There are advantages to both unsupported and unassisted bicycle tours
or holidays compared with guided tours. We think savings and freedom is the main
advantage of unsupported tours. By freedom, we mean the freedom to make your own
decisions and eat and sleep wherever and whenever you want to. As well as the freedom
not to ride in a long line of cyclist following the guide wherever he or she rides.
We started writing this page in 1999 when the term, "self-guided" meant you pack
your panniers with whatever you need and head out for several days. For several
years now, the guided tour companies have began using the term, self-guided" to
mean they will provide a lot of service but not guides. Ok, that makes some sense
but now we have to change our terminology. So beginning in 2016, we use the term,
"self-guided and self-supported" bicycle tours. Meaning the same as "self-guided,
unassisted, and unsupported" tours.
Why in the world would you want to take an unsupported tour instead of a guided
one? Good question. The answer depends on you. If you have only a limited amount
of time or an unlimited amount of money, you might opt for a guided tour. I know
of several guided tour firms that will give you a wonderful experience. The service
that these firms bring is impossible to duplicate in an unsupported tour. If you
want or need that service, you should go for it. Such firms can provide special
maps, advance reservations, luggage transfer, and in the case of bike and barge
firms, a boat.
Package tours can cost as much as €2,000 to €4,000 per week plus airfare. One
firm, the most expensive we know is
Butterfield and Robinson
where you can pay $7,500 for an 8-day package along the Danube. You get what you
pay for normally. Let me reiterate, one normally gets what they pay for. The more
expensive guided tours firms will have arrangements with nice hotels and restaurants.
The budget guided firms will stay in places like we use e.g., one star hotels and
Pensions, and even renting a room from a family. Your experience will be
different depending on your choice of firms.
I have heard complaints from cyclists who have booked with one firm, only to
discover that another firm actually provides the guiding (and the rental bicycles).
What happens is that someone good at making websites gets the booking and then discounts
them to a different firm who provide the service. That practice is common. Of course,
in any personal service industry, there are a few complaints but there typically
many more satisfied customers.
In looking at guided tour companies, I discovered one
website that offeres a comparison
of many of the most popular guided tour companies. I especially liked the chart
that compares prices per day
of these companies offer "self-guided" services nowadays. That means they will transfer
your luggage from one advance reservation to the next, offer you maps of the route,
make recomandations, and even provide you with some basics like tools, bags, and
a lunch. But still, the cost is normally twice as much or more that the kind of
touring we like at BicycleGermany.com.
I have listed a few firms on my Bicycle Rentals
page. I make an effort (sometimes an unsuccessful effort) to weed out firms that
are guilty of the above practice but you need to ask when you make your reservations.
Guided tour companies require advance reservations. This is good because you
know that you have a booking and probably even hotel reservations - depending on
the type of tour. However, it could be a lock-in situation too with cancellation
penalties if you need to cancel at the last minute. Or say you are on the tour and
decide you want to spend more time in a museum or maybe you have a rash and do not
want to ride all the way to the hotel reserved for you? Maybe the company can accommodate
you but probably not. You have to stick to the schedule. Or, perhaps take a taxi.
Our type of unsupported tours are completely controlled by you. If you decide
not to go, or not to finish a particular route, you just change your mind and take
a different road, you can and that is called freedom.
Guided tour companies normally offer bike rentals as part of their package. Most
of the bikes they offer are excellent in all respects. While the rental bikes may
be great for a person of average build, if you are outside the physical norms, you
may have problems. Most tour companies maintain their bikes as the tour progresses.
Some however, only do a halfhearted job of bicycle maintenance. In any event, most
firms do not fix minor problems like flat tires while
you are underway. You must either fix the problem yourself or push it to the nearest
place where you can get help from a merchant. Typically you will receive a limited
tool kit for such instances.
In the last several years, many guided tour companies have discovered a growing
market for people who want some of the services of a guided tour firm, such as luggage
forwarding, advance reservations, bicycle maintenance, and specific mapped routes
but do not want the structure of riding in a group. These firms have started offering
"self-guided" tours where they turn you loose after breakfast maybe with a box lunch
and a map. It is up to you how long you take to get to the hotel that has your luggage
at the end of the day. This may be just the kind of compromise you are seeking.
Nevertheless, like I said above, "you usually get what you pay for." The
cost for these "self-guided" tours can be as low as €400 per person per
week. A significant savings.
Our brand of unsupported tours are completely unsupported and the two of us usually
spend about €130 per day on bed, food, and Bier. If my math is correct,
for a 7 day tour we spend about €910 vs. €2,000 to €4,000 for a guided tour company.
Even the reduced service some guided tour companies offer in their "self-guided"
tours cost €800 per week if you are a couple. And, as you can read in
Overnight Accommodations, we seldom
make reservations, sometimes not at all.
By the way, I invite and welcome comments from any guided tour company about
any of my assertions on this page. For full disclosure, we have never taken a guided
tour. However, we have taken three bike and barge tours which we thoroughly enjoyed,
even if it did cost more than our usual habit of doing everything alone. We can
recommend one bike and barge firm,
we used for a trip up the Po River in Italy in April, 2016.