but it’s self-defeating. Breathe deeply, exhale fully.
Look ahead! Watching each foot of road or trail as it passes below you is discouraging. Look at where you’re headed. This provides a psychological boost, and you’ll also steer better.
Every year, we can count on someone from Florida saying, midway through the trip, “Wow! It really is easier if you use the low gear on hills!” If you’re not used to gears, because your bike doesn’t have them, or because you live in Florida and thought they were just a sales gimmick, please trust us: Perhaps you never needed them in Florida, where the highest point above sea level is about eight feet, but anywhere else: Gears make your life easier!
The basic idea is to shift lower in both gears (front and back) if you’re having trouble pedaling fast. (For both front and back derailleurs, the inner gears are for going uphill; the outside gears when going faster. On most bikes, however, the gearshift motion that puts your front derailleur into a higher gear will put your rear derailleur into a lower gear.)
The basic shifting rules:
Shift down (to the inside gears) before you start up a hill.
Shift up (to the outside gears) when it’s too easy to pedal.
Shift down before the hill, before you’re putting a high strain on the pedals. Shifting while you’re straining to go up a hill is not only hard to do; it can also break the chain.
Don’t have too slow a cadence. Experienced cyclists aim for a steady 80-100 revolutions per minute; for beginners, it’s enough to know that the best cadence is slightly faster than what feels normal. If you can’t easily go that fast, shift down. This faster cadence conserves energy. It also reduces strain on your knees and back. Use your derailleurs to keep a fairly constant cadence.
Shift only while pedaling forward. Don’t shift when the pedals are stationary, or while pedaling backward.
Don’t make the chain angle sideways too much. If the chain is on the inside (smallest) gear in front, and on the outside (also smallest) gear in back, that forces the links to bend slightly in a sideways direction which they weren’t meant to go. The chain will rub, creating extra friction and work for you, and it won’t change gears as easily. You can get the same effective gear ratio by using two middle gears, with less strain on yourself, and on the bike. Likewise, avoid using the outside (biggest) gear in front and inside (biggest) in back.
If gears are so unfamiliar to you that none of this makes sense, then print out this page, take it along, and read over it occasionally as you get experience with gears and derailleurs. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief by quickly learning to use them properly.
Seats that are too low (or, less often, too high) are a common cause of fatigue. Your legs should be almost, but not quite, fully extended at the downstroke. Your local bike shop can help make the proper adjustment to your own bicycle.
While you are on our bike tour, we will provide a properly sized bicycle and our guide will happily fine-tune the fit. Occasionally seats slide down during a day or week; if you’re tiring out, re-check your seat height.
Drinking enough water is the simplest and most important thing you can do to enjoy each day fully. We suggest you drink a pint (or more) in the morning, before you even start biking. Drink regularly through the day — drink before you’re thirsty — and then another 1-2 pints at the end of the day. You’ll stay healthier, and you’ll tire less.
We recommend that you stretch for five minutes before you start biking. Here are two good exercises:
1. Find a buddy (or, lacking that, a tree) to hold for support. Now reach back with your right hand as you bend your right leg at the knee. Grab your foot and pull gently toward your butt, then hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with left hand and left leg. Then repeat again but crossing over — left hand pulls up your right leg, and vice versa.
2. Kneel down on your right knee, putting your left leg well in front of you, foot flat on the ground. Now drop down, bringing your right thigh closer to the ground, but without letting your left knee make less than a 90 degree angle. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
Stretch again at the end of the day — and you’ll be ready for the next day.
It’s natural to worry about being sideswiped by a truck. Sure, that can happen, but most truck drivers are pretty skilled. Far more cyclists are injured because of their own mistakes. You can’t do much about the occasional errant truck driver, but you can be sure your own behavior is safe.
Wear your helmet. Even on a quiet road, it’s easy to not notice a pothole till you’re in it, to be clipped by another cyclist, to hit a hidden patch of gravel as you go around a corner, or to run into a ditch because you’re looking at the scenery.
Get off the road if you stop. This seems obvious, but if you’re just stopping for a moment on a quiet road, it might seem unnecessary to pull over. However, another cyclist can pull up a moment later to talk, then a third, a fourth … and soon there’s a cluster of people completely blocking the road.
