When choosing a road cycling holiday, one of the main decisions you’ll make is choosing between the different types of cycling holidays – 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.
If you’re wondering whether to book a guided road cycling holiday, read on to find everything you need to know about guided cycling trips 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. This price is quite often more than it would be for a self-guided tour, as you are paying for the guide’s expertise and usually local knowledge.
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 self-guided tour holidays, 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.
A DIY cycling tour can be quite difficult to plan unless you know the area you want to take your bike holidays in. But there are some self guided cycling tours where the details are mapped out for you, and then you just follow the route at your pace.
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 if you want to save some money and have an idea of where and how far you want to ride.
This article focuses on what guided cycling holidays/tours are all about, but this article may 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. Guided cycling holidays in Europe (at least) usually offer the following.
- Breakfast and evening meals
- Tour guide
- Luggage transfers
- Support vehicle
- Bike hire
- GPS routes
- Packed lunches
- Wine or drinks with evening meals
- Entrance to attractions
- Airport transfers
- Branded kit
- Photos from your trip
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.
Who’s on the trip
Typically, a guided cycling vacation will accept single travellers, couples or groups, but check. Some may be designed for solo cycling holidays where you meet new people, and others may be specific group cycling tours with a minimum number of people required per booking.
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.
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.
It’s a major advantage having even some of your meals already taken care of. Planning self guided cycling holidays in Europe is tricky enough without then working out where to stop to eat, or to buy picnic supplies.
Remember too that your tour guides know the area and so should know the best places to eat. For example, cycling holidays in Italy that are self guided might mean you missing out on that incredible little pasta place that is only really popular with the locals.
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 you suffer a ride-ending mechanical 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 racier 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.
There may also be options of rides to suit different activity levels on guided biking holidays, all led by tour guides.
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 where you can just turn up and go.
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 and tour guides offer reassurance that this won’t happen on your trip, whereas for cycling holidays in Europe that are self-guided, you’re on your own between hotels.
And, 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 haven’t met before. This offers 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. Some cycling holidays for singles are even aimed at helping individuals meet new people – not necessarily as a “singles” holiday romantically but for solo travellers who don’t have friends who are into cycling.
Guided tours are great if 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 exactly what’s on the itinerary, how far you’ll ride, where you’ll stop and what you’ll see. Perfect if you love a plan!
Guided tours are good if your regular ride partner rides faster than you
If you ride at a slightly different speed to your regular riding 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 on fully supported cycling trips 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 to check out the views of the coast because you can’t sleep, you won’t be able to on a guided holiday.
Additionally, considering it’s a holiday, you may find yourself wanting to try different activities on your biking trip, such as walking, or canoeing etc. Some guided holiday tours offer such activities, but other road cycling holidays are more rigid in their itineraries and stick solely to biking.
You ride in a pack
On most guided cycling holidays, you’ll be expected to ride in one or more groups. However, 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.
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
If you travel abroad to spend time absorbing the culture, and discovering how the locals live, then guided cycle holidays may not be for you. Your tour leader will offer the local insight and there most likely won’t be much time for you to spend exploring the sights and getting to know the locals.
Part of the allure of group cycling holidays in Europe is how you can explore new cities and discover new cuisines and cultures. So if it is important to you that you do this on your own terms, and that you design your own adventure, then organised cycling holidays may not be the best option for you.
7. Our pick of the best guided bike tours in Europe
We’ve written lots of guides to help you choose the best guided cycling tours in Europe, particularly in France and Spain. Check out the links below and drop us an email if you have any queries.
- How to pick a cycling holiday in France
- Comparison of the different cycling holiday operators in France
- Our pick of the best Provence bike tours
- Our pick of the best Alpine bike tours
- How to pick a cycling holiday in Spain
- Comparison of the different cycling holiday operators in Spain
- Our pick of the best Mallorca bike tours
Or perhaps you’d prefer something closer to home – UK cycling holidays (self guided or guided) offer a lot of great roads and scenery, although you may not get the same quality of weather you would get on the continent. If you’re thinking about self guided cycling holidays in the UK, you might find this useful:
Other useful articles
- Our pick of the best luxury cycling holiday operators
- 13 questions you should always consider before booking a cycling tour
- Our (subjective) pick of the best cycling holidays in Europe and beyond
8. Final thoughts
There is a cycling holiday out there 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.
It’s important to note that the prices of guided bike tours can appear steep compared to self-guided cycling holidays at first glance. 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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