Cycling has never failed to enrich my life with countless surprises and memorable pleasures. The recent expedition I made with a friend from Frankfurt to Zurich was another one of these bike trips to remember.
Although I have minimal experience with touring by bike, I was eager not only to explore this facet of cycling for myself, but also to do so in an inspiring environment. Our travels along the scenic Rhine River did not let me down, and have instead left me eagerly anticipating my next adventure!
On October 6, 2010, at around noon we arrived at the Frankfurt airport for our Rhine River tour filled with all the excitement and anxiety that normally races through the veins of travelers at the beginning of a trip. But isn’t this the reason we travel – to experience these feelings that are so different from the ones normally experienced during the course of our regular lives?
Preparing Our Bicycles
Understanding the importance of preparation and preventive maintenance, we spent a good portion of the day preparing our bikes – Giant hard tail mountain bikes – for the long journey of our Rhine River tour. They might not be the best touring bicycle, but one does not necessarily need to break the bank to purchase a bike appropriate for touring.
Tip: Try to avoid an overly restrictive schedule.
If you're going to cycle along the Rhine River, you'll find that the route offers plenty of exciting diversions. My advice to you would be to take full advantage of those diversions.
From rustic and charming villages to sprawling vineyards, wandering off the beaten path can yield many wonderful discoveries.
Try to avoid "over-planning" your trip by imposing a very restrictive schedule on yourself. Don't rush from one place to another - take some time to soak in the wonderful atmosphere and see the sights.
Although one can tour with enhanced road bikes, our choice of mountain bikes was based on the fact that we wanted bikes that would be appropriate for all kinds of roads- from smooth asphalt to tooth-jarring single track.
Not all surprises are positive ones. During the course of some routine maintenance in Frankfurt, we were given painful yet very helpful advice after visiting a local bike store: 180EU in repairs on each bike would be required. As uncomfortable as such surprises are, they are infinitely better than being stranded in the middle of nowhere as a result of a preventable mechanical problem! We replaced the bicycle chain, brake pads, brake cables and chain rings and cogs sets.
Equipment required for touring by bike can vary depending on a number of factors. Some of which include destination, expected weather, and personal preferences. Nonetheless, there are certainly items one would usually want to include on most trips. Some of the things we decided to bring to our Rhine River tour included:
- One pair of cycling-shoes (soft shoes, with cleats)
- 3 pairs of socks (unfortunately we did not have special cycling socks, which dry faster)
- 3 pairs of underwear, 3 bicycling jerseys.
- Bicycle rain gear: One jersey with long sleeves and one with short sleeves
- 2 pairs of gloves: long and short.
- Helmet liners
- 3 pairs of bicycle shorts. We decided not to bring cycling tights, but decided later they would have made the trip more comfortable.
- Portable burner stove to make your coffee.
- Power gel: about 3 units for each riding day (Our assumption was that finding food was not going to be a problem on this trip - see pictures below)
- Personal documents, money and books...
- Outdoor first aid kits, including sun protection cream and pain relief cream (Ben-Gay).
- And, of course, a helmet.
- The best suited map of the Rhine River was a 1:75000 BVA cycling map: ADFC-Regionalkarte Rhein / Neckar 1 : 75 000 and Schwarzwald Oberrhein Bicycling Map (Deutche Radtouren Karte (Germany Bicycling Maps), Sheet 24)
- GPS: On some biking blogs they say that bicycle GPS and bicycle touring do not go together well. Still we decided to take with us our GARMIN ETrex GPS, just in case.
- Camera: We had a camera for still pictures. For video, my experience with a helmet video camera is not great (see our trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand), I decided to use my good old Sony DV camera instead.
Trip Details, Day By Day
Rhine River tour - Day 1 (40 mi / 65 km): Frankfurt - Mannheim - Speyer - Germersheim - Worth am Rhine
Every successful trip - especially cycling trips - should begin with a solid meal: And our Rhine River tour is no exception. After enjoying the well-known breakfast at the Westin Hotel in Frankfurt, we cycled to the main Frankfurt train station: Frankfurt Hbf. As the first part of the route was not new to us, we decided to fast-track it with a train ride. Consequently, we were able to more fully enjoy the parts of our route that were new to us.
Before you embark on a bike tour, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of planning. At the train station we were informed that bikes are only accepted on selected trains. Unfortunately, we had tickets to the fast train, where bikes were not allowed. Although we were able to exchange our tickets, this minor setback was preventable, and we made a mental note to look more closely into train schedules for our next trip. Soon, Arnon and I were on our way to the starting point: Mannheim train station.
Riding along the Rhine River is very enjoyable. Flat, well-marked bike routes allow the cyclist to take in the lush scenery at a leisurely pace. Isn't this why one travels by bike? The route also offers a number of rest stops to eat lunch and catch one's breath before continuing. Another attraction along the way is visiting some of the Rhine River castles.