Don’t tailgate. Never follow too closely behind another cyclist. If they stop suddenly, or even slow up, you’ll stop instantly and go right over the handlebars when you hit their rear wheel. We recommend keeping 3 seconds distance between you and the rider ahead. That seems like a lot — until they suddenly stop just as you’ve been distracted by something at the side of the road.
Let others know what you’re doing. Use hand signals before turning; both motorists and other cyclists will be alerted to expect you to change direction. Always signal if stopping. You know not to tailgate — but the person behind you may not.
Pass other riders only on their left. Calling out “On your left” can alert them — but don’t assume that everyone will use this alert, and that you can safely meander unless you’re notified that someone is passing.
Be alert when you pass parked cars. Doors may open without warning. Either give parked cars enough berth that an opened door won’t hit you (in which case you should pull over, as necessary, to let other traffic get by), or go so slowly that you can check each car to see if anyone is inside.
Cross railroad tracks at a right angle. Hold handlebars firmly as you cross. Crossing at a sharper angle can result in your front wheel twisting and getting caught — and you’ll go right over the handlebars. Tracks are particularly slippery when wet.
Ride single file. There are plenty of opportunities to socialize at lunch, at stops, and after the ride. Riding two abreast not only endangers you, but also forces anyone passing you to go into opposing traffic.Keep your downhill speed under control! After sweating up a hill, it’s tempting to reward yourself by speeding down as fast as you can. Any accident at these speeds is likely to end your vacation, and some accidents are beyond your control: A car, cyclist, or hiker may dart in front of you; you can misjudge a curve; a brake cable can snap; a tire can blow out. Why take a chance on spending your vacation in the hospital?
Be courteous. If cars have slowed down behind you because they can’t comfortably pass, pull over when you get a chance, so they can get by. We want to promote an attitude of cooperation, not war, between cyclists and drivers.
Fortunately, the odds are that rain won’t be a big concern. On average, we’ve had one day of light rain or less on most of our week-long biking trips. We schedule our tours during the region’s dry season, where possible.
But there are no guarantees, of course. You should bring a lightweight rain jacket, just in case. On a hot day, you may well find that a brief shower offers a welcome opportunity to cool off. If there’s a full day of light or moderate rain, you’ll probably want to stick with one of the shorter routes each day, spending only a few hours in the saddle, and spend more time indoors at cafes, museums, or castles.
We do not advise riding in a heavy rainstorm. Generally, if that develops, you’ll want to take cover until it blows over. And if a heavy rainstorm lasts all day? That’s when you’re very glad to have the van — but as of this writing, with all the trips we’ve done, it’s never come to that
The support van and driver fill several functions: Carrying your luggage to the next hotel; shopping and setting up a picnic lunch on selected days; and helping cyclists who have encountered unexpected problems, be it fatigue, a mechanical failure, or one too many pastries at lunch.
The specific van schedule varies day to day, based on a number of factors: the route, whether there’s a picnic that day, and whether riders are all likely to be on the same road, or off on different options. Typically, the driver stays with or behind most of the group until about lunchtime (or earlier, if there’s a picnic to set up), then drives ahead to deliver luggage into your rooms.
If most of the group is likely to be on the same road, the driver may then circle back to see if anyone needs the van. However, we suggest various optional routes each day, and many people on our trips like to explore independently. That means cyclists may be spread out over many miles, and over several routes. In most cases, we find that a cyclist who needs help will get it fastest by calling the driver at the hotel or calling their cell phone, rather than waiting for the van to patrol all the spots where cyclists could be riding.
We’ll go over the details in more depth at the briefing when the trip starts. On paper (or on a computer screen) the system can seem uncertain because so many variables are involved. In practice, it works out well. There are many weeks when no one ever needs the van. If you do need assistance, generally you’re able to get to a cafe or other comfortable spot while you wait for help.
This is a tricky question to answer, since everyone has a different definition of “difficult”.
We’ve had many people join us who had never biked more than 10 or 15 miles in a day. Most of them biked the full route every day, but they might have had more fun, and enjoyed some of our route options, had they done more biking in advance.
All of our tours have an at-a-glance rating system for physical challenge. A ranking of 1 is for leisure or cultural tours and a ranking of 5 is for extreme endurance and strength. Most of our biking tours have a ranking of 2 or 3 on that scale. Detailed information on the fitness challenge can be found on each tour page. Here’s a quick preview with links to each tour.
