BICYCLING THROUGH EUROPE Tours range from tough to easy, but cyclists should be prepared for at least 20 to 30 miles of pedaling a day.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Halfway through a nine-day bicycle tour of the Chianti region of Tuscany in Italy, Arthur S. Labatt, 51, president of Trimark Investment Management, a Toronto mutual fund company, was fully adjusted to pedaling by day and feasting by night. At a veal and pasta dinner in a 17th-century villa 27 miles south of Florence in late May, Labatt, a member of the Canadian brewing family, summed up his day's cycling. ''On the downhills,'' he said, ''I thought about the business meetings I just came from in Japan. On the uphills I thought about what I was going to eat.'' European bike touring, once for the young and frugal, attracts executives of all ages. Some do it on their own. Barton M. Biggs, 52, chairman of the asset management division of the New York investment banking firm of Morgan ! Stanley, took his family -- his wife, Judy, 49, and their three children ranging in age from 17 to 24 -- on a 1984 biking trip through Normandy and Brittany. Says Biggs, ''Two weeks of this kind of thing sure puts into perspective a stock market that took a dive in the first week and made most of the loss back in the second week.'' But even seasoned travelers like Labatt and his wife, Sonia, 48, often prefer to bike in groups. This summer more than a dozen tour operators are sending some 3,000 vacationers on plush pedaling excursions. In groups of 15 to 25, fitness-minded adults will take two-wheeled trips through all the scenic areas of Europe, from the dunes of Ireland to the outskirts of Venice. The trips vary in difficulty according to the daily distance covered and the hilliness of the terrain. But most prearranged tours offer trips that average 20 to 30 miles per day and pose little trouble for anyone who feels comfortable on a bicycle and exercises regularly. Prices range from $500 a week to $1,050, depending on the service and luxury provided, as well as the country chosen and its exchange rates. Choosing a tour is usually a matter of deciding on a location and date. But availability is also a factor: popular trips sponsored by well-established operators sell out months in advance. Two magazines help bring cyclists and tour organizers together: Bicycling and Bicycle USA. The latter publishes a list of tour organizers every March, along with departure dates, prices, and a brief description of routes. The difficulty of the ride is noted as ''easy, moderate, advanced, or varied.'' The League of American Wheelmen, a cyclists' organization that publishes Bicycle USA, sells reprints of the list for $2. (Address: 6707 Whitestone Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21207; telephone: 301-944-3399.) One advantage of a tour is that the cyclists carry no baggage, which travels on a support van, or ''sag wagon,'' along with spare bicycle tires and parts for mechanical repairs. The sag wagon gets its name because tired travelers can call it a day and hop aboard with their bikes whenever they like. If a tour member is injured -- a cyclist fell and broke his arm on the Chianti tour -- the van is available for emergency hospital runs. While seasoned cyclists may prefer to take their own bicycles along, shipping them can be a nuisance. Most airlines require that bikes be boxed, and each airline has its own rules on how that is to be done -- wheels on or off, for example. Many trip organizers provide comfortable touring bikes to participants at low cost. The bikes often come with seats that are easy to adjust and dual brake handles. These are important comfort and safety features for over-the-road travel. Tour operators recommend that riders bring their own handlebar bags and rain gear. Helmets aren't widely used in Europe, but wearing them makes sense as a safety measure. Special bike clothing -- padded gloves, tight-fitting shirts and shorts, and hard-sole biking shoes -- is popular but not essential. FOR MOST PEOPLE, biking is only half the attraction. ''It's picnic, pate, and Pommard all the way,'' promises Butterfield & Robinson Travel, the Toronto-based organizer of the Chianti tour that Arthur and Sonia Labatt took. The agency (416-864-1354) has signed up 1,200 Americans and Canadians to bike through Europe this summer and stay at first-class hotels. Rates average $150 per day. On these deluxe tours Butterfield & Robinson takes care of all the logistics. Guides accompanying each group plan the day's route, usually choosing lightly traveled back roads. Although guides will plot longer, more strenuous routes for serious cyclists, an average day's run is four hours or so. Even slowpokes have plenty of time along the way to picnic outdoors, eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and visit chateaus. At day's end everyone gathers for an aperitif and dinner at the night's lodgings, which range from centuries-old country villas, such as a former home of the Medici family, to spectacular resort hotels with marble baths and gold-plated faucets. Sightseeing and the chance to get close to people along the way are important parts of the bicycle tour. Guides organize visits to attractions that most tourists never see. On the Chianti tour that the Labatts took, the group pedaled up a twisting Tuscan road to the hilltop wine estate of Badia a Coltibuono, on the grounds of an 11th-century monastery. After meeting the owner for a wine tasting, the cyclists inspected wine cellars and the monastery's early-Renaissance frescoes. Said Judith Bernstein, 34, a project director for the New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., a municipal agency, ''This is about as far as I can get from a hospital in Queens.'' The previous day Bernstein and W. Gary Atkinson, 29, a project manager for Beacon Corp., a Boston real estate development firm, had pulled their bikes under the eaves of a house for shelter from a brief rain shower. Says / Atkinson, ''The owner came out and invited us inside. He served us wine from his own vineyard.'' Before they left, their host suggested that the two get married. Says Bernstein, ''We don't speak Italian, but we communicated very well.'' Elizabeth Marcus, 36, an associate merchandise manager at the Brown Group, a St. Louis-based shoe manufacturer, used to go on cross-country mountain treks. She was drawn to the Chianti trip by the promise of nights in beautiful villas and outstanding meals. Says Marcus: ''With trekking, you carry your own food, and there's just so much cabbage and beans that you can stand.'' The chance to sweat is a powerful attraction for other bikers. ''I like exercise. Lying on a beach would bore me to death,'' says Alan Sayers, 51, vice president of Cadillac Fairview, a Toronto-based real estate development company. Henry O. Timnick, 52, chief executive of Stanley Interiors Corp., a home furnishings manufacturer in Stanleytown, Virginia, toured Bavaria last year on a trip organized by Gerhard's Bicycle Odysseys of Portland, Oregon (503-223-2402). ''When we were going through the Black Forest in Germany, it was like being in a cathedral,'' he recalls. That kind of memory brings you back. This year Timnick is taking a 15-day Gerhard trip through Switzerland, France, and Italy.