So you’ve decided to dip your toe into the invigorating waters of an organised cycle tour but face an ocean of data to wade through. In the era of information overload, a state of overwhelm is easily achieved. Hence the need for a cycling adventure to reconnect your inner beast with the simple joys of life. Feel the wind in your hair, your heart beating with pure energised delight as you discover new lands and adventures by bicycle.
Cycle tours vary as much as individual riders do, and so there are a plethora of options to mull over as your start your exciting search. Here we can help you navigate your way through the sea of cycle tours to find your ideal oasis. This perhaps starts with looking at potential tour operators and seeing if they fit snugly with your own desires and requirements.
Are they reputable?
Firstly, you might be concerned about the reputation of the operator, the quality of their tours and potentially their experience. Good old Google comes into its own on this point, and of course, you can look up a company to see if there are any skeletons in the cycle closet.
We would also recommend looking at an independent review site, such as TripAdvisor, as many cycle tour operators have a solid presence there. Facebook and Google reviews can also be helpful in establishing many different factors about an operator and the tours that they offer.
Oftentimes, it can be helpful to look up a highly regarded accreditation system used for tour operators in a certain country, for example, Qualmark in New Zealand or Quality Tourism in Australia and look out for operators that display that mark of approval on their website for your peace of mind.
Conversely, such accreditation can sometimes be out of reach for small start ups that may offer a quality product but perhaps don’t have the budgetary beef for tourism stamps or sufficient web presence to have developed a long list of independent reviews as yet. Ultimately, it comes down to what you feel comfortable with so make sure you stay within your own comfort zone on this aspect. Some food for thought when doing your research.
It’s also worth considering a specialised booking platform to help you with your search. They can bring together a host of reputable tour operators in the one place who eat, sleep and breathe cycle tours so can remove any potential pitfalls of this ilk. Then it’s all downhill from there on – just a matter of choosing the tour that suits your style, budget and dates. Basically, the fun part!
Finally, it’s always good practice to ensure that any payments you send to the operator are documented and processed either via a secure payment gateway, by bank transfer or reputable services such as TransferWise.
Is the tour operator reliable? Will my tour get cancelled?
Reading reviews, as established above, can be a valuable exercise if not taken exactly as gospel but in this section we’re going to look at how you can assess the likelihood of your tour being cancelled and how to navigating your way through some of the jargon.
Most guided tours will have a minimum number requirement, which need to be met before a tour can depart. On certain tour websites you may see a ‘G’ or the words ‘Guaranteed to Depart’ next to some departure dates, giving you the firm green light that this tour has reached minimum numbers and is now going ahead. You can then proceed to book, safe in the knowledge that your tour will go ahead.
If a website doesn’t have this information, and many don’t, this would be one of the first questions we would advise you to ask. Is your chosen departure date guaranteed to depart? If not, how many more people are needed? It may be that the tour operator only needs one more person to book for it to be guaranteed – this is valuable information to have, as you are the chosen one! Meaning, essentially this tour is guaranteed to depart if you decide to book. If you were just to look on the website you might not find those facts, and may discount the tour as unconfirmed.
If the tour has yet to reach minimum numbers, you can ask the tour operator at what point will they make the call as to whether or not it will run? Most will have a cut off period – i.e. 30 days before departure – where they will decide whether the tour will go ahead. If you have booked, but your tour isn’t guaranteed initially, you’ll want to know exactly how the land lies, in case you need to make alternative arrangements very quickly.
Following on from that, it is always prudent to have a good travel insurance policy in place and to specifically check that it covers cancellations either by yourself or the tour operator. Additionally if you’re left hanging by the tour operator without a confirmed tour and have booked flights that you want to cancel, you’ll want to be sure that your travel insurance will accommodate your wishes.
Lastly, as you may have noticed, we refer mainly to ‘guided’ group tours in this section as these are the tours that tend to have scheduled departure dates and therefore specify minimum and maximum numbers of participants. The other type of cycle tour is ‘self guided’, which is, as you may suspect, a cycle tour where you guide yourself with maps, directions and sometimes an App provided by the operator, with your baggage moved, accommodation usually included and equipment supplied, if desired. One of the benefits of a self-guided tour is that you can usually select your own dates (subject to accommodation availability) and so, with this in mind, a self-guided tour can be a more reliable option, in terms of being able to determine your own dates and knowing from the outset that it will proceed. This is something to bear in mind if you’re unable to find a guaranteed departure at short notice or need a firm booking from the get go.
Is the tour operator suitable for my ideal tour?
On this front, some aspects you might want to consider are: what level of accommodation is offered? What sort of support is included in the tour? How much cycling is estimated per day and over what terrain and elevation? On many websites, this information will be readily available but sometimes with smaller operations or those with, let’s say, unhappy websites (perhaps still offering fine cycle tour experiences) this may be harder to find. Again, an option here is to use a specialised cycle tour website that levels the playing field and offers differing tour content over the same slick format for all recommended operators.