Big Loire, Little Loir: The heartland of France, in all its variety: castles, sunflowers, and the beautiful canal-laced town of Vendome.
Valley of the Chateaux: Biking between the chateaux of the largely-flat Loire valley. There’s so much to see and do, you’ll be glad that the actual biking portion of each day can be as little as 2-3 hours.
Colors of Burgundy: Three days are moderately hilly, as we bike through the forests, farmland, and vineyards of Burgundy.
Provencal: Discover sunny Provence by bike. We spend two nights in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Here, gung-ho cyclists can do a more challenging circuit to the picturesque hilltop towns of the Luberon. Others can bike on a flat route, along the Sorgue river, to nearby L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a charming town with dozens of antique shops; or simply explore the shops, museums, and historic sights of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
Mistral: Two days are moderately hilly; two other days we offer wonderful optional routes for those who aren’t afraid of a hill or two, taking us into northwestern Provence and through the deep-carved Ardeche Gorges.
A journalist who joined us on Big Loire, Little Loir, tells what it was like for him, and gives an enjoyable first-person perspective on our French bike tours.
You won’t just be biking. The location for each of our bike trips was chosen because of its varied appeal. Cycling is a great vehicle for getting around at your own pace. But unless you take one of our longer route options, you’ll rarely spend more than 3 or 4 hours on the saddle in a day. Interspersed with your bike ride might be an hour exploring a picturesque town; a leisurely picnic in a riverside park; an hour at a castle; an hour browsing at a street market; half an hour playing boules. Next thing you know, it’s time for a two-hour dinner, then a late walk through the narrow moonlit streets of a medieval town.
You can bring your own seat if you wish; nearly all seat posts come in standard sizes, and you can put your seat onto the bike we supply. Most travelers decide they’d rather pack light, and quickly get accustomed to the seats on the bikes we supply. Many people, however, bring light-weight gel seat covers, which go over the existing seat. These take up very little luggage space, and those with limited biking experience often find they increase comfort. The seats on most bikes we use are a standard size, neither the narrow racing seat nor the wide touring seat. Therefore we recommend medium-sized gel seat covers if you wish to bring one along.
If you have your own cycling shoes with a clip on the bottom, you should definitely bring your own pedals along with you. There are dozens of types of cycling pedals and clips and we can’t guarantee that yours will match ours. Your local bike shop can help you remove your pedals if you don’t know how. When you get to your destination, we will help you install them before your first ride.
Somebody will be the last one in. Usually it’s one of the most experienced cyclists, because they’ve gone off and biked along some of the extra options. And somebody will be the first one in, and everybody else will be somewhere in between. The important thing is we’re all here to have a good time. It’s a vacation, not a race. You’ll quickly appreciate that no one sees it as a race, and as long as you’re enjoying your vacation, no one cares or pays much attention to who arrives when.
A biking vacation brings you the best of many worlds. Cycling lets you move fast enough to enjoy a wide range of sights and terrains in a single day, yet you can easily stop to enjoy a view, to pick cherries in an abandoned orchard, or just to smell the flowers. It’s easier to meet people when you’re on a bike, particularly in countries like France, where cycling is a national sport. Enjoy a healthy, guilt-free appetite when you sit down to dinner, and return home feeling and looking better than when you left.
We recommend cycling shorts. The padding will make your ride more comfortable. But they’re certainly not essential. Two pairs are plenty; you can rinse them out and in most cases, the synthetic fabrics will dry overnight. (In humid weather, shorts with thick padding may take a little longer.)
Likewise, cycling jerseys are designed to improve your biking experience, and they’ll do so. Most of them are also made from quick-drying synthetics, so one or two will get you through the week. However, you’ll also be fine if you only have t-shirts for riding, except in cooler weather. To reduce your luggage, shirts that are 50/50 cotton/polyester, while not trendy, will dry faster if you’re sweaty, and if you rinse them out overnight.
You can buy special cycling shoes with a stiffer sole, which are slightly more energy-efficient than walking shoes. For the distances we go, we feel these don’t generally justify the extra luggage weight.
Finally, a helmet is required; sunglasses are highly recommended as protection against both sun and insects (preferably wrap-around style); and padded cycling gloves will make your days more comfortable
Stationary biking is a big help, especially for your legs and cardiovascular system. An hour of continous pedaling in the gym can provide as much of a workout as several hours of normal biking, in which you’re often coasting. A spinning class keeps the hour interesting. Yet there are some things a stationary bike just doesn’t train you for:
- Getting used to being seated on a bike for several hours at a time. The bikes we provide have upright handlebars, so you’re in a fairly comfortable position. After several hours, however, your neck (which is bent back a bit more than usual) and butt may get uncomfortable, if the position is completely new for you.
