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Bikepacking and Servas- A Great Match!

February 21, 2024 12:12 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

photo of Josh & Erik with Servas host Roswitha in Vienna.jpgby Josh Gerak 

For four months during the summers of 2022 and 2023 I went bikepacking in Europe and stayed with SERVAS members dozens of timesfor overnight housing, to meet for many lunches or dinners, and gathered information about local sights. Bikepacking, also known as bike touring, blends well with SERVAS because traveling by bicycle makes one dependent on arranging housing every night in a new place. The highlights of my four months were seeing a slice of life through the eyes and experiences of my always gracious hosts. Learning the personal history of my host families created an understanding and camaraderie unmatched in any of my other travels. 

Josh with his lightweight road bikeThere are many forms of bikepacking, many types of bicycles suitable for touring and many ways to travel by bicycle. I chose to travel light, not bring camping gear and do what I call “credit card touring. I am an avid cyclist, and with a background in touring, racing, and owning a mountain biking tour company. I decided to bring a lightweight road bike on tour. I carried no panniers; instead, I had a frame pack, a pack that extended behind my seat, and a handlebar bag. Two changes of clothes sufficed. My total weight was less than 20 kilos, bike and gear. That permitted me to average 70 to 90 km per day.

Erik Brooks, travel partner on my 2022 tourOther cyclists traveled on E-Bikes, gravel or mountain bikes, and many pulled laden down trailers with full camping gear. I chose to tour with strong like-minded friends: Erik and Kristy joined me in 2022, both with a racing background; and Mary Beth and Jackie joined me in 2023, both avid and strong cyclists. Our tours were about seeing the sights, eating great meals and sleeping in a bed every night. 

2023 - Mary Beth on EV8 in FranceUnlike the packaged tours that many people choose for bike touring, we chose to travel without a schedule, without a strictly planned route, and without reservations except occasionally a few days ahead. This offered maximum flexibility to adjust our itinerary based on the weather, meeting new friends, and taking extra time to explore areas that seemed interesting.

We generally followed EuroVelo routes, 19 intricately designed bike friendly routes that crisscross Europe, and range from 1,000 to over 10,000 km long. Many of the EuroVelo routes are on designated bicycle paths, separate from roads. They are a joy to ride, often following rivers, summiting many famous mountain passes and ridges, through national parks and the most famous historical areas of Europe Many European countries are building cycle paths on their EuroVelo routes to promote cycle tourism. All I can say . . . is GO! building cycle paths on their EuroVelo routes to promote cycle tourism. All I can say . . . is GO! 

Erik & Josh with Hungarian Servas hosts Gyula & ZsuzsaWe stayed in hotels for over half of the nights on our trips, and with private parties the other nights which included Servas hosts, friends, and with another hosting organization that is cycling specific called Warm Showers.  Traveling without a defined itinerary was challenging for planning stays with some Servas hosts, but generally our method worked well.  When we knew we were following a EuroVelo route, we would write several weeks in advance, advising the host that we expected to be in their city 3 or 4 weeks in the future, and that we would email or text when we got closer.Josh & Erik in Budapest

Most hosts would advise us if they were going to be available during that window. When we got closer, we would confirm their availability and share our narrower arrival window. If it did not work out, we stayed in a hotel which we could usually book upon arrival at our destination Fortunately, many hosts live in the bigger cities where there were more hosting options and where we really benefitted from the local perspective.  

With the proliferation of GPS enabled cell phones and devices, and a host of new mapping and route planning apps available for free or for small subscription fees, planning and navigating on bicycle across Europe is possible for anyone with the penchant for learning how to research, practice with the apps, and route plan. I mounted my cell phone on my handlebars so I could follow turn-by-turn directions for the entire trip. I downloaded our entire route and many side options.  

Mary Beth with host Helene in Argeles Sue Mer, FranceEvery night, I reviewed the upcoming day’s route and made adjustments depending on anticipated traffic, new information or new sights we had identified. I mostly used a phone app called Komoot, and supplemented it with Google Maps which also has a bicycle planning option. Others use Garmin,, and any one of many others. Some of my friends even programmed their phones to give verbal instructions for every turn, but I preferred to add a bit of serendipity to our routes. As good as the apps are to identify bicycle routes, many times bike paths, boardwalks along beaches, and other interesting pathways not on the recommended GPS route brought us to incredible sights, historical markers, viewpoints and to people yearning for interaction with the odd Americans showing up on bikes with touring gear. 

Bicycle touring is truly the most incredible way to see the world. A cycle tourist can cover long distances at a decent pace, or putter along to smell the roses and take photographs. The bicycle is quite reliable, too – this past summer we never even had a flat tire. People are not fearful of cycle tourists because we travel too slowly to be a threat. Bicycles can be loaded down to carry most everything one needs for any time of the year, or one can travel light making for a faster pace and less effort.  

Josh on EV6 in SwitzerlandMost bicycle tourists are friendly, and people are usually friendly to cyclists in return. Europe by far is the safest and most interesting place to tour on a road bike. The USA has unparalleled natural beauty and landscapes for bike touring but unfortunately it is far more dangerous with traffic, lack of cycle paths, and a citizenry that lacks the respect for cycling common in Europe where cycling is a revered sport. 

I plan to travel again this summer in Europe on bicycle. I would be happy to answer any questions about bikepacking, routes, gear and expectations. If you are planning to bicycle tour, too, maybe our paths will cross.  

Josh Gerak first joined Servas in 1993. After a long hiatus he rejoined in 2022 and has been traveling, mostly by bicycle, when he is not in Seattle, WA where he enjoys cycling, hiking, climbing, skiing, running his businesses and hosting Servas travelers. 


  • February 28, 2024 9:22 AM | Anonymous member
    Thanks for sharing about your bike trip, Josh. I think it's a great way to adventure through a country. And thanks for the inspiration to get out there and make it happen. I also appreciated that you shared ideas about options for bike travel, as well as the resources you used.
    Link  •  Reply
  • March 14, 2024 9:33 AM | Anonymous member
    Hi Josh,
    I am planning a 2 week bike pack trip at the end of August. Switzerland to Italy. I will be alone for those weeks. I would like a few hints on protecting my bike if I stop at a store. You were with others, maybe you never had this issue. I plan to Servas travel some nights.
    Link  •  Reply

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