Choosing a bike tour vacation can be a daunting task, no matter what type of tour you’re looking for. There are numerous bike tour companies in the market to take you to regions all over the world. So how are you to decide? What things should you consider? Since In Situ offers challenging bike tours in Europe, I’ll offer you some tips on how to choose a bike tour, if you’re a serious cyclist.
Tip 1: Ask for specifics about each day’s ride
This can’t be overstated. Ask a lot of questions about the daily rides to make sure that the bike tour company’s routes work with what you’re looking for in a vacation. When looking at a company’s itinerary online or in their catalogue, it might look obvious in print, but the reality of the actual trip may be different. Large companies that cater to a varied clientele, might say they have one, two or three riding options each day, but how does the day actual play out? Are the day’s routes truly designed with a cyclist in mind, so that you can easily ride everything you want to? Will you be expected to stop part way into your ride for a wine tasting or museum visit? What do the majority of the typical guests do on a daily basis? How many hours are you typically out on the route? Don’t just look at the distances in the catalogue and assume your average speed to determine the riding time. Ask the company what time of day they typically finish their rides. You’ll be surprised that many companies take all day to ride just 50-60 miles. That’s because the days include sightseeing en route.
Tip 2: Ask the bike tour company how they do their directions
In other words, how do you find your way on the route every day? There are a few main ways companies handle this: 1. They give you a map and/or printed directions that goes in a map case attached to your handlebars. You then must navigate for yourself (i.e. read the map while riding). 2. They ask that you ride as a group, meaning that you must wait up at intersections or keep up with the group on the hills. Larger companies that navigate this way, may split you up into fast, medium and slower riders. 3. A bike GPS unit is provided to you, pre-loaded with the directions. This enables you to ride freely, either with others or solo, depending on what you’d like to do. The GPS unit prompts you at intersections and turns, so that there is no need to read a map while riding.
Tip 3: Ask the bike tour company about shuttles to and from the daily ride
This is perhaps the most difficult thing to figure out from just looking at the trip catalogue. You’ll see that there are daily routes with distances, elevations, options, etc., but what you might not be able to tell is whether or not you need to take a vehicle to get to the ride in the morning or if one is needed to get to the hotel at the end of the day. Many of the larger companies that try to offer trips to all level of riders, design their trips with shuttles being an integral part of their routes. Ask before you sign up. Driving to or from your ride while on vacation is not a whole lot of fun. Riding right from the doorstep of your hotel is much better.
Tip 4: Find out how many people will be on your trip
This can be a matter of personal preference, but realistically consider how the group size will effect your overall experience. Don’t just rely on the company saying they run “small” group trips. That could mean they have as many as 30 people on a trip. So ask specifics in terms of group size. The size of your group plays a role in many things that you do: What type of lodging and restaurants can accommodate your group? How long will it take to gather as a group pre-ride? What is the support staff to rider ratio? Will you have to wait for others while riding or can you ride at your own pace?
Tip 5: Ask about the typical guest
Who will likely be the other guests on your trip? Are they also avid cyclists? What type of clientele does the company cater to? What are their riding abilities? What are the average ages? Do people ride a lot or a little? Do they ride a bike at home or is this trip a once a year type of thing?
Tip 6: Look at the bike tour company’s entire set of trip offerings
What kind of company is offering the tour? What are their core competencies? Do they offer just cycling trips or do they also offer hiking, kayaking, multi-sport trips, etc.? Of their offerings, how focused are they on trips for serious cyclists? Do they offer a majority of easy biking trips instead? Examine their selection of trips carefully. Some companies tend to try to offer something for every type of rider, novice to advanced, which is fine if everyone’s needs are truly met. But ask yourself if you think they are truly focused on the type of trip that you’re looking for. If the majority of the company’s trips focus on easy riding, how challenging will their “epic” trips really be?