Last updated on October 11th, 2015 at 03:25 pm

bike floridaYou don’t have to go to Europe to ride your bike through great scenery from inn to inn.

Beautiful, flat Florida is a great alternative, thanks to a non-profit devoted to bicycle safety that also organizes fully supported scenic week-long bicycle tours.

“So many people think Florida is all about theme parks, South Beach and Miami,” Ron Cunningham, executive director of Bike Florida, said “The truth is there are stretches of this state that will knock your socks off in ways that are totally unexpected. That’s where we try to put our riders.”

Bike Florida is planning three “boutique” tours this winter/spring. On the tours, bicyclists stay in hotels or inns with a focus on comfort and support.

One of those — St. John River to the Sea Loop tour, offered Nov. 8 to 14 — was a memorable experience for Michael Sinner, a service representative for a Chicago medical group, who joined the tour in 2014. He raved about the postcard-perfect lighthouses and walking the broad beaches lined with palm trees.  And there were views he didn’t expect in Florida — a fish camp in Welaka and pedaling through “pine woods that reminded me of places I love in Wisconsin,” he said.

Bike Florida started these boutique tours a few years ago, executive director Cunningham said, because there are so many baby boomers who are retiring who crave active vacations.

They don’t, however, crave sleeping on the ground or eating in high school gymnasiums – all features of many larger bicycle tours, including a big spring tour that Bike Florida has led for 20 years.

As a result, on these “luxury tours,” as Bike Florida calls them, guests stay in hotels and eat in restaurants every night. There are three vehicles that support the ride and groups are no larger than 20.

Three tours are planned for fall 2015 and spring 2016:

  • St. Johns River to the Sea Loop, Nov. 8-14, 2015

This inn-to-inn tour stops in Flagler Beach, New Smyrna Beach, DeLand, Welaka and Palatka before returning to St. Augustine. The ride will include  a chance to see some of Florida’s best beaches, ride the scenic Loop road, cross Ponce Inlet and have a “make-em-yourself” pancake breakfast at DeLeon Springs State Park. The ride will be limited to the first 20 riders to sign up (with a waiting list for the overflow.) This tour costs $1795 per rider and includes seven nights of hotel (double occupancy), breakfasts and dinners and luggage support. Riders average 40 miles per day. 

  • Forgotten Coast of Northwest Florida,  March 13-18, 2016

Exploring the rural Gulf Coast, this tour will stop at Apalachicola, Wakulla Springs, St. George Island State Park, Cape San Blas, St. Marks, Port St. Joe, with a chance to taste the seafood of Panacea and admire the scenic bayside of Carabelle. This tour will cost $1,695 and includes six nights of hotel (double occupancy.)

  • Arcadia, Sarasota, and Venice, April 9-15, 2016

This is a new tour whose details are still being worked out.

Hotels on the tours are dependent on what’s available in these small towns and range from Hampton Inns and Comfort Inns to the Welaka Inn, which is on a high bluff overlooking the St. John’s River in an Old Florida setting.

Bicyclists generally bring their bikes by car or ship them, though Bike Florida will arrange rentals too.

The cycling groups enjoy a remarkable camaraderie, Cunningham and Sinner agree.

“People you meet on bike trails, and bicyclists in general, are among the most well-spoken, thoughtful people I’ve met,” Sinner said. “Everybody, to a person, was fun, funny, and enjoyable company, and everyone seemed to have a fine respect for the land and for our shared journey.”

Bike Florida was established to promote safe and responsible bicycling through support of the Share the Road campaign, education, public awareness, and bicycle touring. Its primary funding comes from the sale of “Share the Road” license plates.

For more information about the bike tours, visit Bike Florida’s website.

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