Full disclosure is a rarity in cycling tours. It’s not that bike tour operators are hiding anything, per se. Many tour operators assume that cyclists already know the ins and outs of cycling tours. This isn’t always the case. Here are a few issues cyclists may wish to be aware of before they begin a cycling vacation:
Make Sure You Know Who is Running Your Tour
If you're looking to take a bike tour in another country, especially in the European hotbeds, be aware that many "tour operators" are actually just resellers. Some run a limited set of their own tours, and then resell tours runs by other companies. Some, like BikeToursDirect resell tours run by others and focus on curating the right set of local partners. Now, that doesn't mean BikeToursDirect isn't a good company to work with - they actually give you access to some good local bike tour operators. With these companies, an issue is service continuity. On one tour I went on, I had given the operator all our info, but they contracted to a local company that didn't have any of my info, and didn't have the right gear or accommodations even though we'd spent 45 minutes filling out forms. A professional company like Bike Tours Direct will have processes that ensure a seamless transition.
You should also make sure that like Bike Tours Direct, a reseller offers the same price as you would get from the local tour operator.
With an expensive luxury tour, never ever settle for a resold tour. You want the great upfront customer service that comes with a DuVine, Backroads, or Butterfield & Robinson type tour.
(Editor's Note: I had a not-so-good experience with an active adventure being outsourced in the Galapagos and can't emphasize this point enough. No idea until I got on the ground that it was a local company.)
What is All-Inclusive?
While you may have already paid for accommodations and most breakfasts and dinners, it doesn’t mean that you should leave the ATM and credit cards at home. For instance, very few guided cycling tours include the cost of wine and beverages in the price of the trip (high-end ones like Duvine or B&R do, but you'll know you are paying for them, trust me).
Additionally, lunches may not be included although some tours may allow riders the option to participate in a few picnic lunches throughout the week. Riders should plan ahead for these extra expenses.
Additionally, there are a lot of costs like currency costs, travel costs (some tours include transfers, some don't, some include flights, some don't). Many tours have a "free night" where you are free to wander around the locale yourself (which can be quite nice), but you have to pay for your own meal that night, which adds costs when you are budgeting. Tips for the guides, incidentals are usually not included. Luxury add-ons (facial or massage at the spa) are other examples of things to factor in.
It’s always best for riders to ask questions before hand and to ask for details up front. This isn’t rude or time consuming; it’s necessary. Not every company shares the same ideas about what's included and it’s always best to be clear on every option beforehand so you can budget accordingly
Your Mileage and Time on Road Could Be Less Than You Think
It’s best to obtain a detailed description of each day’s activities prior to signing up for bike tours. In many cases companies may offer tour lengths that are 5 days in length, but that may include only 4 days of cycling. These tours often celebrate the first day with a dinner for participants to get acquainted.
The first or second day may consist of a van ride or shuttle and a warm-up ride. Real riding doesn’t usually happen until the third day. For cyclists who just want to get on with bicycling, this can be extremely frustrating. Weather can also impact the amount of riding time you get in.
About the Fine Print
What are the policies and procedures involved if the trip gets cancelled? Are refunds offered? What if the trip is interrupted by weather or other delays. It’s always best to ask about these types of issues up front, before any problems occur.
The Starting Line Matters
The first day if cycling is important. All cycling tours should start smoothly, but even with the best companies, this doesn't always happen. Operators should have guests meet at a common meeting point instead of having cyclists begin at various starting points. Additionally, read the fine print, but be prepared for the unexpected. Sometimes delays can cause taxis not to be present. Guests may also have to purchase hotel rooms during the first night, because this may not be covered by tour facilitators.
Don’t Let Activities Ruin Adventure
There are no rules that require cyclists to participate in all planned activities. Many of the best memories are created when taking an unscheduled diversion apart from the central group. This can afford cyclists extra time to explore local shops and sample local cuisine off the beaten path. Most tours allow for the option to ride together is small groups of 2-5 individuals. It’s seldom to ride together as a pack.
Sometimes Adventures Aren’t Planned
Rarely, if ever do cyclists ride in a pack on bike tours. Most tours group cyclists into smaller groups of 3-5 individuals with similar skill levels. This makes it possible for the group to travel at a pace that works for everyone. This also allows cyclists to take minor diversions and explore the countryside. Check to see if this option is available. In most cases, it is.
Challenge is Relative
The only way to ascertain whether or not a bike vacation tour is your speed is to read a detailed description of each day’s route. Although most touring companies offer longer routes as an option, this doesn’t mean anything if everyone else chooses the shorter option. Strong riders who end up on tours with less experienced cyclists can miss out on anticipated challenges. This isn’t satisfying.
The majority of guided bike tour companies classify beginner trips as those that around 30 miles a day along mostly flat terrain. Intermediate tours are usually 35-40 miles per day, and may include some hills. Challenging bike tours may consist of trips over 45 miles per day with major hills included. Cyclists who are looking for more challenging rides should check out the following companies: