Thinking of going self-guided? Here are the answers to the most important questions about self-guided bike tours in Ireland.
If you are planning a cycling holiday or bike tour in Ireland, there are a number of tour types to choose from. These include Guided Bike Tours; Self-Guided Bike Tours; and Fully Independent Tours.
With a fully guided bike tour, the bike tour company takes care of all the organisation. This includes accommodation, routes, meals, and activities. This is very convenient for because it means all the organising will be done for you by a local expert. On the other hand, a fully independent bike tour gives you much greater freedom to do and see the things you’re most interested in. It also lets you cycle at your own pace and choose where to eat.
Self-guided bike tours give you the best of both worlds – the tour company uses their local expertise to arrange routes and accommodation for you. You have complete flexibility to visit what attractions you prefer, where to eat, etc. You can cycle at your own pace, there will be options for add-on cycles and detours if you’re feeling extra energetic. Read on to find the answers to the most common questions about self-guided bike tours in Ireland.
What is a self-guided bike tour and how does it work?
Self-guided bike tours or cycling holidays are also referred to as self-led bike tours and sometimes non-guided tours. The main difference between a self-guided bike tour and a guided bike tour is that you do not have a tour guide to lead you and your group on each cycle. There will also be no support vehicle accompanying the group. Instead you follow directions, maps and possibly GPS routes provided by your bike tour company. You cycle at your own pace from one destination to the next.
Will I be part of a group?
You choose your group, it might be you on your own, it might be your family or possibly a group of friends. It is up to you. It is quite possible that you may be following the same routes as others who are also doing the tour, this is especially likely during peak summer months. At other times you may find that your group is the only one on the road. Some cycling holiday companies allow you the freedom to choose any start date within the season. Others only allow you to start on a particular day each week. If your chosen tour starts on a set day it is more likely you will encounter other cyclists following the same routes as you.
How many people can be accommodated in one booking?
Most bike tour operators will be able to accommodate a large variety of group sizes from individuals right up to large groups. Depending on the bike tour company individuals travelling alone may be asked to pay a solo traveller supplement.
How do I follow the routes?
Routes are planned for you, Some cycling holiday companies provide you with written turn by turn directions along with route maps. Alternatively you may get a GPS unit with your routes pre-programmed (sometimes at an extra cost). Another alternative favoured by some bike tour companies is to use an app such as Ride With GPS allowing you to download the routes to your mobile (cell) phone.
At Ireland by bike we give a detailed set of turn by turn directions, along with route maps. You bicycle will have a front handlebar bag with a map holder, easily allowing you to follow the directions as you cycle. We also provide a GPS unit with routes pre programmed at no extra cost, meaning it will be almost impossible to get lost.
Will the daily distances be too much or to little for me?
Most cycling holiday companies grade their tours based on what distance you cycle each day along with other factors such as hills etc. There are tours available all over Ireland to suit virtually every level of cyclist. Ireland by Bike offer bike tours such as the Donegal Coastal Treasures Bike Tour where the average daily distance is between 30 and 40 km (20 to 25 miles). Other tours including our Highlights of Donegal Bike Tour and Causeway Coast Bike Tour have average daily distances of 45 to 55 km. Some companies throughout Ireland offer tours with even greater daily distances suitable for competitive cyclists looking for the most demanding of tours.
Do I need to keep to a set pace?
A real advantage of self-guided cycling tours over guided cycling tours is that you can travel and explore entirely at your own pace. There is no need to be conscious of a guide telling you that you need to be at this café or that attraction at a certain time. So if you pass a beautiful beach and you want to go for a swim – go for a swim. If you want to stop for a coffee – stop for a coffee. If you spot something of interest that is not in your tour notes – check it out. No one is going to complain that you have held up the group.