Most days of our Rhine River tour we did not plan where we were going to spend the night. Although this free style of travelling may not be ideal for all cyclists, it added to the holiday atmosphere of our trip. Why worry unless one must! By the time we felt our legs had logged enough miles, we began looking for accommodations. Our favorite places to stay were the so-called Zimmer - bed & breakfast establishments - and small, pleasant hotels.
We enjoyed our first night at the Insel Hotel, located in Worth am Rhine. These accommodations provided a cozy conclusion to a day in the saddle.
Rhine River tour - Day 2 (53 mi / 85 km): Worth am Rhine - Rastatt - Baden-Baden
After breakfast we started off towards Baden-Baden - a city famous for its bathing culture. Located in the western foothills of the Black Forest (Schwarz Wald), this stop was off our intended route. However, as Arnon and I both enjoy hot tubs, we decided to make this detour. After crossing the Rhine near Karlsruhe we turned to the southeast.
Autumn surely must be the best time to tour by bike. Not only were the cool, mild temperatures perfect for outdoor activity, but the profusion of brilliant colors never ceased to dazzle our senses.
Near the Rhine River we noticed many campsites, some of which catered especially to motor homes. It seemed that however one wanted to travel along this picturesque route, there were many great places to stay!
Touring by bicycle can offer many delights. Aside from winding rivers and fiery explosions of leaves, during the Rhine River tour we also met friendly locals who added to the flavor of our trip. One such chap was this friendly German farmer who offered us a sample of his fresh apples. The rigors of the day made this simple treat even better.
When we entered Baden-Baden we found a lovely city with a historic center. The lady at the tourist information office suggested we stay at the Bischoff Hotel, just in front of the Friedrichsbad (a Roman-Irish Bath), where we spent most of our evening. The baths did marvels for our tired muscles, and invigorated our spirits for the trail ahead.
Rhine River tour - Day 3 (68 mi / 110 km): Baden-Baden - Stollhofen - Strasbourg - Gerstheim
Yet another great Rhine River tour day on the saddle: autumn mists enshrouded the narrow road as we traveled from one village to another across the German-French border toward Strasburg.
The weather was perfect (61°F / 16°C, clear skies) and the city was full of people: an atmosphere of a carnival. Still, after a short coffee (and cake) break, we decided to find a place to stay outside of Salzburg. After two friendly ladies showed us the way out of the city center, we found ourselves riding along a beautiful canal lined with historic buildings and autumnal bliss.
Unlike other days, this particular day presented a few challenges in finding appropriate accommodation. We had to ride much longer than we had planned (68 mi / 110 km), but thankfully reached a beautiful B&B (Chez-Dany, runs by a charming hostess named Dany). After showing us to separate rooms (something we preferred for an optimal night's sleep) Dany offered Arnon and I just what we needed most - a refreshing drink.
Rhine River tour - Day 4 (54 mi / 87 km): Gerstheim - Essenheim - Guemar - Colmar - Eguisheim
One of the best things about regular cycling is that it improves one's sleep beyond measure. Awaking to yet another Rhine River tour beautiful autumn morning, Arnon and I enjoyed Dany's famous breakfast. Although the cake was almost enough to make us want to linger another day (I still have the recipe she gave me), another long day in the saddle was waiting for us. It is great meeting friendly people during one's travels, but perhaps one of the hardest things is saying good-bye to these people.
The day took us through the scenic routes of Alsace. Well-maintained bike routes unraveled through historic villages, placid canals and lush, rolling hills. But the best was still waiting for us as we drew closer to Colmar: the wine route!
As the hills to the west loomed larger and larger, we were happy to be greeted by endless grape fields under gentle sunshine. It seemed as though we picked the perfect time to embark upon our journey, as the grapes were just ready to be collected. As we cycled through the grape fields, our taste buds eagerly anticipated the wine still to come.
Colmar is another charming city. However, after our stay at Chez-Dany, we craved more of this casual style of hospitality. Instead of staying the night inside Colmar, we decided to find a place to stay in one of the smaller villages along the wine route.
This decision brought us to the picturesque town of Eguisheim. What a great place to spend the evening! Walking through the narrow, winding streets of the old village was indeed like "traveling through a picture.".
During the course of our normal lives, it seems that time passes too quickly. However, time certainly seems to have forgotten this village, and we imagined that not much had changed in the last 100 years. Here, the passage of time didn't matter so much as enjoying all the wonderful details of good living.
Rhine River tour - Day 5 (57 mi / 92 km): Eguisheim - Husseren les Chateaux - Roufach - Bad Bellingen
Equipped with the Gewurztraminer white wine made by our B&B owner in Eguisheim, we made our way south along the wine route. As the morning grew into afternoon, we found ourselves closer to the German side of the Rhine River.
The roads we cycled along were quite varied, and zigzagged between rolling hills and flourishing fields of grapes. Just after leaving Eguisheim we found ourselves gliding down unmarked, unpaved roads.
