In the dark days of January 2021, with COVID travel limitations still in place, though vaccines offering a glimmer of hope, the trip planning started. By March we had a rough itinerary, and in April we started paying deposits.
Kicking off our first international trip in two years – a week in Croatia’s southern Dalmatian Islands, bicycling their roads and cruising the Adriatic Sea on a boat in between them. Finally we’d be in a different part of the world, experiencing another culture!
I have several friends who’ve done bicycling trips like this before, and I’d admired their photos and enjoyed their stories of exploring places via two wheels. We signed up with Islandhopper , a company our friends had toured with before.
Although I usually ride my bike a couple of days a week, and used to ride more often, I’d never done a bicycle tour. I started to wonder, how would I feel after day 3 or 4, and by day 6 of riding?
Several hours a day, multiple days in a row is a lot of “time in the saddle” of a bike. I reviewed the trip itinerary, though, and noted that the daily distance was 12-30 miles. The elevation change didn’t look too crazy hard. We could totally do this!

Creating the Bike Tour Training Plan

With the mileage and terrain in mind, I created a training plan for a week-long bike tour for the four of us going on the trip. Of the group, two of us usually ride bikes at least two days a week, one rides once or twice a week, and one rides periodically.

Here’s our training plan for a week-long bike tour:

Week 1: 2 bike rides for 30+ minutes, 2-3 strength training workouts*

Week 2: 2 bike rides for 45+ minutes, 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 3: 2 bike rides for 60 minutes, 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 4: 3 rides for 45 minutes, 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 5: 2 rides for 45 minutes, 1 ride for 1 hour, 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 6: 2 rides for 45 minutes, 1 ride for 1.5 hours, 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 7: 2 rides for 1 hour, 1 ride for 2 hours, 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 8: 2 rides for 1 hour, 1 ride for 2.5 hours (~20-25 miles), 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 9: 3 rides for 1 hour, 1 ride for 2.5 hours (~20-25 miles) with hills, 2-3 strength training workouts

Week 10: 3 rides for 1 hour, 1 ride for 3 hours (~25-30 miles), 2 strength training workouts

Week 11: 3 rides for 1+ hours, 1 ride for 3 hours with hills, 2 strength training workouts

Week 12: 1-2 easy rides (tapering off level of activity for muscle recovery)

I set up the training goals to be based on time rather than mileage for a couple of reasons. One was to get our butts ready for the amount of time we’d be sitting on a bike seat, and our legs used to pedaling, which I guessed would be up to 4 hours on the longest day.

The average miles per hour when bicycling can vary a lot depending on the type of bike you’re on and the terrain. I can cruise through 30 miles in 2 hours on my road bike on fairly flat land, but it would take me about 4 hours on my mountain bike with hills. We’d be on hybrid bikes, so I figured the time would be somewhere in between.

I also chose time-based targets to make it easier to plan, so we could set aside specific chunks of time during the week for preparation.

Coincidentally, my friend Kit Parks, who hosts the Active Travel Adventures podcast, was also signed up for a similar tour in Croatia starting the day after us! Her trip was through a different tour company (LOTS of tour operators offer this type of trip), and her expected mileage was more than ours.

So I developed a bicycle tour training plan for her based on her itinerary, which also took into account that she’d be on trekking trips in Italy and Slovenia for a few weeks before going to Croatia. She probably wouldn’t have access to a bike during that time, so her plan included more bicycling before she left the U.S.

Lessons from our Bike Tour

Spoiler alert: We did it! In the spirit of full disclosure, two of the four of us rode eBikes, which made the experience far more enjoyable for them than if they’d ridden the standard bike.

I rode the standard “trekking bike,” as the guides called it. It turned out, I was one of 3 people in the road tour group who rode a standard bike, rather than an eBike, for the whole trip (2 others switched to eBikes for the longest day of riding).

This sturdy bike was similar to my first hybrid bike, with an upright sitting position, wider tires than my road bike (thinner than mountain bike tires), and a steel frame. I really noticed the weight on the one stretch where I pushed the bike for about 100 yards on a particularly steep hill. I definitely missed my carbon fiber road bike!

I’m glad I put in the time to train on my bike before the trip. I felt more comfortable and confident that I’d be okay at the end of the day, which I was. I was definitely ready to get off the bike at the end of the longest day (about 32 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation change). Yet I was ready to get back on the bike the next day.

Honestly, if you ride an eBike for a trip like this, you don’t really need to train. Many of the people riding eBikes said they rarely ride, and they did just fine, though the eBikes do require pedaling! And if you have to push an eBike (if the battery runs out), it’s REALLY heavy!

One thing I wasn’t expecting was changes to the itinerary we’d gotten before the trip. We ended up going to the islands in a different order than was outlined in our materials, and one destination was changed entirely because of construction and weather conditions.

The guides also adjusted some of the routes based on our feedback. So the distances for each day were different than I thought they would be, though still in the range of the original plan.

Exploring the islands by bike was a great way to notice differences in the flora among the islands, take in the views and burn off the generous meals they fed us on the boat! We stopped in little towns for coffee, hopped off our bikes to pick and eat local berries, and cruised along well-paved roads.

You can find a slideshow of photos here.

I’m already looking forward to future bicycling tours!

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