You want to take your bike on an adventure, but you donít want to go alone. It would be fun to go with a group of like-minded companions, but how do you choose the right tour company for your style?
Going on a bicycle tour can be a big commitment in time and money, and you want to know youíll have fun before you pay. A simple internet search will turn up a plethora of options, including companies that specialize in regional, national and international tours. In this article I will discuss information youíll need before settling on a company for the tour of your dreams. I donít have magic answers to the questions you need to ask, but I can help you think of questions to ask and options to consider.
First, decide if you want a tour for women only, for men and women, or for families. There are companies that cater to each. I have been on two tours with WomanTours, a wonderful company in which everyone involved, from the owners to the guides to the guests, are women. Women-only tour groups tend to be laid back and relaxed, without the sense of competition sometimes engendered by male participation. On the other hand, if youíre travelling with a male partner or want the diversity of mixed genders, youíll find many options, as well. It all depends on what makes you comfortable or what kind of experience you want.
The next consideration will be whether you want a fully supported tour (the company makes all arrangements and carries your gear each day) or if you want one that is more self-supported. WomanTours, for example, provides fully supported, inn-to-inn tours. I went on an Adventure Cycling family fun tour in Idaho which was fully supported, but we camped each night. Adventure Cycling also does a number of self-supported tours in which you carry your own gear for camping, but also have a guide and share cooking responsibilities with the group. Iron Donkey specializes in international tours, for which theyíll make your hotel arrangements and provide route maps, but you carry your gear and self-guide (other levels of support are also available). There are endless permutations from a variety of companies, so decide what you want and start researching your options.
Price is, of course, often the determining factor in whether or not we can choose a tour. Only you know how much youíre willing to spend on a tour. If moneyís no consideration, the skyís the limit on what you can spend. If youíre on a tighter budget, consider a more self-supported tour or one in which you camp rather than stay in hotels. Shop around; there are tours out there for most any budget.
Perhaps one of the most important considerations is the size of the tour group. Are you more comfortable with just a few people you can get to know, or do you prefer the anonymity of a large group? Iíve done tours ranging from 15 to 40 people, and each has had its high points. Different companies have different minimum and maximum group sizes, so if it matters to you, be sure to ask.
Hand-in-hand with group size comes guide-to-guest ratio. If you want to be sure youíre well taken care of, you might look for a group in which the ratio is low (more guides for a given group size). If youíre the independent sort, you might be happier with fewer guides. Fully supported tours are more likely to have a low guide-to-guest ratio, while self-supported tours will have fewer guides.
Group size and guide-to-guest ratio can really affect the feel of the tour, as can the general attitude of the tour company. Consider your riding ability and style to determine what tour attitude you need. Will you be more comfortable with a group that is relaxed and beginner friendly? Have you toured before and are ready for a fast-paced, mileage-eating group. This aspect of a company can be harder to gauge. The general attitude may change based on the specific tour as some are designed for beginners and others for more advanced riders.
The best way you can find the right tour company for you is to ask lots of questions. Make a list of the points that are important to you and the questions you have, and start calling or e-mailing. A reputable tour company will honestly answer your questions without trying to sell you on a tour thatís not right for you.
You can also ask for contact information from previous guests. If the company doesnít want to give you that information, ask them to pass your contact information to prior guests who would be willing to talk. In this age of social media, you can probably also find people on Facebook or other sites who will talk with you. Donít forget to ask your cycling friends and acquaintances for recommendations, too.
Bicycle touring is a wonderful experience. Travelling in the open air slowly enough to smell the tangy salt air and freshly mowed grass, see the small wonders you pedal by, and hear the birds sing is without compare. Touring is truly a unique way to experience the world. Find the right tour for you and keep on riding!