What Tour Companies Won’t Tell You
Insider tips for maximizing your bike tour experience.
- A Five Day Tour Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Five days on the BIKE
Before signing up for a tour, make sure that you get a detailed description of each day’s riding activity. It is not unusual for a company to offer an 8-day tour where the first day is simply a “get acquainted” dinner, and the second day is a shuttle bus ride to the starting point and a warm-up ride. You don’t start the real riding until the third day. Then, the final day is breakfast at the hotel and goodbye hugs all around. Yep, that means only five days of true bike touring.
- Defining Difficulty
Their Definition of “Difficult” May Be Very Different Than Yours. Again, your best bet regarding this issue is to study the detailed description of each day’s ride. Most tour companies say that they have optional, longer routes that you can tack on, but if everyone else on the trip is doing the shorter option, that may not be as much fun. If you are a strong rider and you end up on a tour with beginners, you’ll miss out on that wonderful satisfaction experienced after a day of challenging riding with your fellow travelers. Most of the companies listed on this site define a beginner trip as about 30 miles and mostly flat terrain, intermediate as about 35 miles a day with some hills, and difficult (which is rare) as 45-70 miles with major hills. For more challenging rides, look into CycleItalia, Backroads, Adventure Travel Group, Freewheeling, Ciclismo Classico, DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co., IdleFast and InSitu.
- Practicing Discomfort
The Most Important Part of Training will be “Saddle Time”. On every trip we’ve taken, there is at least one rider that didn’t train on a bicycle before the tour. These folks may be in pretty good shape, they just aren’t cyclists. Their biggest obstacle usually isn’t keeping up with the group, it’s dealing with the extreme discomfort of spending hours a day on a bicycle seat without any preparation. The best way to train is to road bike, but if that’s impossibe, try to get at least 3 days-a-week of some type of “saddle time” (a stationary bike or spinning class will do) for several weeks at least. However, be sure to get some practice on the road. We had one rider who had practiced for months on a stationary bike, but never on the road. The first day of the trip in windy Provence, a truck went by and almost blew her over. It was so upsetting for her that she rode in the SAG van the rest of the trip!
- Everything Is Included, Right?
“Everything Included” Doesn’t Include Everything. You won’t be paying for lodging and most breakfasts and dinners, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your ATM and credit cards. Very few groups include the cost of wine and drinks in the price of the trip. Also, lunches are seldom included, although some groups will provide one or two picnic or group lunches through the week. If you are planning on drinking the good stuff or enjoying lunches at nice restaurants, you’ll need to budget for this. CycleItalia, Butterfield and Robinson, Adventure Travel Group, TradNatura, IdleFast, DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co., and Experience Plus includes wine. In addition, get ready to pay about 5% extra for tipping the guides at the end. This can be avoided by traveling with smaller groups where the owners are the leaders.
- Getting There In One Piece
How You Get to the Starting Line is Important. The first day of your trip should start smoothly. But we’ve seen it become frustrating and expensive when guests are forced to get to small out-of-the way places on their own. The best option is if the operator has you meet at the train station in a large city and then they shuttle you to the starting line. Be sure to double-check with their service department if you are expected to get to the first hotel on your own. We were told by one company that there would be taxis from the train station that could take us there, but those of us that took the evening train arrived to a dark, empty station in a tiny Italian town. Thank the Lord one of us spoke Italian and we found a cafe owner willing to drive us the 10 miles to the hotel!
All Those Activities May Get In the Way of Your Fun. There is no rule that says you must participate in all of the planned activities. Many of our best memories from a bike tour are those times when we separated off from the group. That’s when we got a chance to discover our own special restaurant/shops/vista points, and had the opportunity to interact with the locals. With most tours it’s common to ride in small groups of 2-5 people (you will very seldom ride together in a pack), as there is always a pretty large range of riding ability.