Types of Cycle Tour

 Gary Corbett

While there are a wide variety of cycle tours on the market available for aspiring holidaymakers, there are essentially three types that mainstream tour operators offer. These are guided tours, self-guided tours and bike and barge tours.

All appeal in different ways to different people and as a result there are a number of factors to consider when deciding what type of tour is just right for you.

Guided Cycling Tours

Guided tours are a great starting place for anyone contemplating booking their first organised cycling holiday.
With a guide leading the way you do not have to worry about navigating, problems with foreign languages and the other 1001 issues that arise on a daily basis on every trip. All you have to do is sit back in the saddle, enjoy the scenery and the company of your fellow cyclists.
Essentially there are two types of guided tours.
  • Guided - Tours where a trained guide leads the way and provides day to day assistance with all aspects of the tour. Your luggage is transported from hotel to hotel to ensure you have nothing to worry about other than enjoying yourself.
  • Self-supported guided - Tours where you carry everything you need to survive on your bicycle (clothing, tent, camping mattress etc), and a tour guide leads the way – usually across many countries or long distances.
On most guided tours bicycles, panniers and most of the other equipment you require is provided, allowing you to just turn up and start pedalling. On many guided tours a support vehicle tails the cyclists and meets them at various checkpoints along the route or allows struggling cyclists to hitch a ride. More often than not a sumptuous lunch is thrown in complete with local delicacies, wine and fruit.

Normally on guided tours you ride with a small group of people, with your guide not only leading the way but also acting as tourist guide, translator and generally Mr Fix-it.

It is not unusual for many tourists to incorporate a guided cycle tour into an existing holiday to see the country they are visiting from a totally different perspective.

With the benefit of not having to worry about all the logistics such as transporting bicycles overseas, booking hotels, moving luggage between overnight stops etc, a guided tour is the perfect way to see your favourite country from the seat of a bicycle – it’s the only way to travel.

Self-Guided Cycling Tours

Self-guided cycle touring means that you travel without a tour guide. These types of tours are booked through cycle tour companies that provide daily route notes to follow as well in most cases a backup service if anything happens to go wrong – however for all intents and purposes you are on your own during the day.

The tour companies also book hotels, campgrounds or other suitable accommodation at the end of each day’s cycling and provide extensive maps and touristic information for the route you will be taking. In most cases tour companies also organise to transport your luggage between nightly stops.

For people who prefer the social aspect of touring with a group of new friends this type of touring may not suit, however if you are looking for flexibility with your route and daily routine and are comfortable going it alone this is definitely the way to go.

For anyone contemplating booking a self-guided tour, it is important to note that self-guided does NOT mean totally self-sufficient. You are NOT totally on your own, as the tour operator organises hotel reservations, luggage transfers and often a back-up emergency service.

More often than not the accommodation is the same as on guided tours, with the route cycled also in many cases the same – but without a guide. Most tour operators offer a comprehensive information package, which includes the route marked on a map, descriptions of the route, sightseeing tips, cultural highlights and recommended restaurants.

Bike and Barge Tours

For any cycling enthusiast wanting to enjoy a holiday with a difference, a bike and barge tour is definitely worth consideration. To put it simply they are great fun and even more importantly are suitable for anyone from about six to 80-plus years.

Cycle all day and your floating hotel is there at the end of the day to welcome you with a warm shower, a five star menu and your own cabin – does it get any better than that!

Bike and barge tours are available throughout Europe, and for all of the above reasons are becoming more and more popular on a yearly basis.

Because, clearly, the barge travels along major rivers and canals, the cycling for the vast majority of the time is along flat cycle paths along the water’s edge.

In places such as Greece and Croatia your home away from home is often a motorised yacht or boat complete with all the five star trimmings. The cycling is just as picturesque as on a river barge tour, with holidaymakers cycling from village to village before meeting up with their yacht at a new location at the end of the day.

Another advantage of bike and barge touring is that if you are travelling with a non-cyclist family member or friend, they can stay onboard during the day and can enjoy the journey on the barge or yacht while you explore on your bicycle (which is supplied as part of the tour package).

Because your luggage is safely stored in your own cabin you do not need to pack and unpack every day, with your total focus for the entire duration of the tour on enjoying the cycling and interacting with other guests.