Bikes and Barges: A European Way to Travel

By Art Roche

We were on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest last year, and we noticed that the rivers we were on had beautiful paved and much-used bike trails, often on both banks. Then our friends from Chicago, a couple our age, learned about a barge biking trip in Europe and went on it last fall. They invited us to join them this year on a similar trip on the Moselle River, from Metz, France to Cochem, Germany. Here’s the concept: at Metz, we arrived at the Iris, a small ship fitted out for 24 passengers and five crewmembers. Besides the passenger cabins, the ship had a dining room, a lounge, and an outside deck- not all the other things you associate with a cruise ship. Each day at around nine or 10 o’clock in the morning, we would get off the ship with bikes provided by the outfitter, and bicycle about 30 miles along the bike path on the river. We were led each day by Wouter, our guide, who was a history major as well as a very competent tour guide. He and the other for members of the crew were all Dutch, as was the registry of the ship.

When registering for the trip, we included our physical measurements so that the bikes were almost perfectly fitted to us when we arrived. I was pleased that my bike was large enough for me because I am tall. Dianne had reserved an e-bike since she hadn’t had a lot of experience in doing long road rides over multiple days, and because she had just had knee replacement surgery at the end of January.  Five of the 24 people in our group used e-bikes, and they were all very happy with their performance. The bike does between 20 and 60% of the work (three levels—20, 40 and 60%) and you do the rest. It’s not like a moped– you still must pedal. It also has a readout that gives your speed, distance, and battery power.

The bikes we used didn’t employed derailleurs but instead had gears inside the rear hub that worked very smoothly with the two lever system on the handlebar. Most of the bikes were Gudereit hybrids, a German brand.  All the bikes had front and rear lights, which turned on automatically, and were powered by a generator device inside the front hub that involved rotating magnets, so there was no friction. I was impressed with the smoothness and comfort of the bike I was given. The outfitters provided the bike, a pannier, and a helmet for each cyclist.  Helmet use was not required but highly recommended.

The nice thing about the bike paths along the Moselle River is that they were quite level, with only occasional small climbs when we needed to go up a ramp to cross a lock and dam for a bridge, and once when we made a little more of a climb to get up onto one of the tiered roadways in the vineyards. The Moselle Valley is wine country, and there were vineyards every day in every direction. Every morning we made a coffee break in a small town, and later we stopped again for the lunch we had packed that morning before leaving the ship. Each day, we’d see the Iris passing us on the river on its way to that day’s destination city, with Jacques, the captain, waving from the pilot house. On two of the days, we could opt to stay on the ship longer and join the other bicyclists enroute, or leave the ride early and “sag” on the ship.  Guests also had the option to just stay on the ship all day and not bicycle if felt they needed a day off. But most biked the entire way.

Our trip was in early September and the weather was pleasantly cool, usually in the low 60s to low 70s.  We were prepared for rain, but never got any while we were bicycling.  Most of the guests on the ship were American, but eight were Canadians and four were New Zealanders.  Our bicycling speed was about 9 mph, with periodic stops to allow the group to stay together. Usually the stops were at places of historic or scenic interest, and we learned a lot from our guide about the influences of the Romans in Luxembourg and Germany, the ancient and modern winemaking arts, and even the formation of the Schengen Area (similar to, but not identical to the European Union) at Schengen.  Schengen is the town at the juncture of France, Luxembourg, and Germany, like Dubuque’s placement at the intersection of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois! We frequently crossed the Moselle from Germany to Luxembourg and back again. Dianne even got to bicycle through and explore the town of Wormeldange in Luxembourg, where her family came from several generations ago.

We highly recommend the company that arranged our trip, and where more information can be found:

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