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Cycling holidays: DIY or all-in-one – which is better?

BikesEtc
30 May 2018

Everything you need to think about, whether you're planning it yourself or looking for a package deal

Not so long back, a BBC poll asked the nation what it considered to be the most significant invention of the last 200 years.

Curiously, the internet managed a mere 4% of the vote, while the ubiquitous computer attracted just 6%. Way out front, with a whopping 59%, was the humble bicycle. 

But should we really be surprised? After all, almost as soon as it was invented, industrialised Britain ensured that the bicycle was transformed from a rich boy’s toy into a bona fide people’s product, suddenly attainable to the masses.

It was a social phenomenon unlike anything witnessed before. Predictably enough, some  dismissed it as a fad. Except it wasn’t. It may have been love at first sight but it’s a love that’s survived.

The bicycle’s enduring appeal isn’t so much its usefulness as a means of transportation, so much as its brilliance as a means of liberation.

Over two centuries, it’s opened up the planet to millions. And even though today we can pull a glowing screen from our pocket and instantly ogle events elsewhere in the world with a swipe of a finger, that's no substitute for jumping on your bike and seeing it for yourself.

So with that in mind, we're here to help you do just that. Whether you want to plan it yourself or leave it to the experts, read on for our practical guide to help you plan your next two-wheeled adventure. 

 

DIY cycling holidays

If you don't mind doing all the planning (and taking on all the responsibility), putting your own holiday package together can save you a packet! 

Taking a cycling holiday can be one of the cheapest ways to see the world, especially if you organise it yourself and don’t mind a bit of camping.

Indeed, one BikesEtc contributor who cycled 20,000km from the UK to Hong Kong, calculated that the cost of his 12-month trip averaged out at £20 a day, including the return flight.

Of course, you needn’t go to such extreme lengths to get your cycling kicks, but it proves what’s possible with a well-maintained bike and a healthy dose of wanderlust.

The other advantage of a DIY trip, apart from the cost saving, is of course the flexibility. We’re not for a minute suggesting that your DIY trip should be a case of just making it up as you go along – pre-planning your routes is important.

But pre-book full board in a hotel, for example, and you won’t just feel obliged to sleep there but eat all your meals there, too, to ensure that you get your money’s worth.

Of course, doing it yourself also means exactly that when it comes to the planning and preparation for your trip.

Without the luxury of a professional tour operator or travel agent to sort it all out for you, it’ll be up to you to arrange flights and transfers, work out routes, overnight stops, insurance, visas, bike transportation… well, you get the picture.

And you’re not only going to need to invest a fair amount of time and thought into when you go, and where you ride, but you’re also going to need to think about what to take too.

Many package trips, for example, will provide mechanical backup, often in the form of a well-stocked workshop as well as a pro-style support vehicle on your rides.

Go it alone and you’ll not only need to take enough tools to get you out of the most common roadside dilemmas, but also have sufficient maintenance skills to get yourself going again.

Not that you should let any of that put you off – not least because by being well prepared, you’ll pre-empt a lot of problems. For example, if you ride on modern tubeless tyres you’ll help to keep your bike puncture-free.

And when it comes to making travel arrangements, that’s also a hell of a lot easier than it used to be, too, thanks to price-comparison travel websites such as expedia.com and skyscanner.net.

Oh, and if you need any further inspiration that freewheeling BikesEtc contributor we mentioned wrote a book about his journey to the Far East.

Escape By Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off Road is by Joshua Cunningham (Thames and Hudson Ltd, £19.95) and it’ll make you itch to get yourself out there!

 

All-in-one cycling holidays

Time poor? Absolutely rubbish at organising stuff? Then let someone else sort it all out for you...

The cycling holiday is no longer a niche market. In fact, elect to book a package deal and you’ll discover that it’s now stuffed with a whole raft of sub-genres to suit every taste, whim and bucket-list desire.

These days you can tackle foreign sportives on high-end bikes or take on the Tour de France’s toughest climbs guided by ex-pros.

Alternatively, you can go off-piste with a group of gnarly mountain bike dudes, explore routes and regions at a more sedate pace on an e-bike or mixed in with some other extra-curricular activity such as wildlife spotting, or wine tasting.

The list is almost as endless as the choice of destination.

Obviously, the amount you can afford to spend will influence not only where in the world you cycle but the level of luxury you can expect and support you’ll receive.

Broadly speaking, though, you can divide package deals into two categories – guided tours and unguided tours.

As its name suggest the unguided tour is one where you go it alone or at least ride with a group without a professional guide to lead the way.

These differ from DIY holidays in that you book the holiday through an operator who’ll then arrange your accommodation for you at, say, a series of bike-friendly hotels (usually with secure bike storage, and a workshop).