As we admired the scene, thinking of the beautiful wine still to come, we came upon a group of individuals picking grapes. The "patron" of the vineyard was called Mr. Bickel, and he kindly explained that his workers were collecting grapes that would soon become a tasty Riesling wine.
To expand our understanding of the winemaking process, we visited a vineyard along our way. There, a lovely patroness spent the better part of an hour with us describing how the innocuous grape becomes a tasty wine.
After the patroness explained some of the finer points of winemaking, she offered us a sample of our topic of conversation. Since it was my birthday, I couldn't believe our good fortune at being able to enjoy wine right from the source. Again, the Gewurztraminer captured our imaginations more than any other wine. As we lifted our glasses, Arnon and I exchanged happy glances.
Rhine River tour - Day 6 (53 mi / 85 km): Bad Bellingen - Weil am Rhine - Basel - Rheinfelden - Laufenburg
As our journey unfolded, the beautiful weather continued. On this particular morning we started off amidst a cool and refreshing mist. Riding along the German bank of the Rhine River, we stared across the water but could hardly see the French side.
The first half of the ride took us south along the Rhine, until we reached the outskirts of Basel. Again, we decided not to enter the city, as it was familiar to us from a previous visit. Besides, the scenery was so captivating that we wanted to save as much time as possible for the charming ride from Well am Rhine to Laufenberg.
The scenery of the Swiss side of the Rhine River as seen from the north bank was spectacular. Lofty mountains and low-rising hills were painted deep green, with yellow and red foliage starting to emerge. Old wooden and stone bridges spanned across the Rhine at narrow points, and added to the simple splendor of this picturesque scene.
By the time afternoon had transformed into evening, my odometer read 51 miles (85 kilometers) - something our tired muscles could also attest to. Although there were many dreamlike qualities to this adventure, I can honestly say that it was not without its physical demands. Nonetheless, the beautiful towns and landscapes never failed to distract us from the weariness of our bodies.
As suppertime approached, we found ourselves in the middle of a beautiful small town called Laufenberg.
Hotel Rebstock was easily chosen to host us for our last night on the road. A tantalizing cappuccino and a warm piece of the house apple strudel gave us the energy needed to park our bikes in the hotel garage (after all, the sign outside of the hotel says "bicycle hotel") and to climb three floors to our rooms.
Rhine River tour - Day 7 (40 mi / 64 km): Laufenburg - Koblenz - Dottingen - Dielsdorf - Orelikon (Zurich)
It was hard to believe, but this was the last day of our trip. Our mood was a mixture of melancholy and joy. Such a trip was the journey of a lifetime, and we really didn't want it to be over so soon.
Lost in our thoughts, Arnon and I spoke less, but were still able to enjoy every detail. Autumn continued to dazzle us with her colors and smells, and the crispness of the air kept our senses alert.
We rode another 10 mi (16 km) along the German bank of the Rhine before crossing the placid river near Koblenz, into Switzerland.
Unlike previous days of our Rhine River tour, our legs were challenged with a hilly course, as we had to climb from the Rhine River up to Zurich. Had we been more rested, these hills would hardly have posed a problem. However, taking into account our weary muscles, and especially my knee pain, it was quite a demanding ride.
The scenery continued to delight us, as we now rode through a part of the course that was familiar to us from previous travels. In addition to the natural beauty, a colorful collection of pumpkins was tastefully arranged on the side of the trail.
Today's lunch was special: Arnon, my cycling partner in crime, prepared a traditional meal of Swiss hot dogs (Weisswurst) on the grill. What can be better than an autumn picnic with friends?
As we approached Orelikon, near Zurich, we concluded that our trip was a grand success, and that we were very happy with our decision to go ahead and do it. It was the experience of a lifetime!
There are times when we smile at the thought of following some enticing dream - but that hardly compares to breathing life into these dreams!
The experience of this trip provided us with proven things we would do again, as well as other details we would fine tune in order to make the next trip even better. I cannot emphasize the richness of this trip enough, and can only hope that you will also make such a trip - somewhere in the world.
With our trusty bikes safely stowed in Zurich, I cannot help thinking about another Rhine River tour - riding them back to Frankfurt, very soon. I can hardly wait for next spring when we make this journey.
Rhine River tour - Trip Summary
- Riding days: 7
- Rainy days: none
- Total distance: 365 mi (587 km)
- Major malfunctions: None
- Countries visited: 3 (Germany, France Switzerland)
- Happiness level (scale from 1 to 10): 11
Who Participated in our Rhine River tour?
Arnon, the coffee maker
Our trip on Google Maps (Day 1 - Oct 7 2010)
View Frankfurt to Zurich - Day 1 on a larger map
Rhine River tour: The (short) Movie
Books About The Rhine
More information about the Rhine River can be found on several informative books. Take a look at these selected books from Amazon