Another of the great advantages of choosing a self-guided cycling holiday is that you are free to explore as many or as few side trips as you like. Take for example Ireland by Bike’s Donegal Coastal Treasures Bike Tour. On the day you cycle from Donegal to Killybegs you have the option of cycling to the lighthouse at the end of the St. John’s Point peninsula. This adds a total of 15 km to the days cycle. However as this is a self-guided tour whether you choose to do this or not is entirely up to you. This and all other possible side trips are detailed in your tour notes and directions. Most of Ireland’s coastline – especially along the western seaboard is a tapestry of jagged headlands and peninsulas, very many of these offer wonderful ocean views. These coastal treasures are well worth including as extra cycling or side trips along the way. Almost all Irish self-guided bike tour notes and directions give clear directions for these additional options.
Can I customise my self-guided bike tour?
This will depend a lot on the particular tour and the bike tour company. In many instances it is possible to add extra days either at the beginning or end of the tour. Some bike tour companies will also give you the option of choosing where along the route you would like a rest day without cycling.
Are there dedicated cycling paths in Ireland?
There are some but not as many as in countries such as The Netherlands and various parts of France, Germany etc. What Ireland does have is a vast network of small roads with little or no traffic. These are a joy to cycle. Careful planning allows bike tour companies to use routes that follow the quieter roads bringing you comfortably and safely from A to B.
How will I know what attractions are along the route?
Most bike tour companies will give you guide notes. The Ireland by Bike tour notes give you a very comprehensive guide to everything worth seeing along the way. The Irish coastline is for most people the main attraction and simply following it makes the tour worthwhile. But there are countless historical and other treasures along the way that it would be a pity to miss. Your guide notes will give you information about these.
What about my luggage?
The vast majority of cycling holiday companies include luggage transfers as part of the tour package. This gives you the freedom to enjoy each day, safe in the knowledge that your luggage will be waiting for you when you arrive at your next accommodation. It is worthwhile checking with your bike tour company if panniers, handlebar bags, etc. to carry the items you need during the day are provided.
What if I have a problem or a puncture?
Most cycling holiday companies include a backup service as part of the self-guided tour package. This is normally in the form of a number to ring in an emergency.
At Ireland by Bike we use the most puncture resistant tyres available so punctures are very very rare. We also keep our bikes in tip top condition, so like punctures, mechanical problems are also almost non existent. To be absolutely safe we provide you with a puncture repair kit as well as a spare inner tube.
Can I choose my own start date?
This may vary from one cycling holiday company to another and also from one tour to another. In recent years accommodation has not been as easily available along the West Coast of Ireland as it had been in the past. For this reason many bike tour companies including Ireland by Bike have had to set a fixed arrival day during the week for their self-guided tours.
Will I meet someone from the cycling holiday company?
Very many cycling holiday companies include a welcome or orientation meeting as part of the service. Others simply arrange to have your bicycle, tour notes, etc. delivered to your first accommodation. Here at Ireland by Bike we arrange to meet you on the morning of your first cycle, or occasionally on the evening you arrive. We give you your bicycle and make sure it is set up properly for you. We explain how to follow the tour directions and use the GPS. We also answer any questions you may have so that you are totally at ease before you set off.
If I am using an electric bike how will it be charged?
Your e-bike charger is quite a small unit. You will be given this at the start of your tour. You can then have it transported along with your luggage and it will be available when you arrive at your next destination. To be sure that your battery will last for each day’s cycle it is best to charge it every evening.
Is self-guided cycling in Ireland safe?
This question is especially important if you are a woman travelling alone. Well, thankfully for self-guided tours in Ireland the answer is yes. While nowhere in the world is entirely crime free, in rural Ireland the crime rate is very low. At Ireland by Bike we have had numerous solo female travellers over the years, all without problems.
Any other questions?
If you are considering a self-guided bike tour in Ireland hopefully this will have answered most of your questions. If there are more questions you would like to ask please contact us and we will be more than happy to help. Alternatively browse our list of self-guided bike tours in Ireland.