Everything You Need to Know About Bike Tours

One of the best ways to explore a new area or to see the world is by bike. Bike tours range from single-day trips to multi-day excursions that cover thousands of miles. When you travel by bike, you get an up close and personal experience. You can plan a tour yourself or hire a company to oversee all aspects of the trip.

bike tours

How Bike Tours Help You Find Your Way Around a New City

You have a lot of options when it comes to getting to know a new city or country. There are the classic bus tours, which round you and dozens of people you don't know up into a bus, then proceed to drive you from point to point.

One a bus tour, you usually get to see the big sights and your tour guide, if he or she is worth his or her salt, will give you a basic understanding of the area's history and culture. But there's usually one huge disadvantage to taking a bus tour.

That's the fact that you're on a bus. You're driving around in a giant cocoon, separated from the country or city you're trying to get to know.

It's not like that on a bike. When you book a bike tour, you get to ride around the area or city on two wheels. Instead of being set apart from the hustle and bustle of the town or trapped in your own comfortable, air-conditioned cocoon, you become the hustle and bustle of the city.

If you want to see the area you're visiting up close and feel like you're part of the action, you need to tour it on a bike, rather than in a bus.

There are a few other features that make bike tours the best option, especially when compared to bus and other types of tourist-focused tours.

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    They don't scream "tourist!" Anytime you see a luxury coach pull up to an area you know that a group of tourists is about to spill out of its doors. While some people don't mind being considered a tourist, plenty of others do want to travel a bit more incognito or without being spotted from 100 meters away. Although many cycling tours are designed for tourists they tend to be a bit more under the radar.
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    They're better for the environment. Travel, especially air travel, has a huge carbon footprint. One way to reduce that footprint is to tour by bike, rather than in a gas-guzzling bus or van.
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    They're a form of exercise. When you take a bus tour, you're sitting for much of the time. Not so with a bike tour, where you're pedaling a bicycle for pretty much the entire trip.
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    They can help you beat jet lag. Getting some exercise early in your trip can help your body make the switch from one time zone to another more easily, reducing the general unpleasantness of jet lag. Cycling can be the ideal way to avoid feeling tired and irritable for the bulk of your trip.
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    They let you see an area. You have some more flexibility when you take a bike tour than when you take a bus tour. Your guide can have you navigate down cramped streets or alleyways, areas where a bus wouldn't dream of going. You are also more likely to get to meet and speak with residents when you're on a bike compared to traveling by bus.
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    They can be more spontaneous. It's so much easier to stop a few bikes and explore a store or landmark than it is to find a place to park a bus and unload 30 people. For that reason, bike tours might feel a little more spontaneous and exciting than your typical tour.

How to Plan a Bike Tour

While you can book a bike tour that's organized by a company, sometimes it's more fun to plan a tour on your own, either with a group of friends or with just one other riding buddy. Riding your bike in a new-to-you country or area isn't the same as going for a ride in your hometown. Here's what you need to do to put together a successful tour.

bike tour infographic

First things first, you need to figure out where to ride. Once you have your tour narrowed down to a city or general area, consult route planners and maps to get a sense of where bicycle paths are. Google Maps lets you turn on a "bicycling" layer, which shows you where designated lanes and bike trails are.

Next, think about how long you want your tour to be. Do you want to spend a few hours pedaling around a city or are you thinking of doing a major, multi-day tour of an area? If it's the latter, you'll want to plan a route that stops near hotels or campgrounds so that you can easily find a place to sleep at night.

There are several logistics involved in planning a bike tour. You need to think about the type of bike you'll ride, based on the terrain and location of your tour. You might also want to book reservations at hotels or campgrounds in advance of your tour so that you aren't left out in the cold at night. Then there's the issue of having enough food and water for the journey or at least knowing how to get more food and water as you need it.

If you're not an everyday cyclist and you're planning a multi-day bike tour or any bike tour that will be more than a gentle ride through town, you'll want to start training well in advance of the tour.

When you train, try to ride in areas that will be similar to what you'll encounter on your bike tour. That means going mountain biking if you expect to be on the trails or training on the road if much of your tour will be on pavement.

What to Look for in a Bike Tour

Maybe you're not at the point in your life where you're ready to take on the responsibilities and risks of planning your own bike tour. That's perfectly fine, as there are plenty of companies around the world that specialize in offering bike tours.

That said, some tours and some tour companies are better than others. Here's what to look for to make sure you don't end up with a dud.

