Why? Where? When? Which company? With whom?
Many questions that are asked by cyclists when trying to decide on a cycling holiday.
With over 20 years experience in the tourism industry, I have decided to write this blog to help anyone needing a little advice on what to consider and what to look out for when choosing a cycling holiday or training camp.
Why?- There are many reasons to consider taking a break to ride your bike. It may be you just fancy cycling in a different country, on different roads, different terrain, or simply an escape from your normal day to day life. On the other hand you may need or want to put in some consistent solid miles, challenge yourself to climbs and terrain you haven’t experienced before, or a specific training block if you race or enter sportives. Getting away from it all with just you and the bike can also be just what is needed to recharge the batteries.
Where?– Most people look to escape the wet, cold, harsh weather of winter to find warmer climates to ride their bike, and Europe has some cracking destinations on offer such as France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal. All of these countries offer a mix of riding from flat roads to challenging famous mountains.
One way to decide on a destination is to chat to any cycling buddy or enthusiast about a cycling break and find out if they have had first hand experience of one. If so, ask them where they went to, what time of year, why they wanted to go and with who – friend, cycling club, training buddy, workmates? But also did they enjoy it, if so why, what worked for them? If not, why not? Did it live up to their expectation? Was it worth the money they paid for it? Did they achieve what they wanted to from the holiday? Word of mouth can pretty much always be trusted!
When?– due to the UK autumn, winter and spring weather, it is becoming more and more popular, and some would say necessary, to consider a trip away. However, depending on what month you want to go, may determine your destination and vice versa. This is because France, Greece, northern Spain and Italy can be a nice climate in the autumn and spring but too cold in the winter months (December, January & February). For winter months, east to southern coast of Spain and Portugal will give you more of a guarantee of some warm temperatures, dry climate and sunny skies. Perfect riding weather.
Who with – which company?
Finding the right Tour Operator can be a lucky dip sometimes, there are many out there and lots for the same destination. So how do you choose?
From my own research, I have found many companies/individuals that have jumped on the cycling holiday ‘bandwagon’. Many may have a passion for cycling, which is great, but they have little experience in the sport and riding, which in turn can mean people will not receive the service and ‘expertise’ they are expecting from all the claims! So look at the background to the people involved (‘About Us’ page on websites) and decide if you think they have the experience to:-
a) provide the level of riding you want
b) offer the right standard of holiday you would expect for the price
c) understand the sport of cycling and the real need of a cyclist
The prices can vary too for what seems to be the same holiday. So how do you decide? If you have the time to do some research of your own, read through the companies websites thoroughly to work out what they are offering and if that’s what you are looking for. Try to select a top three to compare; bearing in mind a more expensive holiday does not always mean it will be better, or offer more than a cheaper one. As a guide to prices, the average cost should be somewhere between £350 – £600 per person for a week’s stay. There is no need to pay more than £1,000 per person (excluding flight) for a week’s stay, unless you require a bespoke one-to-one service or are staying in a 5* luxury hotel and/or riding with a well known ex-pro. Top tip, if you cannot find a price on a website for a holiday, even to give you an indication of cost, walk away!
Here are some other things to consider :-
- Make sure that your holiday or camp is suitable for your level of riding. The operator should be asking you questions about your intended riding, mileage, duration and terrain. The worst situation is to book onto a camp or holiday and find yourself in a group of riders much stronger or weaker than yourself.
- Ensure you have checked out what the holiday includes and offers; accommodation, food, airport transfers, guided rides (if required), support vehicle, bike hire & storage, and the actual real overall cost for you and friends.
- Never be afraid to ask questions! If there is something important to you, far better to know if it can be done or is available before you go, rather than arrive and realize it can’t or isn’t, and be immediately disappointed. Simple things like an en-suite bathroom for example, can be important to many, rather than sharing a bathroom with people you may not know, particularly if you are travelling alone or with a friend; so this is one thing to look out for and ask if you can’t find the information. Pretty pictures should never mask what’s not there, they should only enhance what is! Top tip – never assume!
- Location of the accommodation offered is also something to think about practically if you don’t hire a vehicle from the airport. Remember your destination will most likely be very quiet compared to the UK, so take into account of where the hotel, villa, apartment or guesthouse will be based. If it is located in a town then you shouldn’t be too far away from supermarkets, shops, cafés and restaurants. However, the accommodation could be in a small village or in the countryside, and a few miles away from your nearest pint, whether that be milk or the alcoholic variety!! Without any transport, this could cause a few issues.
- Don’t be fooled by the promotion of a stunning outdoor pool and mentions of swimming in the sea! As perfect as this sounds and looks, if you’re travelling between October to April, it takes a brave person to take a dip in them, unless you want an ice bath for recovery or a cardiac arrest! However, a ride to the sea and coast is always idyllic and this I can confirm to be true, nothing better.
- A pet hate of mine; if you find grammatical errors on a company’s website or paperwork, there is a good chance they will show the same attention to detail on their holidays. I have found some blinders out there!
If websites or Facebook pages give testimonials from clients, these too can sometimes be a help in making a decision. However, bear in mind, you will never see a negative one!! I have been astonished to find various testimonies written by friends of the owners who haven’t even ridden, and in one particular case, the owners themselves posting testimonials for their new company that doesn’t even start its first holiday breaks until October 2017!!!! Incredible!
An alternative to booking with a tour operator, is of course the option to make your own arrangements and take yourself off for a break. This gives you total flexibility on the bike and control of your destination each day. If you are used to riding overseas and where you are going to, then this may be perfect for you. However, if not, then by being unsupported, you will need to consider the following before embarking on an exciting journey:-
– organizing your own routes, possibly not knowing how the terrain is and where facilities and provisions can be found; bear in mind European destinations are far less populated than you maybe used to
– what if you have mechanical issues whilst out on the road
– be unfortunate in coming off your bike, where you and/or your bike are damaged
I hope this blog will help fellow cyclists a little in knowing what to consider and look out for when choosing their next holiday or camp.