- Other general bike skills — steering, braking, avoiding potholes, remembering to put your foot down when you stop — don’t get any practice. Granted, these aren’t neurosurgery, but it’s helpful to have some practice.
New Yorkers, more than anyone, seem to have trouble finding the time, the bike, and the uncrowded roads to get out for a few training rides. Many people have joined us, with nothing but stationary bike experience, and had a great time. But we encourage you to see if you can’t get in at least a couple of afternoon of actual biking, before the trip. If the last bike you were on had coaster brakes and you haven’t biked for years, then we’d say it’s essential to get some on-the-road experience.
You may decide it’s even better! We’ve worked hard to find restaurants that will give you a sense of both the quality and variety of cuisine that has given France such a special reputation. We strive to find delicious, gourmet restaurants specializing in fresh regional ingredients. People who have traveled with us, as well as with companies that charge about 3 times as much as we do, have told us they like the dinners on our trips better than what they got on the more expensive vacations!
You can get up-to-date rail schedules, as well as information about railpasses for France, and other European travel, from RailEurope. (In the U.S.: 1-800-622-8600)
Many upscale hotels have a 2-prong US-style outlet in the bathroom, which works fine for anything you bring from the US. Some hotels now even have outlets that can receive both US-style plugs and the various European style plugs, but these are still fairly rare.
The best way to ensure you can plug in your phone and gadgets is to get an inexpensive plug converter kit at an office supply store. The kits usually have each of the European styles, so you can use the converter wherever you go around the world.
Click here for more information about electrical sockets around the world.
HE Travel provides bilingual and/or local guides in any non-English-speaking destinations.
Most people who travel abroad with us don’t speak the language. But we encourage you to brush up on any language skills you have that are relevant for the area you’re going to, and to learn a few basic phrases, such ashello and thank you, in the local language. You’ll find even a few words make a big difference in your interactions with local people.
You will need a passport for all tours outside the country you reside in.
Once you sign up for a tour, we will send newsletters that give details about your destination, such as packing lists, safety tips, local currency, and tipping guidelines.
We are one of the few companies that includes basic medical and evacuation travel insurance for all of our trips. In other words, we cover you for any illness or injury which occurs during the tour (except while in the water for scuba diving, for which we recommend DAN insurance).
We also recommend that everyone on our trips have personal medical insurance, in which case the coverage included with our tours is secondary coverage, which is intended to cover deductibles, co-pays and other costs not covered by your personal insurance.
To protect your financial investment, we also encourage you to add trip cancellation insurance to the tour fee for your trip, at the time of your deposit, or within 14 days after the deposit is paid. The price varies by trip, so please request a quote.
This coverage can be useful if you, your traveling companion, your business or life partner, or a family member have an occurrence that causes you to need to cancel your trip. Please read our Terms & Conditions carefully so that you understand our cancellation policy.
Many other companies offer this coverage as well. Be sure to read the policy carefully, so that you know what situations are and are not covered by the policy.
Yes, you do. The waiver is due within 10 business days after you sign up for the tour.
90 days before departure on most tours.
Yes, a deposit is required on all of our tours. The average price of a deposit is between $500 and $1000 depending on the trip. When a trip is less than 90 days from departure, the full payment is due.
Our trip officially begins at 6:00 p.m., with a reception and orientation, followed by dinner. We officially end after breakfast on the last day, although you can leave as early as you like. Or stay around all day, for sightseeing with your new friends.
Our “7-day” trip thus consists of 6 full days and two partial days. Some companies promote a trip of this length as being 8 days since it includes pieces of 8 different days. We feel it’s more accurate to refer to this as 7 days.
Most of our trips are fun for anyone in good health who exercises regularly. A few are recommended only for people who have reached certain levels of fitness. The Mistral bike ride, for example, will be most enjoyable for those who are comfortable biking 40-mile days.
All of our tours have an at-a-glance rating system for physical challenge that looks like this:
A ranking of 1 is for leisure or cultural tours and a ranking of 5 is for extreme endurance and strength. Most of our biking tours have a ranking of 2 or 3 on that scale, and some hiking or adrenaline-filled tours will rank higher. Detailed information on the fitness challenge can be found on each tour page.
