When you hear “bicycle tourism,” do you picture an experienced cyclist on an expensive bike with panniers of luggage hugging the rear tire? If so, it’s time to draw a new picture of what bicycle tourism means, and we’re happy to do that for you.
Bicycle tourism encompasses several different type of touring. Commercial or self-supported. With a guide, or without. With accommodations, or not. There are lots of options. Here’s a breakdown.
Guided tours are just that. You have a guide, a set plan and a structured daily schedule. These tours will have just about everything planned out for you: hotels, rental bikes, routes, meals, luggage transfers, sightseeing tours and more. The guide will be there to show you the region and to help in case of breakdowns (mechanical or human).
On guided tours, riders tend to stick together as a group with the guide. Riders sometimes can go ahead to the next turn or next town, but the norm is sticking together.
Guided tours usually include lodging, breakfast, evening dinners, rental bikes, support van or bus with driver, ride-along guide, luggage transport, detailed route planning, and more.
Guided tours can also be broken down into two sub-categories:
- Guided group tour: You usually bike in a group of 8 to 20 people, Most tour operators provide you with a comprehensive information package with tips on sights, cultural highlights, and scenic stops. If you’re traveling overseas with a local company, you typically tour with riders from several different countries, which makes for new acquaintances and international friendships.
Example tour: Florida Keys - Everglades and Key West
From Adventure Cyclist magazine, the article "What to look for in a guided tour" offers an entertaining and very helpful look at considerations for choosing the right guided group tour for you.
- Guided private tour: You travel only with your own private party—the tour is just for you. And, you’re joined by a guide. This allows for more flexibility with the set schedule and route, and having the added benefit of a guide to show you the way.
Example tour: Angkor Wat Explorer Tour
Guided tours can include lodging, breakfast, evening dinners, rental bikes, support van or bus, guide, luggage transport, detailed route planning, and more.
Self-guided tours are becoming the most popular form of bicycle tourism. They cost less than guided tours but still maintain a level of support and convenience that allows you the flexibility to explore on your own, without sweating the logistics.
It doesn’t mean that you’re totally on your own. These tours have logistics covered for you: hotel reservations, comprehensive tour information with maps and route descriptions, and usually a hotline in case of emergencies or problems. You’ll have someone to call!
Self-guided tours typically include lodging, breakfast, luggage transport from hotel to hotel, tour descriptions, maps, detailed route planning, and an emergency hotline.
You do need some level of independence. It's your responsibility to get to the next hotel every day, even if you head into bad weather or just don't feel like riding anymore. While the operator usually gives you a list of bike shops along the route, you do need to know how to fix a flat tire.
Example tour: Danube Bike Path
Keep in mind that many tours on our site (especially programs in Europe) offer both guided AND self-guided versions. Use the radio buttons to toggle back and forth on the tour page to show the different included services, dates, and prices for tours with both options.
These tours are a hybrid of the self-guided and guided tours, and are also considered “semi-guided.”
These tours are the same as self-guided with one primary exception: the addition of a support van rather than a ride-along guide.
Example tour: Exploring Turkey’s Aegean Coast
There are two types of self-contained tours: organized and independent.
Organized self-contained tours usually have representatives from the tour company or association riding with you. However, riders carry their own gear. These can be camping overnights, hotel overnights, or a combination of the two. An example of these tours are those offered by Adventure Cycling Association.
Example tour: Bar Harbor, Maine – Inn to Inn
Self-contained tours can also be independent. This means the cyclist does all the work—from planning logistics and routes to carrying all your own gear. The cyclist is in charge of all the details. By definition, of course, there are no tours like this listed on our site. Interested in planning your own? Check out our tips for planning a self-contained tour >