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Originally published Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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On supported biking tours, you'll pedal hard but rest easy

On a supported bike tour, you don't have to worry about smelling like roadkill after days upon days of cycling. There will be opportunities...

The Associated Press

Information

World Wide Bicycle Tour Directory: Search for bike events and tours by area, www.bicycletour.com/

National Bicycle Tour Directors Association: www.nbtda.com/Velo Classic Tours: www.veloclassic.com/

Cascade Bicycle Club tours: Local and international trips, plus many bike events: www.cascade.org/EandR/tours/

REI Adventures: www.reiadventures.com

On a supported bike tour, you don't have to worry about smelling like roadkill after days upon days of cycling. There will be opportunities to shower along the way.

You needn't schlep 40 pounds or more of gear on your bike. A van will deliver your street clothes, your iPod, your Tom Clancy novel and the rest of your needs to your next destination.

Your lodgings could be a motel or hotel, instead of a tent. There might even be gourmet dining: salmon if you are riding in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps roast pigeon if you are cycling in France, followed by a glass or two of muscat.

"Supported bike touring" is a departure from traditional bike touring, which generally has meant roughing it. Organizers provide creature comforts, sometimes even luxuries. Velo Classic Tours, a New York company that operates tours in Europe, offers lodgings that include a manor in France, a converted guild house in Belgium and a four-star hotel in the Dolomites.

For any supported bike tour, all you have to do is ride, leaving the logistics to the specialists.

That seems to be especially appealing to baby boomers and cyclists in their 40s.

"We're at that age where we appreciate a nice comfy bed, and the fluffy towels," said Dee Real, a 44-year-old veteran cyclist who has organized supported bike tours for friends in the Pacific Northwest.

Bike riding for fitness and recreation has been on the upswing over the past several years.

The number of road bikes sold grew from 10.8 percent of all bikes in 2004 to 17 percent in 2006, according to U.S. Commerce Department figures cited by the National Bicycle Dealers Association on its Web site.

People who sign up for supported tours are generally not neophytes. Many rack up thousands of miles each year on day rides, then add a supported tour lasting a week or more during the summer.

"It's my sanity," Dick Fairbank, 60, of Portland, said of cycling. He has been on about 15 bike tours.

As appealing as supported bike tours are for fitness and environmental reasons, they can be expensive.

An 11-day tour of Belgium organized by Velo Classic Tours costs $5,195. That doesn't include airfare, but it does cover lodging at four-star hotels, and watching professionals compete in both the Tour of Flanders and the Paris-Roubaix, a race almost as famous in Europe as the Tour de France. Dining includes frequent close encounters with Michelin chefs.

But you can also find far cheaper tours, such as those offered by adventure-travel companies such as REI Adventures or through the Seattle-based Cascade Bicycle Club (both Northwest tours and international tours). Or create your own tour closer to home for an economical way to pedal.

Last year, Real took some friends on a tour of the North Cascades that cost them $800 each. That included eight nights at hotels. She invests hours into Web-researching scenic routes that would be good for bikes. Then she and her husband, Mike, drive to the area to check out the roads, hotels and restaurants.

Seattle Times travel writer Kristin Jackson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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