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    Type of tour. Do you want a guided tour, during which someone rides alongside you and the group, explaining the ins and outs of an area? Or are you comfortable following a route created by a company, without a guide present? Do you want to carry all of your gear on your bike or would you rather have a guide van following along, bringing the heavy stuff?
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    Equipment offered. Unless you plan on bringing your bike on the tour, make sure the company you book with provides what you need. Many companies offer everything, from helmets to water bottles and cages on the bikes. Make sure you verify what's included and what's not.
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    What's included with the tour. Sometimes, companies charge extra for the bikes, but that seems to be something that's dying out. You also want to know if you're paying for your hotel and food with the tour price or if those are things you'll be charged for separately.
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    Experience and skill level of the tour guides. You don't want to set out on a tour in a country that's unknown to you with a tour guide who doesn't know what he or she is doing. He or she doesn't have to be a former pro cyclist or anything, but at the very least, he or she should know the basics (and then some) of bike mechanics, plus info on where you're going and what's in the area.

Best Times for a Bike Tour

The best time for a bike tour largely depends on where you're going and the weather conditions of that area. Ideal biking weather tends to be in the fall and spring when it's not too hot or cold. You also want to avoid "wet" times of the year, especially if you dislike riding in the rain. Many tours are rain or shine, so you can expect to hop on the bike even if it's drizzling.

How Much Should You Pay for a Bike Tour?

How much you should pay for a tour depends in large part on its duration and what's included. You could easily drop several thousand dollars or more on a tour that lasts a week or longer and that includes meals, a guide and nights in a hotel.

If you're looking for a more budget-friendly tour option, a self-guided or self-contained tour might be a better pick for you. You'll be doing more of the heavy lifting yourself, and you might not have an in-person guide by your side, but you'll also spend considerably less than you would for a fully guided, all-inclusive tour.

5 of the Best Bike Tours in the World

Ready to go on a tour? If adventure is calling your name, these five bike tours are some of the best in the world.

1. Holland (Netherlands) and Belgium Bike Tour

The Netherlands is one of the best countries in the world to be a cyclist, as there are more bikes than people. The Hollands and Belgium Bike Tour is a 6-day and 5-night trip that starts in Amsterdam and ends in Bruges. Along the way, you'll get to enjoy the beautiful sights of both countries, including the world's largest flower gardens, plus plenty of culinary delights, including Gouda cheese and Belgian beer.

holland bike tour

The tour includes breakfast every day, plus lunch and dinner most days. You'll get a bike to ride and can upgrade to higher-end model or a tandem bike for an additional fee. It also includes a van shuttle, guides, and admission to a variety of museums and other cultural sites.

2. Lake Champlain, Vermont Bicycle Tours

On this bike tour, you have the option of riding anywhere from around 20 to more than 50 miles per day. The entire tour takes six days and has you bike across the Lake Champlain region of Vermont, into New York State. The tour includes lodging at several inns plus all meals. Either a road or hybrid bike is included in the tour price, as well as two tour guides and a support van.

lake champlain bike tour

The tour is recommended for intermediate cyclists and up, as there is the option to choose a more challenging route. If you're a beginner, you should get some training under your belt before setting off on the tour.

3. Ecuador and Galápagos Bike and Adventure Tour

The tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos is incredibly pricey -- well over $6,000, depending on when you go. But for the chance to see the natural wonder that is the Galapagos Islands up close it's well worth it. You might just call it the bike tour of a lifetime.

ecuador bike tour

The 10-day tour includes all accommodations, plus ferry and flight transfers to and from the islands. It also includes all equipment, not just your bike. For example, snorkeling is part of the tour, and the gear you need for that is included. The only things that aren't part of the tour are the tips for your guides and $100 admission fee to Galápagos National Park, which is paid in-person when you get to the park.

4. Tour de France Tour

You're always wanted to ride in the Tour de France. Well,  now you can, sort of. Sports Tours International offers several different Tour de France tours, including a full 14-day mountain stages tour. The beauty of the tour is that you get to traverse portions of the race route right before the pro riders breeze through.

5. Portland to Portland Bike Tour

This last tour isn't for the faint of heart or newbies. The Portland to Portland bike tour stretches from Oregon to Maine, encompassing nearly 4,000 miles. If you love cycling, this is the tour to do before you die, as it takes almost 50 days and costs nearly $17,000. But it's a great way to see the US while bonding with like-minded people and riding a bike.