So you love cycling and are contemplating taking your next vacation as a cycling tour.  You’re ready to sign on to a guided tour. What should you expect?  What shouldn’t you expect?

A tour guided by an independent operator is NOT like Ride the Rockies or RAGBRAI.  On those large group, charity rides you may be surrounded by thousands of your ‘closest friends’ as you follow the route markers, the wheel in front of you and the directions of the volunteers at turns. Breaks off the bicycle are essentially designated for you by where the event has placed the aid stations and the porta-lets.  You stand in line after line for the water and snacks available at the aid stations.  Finding someone to take a quick snapshot of you amid spectacular scenery is easy.  There is always a potential photographer cycling past. So you cycle along and reach the campsite for the evening.  Drag your gear over to a spot you find. And, voila, you are still surrounded by thousands of your closest friends.  Showers, dinners and bathrooms … yes, more lines.   Before dawn, as tent zippers attest, you wake to another day of this flavor of ride-rest-repeat.

Ah, you think, a smaller group of 12 to 24 cyclists would be just the ticket to avoid line frustration. “But what will I experience instead?”  you query as you follow yet another pair of black lycra shorts.

Guided group tours have many advantages such as emptier (bicycle-wise) roads, gear transportation, private showers and beds, planned and reserved dining hours and more personalized assistants available in case.  You will pay more for the privilege of a guide or two, the ‘shared’ support vehicle and usually the following occurs:

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In the evening before dinner (or around breakfast-time), the group leader(s) gathers all the cyclists together to review the next route.  You’ll talk about the critical turns, the steep pitches, the dangerous downhills and so on.  If you’re lucky, you’ll remember all the details.  But if you’re like us, every now and then you may wish you’re back in the pack just following the wheel in front of you.   Our advice?  Pay attention and take notes on your map during the route talk.  Pay particular attention to what is important to you – the restaurant for lunch, the best pull-out for the gorge view, closing times of that great bike shop/museum – and ask for clarification about turns and directions.  Understand the ‘what to do if lost’ procedure too!  Confirm your map reading skills and / or GPS are in good working order.  (We like printed maps because we haven’t lost power to them yet.)

The next morning after sitting down to breakfast you’re off.  On the bike.  Cycling along blissfully without having to dodge around the mass of slower cyclists in front of you, enjoying the unimpeded views of the stunning vistas opening before your eyes. You may be with your spouse or best cycling buddy.  You may be totally alone.  How about a picture of that view?  Hopefully at least two of you on the tour will pause to capture the image. Stop and enjoy the region.  Take a picture. Soak it in.  Take a bite of that chocolate croissant you bought before leaving town.

Now, where did they say you could find water?  You paid attention but you’re nearly empty now and nowhere near the location mentioned.  Maybe the van is nearby and they’ll have water.  Flag the van and fill up your water.  But maybe the van is nowhere in sight. On the guided tours we’ve experienced, we usually saw the guiding SAG van about once a day, so you’ll need to search out gas stations, grocery stores, firehouses, cemeteries, individual houses and other water sources to fill your bottles. (We’ve also experienced the extremes: from seeing the van once in 12 days to checking in with the van more than 12 times in 1 day.) But never pass up a chance to top off your bottles. 

Depending on where you are riding, you’ll be able to stop somewhere for a coffee, lunch or a snack and be able to use available restrooms,  Alternatively, be prepared for miles of scenic terrain with no facilities in sight.  Be considerate of locals as you take your nature breaks ‘a la naturale.’

As  the day grows longer, you’ll be looking for the signs leading to your hotel. If another of your group is nearby and you stop to ponder directions, we bet they’ll stop too.  In a small group, any confusing directions to the hotel are usually cleared. You’ll arrive and probably find your luggage already in your room. So hop in the shower, meet friends in the bar for a beverage and move on to dinner before crawling between fresh sheets in a real bed. Sweet dreams in a quieter place leads to a different flavor of ride-rest-repeat. It’s all good!

Group charity ride or guided tour?  Which do you prefer?  More questions?  Comments? Drop us a line at director@buildyourtour.com

Tail winds and thanks for reading!


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