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It's catered biking; you ride with a guide and cook, "wimp wagon" reassuringly nearby.

As the descending sun backlights mountain peaks along a remote stretch of Colorado highway, you hop off your bicycle to snap a photograph, then decide you've had enough riding for one day. You hail the "sag wagon," which whisks you and your bike to a rustic mountain retreat. There, your cabin key is waiting. After a brief respite, you join fellow riders and tour leaders around a crackling fire.

Until recently, only thick-thighed, iron-willed aerobic champions would contemplate a multiday bicycle tour. But now that the catered biking concept, born in the East, has taken root in the West, any healthy person--even a beginner--can cover a surprising distance by bike. The reason is support: this summer and fall, a score of tour outfitters will offer route planning, a pickup van (the sag wagon), accommodations, meals, and mechanical assistance. Prices ranges from $10 a day for bare-bones tours to about $100 a day for all the frills.

On a bike, you encounter sights, smells, and sounds that cannnot penetrate a car. Thanks to the sag wagon, you enjoy these benefits unencumbered by the weight of your luggage or the fear of being stranded before you reach your destination. You're pulled along by the camaraderie of fellow cyclists, sharing experiences and achievements over a hearty meal at day's end. No-frills to nouvelle cuisine, ground cloths to grand hotels

You'll find even more variations on the catered-biking theme than you will outfitters: you can visit national parks, scout wineries, stalk fall color. One tour is timed for a bluegrass festival, another enlists as archeologist.

Tours range geographically from the rugged Canadian Rockies to the California beaches and the volcanoes of Hawaii. Some are leisurely day trips, others roam for a week or more. You can stay in cozy country inns and dine on gourmet cuisine, or simply bring your own sleeping bag and cook over a fire.

Some tours log a hundred miles a day over the steep Sierra, others creep slowly across sea-level San Diego. While most tours use 10-speed bikes, many also head off-road on 15-speed "all-terrain" mountain bikes. (For information on these, see page 100 of the March 1984 Sunset.) Sunset joins tours in Washington, New Mexico, Colorado, and the canyonlands

Here is a quick description of the tours we joined, as well as some advice arising from our experiences.

Bycycle Detours of Santa Fe (about $90 per day) used its van to haul riders and all-terrain bikes from Santa Fe to the ancient Anasazi dwellings of Chaco Canyon in central New Mexico. En route, we paused in the Jemez mountains for a lesson in braking and shifting gears.

A specialist in Southwestern archeology added a stimulating, educational dimension to the tour. However, because this was one of the outfitter's first trips to the area, one day's route proved longer than promised, and some riders felt disgruntled; their plight was compounded when the sag wagon failed to show up. Be sure to ask outfitters how often they've conducted the trips they offer and how frequently the sag wagon makes its run.

The Backroads Bicycle Touring (about $90 per day) trip to Puget Sound suited beginners: it's scenic, low-elevation, not too hilly, and relatively warm. Always ask outfitters about altitude, climate, and distances to be covered. Backroads' tour of the canyonlands was more demanding. Despite inspiring fall color, our trip was cold and wet, but because riders were well prepared for foul weather, their enthusiasm was undampened. In fact, the clean, rustic environment and common challenge seemed to dissolve barriers and encourage friendships.

Colorado Bicycle Tours (about $75 per day) chalet-hopped through the Rockies. Some nights were spent in country inns nestled under fluffy down comforters, but other accommodations were quite ordinary--it's important to get full descriptions of lodging. And if you live at sea level, remember that high altitude can steal your breath and definitely determine the difficulty of a trip. Select a trip, sign up soon

All outfitters have free brochures that describe their programs; even so, they don't always give a complete picture. Before signing up, get answers to the these questions:

Do you and other family members have enough experience for the tour? How many times has the tour been conducted?

How many meals and what kinds of foods are served? (Discuss any special dietary needs.) Are there "days off" from riding for rest or other activities?

What is the elevation (and elevation change) along the route? What extremes of weather should you anticipate? What equipment are you expected to bring?

Is your bike equal to the ride or should you rent one? What spare parts does the outfitter have for your bike?

Is there a sign-up deadline? What are the conditions attached to the deposit, and what is the penalty for cancellation?

All the outfitters listed below provide a sag wagon; most provide at least two meals a day. For a complete list of destinations, dates, amenities, and prices, write or call for brochures.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1984
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