You know how people say that the journey is more important than the destination? With a cycle tour that well-worn cliché is true. Trains and cars can hurtle travelers between destinations at break-neck speeds, but cycling allows you to experience the sights and smells of a country.
The best thing about biking tours is that you don’t have to be a hard-core road or mountain biker to go on a trip. There are as many different route options as there are varieties of fluorescent-colored cycling shirts, and most can be scaled to match ability. A cycle tour is intended for adventure rather than exercise. Spin at your local gym this isn’t. Or at least, it doesn't need to be.
The second best thing about cycle touring? Your trip can last as long as you want it to. Some cyclists set out on cross-continent international adventures and decide never to go home, while others opt for 2 - 5 days exploring a new country. What a way to tour the world!
Where to Go
Cycling can take you all over the world, but why not consider a few of these spots:
- Best time to go: Queensland or New South Wales: March to November
Victoria: February to April, September to November
Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia: September to April
- Highlight: the Blue Mountains, the Great Ocean Road, post cycling dinners featuring Australian food and wine
Australia’s diverse regions and climates mean you can find ideal cycling weather somewhere in the country at any time of the year. Some states experience a constant summer while others have four marked seasons: just choose your preferred level of sunshine.
This is a massive country and, while you can’t expect to cycle it in its entirety, much is on offer for the touring cyclist. Expect wide open spaces, massive landscape diversity, friendly locals, and an international cuisine. The Australian food scene stretches from the gourmet to the very relaxed. The classic lamington and pie are to be found at the far end of the latter.
Consider cycling in the Outback and around the base of Uluru, or on Rottnest Island where cars are banned and cycling is the transport of choice. In Tasmania, both an island and a state, tackle the quirkily named hills, Bust Me Gall and Break Me Neck. Or cycle the Great Ocean Road, 170 miles along one of Australia’s most scenic roads and an entry on the Australian National Heritage list.
- Best time to go: Avoid July and August, Italy’s high season. Try March to June or September to November instead
- Highlight: Biking in the shadow of the Dolomite mountains, weaving through Tuscan vineyards, cruising the Sicilian coast
You’ve heard of Italy, right? Its famous cities housing priceless art collections and historic buildings are high on the list of many travelers. But if you can tear yourself away from the highlights of Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy is also a fantastic cycling destination. Vespas may rule inner city streets but cyclists take over on the open road.
Italy still has strong agricultural ties and the acres of grape vines, olive trees and apple orchards offer a changing, and charming, backdrop through the seasons. Many routes pass through small medieval era villages, providing sight-seeing opportunities that go off the beaten track.
The northern Alto Adige and Trentino provinces are the adventure capitals of Italy. The stark Dolomites loom over well-maintained cycle paths along the valley floor, while path-side restaurants, known as bicigrill, offer cyclists beer, panini and strudel.
Or head to the south for old fashioned charm and endless sun in Sicily, the island at the toe of Italy’s boot. Or in the rolling hills in the middle of Italy, explore the Chianti vineyards of Tuscany and muddle around in little known Umbria.
- Best time to go: December to March
- Highlight: big skies and dramatic landscapes
Covering the southern end of both Chile and Argentina, remote Patagonia is close to being the southernmost end of the earth. The different countries offer different landscapes: Argentinian Patagonia is empty and arid, while the Chilean side is covered with thick green vegetation.
Patagonia’s low population density and few towns mean there are fewer cars on the roads. Common cycle routes go from north to south, or from coast to coast. Or consider the Camino de los Siete Lagos, the road of the seven lakes, a 70 mile route that joins together San Martin de los Andes and Villa La Angostura.
Cycling in Patagonia can be more challenging than in other destinations: four seasons of weather conditions can be experienced in one day, even in summer, and strong winds can blow a cyclist sideways. But it is worth it for the big skies and wide open spaces.
Patagonia is known for its trekking, and many cyclists include at least one hike during their tour.
Planning Your Trip
What to Look For In a Tour
Consider what you want from your tour. Sight-seeing opportunities? Long days on a bike clocking up high mileage? Food and wine stops in local restaurants? Just remember that most of dining and sight-seeing stops won't be included in the tour ticket price.
Choose a difficulty level and trip length in line with your fitness ability and interests. If you haven’t ridden a bike since you were a sixth grader and don’t have time to train, are you really prepared for a non-stop self-supported tour with no vehicular support? Some cycle tour companies will have a van available for luggage transfer and pickups in case of injury or inclement weather.
Types of Tours
Companies offering guided tours will have set cycle routes and minimum group sizes. A guide will accompany the group to navigate and set rest stops or sight-seeing opportunities, while another guide transports luggage and any weary cyclists in a van. There will be a pre-specified amount of miles to cycle each day with accommodation and rest stops organized in advance. At least some meals will be provided.
Self-Guided or Self-Navigated Tour
A self-guided tour offers the organization and route planning of a guided tour but with more flexibility. Accommodation, daily cycle routes, and gear are all provided by a company but, unlike a guided tour, no guide accompanies the group on the road. There likely won’t even be a group, just you and whatever friends signed up with you. A self-guided tour offers more freedom to cycle at your own pace, stop to take photos, and sight-see. Luggage transportation between hotels may or may not be provided.
Some companies offer the same routes as both self-guided and guided tours.
Average Cycling Tour Cost & Length
e length and cost of your cycling tour depend entirely on the route you want to cycle. If you book a week-long cycling tour through Western Europe, this will naturally cost more than a 2-3 day cycling trip in Patagonia or Australia.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Pack light, especially if luggage transportation is not a possibility. Remember you will be carrying everything on your bike! Use panniers, those bags cyclists use to transport their stuff. Panniers attach to the front or rear wheels (or both) with a rack.
Pack appropriate gear for on and off the bike. Cycle clothes should be light-weight and fast drying, such as padded Lycra cycle shorts and a t-shirt or cycling jersey. For cooler weather bring arm and leg warmers or cycling tights and a long sleeved jersey, and a rain jacket or poncho and waterproof over pants. Bring at least two changes of clothes for at the hotel, dining at restaurants, and sight-seeing in local towns.
A tour company will provide a lot of the gear for you, or have the option of gear rental. This will vary across companies but should include the bike, a helmet, GPS, panniers, a pump and puncture repair kit, and a map.
Cycle rental companies operate in tourist towns and near busy cycle routes.
Most tours will not include travel insurance. Be sure to have comprehensive travel insurance that includes accident and life cover, and covers all activities, before you go.
Sitting in a saddle for a full day’s cycling can be hard work for your, well, saddle. If you haven’t been on a bike since you first learned to ride as a six year old with pigtails or a bowl cut, make time for some practice rides before you go. Start slow, and include the types of terrain and miles you will encounter on the tour.
You or someone on your tour should know how to change a flat tire, fix a broken chain, or what to do if the spokes break. If you won’t be near any cycle repair shops, YouTube is a great resource for instructional videos.
Always take care, especially on busy roads and in traffic. Keep your eyes on the road, look out for potholes, and take care breaking or turning on gravel.
Have a back-up plan for if anything happens to you or your bike. Know how to contact someone for help, or for transport back to a city.
Travel insurance is also a good idea for a cycle tour -- just make sure you're covered for "extreme sports" (which, however non-extreme cycling is, it is considered by insurance companies).
- Always lock your bike, and store it safely overnight.
- Wear a helmet and reflective clothing.
- Know the traffic rules of the country you're visiting -- especially if traffic drives on the opposite side of the road that you're used to.
- Keep friends or family updated with your travel plans and your expected date of return.