The 3 Main Types Of Bicycle Tours

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

Believe it or not, there are actually a number of different types of bicycle touring and bicycle tours. However, the main branches of the activity can be broken down into three major categories: guided bicycle touring, self-guided bicycle touring and self-supported bicycle touring.

The Guided Bicycle Tour

A guided bicycle tour is a type of bicycle touring in which you pay to be escorted along a pre-designed path by an experienced bicycle touring guide or company, and your belongings (such as your food, clothing, toiletries, etc.) are carried in a vehicle that meets you at various checkpoints along your route.

Guided bicycle tours range in size from 2 to 20+ people, with tour participants often times coming from a number of different countries all around the world.

Support and personnel vary by tour and tour company, but one guide typically rides with the group on his or her bicycle each day, while a second tour guide drives a support van carrying your luggage. Larger tour groups may have as many as three or more guides working to escort you along your route each day. In addition to carrying your belongings from one point to the next, the support van provided by the touring company also makes it possible for tour participants to bridge less attractive and/or more challenging sections of a route, if need be.

While bicycles used for the duration of the trip may or may not be included in the tour’s overall cost, most tour operators will provide you with a bicycle of some kind if you choose not to bring your own (although the cost for renting a bicycle from the company may be extra). Most tour companies will also provide you with a comprehensive packing list, route/mapping details, and an information package containing details on the sights you can expect to see along the way, cultural highlights and scenic stops (although the extent of information varies from company to company).

If you enjoy traveling with a group, meeting new people, riding with an experienced bicycle touring guide and having a structured daily schedule, then a guided bicycle tour is probably the best fit for you. The guides will point out places of interest, organize activities and excursions, and are there to help in case of mechanical, mental or physical breakdowns.

With all the tour details sorted for you and almost everything paid for in advance, guided bicycle touring allows you to simply show up for the start of the tour and enjoy the ride!

See the website at www.gobicycletouring.com to search for amazing guided bicycle tours in dozens of different countries all around the world.

The Self-Guided Bicycle Tour

A self-guided bicycle tour is similar to a guided bicycle tour in that the route, lodging and meals have all been taken care of for you by an established bicycle touring company. The difference, however, is that on a self-guided tour you will not be joined by an experienced bicycle touring guide. Instead, you must navigate a pre-designed course on your own, while carrying whatever belongings you might have with you on your bicycle (although some self-guided bicycle tours will transport your luggage each day from one hotel to the next).

While a guided bicycle tour is typically conducted with a large group of people, self-guided bicycle tours can be done alone or with a group of almost any size.

While meals may or may not be included with your tour, bicycle tours of this type are generally far less expensive than guided bicycle tours (because you aren’t paying for a guide to accompany you along your route). Self-guided bicycle tours also offer more freedom to stop and smell the roses (or take a detour, if you so wish) along the way.

If you choose to conduct a self-guided bicycle tour, you should consider your level of comfort with navigating through a different country, communicating in a foreign language, reading maps and signs, ordering food, and dealing with flats or other minor emergencies. While some tour participants would rather avoid these types of situations, others will find these challenges to be an enjoyable part of the bicycle touring experience.

If you’re looking to participate in a relatively inexpensive bicycle tour where all (or most) of your tour details are taken care of for you in advance, but you want the freedom to choose your own travel companions, cycle at your own pace and come up with your own schedule each day, then a self-guided bicycle tour might be in your future!

Be sure to visit the website at www.gobicycletouring.com to find that incredible self-guided bicycle tour you’ve been dreaming about.

The Self-Supported Bicycle Tour

Finally, there is the self-supported bicycle tour, which requires you to travel alone (without a guide) and carry all the clothing, tools, and gear you need to survive for days, weeks, or months on end. This type of bicycle travel is also commonly referred to as “traditional bicycle touring” or “fully-loaded bicycle touring.”

While your food, route details and lodging are all taken care of for you in advance by a touring company on both guided and self-guided bicycle tours, self-supported bicycle touring require you to figure out all of these details on your own – either in advance or once you get out there on the road.

By far the least expensive means of traveling by bike, self-supported bicycle touring requires the most amount of planning, preparation and skill. Knowing how to navigate, find food and water, interact with locals, repair and maintain your bicycle, ride in all types of traffic (while carrying a heavy load) and secure lodging for the night are all important skills that the self-supported bicycle tourist must posses.

Despite the education that is required to successfully conduct your first self-supported bicycle tour, this type of touring continues to be one of the most popular means of traveling by bike.

Learn how to conduct your own self-supported bicycle tours at www.bicycletouringbook.com.

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13 Comments

  1. Brian

    December 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    My tour was largely a credit card tour. But I did camp 2 nites on my 9 day journey, and I did bring food as well. If I had been bolder I might have asked more people to let me camp on their land. One of my favorite nights was the night I camped at a state park. I fell asleep quickly and slept well all night long and woke up at 9. When I woke up I couldn’t believe that I was able to sleep that deeply at night in a place I had never been before.

