Monday, May 18, 2009

Designing Your Own Bicycle Tour

This post is part of a thread about a Giuseppe Garibaldi "themed bicycle tour" design and implementation in Sicily. To see the whole thread click here.
I've designed a lot of bicycle tours over the last 25 years. Indeed, one of the best things about this business for a geographer is to sit home in Colorado during the winter designing tours and then be able to go pedal the route and see how it came out. This takes practice, though, and I want to tell you an anecdote to warn you about the drawbacks of doing this.

In Sicily now I'm alone. Hence, I've not booked any hotels in advance and although I've got a route in mind I've already varied quite a bit from it. When you are pedaling alone nobody cares where you sleep, how far you ride, or how hard the ride is. That's the biggest drawback of designing your own route for family or friends. Everything needs to be pretty predictable as you'll always get questions such as where do we sleep tonight? How far is it? What's the hotel like? How much climbing is there, and so on.

The parent company of Bike Rentals Plus! - ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours has a great tour in the Dordogne region of France that I designed in 1995. But we heard this anecdote from three couples - customers - who came one year on that tour. It seems that the year before six couples had the idea of flying to Paris, renting couple of vans (6 people per van), taking their bikes, and heading off to the Dordogne for their own bike tour. So there they were the first day - they had booked the first few nights hotel, and they went out for ride. But the next day the weather was a little threatening. "Hey," somone said, "it looks clear to the west. Let's drive west for an hour and take a ride."

Now France is a great place to ride a bike - it's hard to go wrong. But it is also hard to just pick a spot and go riding. Those rides take planning, especially where there are 6 couples! It turns out that the three couples who came on our Dordogne tour the following year were so frustrated with the lack of planning, the driving around looking for rides, they decided to come back with a professional tour company the next year to do it right.

The moral of this isn't that you shouldn't designe your own tour. Go for it. But remember that if you have eleven other people to take care of, lodge, feed, and track evey day, you should do some planning. And to do that you probably need local knowledge. Today, many tour operators will design a tour for you for a fee. They might even arrange luggage shuttles to help from hotel to hotel. And some provide the service of recommending and booking hotels.

So, what do you do? Design your own or hire a professional? Above all it depends on your level of risk. Rent a villa and design your own rides locally. That's pretty easy if you get the right villa. Head out on a ride on your own. That carries low risk and high satisfacion if you are ready to jump on the train, make sure you've got your bike. But as you add people, make sure they are game to share the rish with you. Otherwise you are on the line and you'd best get some level of local help to make the most of your trip!

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