Los Angeles Times

Companies peddling lower-cost bike tours

By Arthur Frommer, Special to The Times
February 22, 2004

"If you like the idea of bicycle touring but hate the cost, there's a budget way to ride the world's highways and byways that you might enjoy: the self-guided tour.

If you've ever tried to book a standard, escorted bicycle tour, you know it's normally an expensive proposition for the passenger and the company operating the trip. Such tours are often accompanied by at least three paid staff members -- two to ride alongside the group, the other to drive a "sag wagon," a vehicle that carries luggage from place to place and provides seats for riders too tired to cycle.

Add the salaries and room-and-board of those three employees to the cost of hotel arrangements, meals and bicycles for a group of 10 to 20 persons, tack on the expense of the sag wagon, and the per-diem cost of the tour goes way up.

Bicycle tour companies such as Butterfield & Robinson or Backroads have been known to charge as much as $600 a day, per person, for tours in the United States and Europe.

The solution? Eliminate the paid employees and the sag wagon.

Instead of carrying luggage from place to place in a vehicle accompanying the group, self-guided tour companies arrange for the innkeepers housing the group to ship the luggage by ordinary commercial means to the next stop. Instead of hiring tour escorts to guide the bicyclists from place to place, they are equipped with a well-marked map to navigate their own way.

The result: affordable tour prices averaging $200 per person, per day, including shipment of luggage, accommodations, meals, bicycle, a telephone number for English-speaking assistance and carefully mapped-out itineraries.

One of the oldest self-guided bicycle tour companies is Randonnee Tours of Vancouver, Canada, 1800 242 18 25, www.randonneetours.com.

Randonnee's destinations are predominantly French (Burgundy, the Dordogne, Loire Valley, Provence, Normandy), but they also operates tours in Italy, Ireland and Spain. Tours are five to 12 nights and often are around $200 a night, depending on accommodations.

[...] This spring Randonnee, for the first time, will operate self-guided cycling tours of California wine country and Utah "Our routes will take you to the best scenery and we avoid difficult hills."


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