  2. Buzz

    December 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Nice, concise and undecorated piece. I’ve been touring self -supported on mixed terrain as well as commuting since the early ’70s and at 57 I’m still pulling the bobtail over mountains broad and tall. An excellent mental and physical health plan in my experience. Vive les Randonneurs!

  3. Mark

    December 13, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    My first tour during the summer of 2010 started in central Massachusetts and my destination was new york city, and back to my home town, westminster, MA. The whole trip was about 550 miles or so, so it wasn’t an incredibly long trip, only about a week, averaging 80-90 miles per day. To this day, its been the most amazing, self sufficient accomplishment I’ve taken part in. Its an incredible experience and I’d suggest for anyone to do it. There’s so much freedom on the open road and it’s total bliss.

  4. Seb

    December 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    My first tour was self-supported and took place in Switzerland. I crossed the country from Bellegarde (France) to Konstanz (Germany) in may 2010. I had enough food for about 12 days and traveled 1080km in 11 days. I didn’t bring any tent (too heavy) and my stove was made from a beer can… Everything went ok. I just had to take another route on the way back because some roads were still closed due to the snow… 🙂
    Switzerland is like heaven for cyclists. Lots of bike lanes, careful drivers, beautiful landscape. I suggest everyone to tour Switzerland at least once in their life.

  5. Margaret

    December 29, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Every year, for the past 10, we (husband and I) do a two week “credit card” tour. I’m not sure I’d call it lightweight touring though as we are carrying everything we need for two weeks that includs time spent exploring cities as well as days on the road. We also carry our bike bags with us and various other travelling accoutrements as we take our bikes on the plane and back again.

    We used to do fully loaded until we spent two weeks in the Czech Republic and learned that not all countries offer good camping sites. We also decided that we wanted a deeper immersion into the respective countries which eating in restaurants, shopping in supermarkets and staying in Pensions allows. Camp sites expose the traveller to other travellers, pensions and apartments bring you closer to the real life of the place you’re visiting.

  6. Brandon Carlson

    January 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    My firat tour in May will be partly credit card and partly self supported. I will bring a tent and sleeping bag with me but I will only use it if I can’t sleep in a hotel. I expect in Kansas to camp out most nights but I will still buy most food. If I’m in a city I can sleep in hotel in than I will. But if no hotels exist than camping it is.

  7. Pam Jones

    January 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I have rode ten years on the supported tours and enjoy them very much no worries all your gear route and food are planned for you all you have to do is ride your bike. They make great vacations every year and I pick a different one every year so the route is always new to me.

  8. Nick Paton

    February 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Self Supported Touring. Back in 1987 we were in Bangkok Thailand and being driven mad by other tourists, we decided to “get” two bikes and cycle down to Malaysia – simple!

    The bikes were skillfully made for us in an ordinary Bangkok bike shop using Chrome Moly tubing imported from Japan, with the frame dimensions for my bike taken from the only other touring bike we saw being ridden by a Canadian, with my wife’s from a catalogue which was lying around the shop!
    All the gears, panniers etc were couriered out from UK – Thailand had the latest bike racing gear but nothing for touring purposes.

    An amazing journey that took us all the way down Thailand, Malaysia, across to Bali (for a bit of a holiday!), and then to Darwin in Northern Territories Australia where we headed south and then west (not east towards the tourists again!) to Perth in Western Aussie, finishing the journey by heading down south to the ocean.

    My aim is to cycle Africa; we drove through the continent in 1985-6 in a VW Van, and whist it seems a huge undertaking it’s a perfect way to experience the diversity and richness of so many cultures and terrains.
    Before that though, I’ve never travelled in South America so maybe I should go there first…!

  9. Ron Webster

    October 23, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Hi Darren, I did my own Solo Cycling Tour in Europe in September this year. A Credit Card tour at that but an enjoyable experience.I left Australia on the 2nd Sept with my old steel race bike fitted with a rack and rear panniers.I had 2 weeks in the UK visiting friends and putting my bike together.Finally cycled on to a Ferry at Harwich in Eastern England and disembarked at Hook of Holland. Cycled north along the North Sea coast stopping at Zandvoort , Alkmaar,Den Helder crossed over a 30km Dyke over the Ijsselmeer into Friesland more overnight stops at Leeuwarden, Dokkum and Sappameer still in Holland and then over the Border into Germany staying at Leer, Oldenburg and Bremen. All my stops in Germany were in excellent Youth Hostels(I turned 71 at Oldenburg) .In Holland(Netherlands) I stayed at small Hotels ,Rented Room and a floating B&B on a Canal. That was the end of my Cycle Touring although I caught Trains from Bremen to Sienna in Tuscany followed by a weeks cycling and taking part in L’Eroica (A cycling event for old Road Racing Bikes on a mixture of sealed and gravel Roads) Three more days in Rome and four in Milan and now I’m home in Australia. Thanks for the info and inspiration and hopefully will do more in the future. Regards Ron.

  10. mark

    February 26, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Would like any info you have to share. Thanks.

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