Riding the Rhine River Bicycle Route

October 8, 2012

I've talked to many Adventure Cycling members who rhapsodize about riding in Europe, including self-guided tours, where a tour company sets up your route and all your logistics (including luggage transport) and all you have to do is ride. I've done every other kind of tour option besides this one so I was excited to get the opportunity to try out a 4-day journey on the Rhine River Bicycle Route, in this case from Cologne to Karlsruhe, all in Germany. The total trip amounted to about 330 kilometers, or just over 200 miles of mostly flat terrain.

The trip was arranged for me (and full disclosure, paid for) by a consortium of 18 government agencies from four countries who are working to improve and brand the Rhine River route as a global cycling destination. I wanted to try it, both because I'm always up for a good bike ride and I wanted to get a closer look at the development and marketing of an iconic cycle route. For Adventure Cycling, this is an important perspective as we develop more of our own cycling routes and help develop official U.S. Bicycle Routes. One other reason is that I was in the neighborhood, just having participated in the first-ever conference on European Bicycle Tourism.

So what was it like? Here's the good, the not-so-good, and the Ortlieb. Mostly, it was awesome. The 200+ miles I traveled went through some beautiful areas, including gorgeous vineyards and rolling countryside. Even better were the very cool cities and towns, so compact, welcoming and colorful. The people were friendly and the late September/early October weather was perfect, with 60-70 degree days and mostly blue skies, with a little river fog in the morning. I was generally able to stay on the route while enjoying the sights, smells, and sounds of the area. There were also many accommodation choices from neatly maintained private campgrounds to 1- to 5-star hotels. Unlike big parts of the U.S., the area is so settled that you don't have to carry much gear because there will always be a shop or restaurant right around the corner, though on Sundays, most of those shops are closed.


What was the not so good? It really depends on your taste, but if you are not keen on riding flat terrain, this may not be for you. But adjacent to the route, there are plenty of quiet paths and roads up into the hillsides, with spectacular views. In the lovely town of Rudescheim am Rhein, there are paved public walkways and bikeways that rise up 1,000 feet to stunning vistas of vineyards, the river, and a huge swath of Germany and France. Another heads-up: You will periodically navigate away from the river and around some major industrial sites -- but these are only occasional and to me, they were part of the route's attraction. Seeing not only beautiful countryside and interesting towns, but also real life, and industry of all kinds is important as it has been part of life on the Rhine for centuries.

Really, the only problem I encountered was that the signage sometimes lost me, and it wasn't just a language issue. The coordinator for the route development project, Melanie Vidin, had alerted me to this issue and told me that they will be revising the signage in a major way next year. So that's good news for folks wanting to experience this always-stimulating route.

Finally, the Ortlieb. In the U.S., you see a McDonald's every few miles. In Germany, you see Ortlieb panniers everywhere! (Of course, I had one for my everyday stuff.) As a veteran bike traveler, it was so wonderful to see so many bikes with such high quality panniers. It was also wonderful to see so many people riding on this route, from seniors down to little kids, for multi-day trips and day rides. If Adventure Cycling and our partners can even come close to this type of popularity on our routes or on U.S. Bicycle Routes, we will have done something magical.

For more information on the Rhine River Bicycle Route, which travels from the Netherlands to Switzerland and also happens to be Route #15 in the EuroVelo continental cycling network, visit the Rhine River route's webpage.  Auf Wiedershen!

Top photo: Early morning fog on the Rhine River not far from Rudescheim am Rhein; middle photo: Jim with dreams of a riverfront castle and vineyard, in the background.; bottom photo: Sample signage along the route, which is due for an upgrade in 2013.


JIM SAYER is executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.


Boab Ontour

Cool!...I rode from Bremen down to Basel then down to montpellier and in germany I used the radwegs...i follwed th erivers for the most part. Seems to me that Europe doesnt have the equivalent of say the ACA transam maps..each country seems to do its own thing...eurovelo come close but I didnt see them selling maps for something like a trans euro tour..aka the trans am. I remember those green signs in germany being pretty good for th emost part however.

October 8, 2012, 5:17 PM

Germany has great maps from ADFC, the national cycling organization, covering the entire country. They won't be as detailed as the ACA maps but that gives you the flexibility to make your own variations and not be lost.

One of the great things about German routes is how they connect to cities as well as the countryside. Having just ridden the Katy Trail, I am hopeful that if we create longer routes that connect the dots, we can support some of our smaller towns too.

October 8, 2012, 8:13 PM
Jim Sayer

Great comments, thanks -- one of the big issues addressed at the Euro Velo coordinators meeting I attended in Nantes, France was to get better coordination over the borders, including on signage and web sites. We shall see!

October 9, 2012, 7:55 AM

Love this blog!

