7 Ways to Bike Tour This Summer

Multiday cycling trips take many forms—here’s how to choose the best fit

By Bob Cooper

April 14, 2019


A ride through Thailand's countryside | Photo courtesy of SpiceRoads Cycling

Ever since Backroads pioneered the concept of guided bike tours in 1979, all-inclusive group adventure rides have surged in popularity, with numerous operators now “peddling” trips on every continent. Along with this growth, there’s now plenty of variation on the classic guided inn-to-inn trip—and the choices are as dizzying as a mountain bike ride down the switchbacks on the Tour of Mont Blanc in the Alps.

Today's major bike-tour companies offer a range of adventures that allow beginning-to-experienced cyclists to choose among distances covered (typically 20 to 30 daily miles), types of bike (road, mountain, hybrid, or e-bike), accommodations (campsites to five-star hotels), and groups (solo to large gaggles) and between guided versus unguided options. The below summaries for each of the seven main types of bike tours should help you make summer cycling plans that’ll fit your needs and preferences like a perfectly sized helmet.

Courtesy of Freewheel Holidays

Guided Road-Bike Tours

Guided trips are the most widely available. After meeting the fellow pedaling enthusiasts you’ll get to know over the next week or so, one or more guides will lead you and the group from one hotel, inn, or campground to the next, typically on a big, multiday loop course along scenic backroads. Distances vary, depending on the trip, and if you “tire” out, you can always skip or shorten any day’s ride by hopping in the “sag wagon.” Most meals are included on most trips. Among the most popular guided road-bike tour operators are Backroads, Trek Travel, VBT, BikeTours, and Adventure Cycling. “The guides make these trips more interesting because they know the area and the history,” says cyclist Stuart Hamilton of the 2018 Backroads trips he took with his wife through Glacier and Waterton National Parks, and in Nova Scotia. “There’s also a safety net in case anything goes wrong.” Hamilton’s fondest memories: spotting grizzlies in Glacier from his bike and being serenaded by a fiddler at a Nova Scotia lobster feed.

Courtesy of Backroads/Jen Jedge 

Self-Guided Trips

Prefer to pedal solo or as a couple? Self-guided tour operators typically provide bikes, maps, and GPS consoles, and transport luggage from one reserved inn room to the next. You’ll pay a fraction of the cost of a guided trip, and you can change plans at any time—leaving later in the morning if you spent a late night at the local pub, for example. “Me and my husband like the added adventure that self-guided trips provide,” says Linda Gobberdiel, a retiree from Des Moines, Iowa, who took the “3 Lakes and 4 Countries” Rhine Valley trip last summer through Freewheel Holidays, which conducts many self-guided trips. “They cost less, and we get to meet locals and control our schedule each day.”

Boat-and-Bike Tours

The popularity of boat-and-bike tours has soared in recent years, with most of the major bike-tour companies partnering with river-cruise, river-barge, and small-ship operators. The big advantage here is that you can skip the daily packing and unpacking grind at various hotels. Instead, you simply bike to the next riverside or seaside destination and roll your bike back onto the boat to relax, dine, and sleep. Most of these trips are on European rivers, such as Active Adventures’ 31 Floating Adventures trips. “The melding of the two activities—either of which makes for a great trip in itself—was what made it unique,” says Dallas’s Mac Tichenor about his 2018 Danube River Cruise, through Trek Travel. “It combined good friends, engaging guides, gorgeous scenery, great bikes, the best food and wine, and the novelty and unexpected luxury of the barge experience.”

A Mountain Biking + Safari Adventure in Southern Africa | Courtesy of REI Adventures

Niche Tours

Do you like to spend time with fellow singles, or, say, fellow families with teenagers, on daily bike rides? Or to cycle with frequent stops focused on food, wine, or history? These are among the niche trip choices offered by many bike-tour purveyors. Among them is DuVine, known for its high-luxury trips, with 15 tours specifically geared to families, foodies, wine lovers—or all three. “It was a great way to experience Italy for the first time, with lots of cycling, olive harvesting, truffle hunting, pasta making, wine tasting, and learning about the culture from locals,” says Claudia French of the six-day Tuscany Harvest Tour (through DuVine) that she took last summer with her family.

A bike odyssey through wine country | Courtesy of DuVine Cycling + Adventure/Gwen Kidera

Custom Private Tours

Travelers who like the idea of a guided tour but don’t care to spend it with strangers can always splurge on a private tour. Honeymooners and family reunion groups especially like this option—and if the group is large enough, it doesn’t cost much more than standard group tours. Beyond limiting the group to loved ones, friends, or work colleagues, these trips can be fully custom-tailored—you can add a side trip to a special winery, for example, or a “bucket list” ride to a mountaintop. Most major bike-tour operators offer this option.

The Canadian Rockies | Courtesy of Trek Travel

Mountain-Bike Tours

The appeal of mountain biking lies in going off-road, where you’re farther from vehicles and closer to nature. Yes, it’s a bit more challenging, especially on rocky trails and steep hills, but most multiday mountain-bike tours adjust by scheduling rides that aren’t too long. The accommodations are typically more rustic, though certainly not always—Escape Adventures’ dozens of mountain-bike trips, hosted in places spanning Argentina to Zion National Park, feature accommodations ranging from campsites to luxury inns. REI and SpiceRoads—known for budget-friendly itineraries—also offer many off-road fat-tire trips. “We had a wonderful experience observing the nomadic lifestyle from the saddle of a mountain bike,” says Susan Dubuisson of the Mongolia trip she took last summer with SpiceRoads.

Multisport Tours

The twin advantages of multisport tours are variety and recovery—you’ll enjoy different activities on intermittent noncycling days while your bike-specific muscles recover. Most of these trips include hiking but may also add days when you’ll paddle, snorkel, or even surf. Many tour operators offer these multiadventure escapades. Sierra Club Outings, for example, hosts hike/bike/paddle trips this summer at California’s Point Reyes National Seashore and in Oregon’s Cascade range.

A Lake Michigan bike adventure | Courtesy of Sierra Club Outings/Theresa Breen