Explore Europe on a challenging ride of unsurpassed beauty.
Europe by bike. In the summer. What could be better? On our European Challenge, we’ll ride through small towns and villages, past Dutch canals and windmills, along the shore of three Swiss lakes and over a mountain range between France and Spain. That’s a lot of beauty, a lot of exploration, a lot of adventure every single day.
And we do all of this together. The European Challenge is, first and foremost, a group experience. Our group shares every sight, every discovery, every high point together. It makes the experience incredibly rich and rewarding.
When our goal is biking all the way across Europe—from the Netherlands through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Switzerland, then back into France and onto Spain—you can’t help but be changed by the experience: the world is so beautiful, so full of promise. And you, well, you’re incredibly independent and resilient, but you’re also a great friend and a great group member.
At trip end in Barcelona, we’ll look back on four weeks of beauty, challenge, friendship and fun—but just as importantly, we’ll look back on a month that couldn’t have been nearly as incredible had you not been on a bike, in a group, with a goal. Nothing could be better.
I had the time of my life, and it's all thanks to Overland!
- Campbell Leonard, Santa Fe, New Mexico
A summer of adventure and challenge, of fun and friends.
Day 1: Trip Start
After meeting in Amsterdam, we’ll take a shuttle to our campground, build our bikes, practice riding as a group and prepare for the journey ahead.
Days 2-11: The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Northeast France
The Netherlands are known for exceptional biking—a great place to start our journey. Building to our average of 70 miles per day, we’ll grow accustomed to our bikes and riding with weight. Together we’ll ride through the small but steep hills in Ardennes of Benelux testing our strength and endurance. We’ll pedal from northeast France in Alsace, to Luxembourg and Germany, before returning to France and the beautiful hills of Lorraine.
Days 12 & 13: Switzerland and the Alps
In Switzerland, we’ll head toward Bern and the Bernese Oberland. Riding through green valleys and small Swiss towns, we’ll conquer two 1,000 meter passes. We’ll ride to Gstaad and Chateau d’Oex before following the Rhone River valley to the shores of Lake Geneva.
Days 14-23: Provence and the Massif Central
Following the foothills of the Alps into the heart of France, through vineyards and ancient cities, we’ll head southwest into Provence. We’ll bike toward the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct near Nîmes, and then skirt the Massif Central. We’ll explore the culture and tour the cobbled streets of Carcassonne, one of Europe’s best preserved Medieval-walled cities.
Days 24 & 25: The Pyrenees and the Mediterranean
After three weeks of riding together, we’ll face the challenging, yet beautiful climb through the Pyrenees. Crossing into Spain, we’ll make our way down to Barcelona for a celebratory swim in the Mediterranean.
Days 26 & 27: Trip End
In the morning, we’ll pack our bikes and prepare for our flights home. We’ll spend the afternoon exploring Barcelona and celebrating our month riding across Europe.
24 nights of frontcountry camping. All campground facilities will include hot water, sinks and toilets. Many campgrounds will have showers and laundry.
2 nights in a hostel just outside Barcelona. The hostel is a dormitory style accommodation with rooms divided by gender. Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
Bike from the North Sea to the Mediterranean—a grand tour of Europe from the seat of your bicycle!
Students going on European Challenge should prepare for:
- 1500+ miles of riding led by two caring Overland leaders
- Biking full days through a wide range of terrains
- Camping out and cooking meals as a group
- 19 days of biking with an average of 70 miles per day
- A fun, supportive and wholesome Overland experience
We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.
Preparing for the Biking
Daily rides on the European Challenge average 70 miles over varying terrain. There are five days over 80 miles and the longest day is approximately 90 miles (the exact mileage varies by group). You will encounter challenging terrain: long mountain passes in the Alps, hot temperatures in southern France and more long mountain passes through the Pyrenees entering Spain. You will spend some days off of the bikes: arrival day, departure day plus four buffer days to allow for delays en route (most groups will find that they spend these buffer days partially or completely off of the bikes).
Overland bicycle tours are self-contained—there is no van support. You will carry all of your belongings, plus some group gear and food, on a sturdy rack mounted over the back wheel of your bike. You will hang panniers (these are saddlebags, pronounced “pan-yers”) off the rack and attach gear like your sleeping bag and sleeping pad to the top of the rack using bungee cords. On average, you will carry about 40 pounds of equipment on your bike (not including the weight of the bike).
You should come prepared and recognize that some days will be more challenging and longer than others. Delays occur due to a wide range of variables—weather patterns change and road conditions vary. You, or someone in your group, might get a flat tire or encounter another mechanical issue that could delay your group. On some days your group will arrive in to camp in the early afternoon, with plenty of time to explore the area or go swimming, while on other days your group will spend more time on the bike.
Completing all of the pre-trip training is essential. There isn't a gradual build to the miles, nor is there a settling in period—you'll ride long, hard days from the very start of the trip.
Every European Challenge participant must complete all of the spring training rides, and, once on the trip, must be able to maintain 12 mph over challenging terrain on a fully loaded bicycle. We've designed the early weeks of the training so that most of the riding can be completed on the weekends. As the trip draws closer, there are more rides, so you will have to make time during the week to ride. Be sure to plan your training rides on consecutive days so that your training more closely approximates the riding that you will do on the trip. Please keep the following responsible riding practices in mind as you complete your spring training.
Responsible riding practices
WEAR A HELMET AND CLOSED-TOED SHOES
Always, no exceptions.
DESIGN A GOOD TRAINING LOOP
To the extent possible, ride on bike paths, bike lanes, and bike routes.
FOLLOW THE LAW
You have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers. Obey traffic signals and stop signs. Ride with traffic; use the rightmost lane headed in the direction you are going.
Make your intentions clear to everyone on the road. Ride in a straight line and don’t swerve between parked cars. Signal turns, and check behind you before turning or changing lanes.
Ride where people can see you and wear a hi-vis top. Ride with your rear light on and flashing. Make eye contact with others and don’t ride on sidewalks. When possible, ride with others.
Watch for turning vehicles and ride outside the door zone of parked cars. Look out for debris, potholes, and other road hazards. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.
Check that your tires are sufficiently inflated, brakes are working, chain runs smoothly, and quick release levers are closed. Carry tools and supplies that are appropriate for your ride.
- 8 weeks before your trip: two rides a week (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of two hours each (24 miles over varied terrain); try to ride for two hours without stopping to rest.
- 6 weeks before your trip: two rides a week (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain); try to ride for three hours with one five minute stop for rest after 20 miles.
- 4 weeks before your trip: three rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain); at this point in your training, you should be able to ride for three hours with just one five minute stop for rest after 20 miles.
- 2 weeks before your trip: four rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers: three rides of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain), and one ride with loaded panniers of four hours (48 miles); complete each of these rides with one five minute stop for rest every 20 miles.
- 1 week before your trip: five rides (on consecutive days) with loaded panniers: three rides of three hours each (36 miles over varied terrain), and two rides with loaded panniers of four hours each (48 miles over varied terrain); complete each of these rides with one five minute stop for rest every 20 miles.
All pre-trip training rides must be completed using the bike, pedals and shoes you will use on the European Challenge. All training rides must be at an average speed of 12 miles per hour on a fully-loaded bicycle.
Once on the trip, you will start riding at first light, taking short breaks (typically five minutes or less) during the day, and complete the day's ride in the late afternoon.
Please refer to the Pre-Trip Training Calendar where you will record your training in the weeks leading up to trip start.
Preparing for an Overland Experience
Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be enthusiastic, positive, helpful and supportive of your trip mates and your leaders. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. Arriving ready for a challenge – and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group – will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing the European Challenge.