So you have decided to book a cycle touring holiday – well done. If it is going to be your first foray into the world of organised cycle touring holidays you are in for a very special treat.
But be warned well in advance that they can be addictive, with countless thousands of people from across the globe returning year after year to experience different tours in new exotic locations.
Such is the popularity of cycle touring holidays for people of all ages, that the cycle tourism industry is very fast becoming one of the fastest growing niches in the adventure tourism market. Every year an ever-growing number of cycle tour companies add more and tours to their itineraries, with the result that there has never been a better time to find a tour that is “just perfect” for you.
But before you jump in and book the first cycle tour you see advertised in the country of your choice there are a number of vital questions to ask of both yourself and your chosen tour operator to ensure you pick a tour that is just right for you.
Ask the right questions and the success of your cycling holiday is virtually guaranteed. But fail to ask any questions at all or at the least fail to analyse exactly what you want from your holiday and you may end up disappointed with the tour you choose.
With so many great cycling tours around the world – an estimated 10,000-plus offered by well in excess of 1000 tour operators - it almost goes without saying that there is a tour out there that is certain to tick all of your boxes.
So what exactly do you need to find out before handing over your hard earned cash to the cycle tour operator of your choice?
Essentially there are 10 questions that you need to ask of yourself and your proposed tour company. These are:
This should be an easy question to answer. Clearly you don’t want to book a five star tour costing many thousands of dollars if you are on a tight budget. These days there are tours available for all budgets, so no matter whether you are looking for a guided tour that has all the bells and whistles or a budget self-guided tour that makes use of two star accommodations, there are tours just perfect for you, just do your homework.
- How Much Do I Want to Spend?
Ask yourself what is the real reason you are booking a bike tour instead of driving a hire car or taking a bus tour. Maybe you know someone who has previously been on a bicycle tour and you have been caught up in their enthusiasm of the event. Or maybe it’s the slow pace of a cycle tour that excites you and what you will see along the way. But not everyone wants to stop at every castle or marvel at the view from every vantage point along the way. There are many cycle tourists whose sole aim is to cycle long kilometres and to tackle every major mountain pass they can find ... for these people culture, scenery and history may be secondary considerations to the ride itself. When working out the type of cycle tour that is best for you, it is most important that you work out exactly what you want from your tour. Rest assured there is a tour out there that will suit you down to the ground.
- What Do I Want to Get Out of My Cycle Tour?
Before you select an overseas bike tour take a good look at what you want to get out of the experience. Do you have a country that is a special attraction? Yes. Then decide what region of your favourite country you want to tour and what special attractions along the way you would like to see. Maybe you want to get back to nature; or maybe you want to see medieval castles; bustling cities; the history of a particular region; wine or regional cuisine or the almost countless other different considerations that are possible. Write down all of your particular requirements and without doubt there you will be able to track down a tour that is suited perfectly to you.
- Where Do I Want To Cycle?
While the intent of any cycle tour is to do just that – cycle – careful consideration must also be made to the location and style of overnight accommodation stops. There is a huge range of accommodation types offered by cycle tour operators. All you have to do is pick an accommodation type that suits your budget and preferences and you are well on the way to enjoying a great tour.
- What Type of Accommodation Do I Want?
There are pros and cons to both styles of cycle tours. On guided tours everyone must adhere to a timetable, however on self-guided tours your time is your own. The choice is yours, just make sure if you do pick a self-guided tour that you are really comfortable being on your own and not with the support base provided by a group.
- Do I Prefer Riding With a Guide and a Group or on My Own?
This is one of the most important questions to answer. Do you want to ride 30 km or 130 km every day? Are you a cycling novice or a weekend warrior who regularly clocks up big distances? Just be clear in your mind what you, your partner and other travelling companions want (remember it is not always about you!!) before you book.
- What is My Cycling Ability and Level?
It is important to remember that you are on vacation and there will be a lot to see along the way. It is also important to remember that you will be riding for several days, usually back to back. The point here is that it is important not to use your weekly Sunday ride as a guide to the tour you will book. Sure you may clock up 100-plus kilometres on your weekly ride, but is that the distance you really want to cycle day after day on your holiday? Therefore plan to book a cycle tour that allows you – and everyone in your group - to live each day to the fullest and to bike for the experience.
- How Far Do I Want to Ride Every Day?
If your tour group of family and friends is made up of individuals with different levels of cycling ability, many cycle tour companies offer multiple ride options, or even days with optional rides. More often than not these options come with an added cost, but they are available – just ask.
- What is the Make-up of My Group?
Your task when picking a tour is to check to see if the route primarily follows paved bike paths, country lanes and roads, unmade dirt or gravel tracks or if it spends most of the time on roads with slight to moderate traffic. At the end of the day the choice is yours, because cycle tours on all sorts of road surfaces are out there and are available to be booked.
- What Kind of Roads and Surfaces Do I Want to Ride On?
While the vast majority of bicycle tourists enjoy travelling each day from point A to point B, a number of tour companies offer the option of staying for two or more nights in the one town to allow guests to come “home” after a day’s cycling. Bike and barge tours are a variation of this theme. Cycle all day and your floating hotel is there at a central location at the end of the day to welcome you with a warm shower, a five star menu and your own cabin. Once again the choice is yours, just be clear in your mind about what you want before booking.
- Do I Want to Ride Every Day?
[This topic was similarly and also very well covered by Bike Tours Direct in their downloadable "How to choose an overseas bike tour" guide.]