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Why Unsupported vs. Guided?

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, "unsupported" 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 quite 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 here. Many 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, Girolibero which we used for a trip up the Po River in Italy in April, 2016.

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