If, after the description we give with a trip, you still aren’t sure whether it’s right for you, please contact us. Time after time, people have told us their HE Travel Adventure was “the best trip of my life.” We want you to feel the same way.
Whatever trip you take with us, you’ll enjoy it more if you get in shape for it. That means a few enjoyable weekends of biking or walking or other activity in the two months before the trip begins. We’ll send suggestions after you register.
For travelers with more vacation time, we are happy to make suggestions or arrangements for your adventures before or after our group tour. When possible, schedule your extra time after our tour. Chances are, others from the trip will do the same, and you can spend more time with new friends.
Many of our tours are organized to run “Back-to-Back”, and when you sign up for two or more of our trips, you are eligible for a discount!
We encourage you to do so. Each tour on our website includes testimonials from past travelers. Most of them have volunteered to talk about their experiences with future potential travelers. Please contact us for the names and phone numbers of references in your area.
We will do our very best to accommodate your dietary needs or restrictions. We have welcomed gluten-free travelers to Israel, MSG-sensitive clients on camping excursions, and vegetarians in Texas!
Each year we designate more of our trips as being for “gay men, lesbians, and friends.” so we encourage any of our straight friends who enjoy traveling with an open-minded group to join these tours.
However, many of our trips are designated for gay men only or for gay men and lesbians. The company was founded because, even these days, gay men and lesbians sometimes encounter a cool reception from people who aren’t gay, and many of us would rather take a vacation in an atmosphere where that’s not an issue. Our groups are also mostly small and intimate (some with as few as six participants) and the camaraderie is as important as the scenery. So while we occasionally welcome friends and family to join us, we tend to keep our groups essentially for gay men. It has been our mission since the start and we still believe it is important to offer trips for men to be together without the pressures they may experience at home (in smaller cities) and in their jobs. At the same time, we also acknowledge a wider mix of participants and personalities can also make for a great trip and are willing to consider anyone who wants to travel with us.
So your friend is certainly welcome to travel with us. We think you’ll have a great time, and the kind of people who come on our trips will enjoy having a friendly but wider mix of participants and personalities.
One of the nice things about an HE Travel group is the diversity of ages and backgrounds. Most of our tours are designated for gay men, but some are open to both men and women, as noted for each trip on our website.
The age of participants typically ranges from early 30’s to 60’s, although we occasionally see younger and older participants. Our tour members are mostly professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, college teachers, scientists and marketing representatives. We also have our fair share of artists, writers, musicians and their publicists, and occasionally surprises (good ones!).
Our tour members tend to be people who are seeking a personal, educational and even spiritual adventure with like-minded people. We also make a point to allow time to relax and have fun. Whether that means skinny dipping around our private huts in Tahiti or dancing at the bars in local clubs, there is always time for playfulness and high spirits. We are on vacation, after all!
One of the distinguishing features of HE Travel is the intimacy of the group. We are not only a gay-friendly option for travelers, we are also an alternative for people who like companionship but cannot tolerate large buses and crowds of people. Consequently, our groups range in size from six to twenty participants. In the monasteries at Mount Athos we are limited to seven non-Orthodox visitors. On the SS Karim, our luxury stern wheeler on the Nile, we can comfortably accommodate twenty-five guests. On our other tours, we typically restrict our groups to 10-16 participants. This makes a nice experience in traveling (no giant buses-phew!), restaurants can seat us at one or two tables, and we can move our groups easily through attractions and sites without the impersonal 1-2-3 sheep type counting.
Yes, we do. Beside being an international tour operator, HE Travel is also a full service travel agency.
An adventure tour gets you up and about. We spend less time in buses, and more time exploring. Adventure tours can include activities such as hiking, biking, water-sports, rappelling, canyoning, camping, and so much more. An adventure tour can also incorporate several cultural or culinary elements. These tours are for our more active gay travelers.
HE Travel was established in 1973 as Hanns Ebensten Travel. In 2003 we merged with Alyson Adventures, which was established in 1995. Our Founder Hanns Ebensten is considered the “Father of Gay Travel.” Each year the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) gives out the “Hanns Ebensten Hall of Fame Award” to the person or company that has done the most to make the world a better place for gay travelers.