Custom Designed Cycle Tours
Dominick Cerisano, Best Tuscan Tours, LLC.
Cari amici del ciclismo, Dear friends of cycling,
As a professional cycle guide and boutique luxury tour operator, I have noticed a trend in recent years as guests become more sophisticated and demanding in their search for the “ultimate or dream” cycling holiday. Most cycle tourists are more than satisfied with the convenience that an all-inclusive package tour provides. However, a growing number of sophisticated travelers are searching for custom-designed private cycle tours.
Typically these are cycle-tour veterans, couples or a homogenous tour groups that have participated in two or more packaged holidays and have some very specific ideas when it comes to a perfect cycle touring holiday.
In addition to wanting a hand in the design phase of their tour, for example the amount and type of riding, they may also want to include special meals and activities. I also see that many guests instead of hotel-based lodgings prefer to arrange their own holiday lodgings, ranging from that luxury beach front Villa to a simple farmhouse or as we call them in Italy “Agriturismo” and we have also prepared Yacht based tours.
Whatever your desire, below are some practical suggestions for those who want to experience a truly private custom designed cycling holiday as opposed to a “one size fits all package tour” . The following suggestions are the result of working with my past guests to help them create truly memorable custom cycling tours throughout Italy.
A successful custom tour starts in the design phase, this is time well spent.
Plan Early! A true custom tour takes a minimum of two to three months planning depending on the complexity, yacht-based tours up to six months. Additionally, most popular villas require advance booking during high season.
Give serious thought to what you loved or hated on previous package tours. For example the type of riding you like to do. Same for the meals do you want to cook at your villa or have a visiting chef? For those who prefer staying in hotels, the meal plans are generally a good value. Give some thought as to how many nights you want to eat out as opposed to in the hotel.
The more information you give your tour operator in the design phase the better your tour experience will be.
Select the type and style of lodgings you desire, hotel, villa or farmhouse and hit the net for ideas!
- Budget carefully this is a major expense;
- If you are going to arrange your own accommodations at a villa or apartment ensure you speak with a qualified local tour operator to see if the area is suitable for the type of cycling you want to do. If not, be prepared for some very long van transfers. Van costs are a major tour operator expense and a good rule of thumb is the 2:1 riding to van transfer. Specifically, two hours of cycling for every one hour of van;
- Beware of villa rental agents promising bike tours! Claiming they can provide you with a bike guide/tour “No Problem” these agents are in the business of renting villas for commissions. You could end up with an unqualified guide or worse yet an uninsured or unlicensed van driver. This is a recipe for disaster.
- Villa or lodging inspection. Again it is best to get an objective report with independent photographs of the villa you want to rent. Your accommodations are a major part of your holiday expense. Little details like “No screens” on the windows in the summer can make for a uncomfortable and disappointing holiday. Furthermore, you might end up saving money by negotiating directly with the owners after the inspection is complete as opposed to booking blind over the net.
- Research the area fully. Read up on the nearby towns in travel guides and on the internet to see if the area you select is right for you.
- Tour Support What type of "on tour" support do you expect. Be clear: do you need van support? If so how much? How much guide support? Or do you prefer self-guided loop rides and to explore on your own. Will you rent a car or do you want a driver on call? For those planning a special night out at a restaurant you’ve read about and plan on emptying a few bottles of fine wine, book the driver, driving at night in a foreign country on dark unfamiliar roads…you get the idea.
- How much riding do you want to do? I good rule of thumb and something I always advise my international arriving guests is to cut back by 20% the amount of riding that you do at home to account for changes in time and diet which effect performance. How much riding do you want to do? I good rule of thumb and something I always advise my international arriving guests is to cut back by 20% the amount of riding that you do at home to account for changes in time and diet which effect performance.
- Daily Plan Do you want to cycle all day with lunch included or do you prefer half-day rides and to have free time on your own in the afternoon? Do you want to cycle all day with lunch included or do you prefer half-day rides and to have free time on your own in the afternoon?<
- Start slowly! Design your tour to build in intensity as your tour progresses, planning the hardest rides for the end of the trip when you are properly warmed up. This will help to avoid injury Design your tour to build in intensity as your tour progresses, planning the hardest rides for the end of the trip when you are properly warmed up. This will help to avoid injury
- Check temperatures! For example in Tuscany it is just too hot to ride in August in the afternoons. So you have to plan for early morning starts. If you like to sleep late pick another time or location for your holiday. The risk of heat exhaustion or stroke is very real. If you must cycle in the hottest times of the day use mineral salts. Also come prepared with the right gear and clothing. For example in Tuscany it is just too hot to ride in August in the afternoons. So you have to plan for early morning starts. If you like to sleep late pick another time or location for your holiday. The risk of heat exhaustion or stroke is very real. If you must cycle in the hottest times of the day use mineral salts. Also come prepared with the right gear and clothing.
- Bike Rentals depending on the length of the tour you may want to consider shipping your bike ahead for set up with a qualified mechanic. Unless you have experience and the right case, traveling with a bike, especially on international flights, is a nightmare. Check with the airline for additional charges. If you rent, make sure to check out the type of bikes you will be renting ahead of time. Make sure the gearing is suitable for the terrain. Another good idea is to have your local cycle shop measure you and then forward the results to the tour operator in advance. Nothing ruins a great tour more than a poorly fitted or maintained rental bike.
Selecting a Tour Operator
- Ask for references and photos;
- Contact more than one tour operator
s ranging in size and see how they respond. You can gauge pretty quickly which operator has experience in this field by the why they respond to your inquiry;
- Budget for planning: Most legitimate tour operators will give you a rough proposal free of charge. After that they require some type of date & planning deposit, typically a percentage of the estimated tour cost to be applied to your overall balance, to secure your preferred dates.
- Beware: Most tour companies will not want to bear the expense of a truly custom tour as it entails a lot of onsite research and planning. Essentially they will re-package existing routes and charge you more. Their existing routes may be fine but you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them.
- Go local. Even large tour companies have onsite local representatives. This is the best way to go when it comes to the planning phase. Also you have a better chance of making truly unique discoveries and sometimes lasting friendships when dealing with a locally based operator.
In the end a custom designed cycle tour is the ultimate way to enjoy your hard earned holiday time. It should be a memorable experience and worth the effort considering the time and expense involved.
I hope the above proves helpful for those planning a custom cycle tour in the future.
Enjoy the 2012 cycle season!
With Kind Regards,