As I pedaled along the riverside bike path on a clear and sunny day, I couldn't let go of the feeling that something about this riding just felt different. I was leading our Rhine River Cruise biking trip last summer and the thought kept dancing in the corner of my mind, ever-present as the smile that wouldn't leave my face. Finally, it dawned on me.
Well, to be more specific, it rode alongside me. I had happened upon a family vacation on wheels and, curious, hung back a moment to take in the scene. Mom, dad, aunts, uncles and kiddos: this was a full-blown family reunion. All shapes and ages were merrily pedaling along, with trailers and panniers (and the occasional wine bottle) telling the tale of campgrounds enjoyed along the way.
Riding with the family that day, Europe's unique and inclusive cycling culture was on full display, evident not only in the expanding network of trails but also in the diversity of people enjoying them. And though famed race routes and world-class mountain passes are never more than a pedal away, biking in Europe is not always a high-adrenaline sport. There's also an attitude that cycling can be both a pastime and a lifestyle. Maybe you commute to work on two wheels, in a cruiser-friendly sundress or a three-piece suit. Or perhaps you keep your pedaling to leisure time, getting fresh air during weekend rides or planning a low-key outdoor vacation like the family on the Rhine.
However one chooses to ride, Europe has done a phenomenal job building infrastructure that supports biking. It all comes back to the EuroVelo, a concept that makes my heart sing with the beauty and logic of it. EuroVelo is a network of connecting bike routes across Europe, with the goal of 70,000+ kilometers (43,500+ miles) by 2020. The project utilizes existing national trails and builds additional connecting routes for cross-continent travel, bringing safe and scenic riding to locals and visitors alike. And because towns and villages are much closer together in Germany and Holland than in Wyoming or Washington, for instance, cyclists can feel comfortable knowing they're never far from the next coffee, restroom, beer or bratwurst.
So how do you get a taste of that EuroVelo life without the planning and lugging of gear? It just so happens some of the most scenic and famous riverside routes in all of Europe coincide with our Backroads River Cruise sailing itineraries. Our Rhine River Cruise is a prime example, where you'll find yourself on the EV15 cycling past the sloping vineyards of the Alsace or pedaling riverside through the castle-strewn Rhine Valley as the ship glides past to meet you downstream. And as you pass day-trippers and bike tourers enjoying their ride at their own pace, you may also find yourself seeing cycling in a whole new light.