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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.