This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
There are two basic ways you can tour Europe. The first is to sign up with an
organized tour group. The tour package usually includes lodging, meals, guide
service and transport of gear to and from each day's destination. The other
basic option is to self plan a tour where you, or your small group of friends,
are responsible for lodging, meals, route selection and hauling your gear from
place to place.
The big advantage of guided touring is that you can benefit from the experience
of your touring company and its guides. These people usually have a familiarit
with the area you will be visiting and they can make arrangements for decent
lodging, meals and cycling routes. If you are new to traveling in Europe and/o
you cannot speak the language of the countries which you will be visiting, then
a guided tour may help ease the tension of being a stranger in a strange land.
One disadvantage to guided touring is that you are part of a heterogeneous grou
of people who may differ widely in cycling ability. Also, there is no guarante
that everybody will get along and become friends. Some may see the chance to
meet new people as a positive side to guided touring.
Another disadvantage to guided touring is that in most cases, hotel reservation
have been made in advance which means two things. First, your daily route is
not particularly flexible since when you leave town A, you must be in town B
that evening. Secondly, if the weather is bad, you usually do not have the
flexibility to layover and let the weather clear. You either have to ride in
bad weather, which is a real drag in the high mountains, or take the support
vehicle or other forms of transportation to the night's destination.
Self-guided touring has the advantages that you can choose your companions,
you can choose the dates you want to travel and if you haven't made hotel
reservations in advance, you can vary your itinerary to meet your prevailing
attitudes and weather conditions.
The downside to self-guided touring is that you are basically on your own.
You make all the decisions. If you are somewhat familiar with the area or
have down some research, you are more likely to make good choices of cycling
routes and places to stay. However, every once and a while you may pick
an unfriendly town or a horribly busy road, both of which looked good on a map
or came recommended in a book. Also, if you experience any equipment failure
you will be responsible for either making the repairs or finding someone who
can do them. Most guided tours bring a mechanic and enough parts to be able
to handle most equipment problems.
This may seem counterintuitive, but I think the more ambitious the tour, the
better off you are doing it in a self-guided fashion. If you are going to be
riding lots of miles with lots of climbing you want to know who you are going
with and also have the flexibility to be able to modify your route if something
Because I prefer self-guided touring, this guide is written with that type of
touring in mind. However, I feel it contains enough valuable information for
those taking a guided tour to make it worthwhile reading for all potential