Accommodation: Tour offerings can range from shared dormitory accommodation to luxury 5-star resorts, from local homestays to exclusive lodges. Some operators will give the option to upgrade your accommodation for a fee, and others may vary the standard throughout the tour depending on what’s locally available. You need to make sure you’re happy and clear about what is being offered and also what is included/excluded (see the next section). Support: On most guided tours there will be a support van that will travel with the group, allowing for baggage transfers as well as being on hand should anyone need a break. Be mindful that on some tours where you may be cycling off the road, the support van may be away from the group for sections, or some operators can include motorcycle support over these regions, depending on the location and duration of remote traveling. If you’re unsure about your abilities then a fully supported tour is perhaps one way to alleviate any worries you may have.
Support, on guided tours, will more often than not also include mechanical support should your bike need a helping hand. Additionally tour guides can be trained in first aid for any incidents that may occur en route. On self-guided tours you are usually by yourself, however, the tour operator will be close at hand to provide support should you need it. They will often also include puncture repair kits or basic maintenance items that will help you fix any minor problems yourself without needing assistance.
We are now also starting to see an emergence of tours that are self-guided but have support traveling alongside. These are unguided but fully supported. It’s important to understand the distinctions of what is being offered to ensure you’re on the same page as the operator from the outset and that your needs and desires are in alignment with the cycle tour.
Type of Cycling: Determining how much you’d like to cycle per day and if a tour fits your requirements should be fairly straightforward, however, do look for information pertaining to elevation and terrain which can perhaps turn a seemingly easy looking tour into one that could be more challenging. It goes without saying that traveling in areas of high altitude, i.e. Nepal will take more effort than a tour of the same distance at lesser heights. If you’re planning on cycle touring a country with a different climate to your own, for example going from a temperate to a hot and humid climate, be prepared for the difference this could make. You might want to take on less kilometres per day than you’re used to, to allow for the change of conditions. Ultimately, just make sure you’re fully versed on whether your fitness abilities and aspirations are compatible with the tour.
Some tour operators will include elevation charts in the itinerary but even if they don’t, many are happy to supply this information on request along with how fast the group may travel, if this is something you’d like to know. Mostly all operators will give an approximate km/mileage per day and some will even give varying cycling options each day, catering to a range of abilities within the one tour. Depending on the operator, they may also include some training tips or suggested pre-departure fitness plans to assist and help you get the most out of your tour. Some operators will let you cycle at your own pace whilst others will prefer to keep the group together, which are further things to consider as you determine what suits you best.
Is the tour operator within my budget?
Hand in hand with suitability, finding a tour operator that fits your budget is high on most people’s priority list. Before you jump in and think you’ve found a bargain be sure that you know what is included and what isn’t.
Are meals included in the tour price? The standard abbreviation used by most tour operators is ‘BLD’ to designate which meals are include each day, i.e Day 1 (LD) would mean lunch and dinner are included on day 1. Check the itinerary or website to see how many meals are included, if any. Many guided tours may also supply you with snacks and drinks whilst cycling, so if this is important to you be sure to see if it’s included in your proposed tour.
Aside from budgetary concerns, meals being included can be fantastic if you’re in a country very different from your own, with guides often helping you choose or supplying a wide variety of tastes to try during your tour. It is safe to assume that all tour operators can cater, these days, to food preferences/allergies/dietary requirements but always worth confirming.
You’ll want to also check if bike hire is included or if you can potentially bring your own bike at no extra charge. Some operators may charge for transporting your bike case/box during the tour so something to also consider at the outset when assessing your budget. Bike rental can be included with optional extra fees for upgrades to e-bikes potentially or higher spec bikes, depending on the tour. Make sure you’ve looked at the situation with transfers/transportation within the tour. Check to see if airport transfers are included at the start and end of the tour. Some operators may provide an airport transfer but only at one time on the arrival/departure day so it would be prudent to find this out before booking your flights so that you can take advantage of the free group transfer. If you’re traveling solo, some tour operators may charge a single supplement as a compulsory measure, however, others may offer this as an optional extra, allowing you to share with someone of the same gender to save funds. For those traveling alone this is something to look out for whilst researching your options as single supplements can range from a small percentage of your tour cost to potentially doubling the cost thereby having a massive impact on your pocketbook.
Again, it is good practice to be sure of the operator’s payment terms before booking so that you know when the staged payments are due. Most operators will ask for a deposit up front with the final balance being due a certain amount of time before departure. If you book close to the departure date be aware that the full amount will more than likely be due on booking. Additionally, peruse the cancellation policy and how this might affect you financially should the worst happen.
Often tour operators may show you an indicative price in your home currency but when you come to book the price can be charged in their preferred currency. This should be clear from the kick off but just another thing to be aware of as currency conversion rates can vary enormously over periods of time therefore if the rate is preferable at the time of booking you may want to ask to pay in full upfront. Credit card fees and/or bank transfer charges can also add a small percentage to your total so if you’re counting every cent, perhaps ask about payment methods from the outset to ensure you’re clear on all costs.
Enjoy The Ride
Finally, these are just some pointers to consider to be conscious of the variety of options out there, but try not to get too hung up on ticking every box. Yes, staying within your comfort zone is good and imperative for some aspects, but a bicycle vacation can also be the perfect time for experimentation and adventure. Hopefully this article has encompassed some things to look out for and helped to highlight what might be at the top of your priority list and what should be thrown by the wayside. Whatever you choose, we encourage you to try a cycle tour, be it a day tour or a longer sojourn.
See you out there!
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