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Cycle Europe - serving bicycle travellers since 1972

What’s it like to navigate on our self-guided tours?

June 24, 2019

Last updated August 2021

After much dreaming, planning and asking around, you have selected the destination for your next European bike tour –  and you’ve chosen to go self-guided! You’ve read our tour description in our website, or you’ve gotten in touch with us to get all the details you need about your tour, and you’ve come across our options for navigation tools. If you are now wondering exactly how GPS navigation works, or how you can cycle from one hotel to the next with our step-by-step instructions – without getting lost – you are in the right place!

In over 20 years of designing and operating self-guided bike tours in Europe, we have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t for on-tour route navigation. We long ago realized that few tools can beat getting out on the road – in our van or on our bike saddle – for good old-fashioned tour scouting. We find the best cycling routes, and we keep improving the route information year after year. Of course, technology has advanced dramatically, and apart from GPS and smartphone devices that get more precise every year, route design software has also evolved. We bet on the Ride With GPS platform years back, a decision we have not regretted as the functionality and information available through this platform has gotten better and better every year as well.

GPS, app, roadbook, step-by-step and maps – what does it all mean?

On our self-guided bike tours, we offer these navigation tools and methods:

  1. a GPS device with pre-loaded tracks (if you prefer to use your own GPS, we’ll email you a link from where you can download, prior to your tour start, the complete GPS tracks).
  2. a printed roadbook with detailed step-by-step instructions (in addition to day sheets with useful and interesting travel, sightseeing and cultural information).
  3. a digital roadbook which contains the same information as the printed roadbook, and is accessible via the RWGPS app (which is free and easy to use with your smartphone).
  4. a set of maps in different scales.


Map holder and GPS on Self-Guided Bike Tours

GPS device navigation

After a recent survey, we realized that more and more of our bike tour customers are turning to GPS as their main navigation tool. We provide Garmin Edge devices, pre-loaded with your itinerary tracks. Your bike tour starts with a bike fitting and welcome briefing, where our local, English-speaking staff will give you a very detailed rundown of your upcoming tour, and where you will be provided with your GPS device (in its box, with charger and different bike-mount options, as well as a detailed user manual). We highly encourage reading the user instructions / manual prior to your travel (click here to open the Garmin Edge 1000 introduction and manual). If you are not interested in reading manuals, that’s just fine –  at the welcome briefing, we’ll provide a handout with basic instructions and we will give you an explanation of how the GPS is turned on, how you get to the main screen, where to (easily) find your daily routes (including days where you may have more than one cycling option) and how to view and use the different, but simple, options that the Garmin Edge gives you. The device is light, waterproof and easy to use (mounted on your handlebar, for example). If you are not very experienced with GPS devices, don’t worry, it’s not hard at all! You will basically follow a colored track on the screen map, and you will be able to tell if you have gotten off that track – if so, you simply steer back towards that track until you are on the right route again. Over the first few hours of your ride, you will get accustomed to using the device – by the end of the tour, most first-time GPS users become converts!

On our Casual self-guided tours, a GPS is not included – instead, we include our easy to use “digital roadbook” through our smartphone map. More details below.


Ride with GPS app navigation

We use the Ride with GPS software platform to create, manage and share our routes and tracks. Through an easy to use (and free) app provided by Ride with GPS, we share the routes and tracks with our customers – you will navigate from one hotel to the next using the app on your smartphone (we also provide cell phone handlebar mounts, or you can bring your own from home if you prefer). Prior to your tour start, we will email you a link and detailed, easy to use instructions for downloading the app and tracks (if you prefer to bring your own GPS device, this link will also allow you to download the tracks to your GPS).

Additionally, on our Casual self-guided tours we include our “digital roadbook” through the Ride with GPS Experiences function, also used in your smartphone – this function includes both the navigation tracks and our all of our daily tour information and travel details (like suggestions for where to eat or not to be missed places to visit) and interesting cultural information. The Experiences package can also be included in our Classic packages – we will send you the link for your optional use prior to your travels.

An interesting benefit of the app is that it allows us to update your routes real-time in case there are any last-minute updates or changes (for example, we find out about a non-functional bridge or crossing), and the update is made in real-time on your smartphone (with an internet connection).

Fore more details on the app, please visit the Ride with GPS app features page. Prior to your tour start, we will send you a handout with instructions for installing and using the app.


Tour roadbook, with step-by-step instructions, maps and more

Many of our self-guided tour customers also tell us how they love our printed roadbook, which includes day sheets daily elevation profiles, maps for entering and leaving towns, cultural and sightseeing information, lunch and dinner suggestions, lists of bike shops and taxi numbers, and more. For navigation, the roadbook includes printed step-by-step cue sheets which we update regularly (by scouting every single stretch of each route). We also get feedback from travelers whenever anything has changed, and we are able to quickly update any necessary changes or improvements. As not everyone is a fan of GPS or digital apps, this provides a great alternative navigation tool. When used in conjunction with a GPS device or app (or as a backup), you have a great combination! The step-by-step gives you precise instructions from the moment you start pedaling out of your hotel. It should be used together with your bike odometer (which we provide mounted on your bike handlebar) – you are given total and partial distances, and every so often you are instructed to zero out your odometer, making your partial distances much more precise (leaving out any room for guessing).

Customers also love our detailed city in-and-out maps. Our tours normally include hotels in historic city centers (some of which exist from before Medieval times), and in narrow alleys or roads the GPS may have a lag in connecting or updating, making an easy-to-read map extremely useful! Lastly, you will be given a small-scale map with a shot of your daily rides, another very useful tool to both navigate and give you a sense of where you should be heading every day.

What’s next?

We work hard to provide our customers with the best navigation options possible, and to continue improving them year after year. We hope these tools will not only help you arrive from point a to point b, but that you will have a blast while navigating on your self-guided cycling adventure.

Please note that on the tours offered through our Self-Guided Collections program (in Southern Italy, France, Portugal and Spain), the included navigation tools and methods could vary slightly from the description above. We work hard with our local partners to maintain the same level of quality, and select partners that we know and trust, including their tour navigation options. If you have any questions about your tour of choice in this regard, please contact us (using the links below).

Check out tour  bike tours page, or get in touch with us– we’ll be happy to help you understand which tour is right for you!