7 Tips for planning a Self-guided Group Road Cycling tour
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
There are some terrific active travel companies out there that specialize in bicycle touring. I have experienced three of them over the years and enjoyed each one for different reasons. But organized tours can be expensive. So talking 6-8 of your friends with varying budgets to join you may be a challenge. But several years ago, I decided to plan my own group cycling trip in Canada with nine of my friends starting in Banff and ending in Jasper, Alberta. It ended up being one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken. (go here to see my complete Canadian Rockies travel itinerary) Planning it yourself may seem a bit intimidating. But with adequate preparation time and attention to detail, you can design your own group cycling trip like I did, at a fraction of the cost.
1. Group size, length of trip and vehicle set up
At minimum, you are going to need to rent a passenger van, and a pull-behind trailer with a rack system that can accommodate the number of bikes for your group. If your group is small, you may be able to get away with a simple roof rack on the van. But for larger groups you may need a second vehicle, as we did. In my opinion 10-12 riders maximum is the best group size to successfully manage and still have fun yourself. For our group of 10, we modified an enclosed trailer with fork mounts on 2x4’s cut to fit the the trailer, and packed gear and padding around the bikes with bungee cords for extra stability. See photos of our rigs here on our 10 day Cycling/Multisport travel itinerary.
If you have someone who doesn’t ride, who wants to volunteer as sag support, great! But they still may need help from one of the riders, depending on group size. Ideally and fairly, if you are all cycling, you want riders to give up the same number of cycling days to do duty as sag support. So you may want to pick your group size based on the length of your trip. So for a 6-day trip, at least 6 people means only giving up one day of riding to run support. If you have less than that someone will need to do double duty. If this is the case, it may be worth planning a longer route. If you have more than 6 cyclists, you can & should sag in pairs to share the load and make running support more fun. But again, try to make it as fair as possible.
As for rig choice, 6-8 people with gear can fit in one passenger van towing one trailer if you pack light. But for 10 riders as we had, you probably would be more comfortable in two vehicles. See photos from our Banff to Jasper Cycling/Multisport Trip Itinerary here. With a larger group, pairs take riding days off together, not only to drive the two vehicles but also to share duties of bike loading, picnic set up and any sag/bike repair help.
2. Consider your bike setup
If you are pro cyclists simply out to crank some big miles each day, then all you will need is the bike and gear you typically ride or race with. But if you are recreational riders or plan to incorporate hiking, sightseeing, photography at stops along the way as we did, you may want a bike that can support a rear rack or pannier so you can pack your hiking shoes or sandals, camera and rain gear with you. You can also use a front handlebar bag but keep it light. You won’t want to load that too heavily (as with a big camera), as too much weight up front can be dangerous at high downhill speeds. In addition, consider your route profile in combination with your riding ability when choosing your bike. You may want a triple crank or chain ring that ensures you get up those long, steep climbs. On our trip, we had a few riders put road tires on their mountain bikes.
3. Plan ahead. Way Ahead
Depending on if you are cycling in a popular travel destination and whether your travel dates fall in high tourist season or not, you may need to book hotels up a year In advance. Also, if your route takes you through small towns or villages, you may want to start your bookings there, as there will be fewer options for accommodations. If there are no hotels in a remote area that you are pedaling through, check out VRBO or AirBnB listings as well. Supporting the local community is a way you can tour any area responsibly.
4. Be flexible and pick flexible travel companions
Riders of mixed abilities can have a lot of fun together with a good attitude. Selecting travel companions who are self-sufficient, who won’t melt down if they have a flat and are fairly independent by nature, will take pressure of the sag support crew as well. Each morning, find out who plans to ride what distance before you start riding. Have one firm meeting time for lunch. Speedsters can leave later than the slower riders and still get there on time. Be patient when running support. Bring a book and a camp chair, stop every 10-15 miles, relax, read and enjoy the scenery.
5. Be prepared for something to go wrong
Everyone may have cell service, but it’s a good idea to have hand-held radios as backup. You also need to think of first aid and bike repair. No one expects to crash but you don’t want to be unprepared if it does happen. Find out ahead of time where the local hospitals or clinics are along the route. This is especially critical if in a foreign country.
6. Research and Details – No such thing as too much
Have your cycling routes planned and entered in RidewithGPS or MapmyRide ahead of time. Riders can mount their phones on their handlebars. Even without service, the map can be downloaded before riding using Wifi in your hotel. If preferred, type them up and print them.
Have driving directions as backup to your GPS system for driver. If you are in a foreign country and can’t get a good GPS signal and don’t have access to GoogleMaps, having this printed out or highlighted on a map is a huge stress reducer for the support crew.
Clipboards, cash envelops and lists: Set up your van in an organized fashion, so every driver knows where everything is.
Park passes or special permits: Do you need any to ride through areas on your route? Can you get a group discount?
Provide your guests with a packing list. Think of weather, safety items, folding chairs, coolers, small bike locks (for when riders get off bike to hike to that waterfall). Your guests will love it. You can also assign this task to one of your fellow guest riders to save you time.
Research the route ahead of time for any points of interest. On each day of the ride, what sights in the area are worth stopping at for a photo or hike? What restaurants are worth recommending? How about grocery stores in the area? These extra details will be greatly appreciated by both rider and driver. See our Banff Cycling Trip Itinerary for examples here .
7. Give your group some space
Your group will be riding all day together. Depending on the length of the trip, spending every evening together may be asking a bit much for those introverts or couples who prefer some quiet time.
Plan a group ‘happy hour’ at the end of the ride to recap and celebrate your day. But schedule a group dinner maybe 1-2 x for every four days you are traveling together, or alternate nights. This leaves a few nights for people to either spend on their own, as a couple or in self-selected groups. Forced ‘group –everything’ can get old.
**If you want some help planning your trip or would like to supplement your cycling trip with another adventure, check out Responsible Travel’s Canadian Holidays.
Responsible Travel practices low-impact policies and supports the sustainable wilderness management of the area, including ongoing wolf, grizzly and elk studies conducted by Alberta Forest Services. They also work hard to increase the benefits of tourism to local people and places.