Four Bike Tour Flavors : Choosing The Right One

February 21, 2017 - Niles Woods actively participates in Adventure Cycling tours and shared some advice.

Being close to retirement with the kids out of the house and looking for active adventure, Adventure Cycling tours have proven to be an exciting form of entertainment and travel for me. And now that I’ve done several Adventure Cycling tours, I can help you pick one that’s right for you.

I should note that I was very apprehensive about my first Adventure Cycling tour: Would I be able to ride for seven days in a row? Would I be able to keep up with the other riders? Would my bad knee keep working for me? Luckily, the Death Valley tour, van supported, was the ideal first bike tour for me, and the answers to my questions were “Yes!” With the Adventure Cycling van carrying the gear and with many of the participants close to my age and ability, my knee remained strong and flexible for the entire week. Additionally, the two leaders, Pete and Fletcher, were very helpful.

So, maybe you’re new to bike travel and wondering, “What type of tour should I start with?” Here are the four different tour types of Adventure Cycling tours:

  1. Self Contained: You carry your food and “home” on the bike. Riders share cooking duties and camp.
  2. Van Supported: Riders share cooking duties and camp together, but our van hauls the gear, and you ride load free.
  3. Fully Supported: We carry the gear in our support van. You eat the catered meals!
  4. Inn to Inn: You carry your personal gear, but leave the tent and cooking gear behind because you’ll be resting in a hotel or motel and enjoying dinners and breakfasts at local restaurants.

That same year I rode the van-supported, Death Valley tour, I did Cycle Utah, a fully supported tour. Catered meals, a bike mechanic, and a support staff of ten people for 50 riders on this tour, made this adventure very cost effective. The food on this tour was superb and the scenery spectacular!

So given that you should learn to crawl before you walk, your first bike tour should be a fully supported or van-supported tour. This way, you don’t have to worry about carrying all your gear on your bike.

On Adventure Cycling’s fully supported Cycle Utah tour, there were lots of wonderful people to meet and ride with everyday. And even though everything was near perfect on this tour, there was something missing. I missed the close-knit camaraderie of a small group. I think for some people, maybe couples riding together, fully supported may be the ideal type of bike travel, but for me, I like the smaller, more intimate group. My last trip that year, before I had to go back to teaching math, I rode the Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Canada tour, a self-supported, dirt tour.

One of the guides on Great Divide Canada told us, “The adventure does not start until you are out of your comfort zone.” So having never done a self-supported or dirt tour, I was definitely out of my comfort zone!

I had to come up with a mountain bike, racks, and panniers and converted my Salsa Mukluk fat bike with four-inch tires into a “touring” mountain bike. It worked out beautifully. With only seven clients and two guides, Nickel and Sandra, this turned out to be my favorite ride of the year. We had really good chemistry among all the riders and seeing the Canadian Rockies was spectacular.

So after doing three rides with Adventure Cycling, the next year I signed up for their van-supported, cross-country TransAm tour. And again, I had this huge apprehension, can I really do this: ride day in and day out for twelve weeks straight?

I met our tour group in Yorktown, Virginia, and we started off with a small group of only nine riders and two wonderful guides, Mitch and Whitney. The first day, I rode with three guys that were about my age and pace. Our group felt so natural that we rode together every day for the rest of the trip. Bob, John, and Mike became my new family for the summer.

Riding the TransAm is like being in your own little bubble, where the only thing you have to do in life is eat, sleep, and cycle your way across the United States. Flexibility is the key to a long bike trip like this and although we took it for granted, having a van to transport all our gear was such a blessing. I would never do it any other way!

This past summer, I rode Adventure Cycling’s Great Parks North, self-supported tour. The question I had at the beginning of this tour was, “Do I like van-supported or self-supported touring best?” 

This Great Parks North tour would be on a touring bike on paved roads. We had 14 riders and one guide, Joyce, starting in Missoula, Montana, and ending in Jasper, Canada. The route is a classic iconic vacation route for any mode of transportation. Visiting four U.S. and Canadian national parks, including riding Glacier Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road was spectacular!

On the other hand, this was the most challenging bike tour I’ve been on with Adventure Cycling! Climbing with a bike weighing north of 80 pounds is a tall order and I prefer van-supported tours with that wonderfully free feeling of simply riding your unloaded bike!

So to find your favorite type of Adventure Cycling tour, start with either a van-supported or fully supported bike tour, then experiment from there. Enjoy the journey!


ON THE ROAD is written by the tours team— Paul, Mandy, Emma, Mike, and Arlen — tours specialists and intrepid bicyclists, helping you bring your cycling dreams to fruition. Check out our 2018 Guided Tours today!



Moxy May 5, 2017, 11:02 PM

Which one of your supported tours would be most appropriate for a healthy 64 year-old retiree on a recumbent trike?

hank March 21, 2017, 11:43 AM

You ride what you are most comfortable with, don't listen to well you need to ride this or that what you are used to and comfortable on is the most important decision on any tour. If you are not comfortable or sore it can turn you off before you even get started

Gary Blevins March 3, 2017, 2:03 PM

A quick question for anyone reading. I just signed up for the Natchez Trace Van supported fall ride. Are most folks riding the lighter, fast road bikes on the van supported or an unloaded touring bike? I have both, but my touring bike is more comfortable on long rides.

roy April 26, 2017, 6:16 AM

We just finished that tour - it was great. Of the 14 riders there was 1 hybrid, 1 Trek 520 touring (32 mm tires), and 3 steel frame bikes with wide tires. Everyone else was on lightweight road bikes. My wife and I were among the fat tire group and were happy with our choice particularly when we got caught in heavy rain. The 2 tour leaders were also on light touring type bikes, I think w/38 mm tires.

Michael McCutcheon February 25, 2017, 4:30 PM

Very interested

bill hess February 24, 2017, 2:45 PM

Thanks for the encouragement! Doing the Death valley Tour next month.

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