I woke up today musing about differences between big bicycle tours, group tours and independent bicycle travel. What makes one a perfect cycling holiday? What makes one a better vacation than another? There are pluses and minuses to each but many similarities too.
BIG Bicycle Tours
- Registration is usually reasonably priced – around $60 per day.
- Good introduction for long-distance riding or multi-day touring.
- Aid stations along the way with water, beverage, food and portable toilets.
- Your luggage is generally moved from overnight – to – overnight location.
- Abundant staff and volunteers are available in any emergency.
- Opportunities to meet MANY (up to several thousand) like-minded fellow cyclists.
- You don’t have to think much….just enter that active meditation groove and ENJOY!
Your registration fee pays for luggage transportation, shower facilities, the food and beverage provided at aid stations and usually a few other items (e.g. route maps, T-shirt). But if you don’t like camping or cycling in large groups, these low cost tours may not be for you.
Operator or Group Tours
You know these tours too. Your best cycling buddy went on such a tour with Backroads or REI or Trek Travel. Group tours share characteristics such as:
- Prices ranging from around $100 per person per day to $1000 per person per day.
- The greater the staff and amenities – the greater the price.
- Smaller number of riders, usually 1-2 dozen, means less cyclist congestion.
- Opportunities to build lasting friendships with new acquaintances.
- Often SAG (support and gear) is available on the route at pre-arranged and agreed locations.
- Usually 1-2 individuals accompany you on the tour as they transfer luggage.
On group tours, your registration fee pays for luggage transportation, lodging facilities, any food and beverage provided, possible additional items (e.g. a water bottle or T-shirt) your share of the SAG vehicle(s) and your share of the guide expenses (such as guide lodging and compensation). Gratuities may or may not be included.
Maybe you enjoy staying in a real bed and cycling with the smaller group but on your last group tour you didn’t fully benefit from the staff support. Perhaps you carried your own luggage to & from your room, rarely (never) saw the SAG on the road and traveled with just a few friends. You found your own way instead of participating in the “accordion effect” of faster riders waiting at certain points to wait for slower riders before the group moves again. Fortunately, you required no mechanical services. You wonder if you received full value for your dollar.
You’ve heard stories…Joe jumped on the old rusty Schwinn just after college and road across the country with $5 in his pocket. If you don’t talk a friend into touring with you on an independent tour, you are on your own. Maybe you are ready for this sort of independent adventure. Maybe you are NOT.
If you are ready, learn to pack up your panniers with a few change of clothes; your bicycle repair items; your food and shelter; maps, GPS and guidebooks; and some cash and credit card. Off you go. With or without a planned route and with or without daily distances and destinations. (Rick Steve’s Europe Through the Back Door books give a good idea of what to expect while traveling in Europe and Lonely Planet offers some guides specific to cycling in France or Italy. Make sure you have a guidebook or two to prepare for your destination.)
Besides these three major categories of tours, you’ll find operators or service providers filling in the niches between the categories. For example, independent ‘bicycle hotels’ operate in Europe; ‘hotel only’ tours for over 100 cyclists exist; and private SAG services are available in numerous locations worldwide. Smaller tour operators such as bicycle clubs and organizations bridge the gap between less expensive large tours and the pricier operator, group tours. Specify where you want to ride, how much you want to spend and the services you want…there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a variety of possible options.
So, what is the best kind of bicycle tour?
Nothing makes one tour better than another. Nothing makes one tour the best. The most important factor we’ve discovered is HOW WELL THE TOUR MATCHES YOUR EXPECTATIONS and DESIRES.
At Build Your Tour, we personally enjoy the comforts and quietness of a hotel room or condo as well as cycling with limited additional weight. We also enjoy participating in other tours, meeting other cyclists and having the luxury of our luggage transported by tour services. So those are the types of tours we generally include in our personal schedule.
On the tours we lead we often stay in one or two fixed locations and ride a variety of “out & back” or loop rides. We like this model because we enjoy:
- Limited packing & unpacking
- Easier access to laundromat facilities or massage arrangements
- Washed cycling items drying completely
- Developing in-depth familiarity with a destination
- Knowing our room and shower are ready as soon as we return from our ride
- Having post-ride snacks waiting and dinners reservations set
What do YOU enjoy? What are your tour expectations? What is the deepest desire for your tour? Will you venture to a land where you don’t speak the native language? What takes priority – time, money, service? How much time and money are you willing to spend? How far do you want to ride? What kind of company would you like on your tour? How much support (or lack of support) will you need? How much time do you want to spend cycling each day? How flexible are you to arrange shelter and food for each evening? List out all your questions and then answer them. Be as specific and honest with your answers as possible then find the solution matching the most characteristics and you’ll Build Your PERFECT Tour!
Tail winds and thanks for reading!