What’s right for you?
Deciding how to spend your holidays and all you know so far is that you don’t want to be too far away from a bicycle? Working out whether to join a tour on an international adventure, or to tackle the terrain yourself is a question you need to ask yourself. And the answer is different for everybody, as there’s definitely pro’s and con’s of both.
Personally, I’ve been on many tours (usually as a host/guide) and have done a lot of independent travel by bicycle (from London to Melbourne 2011-2013) and I don’t even have a definitive answer. All I can say for sure is that travelling by bicycle far outweighs the alternatives, such as overcrowded buses. If you’ve never tried it, you need to. It will change your life.
How much time do you have?
This is not just about how much time you have on your holiday, it is more about how much time do you have to plan? If you have a heap of time to plan, and a heap of time to travel, then you’ll be leaning towards independent travel. There is an enormous amount of information out there from bloggers who have ridden where you are planning on going. If you’ve thought of it, chances are, somebody has ridden it already and written about it. It just depends whether you have the time to find it, read about it and plan your trip based on it (being current).
If time is not your friend, then a small group tour may be the way to go. It means that somebody has done all the thinking for you and cherry picked the best parts of the country for you to experience. That could be from cycling routes to restaurants, and even pools to relax by and massages to enjoy.
What experience are you looking for?
The advantage of independent cycle travel is that when you find something amazing, you feel like you’ve discovered it yourself. There are no time restrictions and you’re free to change course or whatever it is you want to do on any given day.
The down side is that you may cycle passed some of the best restaurants, or more importantly, cycle routes. I’ve met many independent cyclists travelling along a highway in Cambodia, when I know there is an incredibly scenic compact gravel route that runs parallel to the very same highway, along a river and through local villages. I told them about it but they did not want to try it because they were carrying there own luggage and felt that it may be too hard. I couldn’t believe it! Why travel if you’re not willing to explore? Then I thought of all the times I declined a 15km detour to see a waterfall on my travels because I couldn’t/didn’t want to justify cycling an extra 30km that day to see a waterfall that I didn’t know about. If only I had a van to carry my luggage…
Worried about a dickhead being in the group tour?
The beauty of independent cycling is that if you come across somebody who doesn’t rock your world, then you can always just cycle on with a smile. You’re not stuck and free to do what you like.
Being thrown together with a group of strangers can be a little daunting if you’ve never had the experience before. That’s why you should choose a tour that has a theme or a focus beyond cycling to ensure you meet people with similar interest. At Social Cycles, we have a focus on social impact and like to meet directors of various NGOs along the way, so that we can learn more about the country from local experts. Also, find out from the tour operator what the demographic of the group usually is. All tour operators will know it, but don’t always publish it. We always find that the Social Cycles experience forges life long friendships with unforgettable memories.
What if you can’t keep up in a group tour, or if it’s too slow?
This is a great question to ask the tour operator. Find out what the style of the tour is like. If there is a Strava link to the tours, it will let you know that time and pace are important. If the description discusses stopping for coffee and random spots along the way, it will let you know that the pace is slow and casual. Almost every person that joins our tours at Social Cycles feels that ‘they will be the one holding everybody up!’. It never happens. It just brings us closer together! But Social Cycles is not for the super fit, Strava enthusiast. We’re not about clocking kilometers or competing. It’s not about the destination, but very much about the journey.
Social Cycles Tours that may suit you…
The group size of these tours is never more than ten riders. We get a variety of ages, from as young as 24 to as old as 75. The average age is probably about 45-55. The pace is slow and relaxed and fitness requirements vary between tours (Samoa is easiest, Iran/Laos are more difficult). All tours are supported with a van so cycling distances each day are always optional. Average distance is 60-70km. We try and take a day off the bike after two days on it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.