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On a bicycle built for tours: five guided rides around the West - and one to try on your own.

Lumbering out of the trees, the two black bears plopped down in the middle of the highway, like Winnie-the-Pooh taking a well-deserved break. Although we had come to British Columbia to cycle in search of wildlife, we quickly became distracted from that mission by the glaciers, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains that embrace the parkways. By the time we realized there were two bruins gawking at us barely 150 yards away, it was too late to pull my camera from my fanny pack. They quickly bolted into the woods.

Those were the only bears my wife and I saw during our six days of cycling through the heart of Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks in western Canada, but they weren't the only highlight of the trip. We rode to the shores of turquoise-tinted Moraine Lake with its glacial backdrop, straddled the Continental Divide atop Kicking Horse Pass, and stood at the misty base of the 833-foot-tall Takakkaw Falls.

Your senses come alive when you're on a bike - no auto fumes to mask the scents of blooming wildflowers, no engine roar to muffle birdsongs or spook browsing elk, deer, and moose.

Such close-to-nature exercise has made cycling tours more popular than ever. Dozens of U.S. and Canadian tour companies stand ready to provide you with a wide array of trips around the West, from those complete with guides, sag vans (to give you a lift whenever you decide to call it a day), and nightly stays in country inns, to rugged, back-country mountain bike treks with nights spent counting stars.

You can choose trips with wildlife in mind, tour California's wine country, or explore the Southwest desert. There are even trips that combine cycling with hiking, whitewater rafting, or kayaking.

While some participants bring their own bikes, we rented ours from the tour company, a wise decision for two reasons: we didn't have to worry about hauling bikes from our Utah home to Canada, and the guides were fully equipped to repair and maintain their rentals.

A tougher decision was where to go, as each year the possibilities have grown.

Canadian Rockies, Vermont Bicycle Touring. Departures are scheduled from June to early September. $1,295 per person. (800) 245-3868 or www. vbt.com.

OUTFITTER TRIPS

Here's a sampling of treks offered this year. We've selected tours led by veteran outfitters. Prices listed don't include airfare or bicycle rental.

Columbia Gorge, Oregon. This six-day trip tours the scenic river gorge via bicycling, hiking, and whitewater rafting, yet is one of the company's easiest outings. Bicycle Adventures. Six tours scheduled from June to October. $1,480 per person. (800) 443-6060 or www.bicycleadventures.com.

Gulf Islands, British Columbia. For six days you crisscross islands laid like steppingstones across the Strait of Georgia east of Vancouver Island. Backroads. Trips scheduled from July to early September. $1,495 per person. (800) 4622848 or www.backroads.com.

Red Rock Country, Arizona. Journey to northern Arizona's red rock country, where you'll be led through the Tuzigoot National Monument and its pre-Columbian pueblos, and into aspen forests along an old stagecoach route to Mormon Lake, Arizona's largest natural lake. Backcountry Active Vacations. Six-day Arizona cycling tours (including some multisport outings) scheduled for May, September, and October. $1,690 per person ($1,798 multisport trips). (800) 575-1540 or www.backcountrytours.com.

Kokopelli Trail, Colorado and Utah. Riders in search of a rugged experience can sign up for an outing in western Colorado and southeastern Utah. The five-day, 145-mile ride along rough four-wheel-drive roads, single-track trails, and slickrock follows a migrational route of the Anasazi people who vanished from the region about seven centuries ago. Adventure Quest Expeditions. Trips offered May, June, September, and October. $650 per person. (888) 237-8378, (970) 858-9209, or www.gj.net/~adquest

Touring on your own

If you're not sure a multiday trip is right for you - or you'd just as soon spend your cash on a tour bike and gear - there are endless one- and two-day jaunts you can make on your own to get the flavor of bicycle touring.

Two good books on cycle touring are The Essential Touring Cyclist, by Richard A. Lovett (Rugged Mountain Press, Camden, ME, 1994; $15.95, 800/262-4729), which delves into everything from choosing a bike to what to pack for a trip, and Cycling the USA, by John M. Smith (Motorbooks International, Osceola, WI, 1997; $14.95, 800/826-6600), which explains how to plan a trip and provides information on trips in all 50 states that you can do on your own.

Here's one fun excursion that would make an excellent first bicycle trek.

EXPLORE THE GRAND TETONS

Every ride in Grand Teton National Park offers views of the park's namesake mountains.

From the Moose Visitor Center, the wide-shouldered Teton Park Road heads north to the Jenny Lake Scenic Drive. This 30-mile round-trip ride offers views of glaciers, Jenny and Leigh lakes, and, of course, the 13,770-foot Grand Teton. Stop for lunch at Jenny Lake Lodge.

For a multiday tour, continue north to Jackson Lake Lodge, where you can spend the night in summer months, then to Colter Bay Village and on north toward Yellowstone National Park (beware of heavy traffic and narrow shoulders north of Jenny Lake).

For more information about touring the Grand Tetons, contact the Grand Teton National Park visitor center, (307) 739-3399 or www.nps.gov/grte.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on bicycle touring
Author:Repanshek, Kurt
Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1998
Words:897
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