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Spoke

Operators of Packaged Self-Led Tours

Packaged self-led tours are becoming increasingly popular, especially among inexperienced cyclo-tourists. A packaged self-led tour is actually a cross between a group tour led by an experienced guide and a completely Do-It Yourself trip in which you do all the planning and carry out the entire trip on your own. Self-Led tours may also be called Self-Guided Tours while group tours may be referred to as Led-Trips.

When you join a group tour, everything is taken care of by the tour operator, including planning the route and hotel reservations, and each day the trip is led by an experienced guide. Your baggage is usually carried in a support vehicle driven by a bike-mechanic which can also pick up sagging riders and make emergency bike repairs.

When you join a packaged self-led tour, eveything is also taken care of by the tour operator BUT there's no leader-guide and, often, no support vehicle. You're given a map and cue sheet for each day's route and you simply follow it out on your own.. Within limits, you can start out when you like and you enjoy much of the independence and flexibility of Do-It-Yourself touring. At each night's stop, your hotel room is reserved while breakfast and dinner are usually included in the price.

While this saves you from buying maps and guidebooks for planning your tour, and spending hours poring over routes and making hotel reservations, you pay for the tour operator's service. By and large, if the rates for a fully supported group led-tour are $300 a day, a similar Self-Led tour might run $150. But you could do the same trip on your own for $100, or for $80 or less if you stayed at economy hotels.

A packaged Self-Led tour planned by an experienced tour operator ensures you will ride through a scenic and interesting region on low-traffic backroads. Yet in seeking out operators of Self-led tours, we found few that offered a real cycling experience. All too many limit their "tours" to 3-5 days, just a long weekend. So we've tried to focus on those that offer at least a weeklong tour. In some cases, you can join two weeklong tours together to form a tour of 14 days. Only Ireland's Iron Donkey Tours has a trip of 1,500 miles (2,400 kms) lasting 29 days and and even then, overnights are spent in only eleven different towns.

Which brings up the difference between Circuit Tours and Base Tours (aka Hub and Spoke Tours). On a Circuit Tour, each day's ride takes you to a new overnight stop where you stay one night before continuing the following day to the next one-night stand.

On a Base Tour, you simply stay 2 or more nights at the same overnight stop. Each day, during this layover, you take an out-and-back day ride in a different direction, all the while unencumbered by baggage which you leave in the hotel. Then you continue on your tour, perhaps to another Base Touring town.

Base Touring is becoming popular--even by Do-It-Yourself tourists--because it minimizes the number of hotels you must book at, and the chore of actually locating each hotel on arrival along with a supermarket, restaurants and the bicycle route for exiting the town. After arriving at a town, it often takes 20- 30 minutes to actually locate a hotel at which you have reservations. However, most Self-Led tour operators provide a street map showing your hotel location and the bicycle route for entering and leaving town. .

Many tours nowadays are a combination of Circuit and Base Touring. This can be an attractive idea but if you're staying at only 2-3 different overnight stops on a week-long tour, it's a fairly simple matter to book that many hotels on your own.

Most Self-Led tours are designed for leisurely riding and typically cover 25-40 miles (40-64 kms) per day. This is a bit too easy for many energetic cyclists. Actually, most routes stay fairly close to the tour company headquarters. If your bike breaks down, this allows you to phone in for help and most firms will have a replacement bike delivered to you by car within an hour. Thus most Self-Led Tours do not take you roaming too far afield.

Too, if you have the time to plan your own trip, you will learn far more about the region or country than if someone else plans your tour. Most Self-Led tours cater to single riders or to couples or small groups of friends or family. You don't have to share the trip with a large group of cyclists from your own country, nor do you need to share a room with a stranger.

A Final Caveat from Breton Bikes: Only you can judge how fit you are. Please don't assume a level of fitness when you have not taken any exercise for years. Try a few rides before you leave. A few years ago, we had a group of fit-looking young people who found the route they had chosen much too hard. Yet the following week, an 8-year old girl 4 feet 4 inches tall , cycled the same route on a fully-loaded kid's bike--heavier than an adult bike--without difficulty. If in doubt, practice first to see what you're comfortable with.

SELECTED OPERATORS OF SELF-LED TOURS

Listing here is for information only and does not imply our endorsement. However, these operators come well recommended by others and appear to be well-established. We receive no commission or other compensation should you take one of their tours. If you find other Self-Led Tour Operators who offer tours of at least 7 nights or more, please send us their names and website URLs and we shall consider listing them here.

Most of these websites are also packed with priceless info on every aspect of bicycle touring. They're well worth reading, even if you don't use their services. Almost all Self-Led tours are on paved roads, usually in Europe or New Zealand, and most operators rent well-maintained 21-24 speed road or hybrid bikes at extra charge to tour participants (though sometimes bikes are free)..

Europe. Diverse Directions  (www.diversedirections.net). Owners Stephen Taylor and David Parker of Chicago will do all the planning and will coordinate all aspects of a Self-Led Bike Tour at half or less the cost of a comparable group tour. They offer a choice of scenic and rewarding tours through the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Ireland--England. Iron Donkey Tours   (www.irondonkey.com) Based in Ireland, this company offers a variety of Self-Led Tours of Western and Northwest Ireland, and others in England's Cotswolds and Wessex regions. Each tour lasts 7-11 nights and includes at least one Base Town stopover. The two English tours can be combined into a single 11-day tour of the West of England. And the Irish tours can be combined into a single 1,500-mile Long Distance Tour of Ireland lasting 29 days in all.

France--Brittany. Breton Bikes   (www.bretonbikes.com). Operated by an English expatriate couple, this firm offers a variety of Self-Led tours through Brittany (France) with either tent-camping or hotels for overnight. In either case, you carry your own bags. Distances are easy-to-moderate and tours average 7 nights in length. A choice of routes take you exploring every corner of picturesque Brittany as well as along the coast. It's often possible to take a 14-day tour by cycling two connecting 7-day routes. Great rental bikes!

Europe--New Zealand. Pure Adventures   (www.pure-adventures.com). Pure Adventures offers Self-Led tours of all grades through France, Britain, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Spain and also through New Zealand. Also rides over Tour de France passes. Rental bikes available.

Wales. Cycling Sideways   (www.kc3.co.uk/~bicycle/sideways) This website about cycling in Wales is also associated with Beano Tours which offers a 7- night Self-Led Tour of the mountainous Snowdonia region of Wales and a longer tour across Wales on the Welsh National Bike Route. Beano Tours features vegetarian meals.

New Zealand. Nature's Highway Ltd Tours.   (www.natureshighway.co.nz) Self-Led cycling safaris for individuals and small groups leaving monthly to tour South Island. Bikes supplied.

For other Self-Led packaged tours, look on Cheryl  Kline's Cyber Touring Website (www.homestead.com/bicycletouring), listed on our "Other Helpful Touring Websites" under the GENERAL heading. Click on the button for "Self-Guided Tours." It's a mix of group and Self- Led tours but Cheryl has marked those that are Self-Led.

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