Europe Bicycle Touring
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This page last updated on: January 18, 2012
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By David May

Commercial Group Bicycle Tour, Commercial Self-Guiided Tour, or Self-Organized Bicycle Tour?

Advantages of Commercial Bicycle Tours:

If you only have a week or ten days to devote to your bike tour, and if you don't have the time to plan out a trip, and if you have money in your pockets, then by far the best solution for you is to opt for an organized bicycle tour with a reliable organization.

Advantages of all Commercial Bicycle Tours (Guided and Self-Guiding):

You don't have to buy an appropriate bicycle, or transport your bike to the tour, or search for a decent rental.
You don't have to spend hours working to develop your general itinerary, and each day's routing.
You don't have to research and contact hotels in advance.
You don't have to carry panniers.
You don't have to limit the clothing you bring with you.
You don't have to research a list of good restaurants or places of interest.

Additional Advantages of Guided Group Commercial Tours:

You don't have to worry that you will be stranded.
You don't have to ride under the rain or if you're tired.
You don't have to repair your bicycle yourself.
You don't have to cope with communication in foreign languages, except if you want to.
You don't have to find your way to restaurants, or points of interest.
You can discuss with with members of your group the local foods and sights, cycling equipment , techniques, previous trips and potential trips, as well as home politics and sports; and even make new friends.

So why would anyone, myself for example, usually prefer to bike on their own, or with one or more friends?

Advantages of Self-Organized Bicycle Tours:

You will prefer to bike on your own, or with friends, if:

You want to the plan the trip: that is, if you enjoy the challenge of planning and route finding, and have the time to do it; or, you can enjoy bicycling ad-hoc, that is, without a planned itinerary or a fixed nightly destination—and you are willing to undergo the risks which that entails.

You wish to explore itineraries that are not on commercial tours (or not on them when you can go). Or if you wish to take a longer or harder trip than groups do: most group trips are for five nights (six days). Only a tiny handful are longer than 10 days. Because of expense and other reasons, most tours avoid big cities or mountainous terrain.

Your interests diverge from those of a typical group, for example, if you want to spend several days in certain cities with great architecture, or in visiting museums or churches, or in tasting a range of local beers.

You prefer to stay in a different mix of hotels and b&b's, or eat at different restaurants. than does a commercial self-guided tour to your tour area. Commercial self-guided trips usually stay in mid-range hotels, are not in the luxury class hotels, nor in budget hotels or campgrounds.

You wish to save money. Compared to commercial group trips you can save typically sixty to seventy percent of the price of the trip for the same level of accommodations and meals (see the cost chart on this site). Compared to commercial self-guided tours organized by major US bike tour companies, you can save up to 50%. If you use, however, local companies organizing self-guided tours, your savings from self-organization will be slight if you stay in the same level of hotels.

You can save even more by sleeping in the most modest hotels or youth hostels; not to mention the additional enormous savings if you carry heavier panniers and camp and cook many of your own meals.

You have a keen sense of adventure! Self-organized trips are more adventurous, and as a corollary, if you are inexperienced, more can go wrong.

You have flexibility to change your itinerary, perhaps at the last minute: For example, in 2008, a bicycling trip had been planned in the south of France; but a day before leaving, the weather forecast was for another week or two of heavy rains in that area that would have spoiled the trip. All hotel reservations were cancelled without cost, and we went instead on a North Sea bicycle tour in brilliant weather, initially finding our lodgings as we went along, and reserving them ahead only for the Netherlands, where hotels were almost fully booked.

You want to be out of your home culture; that is, if you to desire to be immersed in, or more attuned to, a foreign culture.

The last point may require explanation: A ride in an organized group of your own nationality means absolutely that even though you see, smell, taste and hear the other culture around you while you ride, you will be relating to others within your own culture, and spend less time observing when you are with your tour-mates. You won't be arranging things with restaurant and hotel owners, or with tourist offices. You won't be asking for directions and help with bike repairs. You won't have much of a chance to practice or learn a foreign language. You won't have a chance to get into long conversations at night with local friends you make along the way. Lulled by the security and relationships of the group, you won't be as intensely observant, and your conversations, both during day and evening, will mainly be about bicycling and interests from home.

Obviously, if you take a commercial self-guided tour, you will be more immersed in local culture than for a group tour, but not to the extent of a self-organized tour. On a self-organized tour you will be asking locals for information on the best route to your next destination, help in selecting a restaurant, advice on what to see. In the planning stages you will be researching the region you will travel to, and perhaps be calling hotels and asking about their services and discussing the weather to be anticipated. You will have the freedom to call a hotel and ask for a change in the reservation, or a cancellation in the event of bad weather.

Do it yourself Bicycle Touring requires planning, both planning ahead before you go, and some planning every day.

On this site, I provide general advice based on my many years of European Bicycle Touring. I also write about most of the tours that I have taken and greatly enjoyed. After a general description of the nature of the tour, applicable to all types of bicycle touring, I have a long section with a blue background color giving advice on how to organize that trip yourself. Mostly I refer you to written and web materials out there, but in some cases where no materials are easily available or are insufficient, I provide more detailed suggestions, including even itineraries.

To engage in European self-guided bicycle touring (commercial or self-organized), you will require the basic skills of independent travel. I assume that you have those skills. If not, you may wish to take a look at the partially commercial (ads and book) site of John Burmont,, which contains useful information for a beginning overseas traveler. For an excellent summary page on European bicycle touring see

Continue to: Bring Your Own Bicycle or Buy a Bicycle Abroad or Rent?

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