Let’s say your friend or family member is trying to convince you to join them on their next adventure. You’ve seen their photos and heard the stories from the many bicycle tours they’ve taken. It does sound nice… you can bike and be active, eat guilt free, enjoy the countryside. These all sound great BUT you can’t help but squirm a bit as you think “I’m not one for guided group tours… and I’m not a cyclist – is this for me?” Not an uncommon question! Here are the most common concerns and questions regarding the nuts and bolts of being on a bike tour.
1) I don’t take group tours – so why would a bicycle tour be any different?
The beauty of traveling on a bicycle tour is that even though you are buying a packaged/guided “group” tour, you have your own bike and you can go at your own pace and travel from point A to point B on your own. You can stop to smell the roses when and where you want without worrying about the rest of the group. The benefit of traveling with an organized group is that they take care of the logistics and add their special local knowledge. Basically you get the best of both worlds, some independence but the details are taken care of – i.e. hotel reservations, luggage transport, support van (always nice to have in case you need it!), insiders cultural experiences and most meals.
2) Ok, so I don’t have to be with the group, but if I’m on my own, how do I know where to go?
Finding your way around can seem daunting when you are in a new place. Most companies use step-by-step directions so people can follow them along the route. We even use chalk dust arrows that a tour guide places down every morning – so all you have to do is follow the arrows on the road. All companies should give you a map with the route marked on it, and there are often a guide cycling and a guide in the van supporting the group as well. This is an important question to ask when evaluating itineraries.
3) I’m not a cyclist, do I need to wear spandex – can I keep up?
Ok, these are actually three questions in one, but they are the essence of many people’s concerns. First, you don’t have to wear spandex to ride a bicycle – just ask the thousands of Italian grandmothers who pedal to the grocery store every day on their bike. Seriously though, bicycle tours aren’t just for serious “cyclists”. Most companies will rate the difficulty of their tours and for almost all of them the easier and even the moderate level trips are really designed for people who are active, but don’t consider themselves “cyclists”. The best way to train for a tour is to get used to spending time on a bike before you go.
4) What do I bring?
On our tours we have people who can travel 10 days on a bike tour with just a small companion bag and a backpack. Generally we recommend a medium size bag and a carry on bag. A reputable tour company will offer a specific packing list. The nice thing about a guided tour is that your luggage is taken care of and transported in the van for you.
5) How do I get to the tour start?
This is something that is good to ask when evaluating a tour itinerary. Most of the tour operators that run bicycling tours should send detailed pre and post tour travel information. Some companies will pick you up at the airport. Other companies will give you a meeting point or the tour will start at a hotel close to a central transportation hub.
6) What is the difference between a guided and a self-guided bicycle tour?
Generally guided tours include local guides who can help interpret and become your personal guide to the local destination. They’ll know where the best pastry shop is, or where all the locals go to get their coffee in the morning. On a guided tour you also have a support van that can carry your luggage, cyclists and snacks for the road. On a self-guided tour there are varying levels of support provided. Most tours will include all hotel accommodations and route information in the form of a booklet with step-by-step directions – but on the road you are on your own. A certain comfort with bicycle mechanics is therefore necessary and there won’t be van support or guides on the route. It is important to ask logistical questions and questions about the bikes if you aren’t on a guided tour as you are on your own after you pick up the bikes.
About ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours
Maria Elena Malpezzi-Price: ‘M.E.’ started her bicycle tour leading experience as a 5 year old on ExperiencePlus!’s first Venice to Pisa tours. Since then, she’s led thousands of travelers and cyclists on tour in over 10 countries. She and her sister Monica took over their parents’ bike tour company, ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours, which in 2012 celebrated its 40th Anniversary.