Equipment

There are two main questions when it comes to equipment: (1) rent or bring your own bike; and (2) gearing.

Rent or Bring Your Own Bike?

If you’re like me there is no substitute for riding your own bike, but it comes at a cost – unless you have a travel bike that fits into a standard-size suitcase (discussed below), most airlines charge a hefty fee to check a bike, from $150 to $200 each way! Thus, bringing your own bike will cost you $300-$400. 

But this is not the only cost associated with bring a bike. Again, unless you have a travel bike, you must factor in the hassle of transporting your bike; for example, if you are taking the train, only certain trains (typically off hours) permit bicycles, so you’ll have to be certain that your desired train in fact permits bikes.  Similar limitations exist for buses and other public transportation, so you’ll have to do your homework.

And if you are renting a car you must factor in that you’ll need sufficient cargo space to carry one or more large bike boxes. Remember that cars in Europe are typically much smaller than American cars (due in large part to high gas prices) so you may need a larger, more expensive car to accommodate the bikes. For this reason I generally rent an intermediate-size station wagon so as to have no problem transporting 2-3 bikes.

Alternatively, consider a travel bike like a Ritchey Break-Away or a coupled bike (with S&S couplers). I own a steel Break-Away that I love because it fits nicely in a regulation-sized case that I do not have to pay extra for. Also, the case is small (the size of two offset wheels) and has internal wheels, so it’s relatively easy to transport. (See http://www.ritcheylogic.com/dyn_category.php?k=472398 for more information.)

The downside of this alternative is this bike is 3 pounds heavier than my good bike, so I prefer the good bike when climbing. However, there is now a Titanium-Carbon Break-Away option that is a pound lighter than the steel version.

One of my close friends took an old steel frame bike and sent it to a shop in Minnesota, where they added S&S couplers to the top and bottom tubes.  This is an excellent option for those who have an old steel frame that they would like to convert into a travel bike. If you go this route consider buying the Ritchey Break-Away Travel Bag, online at http://www.ritcheylogic.com/dyn_prod.php?p=14-299-202&k=472765

If you’d prefer to rent there are always local shops that rent decent road bikes. Fees vary but generally expect to pay at least 40 EUR per day for a nicer bike. (The Regional Guides have specific recommendations for shops to rent from.)

Gearing

The second question is gearing. If you ride a standard 53-39 crankset consider a compact 50-34 crankset to give you additional gears without changing your cassette.  Alternatively, consider changing your cassette to add one or two additional gears. If you intend to climb some of the more challenging mountains like Mt. Ventoux, consider a compact and at least a 27-cog cassette. You’ll appreciate the extra gears!

Travel Gem: If you’re a technology geek like me consider using one of the free gearing ratio websites (e.g., http://home.earthlink.net/~mike.sherman/shift.html) to demonstrate the impact of the additional gears.  I like this site because it shows the impact of cadence on speed using different gears; my experience is that I always wish I had another gear, particularly on the very steep sections of long climbs.