What’s it like to navigate on our self-guided tours?
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 smartphone and GPS devices that get more precise every year, route design and navigation 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!
Smartphone app, GPS, 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 digital roadbook which includes daily routes, maps, elevation profiles, and ride descriptions; schedules and hotel itinerary; cultural and sightseeing information, visit suggestions; emergency numbers and more, all stored in one organized, easy to use app.
2. 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).
3. 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
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!)
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 your 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 RWGPS Experience app. If you prefer to bring your own GPS device, this link will also allow you to download the tracks to your GPS).
In a practical and easy to use app, the RWGPS Experience (our self-guided tour “digital roadbook”) includes both the navigation tracks and detailed tour information, such as
– 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.
– Other important notes such as our support phone numbers, cycling and safety tips, bike shops and mechanics along the route, and more.
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), a notification is sent to the user’s smartphone, so that the update can be downloaded (with an internet connection) and the correct route can be viewed.
Within two weeks prior to your tour departure, we will send you the link for download (our email will include easy to follow instructions for downloading the Experience). We encourage you to access and download the package from the comfort of your home with a wi-fi connection, and start to familiarize yourself with the app.
Our customers have given us great reviews since we started using the Experience app, and we’ve continued to tweak and improve in the years since! For more details on the app, please visit the Ride with GPS app features page.
GPS device navigation
Although smartphone apps have become prevalent in recent years, some bike travelers still prefer a GPS as their main navigation tool. On our self-guided tours, we provide Garmin Edge devices as an optional inclusion, pre-loaded with your itinerary tracks. Your bike tour starts with a bike fitting and welcome briefing, where our local, English-speaking staff will provide 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, water resistant and easy to use (mounted on your handlebar, for example).
Tour roadbook, with step-by-step instructions, maps and more
Some of our self-guided tour customers tell us that they still prefer a printed roadbook. Available as an option at an extra fee, the printed roadbook includes the same information provided in the digital roadbook, including: daily elevation profiles and high-level views of the route so that you can plan for your route the evening before; day sheets with sightseeing and cultural information for every day of tour, with schedules, 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 (with regular scouting or reports from the road). As not everyone is a fan of GPS or digital apps, this provides an 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 (tours in Southern Italy, France, Portugal, Croatia, Spain and other countries), 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.
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.