AmacertoBikesTravel Weekly's Michelle Baran is on Ama Waterways' new river cruise ship, the Amacerto. Her first dispatch follows.

We were warned. It was going to be a nearly 20-mile ride through the Austrian countryside from Durnstein to Melk.

It was cold with a chance of rain. There would be some hills to climb.

Nonetheless, about two dozen of us, spanning five decades in age, suited up in various levels of unprofessional bike gear. We waved goodbye to the Amacerto in Durnstein and pedaled off with our two guides for a pretty serious ride.

River cruise lines have long grappled with whether and how to offer bikes to passengers. Three years ago, I did this ride when I sailed on the Amalyra. Ama did not offer guides then, so I set out on my own with a map, the ship’s phone number, a box lunch and the determination to not get lost or sidetracked (it’s admittedly pretty hard to get lost when riding along a river).

Now, Ama Waterways is much more organized. For a long ride like this, the company provides two guides that flank the riders at the front and back.

While there’s something to be said for riding in solitude past vineyards and through small towns, cruising along in a chain of riders of various ages and abilities allowed the group to bond in a unique way.

AmacertobikeGuideThe ride took us three hours with several short stops to rest and for the guides to offer brief explanations about the history and agriculture of the land.

It was not an easy ride, but not a hard one. It was a solid workout, and it was invigorating to be outside, even if it was quite chilly.

With all the comfort and convenience river cruise ships provide, offering passengers the option to rough it a bit on bikes might not seem like an obvious fit.

But for many on the ride, gliding past farmland and through woods, racing along the Danube River, and beating the Amacerto to Melk (go riders!), was one of the most memorable experiences of the river cruise — not to mention the somewhat overwhelming reception we received from the passengers who remained onboard.

Tour de France? Please, this was the Tour de Danube.

It just goes to show that for all the focus on the ships and their new and upgraded details and amenities, it’s often what happens off the ship that passengers will remember most.

Follow Michellle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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