October 12, 2012, 8:37 AM
sporty joe

My visit to this webpage is part of my planning research for the source to sea trail. Your blog has helped a lot. Thanks

August 9, 2013, 12:50 PM

I am intending to "cycle down the Rhine" with my son this summer, and wonder how to go about it. a)If we fly with bikes, where do we store the bike bags that bikes have to travel in? b) which is the best airport to fly to and where should we start? c) of how easy is it to hire bikes? d) should we travel by train with our own bikes, and where should we aim to start? I hope someone can help. Thanks.

April 2, 2014, 1:52 PM

Hello Anne, we are also hoping to do the same, in 2015, we bought folding bikes. I'd be happy to exchange information with you.

June 25, 2014, 5:03 PM

I am very interested to hear about your experiences - especially things to be aware of. a) Where did you start b)which airport did you fly into c) did you hire bikes - from where d) what sort of distances did you average e) is accommodation easy to find f) what equipment do you consider essential. I look forward to hearing your response. Thankyou

August 22, 2014, 2:07 AM
kent peterson

I have the same questions as Anne. Is there a map of the entire route?

May 26, 2015, 8:08 PM
Debbie Marchant

Would love to hear how it went and any tips you can give.

December 1, 2017, 8:49 AM

We are planning to do the Rhine Bicycle Route in 2016 so have a long time to plan 'things'. My first question is about bicycle hire. Is it possible to organise hiring bicycles at the beginning of the Route? Or would we be better off buying a bike ( at somewhere like Decathalon) and selling it at the end.

August 21, 2014, 11:51 PM

Hi I was wondering if you have done the full rhine route.,if so, would I be able to get some info off you?

June 11, 2016, 10:05 PM

terrific observations. Spent 1-1/2 yrs in Germany 1960-62 in the Army; now at 74 planning to ride the Rhine river from Frankfurt to Rudesheim and then to Strasbourg, France. Any advice? Where may one find maps of the cycle routes? Thanks for the nice little article

February 12, 2015, 1:04 AM
Phil Edelen

I read in a magazine last fall that one day or one weaken every year in late june the road along the Rhine is closed to all traffic except bicycles. I believe it was from Rudesheim north towards Bonn. I am trying to find the date for this year. Can you help with this.


Phil Edelen

May 6, 2015, 10:32 PM

Planning to do whole route this summer. Wondering which bike to use .... Will a skinny tire road bike work or is there too much gravel/rough ? Thanks

May 23, 2015, 7:52 AM

Just got back yesterday from a trip on the Mosel and some Rhine. Some tips for you + other prior post q's:

- The Mosel is terrific . . . less well known, less touristy, beautiful scenery/river and smaller, charming villages. Recommend start in Trier.

- Winds from the west so worked well to ride down the Mosel but perhaps/probably best to ride up the Rhine. It's so flat it is not really "uphill" and the prevailing winds could be a problem.

- Splurged a bit $ on the Airport Sheraton but it was SO easy since we got a push cart at arrival and walked our boxes there from baggage claim (you don't leave the Frankfurt airport), set up our bikes, left the boxes and bikes in the hotel storage overnight. The next morning got our bikes and walked right on to the train (also right at the airport). Same thing in reverse made for nearly effortless bike transport logistics.

- Bikeline books are nice map guides (but text describing route is German). I just today ordered the Cicerone guide that covers the whole Rhine (in English) - I plan to do a rather large piece of the Rhine still this year or next.

- Paths are outstanding . . . well maintained. 99% wide and paved. (Wouldn't recommend real skinny tires on any bike path and 25 + if carrying panniers)

- My bike fits in one nearly airline-legal box (frame comes apart). My girlfriend's fits in two nearly legal cardboard boxes (wheels in one; frame in other). It's really nice to have your own bike and not go through the expense, hassle or uncertainty of rental. Tell gate agents we have bike parts if they ask so you don't pay the airline bike charge. (Just normal luggage cost.)

- Stayed in small hotels or (my favorite) "privat zimmers" (private rooms) where it was fun to meet local owner-residents you would normally never meet staying in hotels - plus they are significantly cheaper and often come with extra areas for your use like a garden area, deck, whatever. Didn't book ahead . . . and didn't have problems but I would be a bit more nervous late July through Sept.

- Lots of camping areas - though some seemed to be just for sort of permanent trailer set-ups with no visible tents.

- Everything closed tight Sunday so plan any purchases before / after.

- English pretty well understood but the exceptions make for some interesting games of sharades.

July 16, 2015, 10:07 AM
Julie D

Why start in Trier? I would like to go from Koblenz to Trier....

August 28, 2017, 11:14 PM
Earl Karam

Love some more info

April 12, 2016, 9:59 PM
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