The operator will then, quite often, suggest pre-planned routes for you to ride along as well as take care of transferring your luggage between overnight stops to save you lugging it about on the bike.

As well as saving you time, package deals like these can also prove to be highly cost-effective, especially if there are a few of you riding as operators can often negotiate great hotel deals for group bookings.

As for guided tours, these really represent the more luxury option. At the most basic level, you’ll get accommodation and guided rides with someone who knows the local area well.

The more you’re prepared to pay, the better the quality of the accommodation provided, and the more intimate and exclusive the guided ride gets.

They can even turn it into something akin to a pro-style training camp, with professional coaching sessions, massages, structured nutrition plans and support vehicles all thrown into the mix.

Type your desired destination and style of holiday into a search engine and watch the internet spit back dozens of options to consider. Before booking, though, always check whether flights, insurance and what meals are included.

Also check whether bike hire is available or what arrangements can be made to bring your own bike with you. Likewise, ask about hidden costs such as cancellation fees, local taxes and single room supplements.

Finally, don’t be coerced into paying for additional services before you go. After all, you can always change your mind when you’re there if you do fancy having that extra massage.

  

7 tips for planning a successful cycling holiday

1. Cost it out

Unless you’re a Russian oligarch or own the internet, you’ll most likely have to put a limit on how much you can afford to splurge.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t see the places you want – that’s the beauty of riding a bike, right? – but it might dictate the way you go about seeing it. So work out your budget before you do anything else.

Factor in the cost of travel (including visas, if necessary), expenses such as accommodation and insurance, as well as your daily spending allowance.

2. Pick a trip

Once you’ve worked out what your budget is, think about what level of comfort and support you want/can afford. There are essentially three types of cycling holidays – self-sufficient DIY trips are the cheapest; self-guided tours through an operator give  some flexibility but take less time and effort to plan, while fully organised, all-inclusive tours and training camps mean still less effort on your part, but are typically the most expensive option.

That said, the prices of these can vary greatly depending on the level of luxury you’re prepared to fork out for.

3. Research your routes

If you do decide to go self-guided, be sure to do plenty of research into your proposed routes. Are the roads safe? Are there traffic-free cycle paths that you can use?

Are the roads in good nick or are punctures going to be a problem? What are the nearest places to eat/sleep/seek help along the way? Are the daily intended distances truly achievable?

Are there any substantial climbs? Is there any riding at altitude? What weather conditions are likely? Does your route pass any major attractions?

Don’t skimp on your research – not least as it can be really good fun. Google Maps is great for plotting routes and then seeing what you’re likely to be riding in reality.

Just grab and drop Google’s little yellow man (he’s called Pegman, by the way!) onto the start of your route, then whizz your way through to the end of it by clicking on the directional arrows on the screen.

4. To hire or not to hire

One thing that can add considerable cost to your trip is transporting and insuring your bike.

Although some airlines won’t charge extra for a properly packaged bike, as long as it doesn’t exceed a certain weight (usually 23kg), budget airlines which seem to be offering great deals often do.

The cost is usually somewhere around £50 each way, which can be more than you’re paying for your seat. You may also have to invest in, or at least rent, an appropriate bike bag or box to ensure your beloved arrives unscathed.

There’s also the faff factor involved with lugging the thing to and from the airport, too. The alternative is to rent. This can work out more expensive or cheaper depending on where you go and what type of bike you rent, so do your research.

And if you do rent, be sure to have your bike-fit measurements to hand to ensure you get the right-sized bike and have it properly adjusted to your needs.

5. When should you go?

If you are considering a foreign destination, do your research. Many European destinations in high summer, particularly those in the eastern Mediterranean, may be great for lolloping about on beaches but they’re way too hot for comfortable bike riding.

Websites such as holidayweather.com are great for checking not only what temperatures and rainfall will be like at your chosen destination in a week’s time, but also what they tend to average all year round.

Otherwise, if you’re planning on holidaying in Britain at any time of year, just pack a good rainproof jacket.

6. Go with a group

Most cycling holiday firms offer substantial discounts for group bookings. So see if you can persuade friends or a bunch from your local club to join you – although be sure to ask riders of similar ability for obvious reasons.

Get the mix right, and not only will you have your mates along for the ride to raise fun levels and share the pulling, but it’ll help keep costs manageable.

And if you’re planning on camping, going with mates means you can also split the weight of shared equipment between you. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of kit, make sure you draw up a checklist of what you’ll need to take with.

7. Remember to train

Finally, prepare yourself physically for what lays ahead. Try to mimic the terrain that you’re likely to ride on, do some multi-day training rides if necessary, and if you are carrying luggage on your bike, go on a few trial runs to get used to the weight and, if necessary, make tweaks to the distribution of the load you’ll be carrying.

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