When choosing a road cycling holiday, one of the main decisions you’ll make is whether to choose a guided cycling holiday or a self-guided cycling holiday.
Guided bike tours have many advantages. Everything is planned for you, there’s usually a support van on hand should you need assistance and getting lost is virtually impossible. They’re also a great way to make new friends.
Guided cycling holidays do offer a somewhat different experience from self-guided ones though, and they’re not for everyone. That’s true now more than ever in this new era as we deal with the effects of the Covid pandemic and many people seek to reduce their contact with others.
If you’re wondering whether to book a guided road cycling holiday, read on to find everything you need to know about guided cycling tours and make up your own mind about whether you should take the guided or self-guided option on your next bike holiday.
1. What is a guided cycling holiday?
Guided cycling holidays are group bike tours over several days. They include the services of an expert tour guide as well as things like accommodation and meals.
Guided bike tours follow set daily schedules and are often sold as package holidays, with everything included for a set price.
They can vary from being entirely tailor made to your requirements to having a fixed itinerary and start date.
2. What is a self-guided tour?
On a self-guided tour, you’ll rely on GPS instead of a tour guide. Rather than joining a tour group, it’ll just be you and whoever you bring along with you.
3. How do guided bike tours compare with non-guided bike tours?
With guided holidays, everything is planned for you and the group sticks to a rigid schedule.
Organised self-guided tours/cycling holiday packages are similar to guided tours in that the company will sort out the accommodation, baggage transfers and routes, but they're not physically present on the actual holiday itself. Instead of a human guide, you’ll receive a pack with route maps and a GPS. Instead of a support van, you’ll have a phone number to call should you get into difficulty. There's also more flexibility – with everything from the start date to the pace, where you stop and what you choose to see en route.
With a DIY self-guided tour, you arrange everything yourself and tailor make your holiday to your exact desires. It’s more work, but it might be the best option for you.
This article focuses on what guided cycling holidays/tours are all about. This article will also be useful: how to plan a cycling holiday.
4. What’s included in guided cycling tours?
Inclusions on a guided cycling holiday vary depending on the tour company and sometimes also depending on the itinerary. It’s important to check exactly what’s included before you book, and make a note of what’s not included so you can make sure that the total price fits your budget.
When comparing different cycling breaks, you’ll find that prices vary considerably. This is reflective of the fact that different bike tour companies offer different things and some have much more included than others.
Some guided cycling holidays may look expensive, but it might be the case that you don’t have to spend a penny whilst you're away. Cheaper options might actually cost more once you factor in things like bike hire, airport transfers and eating out at restaurants.
The standard of accommodation on guided bike trips in Europe is usually high, with 2-star and 3-star being the norm and 4 and 5-star hotels not uncommon. As cycling tour operators use the same hotels regularly, you can be pretty confident that they’ll be decent places to stay.
If you’re concerned about Covid, you can also easily check with them what precautions and measures are in place at the places you’re staying.
Most hotels serve breakfasts as part of your package, and in the evenings you’ll likely dine in the hotel or in nearby restaurants with your group.
Lunch may be in the form of a packed lunch supplied by the hotel or you may stop somewhere on-route to eat.
Your itinerary should tell you exactly how many meals are included in the price so that you can budget for any that aren’t.
Most guided cycling holidays have a support van and some have two, depending on the size of the group. As well as carrying your snacks, drinks and spare clothes, a support van can be priceless if the weather takes a turn for the worse, you realise that you’re not as fit as you hoped or your bike breaks down en-route.
Most support van drivers are also skilled in mechanical assistance so can either help to get you back on the road or will call someone who can.
Some cycling vacations include bike hire. It’s important to check exactly what bike you’ll be expecting as the quality and type of bike can vary considerably.
There’s usually an option to upgrade to a better bike if you wish or you may even prefer a hybrid model if you’re worried about being able to keep up.
The best tour guides are bilingual so can communicate with the group as well as with locals in the country you’re exploring.
You also want to ensure your tour guide is experienced, has run this particular tour before and has good local knowledge so that they can tell you all about the places you visit.
