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Cycle Europe - serving bicycle travellers since 1972

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

March 25, 2022

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 the tour description in our website, you’ve gotten in touch with us to get all the details,  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!

We got our start back in 1972, possibly the first company to lead guided bike tours in Italy with foreign travelers. Some 20 years back, we started putting our local knowledge and vast experience into designing and operating self-guided bike tours in Europe. By now, we have a pretty good idea of what tools and methods work well (and which don’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.

Whether you are interested in the technological aspects or not, if you are wondering what tools we offer for route navigation, read on!

GPS, smartphone app, roadbooks, step-by-step instructions 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 and maps of different types, 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 Ride With GPS app (which is free and easy to use with your smartphone).

4. A set of maps in different scales

Remember the exact inclusions may vary by tour type – be sure to check the What’s Included section of the tour webpage (or ask us!)


GPS device navigation

Over the last two decades, many bike travelers have adopted GPS as their main navigation tool. In a recent self-guided tour customer service, we confirmed that a majority of our customers prefer this method (as opposed to printed maps or cue sheets). On our Classic lineup of self-guided tours, 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). You may be interested in 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 fine as well –  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 (RWGPS) software platform to create, manage and share our routes and tracks. Through an easy to use (and free) smartphone app provided by RWGPS, we share the routes and tracks with our customers – you will navigate from one hotel to the next using phone (we also provide cell phone handlebar mounts, or you can bring your own from home if you prefer, as well as a handlebar pouch where you can store a battery bank and other small essentials). 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).

In the 2021 season, we introduced our self-guided tour customers to the RWGPS Experiences function – our digital roadbook. Also used on your smartphone, the Experience includes both the navigation tracks and our all of our daily tour information and travel details, in a practical and easy to use format:

– Instructions for getting to the tour starting point, and schedules such as your meeting time with our local staff.

– Your complete daily itinerary, schedules and hotels, all in one place – no digging through printed folders or searching for emails!

– Our suggestions for where to eat and the not to be missed places to visit, as well as detailed cultural and sightseeing information.

– Our phone numbers for support.

– The app even allows us to update your routes from our office while our customers are out on tour. If there are any last-minute updates or changes (for example, we find out about a non-functional bridge or crossing, or there is an unforeseen change to a planned activity, requiring new navigation instructions), and the update is made in real-time on your smartphone (with an internet connection).

Within two weeks prior to your tour departure, we will send you the link for for download – we encourage you to download the package from a wi-fi connection (ideally from the comfort of your home), and start to familiarize yourself with the app. Our customers gave us great reviews in 2021, and we’ve continued to tweak and improve since then!

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 tour customers also tell us how they love our printed roadbook (included in our Classic self-guided tours), which includes daily elevation profiles and high-level views of the route so that you can plan your for your route the evening before; maps for entering and leaving towns; day sheets for every day of tour, with schedules and cultural and sightseeing information, lunch and dinner suggestions, lists of bike shops and taxi numbers; and much more, everything printed. For navigation, the roadbook includes printed step-by-step cue sheets which we update regularly (with regular scouting or reports from the road). 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 view of your daily rides, another very useful tool to both navigate and give you a sense of where you should be heading every day.

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 Partner Tours Collective (in Southern Italy, France, Portugal and Spain), the included navigation tools and methods could vary slightly from the description above. We collaborate 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).


Need more information?

If you have general questions about our bicycle tours (including our Guided Tours), check out our Bicycle Tour FAQ.

If it’s your first time doing a self-guided bike tour (or, for more details on how we organize this tour formula), here’s a comparison of Self-Guided vs Guided bicycle tours.


What’s next?

Ready to start exploring and turn your dream into reality? Click the orange button below to start browsing our tours by country or tour type, or get in touch with us – our team of specialists will help answer your questions and help you find the right tour.

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.


See you on the road!