Bike tours among safest vacations with coronavirus pandemic

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For Jake Hoeschler, it wouldn’t be summer without a multiday bike excursion.

Hoeschler, who has ridden with Trek Travel for nearly two decades on tours in the San Juan Islands in Washington state and in Portugal, is keeping his fingers crossed that he and his friends will be able to ride Croatia’s island-dotted Dalmatian coast in September.

“I had to cancel a bike trip to Italy in May because of the coronavirus,” said Hoeschler, a former U.S. Olympic team ski racer. “But everyone in our group wants to do this trip.

“And if Trek Travel says we can do it safely, we’ll go,” Hoeschler said.

Tara Hitchcock said she feels the same way about her bike-trip outfitter.

She’s done eight trips with Backroads, including excursions on Hawaii Island and in Nova Scotia, and is planning a ride this fall with a small group of friends on the Spanish island of Majorca.

“These trips are so much fun,” she said. “If we can do this safely, we will. It’s outdoors in the fresh air, and I’m convinced that Backroads will do its best to keep us healthy. I have no doubt that every place we eat and stay will be clean.”

And if they can’t cycle this fall in Europe, both said they would consider a domestic tour in the West. (See sidebar for 10 top destinations.)

Tania Burke, who owns Madison, Wis.-based Trek Travel, said her company canceled all European trips through August, though it began offering a number of tours starting this month in North America, including in Vermont, the California wine country and South Carolina. She said her company has tentative plans to offer trips in Europe starting in September.

Burke said all scheduled tours are evaluated on a rolling, 30-day basis. If clients decide not to go on trips they’ve booked, they have two options: They can cancel up to 48 hours before a tour begins and switch to another date with no change fee, or they can apply the balance to any trip with no expiration date.

Burke said her company is following guidelines recommended by local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. The outfitter is also working with partner hotels and restaurants to make sure they adhere to CDC recommendations for cleanliness and social distancing.

Trek Travel sends a survey to all the hotels it deals with asking what steps they have taken and what standards they have in place.

“We then supply them with our checklist that goes through our expectations,” Burke said. Guides meet with hotels before the season starts for an inspection and to review their standards and the company’s expectations, which focus on cleanliness, capacity, social distancing procedures, and the check-in and check-out process, she added.

“We also have a feedback process from guests and guides so that we can react quickly to any issues that arise,” Burke said.

“We want to build confidence in clients who are thinking of going with us, whether it is from face coverings to taking temperatures to looking at how close we ride to each other to limiting the number of people who are in shuttle vehicles,” she said.

Trek Travel has eliminated the extra fee — usually $500 per person — for private groups of six or more. It also has added self-guided and four-day options to meet changing customer demand.

“Moving forward, active travel is one of the best and healthiest ways to get out and see the world,” Burke said. “We believe trends are going to be away from bigger cities and more out to nature and wide-open spaces. That bodes well for us when people feel better about getting out there.”

Tom Hale, who runs Berkeley-based Backroads, said his company began offering trips this month in Alaska, Quebec, Canada and the Florida Keys.

Like Trek Travel, Backroads is following all CDC, WHO and local health guidelines. The company is also implementing new hygiene procedures.

Trek Travel's Bryce & Zion Bike Tour

A rider descends past Utah’s iconic red-rock formations on Trek Travel’s bike tour in Bryce and Zion national parks.

(Trek Travel)

“Our trip leaders are trained in food-handling safety,” he said. “In addition to wearing gloves, this year they’ll be wearing face coverings during all food prep. We’ll also offer more grab ‘n’ go-style meals, outdoor dining options and small tables at dinners whenever possible.”

Todd Starnes, who co-owns Bicycle Adventures, said tours now are offered in Oregon, in Washington’s San Juan Islands, in the Badlands of South Dakota and near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Come fall, the company will run trips to Bryce and Zion national parks in Utah, the Valley of Fire in Nevada and Death Valley in California.

He’s also altering some itineraries to limit shuttle van use. For instance, the San Juan Islands trip used to start with a shuttle ride from Seattle to the archipelago.

“Now we will ride our bikes from Seattle north. It means we will spend one less day in the islands, but we’re avoiding the van time. And if we do have to be in a van, we’ll limit it to six people in a 15-passenger van.”

Two Oregon rides will now begin in Portland, so no van shuttles will be needed.

He said rental bikes are cleaned thoroughly with a bleach-and-water or alcohol-and-water solution.

“We’ve bought little hand sanitizers that attach to the handle bars so people will have a sanitizer on their bikes,” he said. “And we’re giving everyone a buff as a face mask that they can pull up when they want or when we pull into a a town and they want to run into a store or something like that.

For cyclists who’d like to do a tour on their own or with their small group, the Adventure Cycling Assn., which has more than 50,000 members, helps cyclists plan trips with maps covering more than 48,000 miles of bike routes across North America. For more information, go to adventurecycling.org.

Here are 10 of the top, multiday bike tour destinations in the West:

Santa Barbara

Palm Springs

Sonoma Valley

Napa Valley

Zion National Park, Utah

Crater Lake, Ore.

Columbia River Gorge: 1,000 miles

San Juan Islands, Wash.

Glacier National Park, Mont.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Wyo.



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