AS is the case with any contract you put your signature to, it is vitally important to read the fine print attached to your chosen cycle tour BEFORE paying.
While the vast majority of cycle tour operators are more than transparent about what is and isn’t included in each of their tours, a thorough reading of the tour’s fine print can often raise a number of pertinent questions.
In addition, it is also important to get a detailed description of the daily itinerary of your proposed cycle tour so you are fully informed about what you are actually getting on a day to day basis.
The following are some of the things you need to know before booking your proposed tour:
More often than not a typical guided cycling tour of eight days (or whatever the advertised length of the tour is) rarely means that there will actually be eight days of cycling.
- How Many Days Cycling Will I Do?
Invariably the first day will only consist of a late afternoon or early evening “get to know you” meeting or dinner and the second day can often only be a shuttle bus or train ride to the starting point, followed by bike distribution, a warm-up ride or even sightseeing on foot.
This means that in many cases you will not really start any serious riding until day three.
Finally at the end of the tour, the last day almost always only consists of breakfast followed by goodbyes and hugs all around –or at best a very short ride.
So if you are set on the number of actual days of cycling you want to do, confirm this with your chosen tour operators before booking.
Communicate directly with the company you propose to book your tour through to ascertain exactly what their definition of “easy, leisurely, moderate and challenging” cycling really is.
- Do You Want Easy or Challenging Cycling?
Your idea of leisurely or moderate may be completely different to the reality of the tour you are proposing to book. As the old proverb says, “being forewarned is being forearmed”.
Before booking a tour ask relevant questions about the type of bicycle you will be riding and the terrain you will be cycling over – and prepare accordingly.
- It Pays to Prepare Before You Start Cycling.
As was covered in a previous blog, cycling – no matter how easy or challenging your chosen tour is – is a physical activity so you MUST be fit enough to ensure you complete your tour without any problems.
Before booking a cycle tour, find out EXACTLY what all of the inclusions are. It cannot be said any more clearly, but “everything included” DOES NOT always mean “everything included”.
- Does ‘Everything Included’ Really Mean ‘Everything Included’?
While most of the time breakfast and dinner (and sometimes lunch) are included in the up-front cost that does not mean this is always the case.
On a practical safety and comfort level cycling helmets and waterproof clothing are rarely provided, so bring your own or be prepared to purchase what you need.
You will also find that only a select few tours (read - five star tours) include the cost of alcohol in the tour price. As a basic rule if you plan to drink alcohol, you will need to factor this into your overall additional budget.
On most guided tours it is also an unwritten rule that you tip the tour guide at the end of the tour. While there is no hard and fast rule as to the “correct” amount to tip, it is generally seen as good manners to thank the guide with an adequate monetary reward for his or her efforts.
The attraction of many cycle tours is the stunning and often remote country they traverse. But remember, remote can often mean just that, remote. When you are working out your overall budget for your cycle tour, take into account the cost of actually getting to and from the start and finish lines.
- Getting To the Start Line.
It can often be frustrating and expensive to get to small out-of-the-way places in unfamiliar foreign countries on your own, so the best option is to organise your transport before you leave home.
Quite often cycle tour companies provide shuttle transport from the nearest train or bus station, but if you do not ask more often than not you will not get!
There is absolutely nothing worse than arriving at an unfamiliar train station at what you thought was the start point of the cycle tour only to find you are many kilometres away from where you actually need to be – and no one speaks your language.
The solution? Ask all relevant questions before you leave home.
Remember you do not have to pay and take part in all of the optional activities that are organised as part of a guided cycle tour. If you are keen on the activity organised, great.
- Optional Activities are Just That – Optional.
But if you would rather do something on your own for an hour or two while the rest of the group partakes in the activity; do not be afraid to say so. It can not only mean a cheaper tour, but quite often a more personalised experience.
Almost without exception all cycle and bike and barge tour operators charge a single room supplement. In other words, if you are travelling by yourself you will be charged extra for the privilege of having your own room.
- Single Room Supplements.
In addition some operators also charge guests with a solo traveller supplement on top of the single room supplement. This can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the cost of a trip depending on its length and up-front cost, so it pays to factor this into your overall budget if you are travelling alone.
As a money saving alternative some tour operators offer to match up single guests of the same sex in the same room. But beware, this can be fraught with problems, especially in Europe as I discovered during one tour in France.
Wanting my money to stretch as far as possible, I agreed to be roomed with another single male cyclist. But unbeknown to me, the majority of single beds in the two and three star hotels we stayed at were bolted together.
It was therefore awkward in the extreme when my roommate and I climbed into what was essentially the same bed at the end of the first day’s cycling.
Just because you have booked and paid for your cycle tour, do not take it for granted that the tour will actually take place.
- Tour Minimums.
Almost all guided bike tours (and even some self-guided bike tours) are subject to a minimum number of participants to ensure the tour actually starts.
As a result if the minimum number of participants (independently determined by each tour company) isn't reached, the tour may be cancelled. This decision is usually made about four weeks out from the tour’s scheduled start date, so it pays to touch base with your tour company to give yourself peace of mind that it is really a case of all systems go.
If your bicycle tour is cancelled, tour operators will usually try to arrange an alternative tour or will refund your money in full.
Okay, you have decided to book your cycle tour directly through a foreign tour operator in preference to booking through an agent who acts on behalf of many tour operators. But beware of one pitfall that I have personally fallen for.
- A Trap to be Aware of.
In 2009 after much research I booked and paid for a bike and barge tour on the Moselle River that flows through Germany, France and Luxembourg.
The website of the company I booked through was in English and all of the email correspondence was in English, but to my shock the ENTIRE tour was in spoken German.
The captain and staff on the barge spoke little or no English, all of the other passengers were German and all of the written cycle route directions were in German.
As a result I had to rely on one of my fellow German cycle tourists - who fortunately spoke good English - to translate everything from the captain’s instructions, the menu and details of the daily cycle route.
While it turned out to be a very enjoyable trip, I have no doubt it would have been a much richer experience if everything had been in English.
Suffice to say make sure you ASK what language your proposed tour will be conducted in BEFORE you book.