5. Advantages of guided bike tours
Everything is planned for you.
Planning a road cycling holiday can be a hugely time-consuming task. If you don’t have endless hours to spare researching and planning every aspect of your cycle tour, choose a guided trip and you can just turn up and go.
If you’re worried above Covid, you will also have an opportunity to grill the tour operators you’re choosing between on how they and the providers they use are seeking to protect your health. Many operators will have signed up to Covid compliance protocols like this one.
You’ll learn a lot.
A tour guide will give you insights into the history and culture of each of the places you visit. So rather than you just thinking ‘that’s a nice castle’, you’ll learn when it was built, who lived there and (possibly) a funny story about the owner.
You can’t get lost.
Some people find that navigating can take some of the fun away from the ride. And if you get lost, it can put a real dampener on your day if you find yourself on a traffic-heavy industrial area, when you should be admiring lavender fields, and then have to waste time backtracking.
Support vans offer reassurance.
As well as being a handy place to keep your sandwiches and your sunscreen, the support van will be worth its weight in gold should you come off your bike, start to feel dizzy or if a sudden thunderstorm hits at the top of a mountain. Having someone to help with mechanical problems can also offer peace of mind.
Breaks are in nice spots.
On a guided tour, the guide or tour company will have recced the route and should have planned the best places for you to stop for a break. No perching by the side of a busy road while you guzzle down your snack as quickly as possible!
You’ll eat at the best restaurants.
Dining whilst travelling can be hit or miss. With a guided tour, your guide will have already hand-picked the very best restaurants in the area and can probably even recommend the best local dishes for you.
You’ll make friends.
Unless you’re on a bespoke group cycling holiday or with a pre-arranged group of people you know, you’ll generally be with people you don’t know. This offer the chance to meet like-minded people and you may even make friends for life. Group tours are ideal for solo cyclists who don’t like the idea of travelling alone.
You like structure.
If you’re someone that likes to know what will be happening when, a tour could be a great choice. The guide will tell you what’s happening when, where you’ll stop and what you’ll see. Perfect if you love a plan!
Your partner rides faster than you.
If you ride at a slightly different speed to your partner, a group tour may mean you can both complete the same route at a speed you’re comfortable with, hopefully with other people of the same speed.
6. Disadvantages of guided bike tours
Schedules are rigid.
Whilst you may sometimes have a group vote on what to do next and assuming you’re not on an entirely bespoke group tour, schedules, for the most part, are fixed. So, if you like the flexibility of stopping wherever you fancy or jumping on the saddle at the crack of dawn because you can’t sleep, you won’t be able to on a guided holiday.
You ride in a pack.
Cycling in single file to a median pace can be frustrating. You may feel like you’re either always waiting for stragglers in the group to catch up, or worrying that you’re the one holding the team back. Also be aware that you might spend quite a lot of time looking at someone else’s back, rather than the open road ahead.
Now we live in the post Covid-pandemic world, there’s also the health aspect of this kind of group riding too.
The price is usually higher than a self-guided tour.
A guided bike tour will certainly cost you more than a do-it-yourself trip.
As well as paying for the services of a guide and facilities like the support van and luggage transfers between hotels, you’re also paying for the convenience of not having to organise anything yourself. If you’re time-poor or lacking in organisational skills, however, this may well be a good investment.
There may be less interaction with locals.
7. Our pick of the best guided bike tours in Europe
We’ve written lots of independent guides to help you choose the best cycling holidays in France and Spain. Check out the guides below and drop us an email if you have any queries.
8. Final thoughts
There’s a cycling holiday to suit everyone, so whether you enjoy doing lots of research online before you travel and enjoy the freedom to do exactly as you please, or just want to turn up and let someone else take care of everything, you’re covered.
The prices of guided bike tours can seem steep compared to self-guided holidays. However, your tour company will likely have managed to secure good group discounts on accommodation, restaurant meals and entrance to attractions. Once you compare the total cost of your holiday with everything included, you may be pleasantly surprised to see that guided trips can actually offer great value for money.
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