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Cycle Europe - serving bicycle travellers since 1972

Self-Guided vs Guided Bicycle Tours – Compared

May 21, 2019

Last updated August, 2021.

When deciding what type of bike tour to take, there are lots of things to consider beyond whether it is guided or self-guided. We’ve been organizing cycling tours in Europe since 1972 and we truly believe the best way to discover the magic of Europe is by bike as that helps you slow down to experience culture, food, landscapes and people as they come to life before you. Based in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, Italy, we leverage decades of experience in designing both guided group tours and self-guided tours throughout Europe.  We offer well curated routes and hotels, and we take care of the myriad planning details, so that all you need to pick is where, when, and how.

How to pick the right trip

When thinking about how to choose a trip, you’ll want to think about a few key things:

  • When to travel (spring and wildflowers, summer and the cooler Alps, fall cycling among vineyards or along Mediterranean coastline…).
  • Where to travel – browse the website and you will find a variety of destinations to dream about in our country pages.
  • What difficulty level is right for you (do you want to take it easy every day, pedaling slowly among dreamy landscapes and medieval towns; or do you prefer to ride harder and tackle hillier or mountainous destinations). Read about our tour ratings here. 
  • What type of support do you prefer – if you are deciding on a guided (supported) versus a self-guided bike tour, you can compare the differences below.

We also recommend checking out our bicycle tour FAQ’s to get a sense of what to expect on most of our trips.

As the ideal destination for bicycle travel, people from the world over have been bike touring in Europe for as long as bicycles have existed (including Europeans themselves!).  As a pioneer in the world of guided cycling tours (The Cycle Europe family might have been one of the first to organize bike trips in Italy, since 1972!) we are thrilled that the guided, fully-supported bike tour concept has since become very popular.  Joining a guided bike tour is not just helpful for when you get a flat and don’t know how to fix it, or because you can get on the sag wagon when you’d rather not pedal up that hill, but most importantly, you benefit from the insights and knowledge of a local guide, making your travel experience much richer.  You will also join a group of like-minded travelers, sharing the experience and the fun along the way!

Self-guided cycling is perfect for those who want flexibility and who love the idea of not having to plan the routes or hotels themselves while still being able to choose their own dates and be on their own time.

Self-guided does to a certain extent mean self-supported. When it rains, you should have rain gear. If you get a flat, you or someone in the group should know how to fix it.  Cycle Europe provides updated, highly detailed navigation tools (both GPS routes and printed, step-by-step roadbooks with all types of helpful information), as well as additional activities that make for a richer experience (like a private tour of a parmesan cheese factory or learning how to make – and taste – Italian gelato!).  We also offer the possibility to customize or adapt our self-guided itineraries – some travelers have even “linked” different self-guided tours, thus experiencing more than one region of Italy at a time. Our detailed pre-travel information will help you prepare for your trip, and a detailed briefing and bike fitting with our English-speaking, local staff helps ensure that your tour gets started on the right note.

Self Guided Bike Tours

Guided Bike Tour

Dates

Choose your own dates. Select from specific departure dates

Level of Support

After your welcome briefing you are on your own (with telephone support always available). You should be able to fix your own flat. We transfer the luggage from one hotel to the next. You’ll have a local guide cycling with you every day, as well as van support on all or most days (check your specific itinerary for details).

Riding Pace

Pick your own pace, it is your day and your ride! You can leave when you want each morning and enjoy detours and side trips along the way. Generally, you’ll be cycling in a group led by our guide. We will provide GPS tracks so if you prefer you can navigate with those tracks, and on most itineraries there can be extra optional rides with the guide.

Navigation

On our Classic Self-Guided tours, we provided pre-loaded GPS and a printed roadbook with step-by-step navigation sheets; on our  Casual Tours, we provide a “digital roadbook” through our app (if you prefer paper, you can print out the navigation sheets before traveling). For more details, see our blog on Self-Guided Tour navigation options. Since you’ll have a local guide you can cycle with them or you can download the tracks on your GPS device or your smartphone. We’ll also provide maps.

Local Interpretation

Our route information includes plenty of  insights and recommendations on things to see and do, as well cultural highlights (customers have given us very high marks on our roadbooks). On our Classic Self-Guided tours, we provide a welcome briefing where we explain the roadbook and gps use, as well as fit your bikes. On our Casual Self-Guided tours, we provide this information through our app, sent to our customers prior to their arrival. You’ll be led by our top-notch local guides, sharing their insights and knowledge about culture, history, cuisine, local customs and so much more!

Flexibility

Add on extra itinerary options and activities to personalize your experience (see specific tours for optional add-ins, or ask us). Self-guided tours may also be shortened or lengthened. Depending on the itinerary, some organized group activities may be included during the cycling, or after the cycling is over (check your specific itinerary).

Solo travelers

If you prefer to cycle on your own entirely this is the right type of tour for you. If you are looking for others to cycle with, let us know and we’ll try to find a departures with other participants looking to form a group. Perfect for solo travelers looking to join a group of like-minded travelers on a scheduled departure.

Previous Tour Experience

If you’ve never been on a multi-day tour before, you will ideally want a companion coming along that has. First time on a multi-day bike tour? Our affordable group tours provide an excellent introduction.

Where do I get started?

Get in touch with us, or click below to start browsing our tours by country or tour type. If you want the insights and experience of a past bike tour customer, please ask us and we will be happy to put you in touch with a past customer reference. They can share what they liked, and what they didn’t, about tour they chose.