If you’re thinking about al extended bicycle touring adventure, you’re taking the first step toward what Todd Starnes, the president of Bicycle Adventures, the largest outfitter for guided bike tours in North America calls, “the adventure of a lifetime.” Five-or-six day (or longer) bicycle tours, Starnes says, “are sure to become a part of your life’s story. The destinations are beautiful and the rides are even better.”
You have three basic choices when it comes to the all-important step of picking the right outfitters and guides.
- Guided Bike Tours. This is where 10 to 20 riders bike together accompanied by a guide and a support van carrying the riders’ luggage, spare parts, and snacks. Lodging accommodations on these types of tours may vary from camping to luxury resorts. (Recommended)
- On-Your-Own Tours. This is where a bike tour company provides riders with a route map and a list of places to stay and eat and may make reservations. This could be for a group of 20 riders or one biker on his or her own. (Recommended)
- Tour Brokers. These are companies that collect your preferences for bike touring and book your tour with the actual tour operator. (Not Recommended)
All three operate tours in the U.S. and all over the world.
This blog is about the 17 top operators of Guided and On-Your-Own Bike Tours in the U.S., choices one and two, above.
Here are three suggestions on how to pick an outfitter from the those described below.
- Pick an outfitter who publishes a catalog or view it online. It’s far easier to get a good idea of the details of what a tour is all about from the printed page than it is from a website. Bicycle Adventures, says that most of its customers shop the catalog and buy online. In the profiles below, there’s a link for ordering the catalog for every outfitter that has one. Or…
- Pick an outfitter who’s an expert in a particular state or region. There are several of those listed below. Undiscovered Country Tours (UDC), for example, operates tours exclusively in California and claims to know the state bike-wise better than any other tour operator. Great Freedom Adventures specializes in New England. Outfitters Bicycle Tours operates only one U.S. guided tour but runs it in its home state of North Carolina. Or…
- Pick an outfitter who has a “specialty” tour. Crossroads Cycling Adventures, for example, has been operating its 3,414 Los Angeles to Boston ride for 20 years and has it down to a science.
Here are the 17 top Guided and On Your Own Bike Tour Operators in the U.S. (in alphabetical order). Pick one and launch out on what Todd Starnes calls “the adventure of a lifetime.”
Adventure Cycling Association
With headquarters in Missoula, Montana, Adventure Cycling Association is a nonprofit organization with a mission is to inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle. Established in 1973 as Bikecentennial it’s the premier bicycle travel organization in North America with 48,000 members. It leads and more than 100 Guided Tours a Year including, Inn-to-Inn Tours, Van Supported Tours, Self-Contained Tours, Fully Supported Tours, Family Fun Tours and Educational (i.e., how to take a bike tour) Tours to a variety of destinations including South Dakota, North Carolina, Montana, Louisiana, Texas, Oregon and Maine, among others. Accommodations bikers usually camp in private campgrounds, state parks and national forests, but accommodations can range from tents to indoors depending on the rider’s preference. Bathrooms and showers are available at each evening’s campsite. Dining arrangements vary from catered meals and snacks to campfire cooking depending on the type of tour selected. Support varies depending on the type of tour selected but can include full van support with a mechanic available on the road each day and each evening in camp. What’s Special. The organization researches and produces cycling maps for the Adventure Cycling Route Network, one of the largest cycling route networks in the world with 44,662 miles and growing. It is the lead organization working to create an official U.S. cycling route network, The U.S. Bicycle Route System. Adventure Cycling members receive Adventure Cyclist magazine.
America by Bicycle
Founded in 1994 and based in Plaistow, New Hampshire, America by Bicycle specializes in long-distance bicycle touring for participants from 18 to 80. Tours. Four cross country tours are offered: Costa Mesa CA to Savannah GA (2,880 miles); Costa Mesa CA to Amesbury MA (3,446 miles); San Francisco CA to Portsmouth NH (3,838 miles); Astoria OR to Portsmouth NH (3,650 miles). Regional rides include the Great Mississippi River Ride (1,726 miles); Ride the East (1,686 miles; Great Lakes Tour (1,094 miles); Shenandoah / Blue Ridge Ramble (686 miles); Ride the West (1,399 miles); Maine Foliage Tour (233 miles); and Fall Foliage Classic (313 miles). Other sectional tours include rides in different regions of America or rides following natural features – rivers or mountains, for example. Accommodations are in AAA-rated lodging. Riders may choose triple, double, or single occupancy. Dining. Typically, organized meals are served in good quality restaurants or catered at the hotels. Lunch is the cyclist’s responsibility on most tours. Dining arrangements may vary on different tours. Support. Riders receive staff and van support. Staff to Bikers Ratio is typically one staff to 5 to 8 cyclists.
Backroads Bike Tours
Founded in 1979 by environmental planner Tom Hale and headquartered in Berkeley, California, Backroads Bike Tours is a large international adventure travel company that offers some 3,000 annual departures worldwide including biking and multi-sport trips, walking and hiking trips, and family adventures. Bike Tours U.S. bike tours were the original tour that Backroads offered and now operate in Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina and Georgia, Utah and Arizona, Vermont and Quebec, Virginia and Maryland, Washington, and Wyoming. Accommodations and Dining vary by tour but are typically are in unique local lodges, inns, and hotels. Support Over 95% of Backroads guests on scheduled departures travel with two or more support vehicles and three Backroads leaders or support staff. Fewer than 5% are on scheduled trips where the small number of guests requires just one van and two leaders. What’s Special Free catalogs are available for all categories of trips – Biking and Multisport Trips, Walking and Hiking Trips and Family Adventures. See a 3.5 minute video of how Tom Hale got the idea for Backroads and got it off the ground. Catalog Order a free Backroads biking catalog.
Based in Redmond, Washington, Bicycle Adventures is one of the top bike touring companies in America with more than 60 different tours and over 220 departure dates. It offers more North American tours than any other company. U.S. Tours include the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho); the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah); the West (California, Montana, Wyoming, Hawaii); Midwest (Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota); Northeast (New York). Accommodations BA looks for the best small hotels, bed and breakfasts and country inns that the area has to offer, and re-evaluates selections on an annual basis. Dining The tour price includes all meals, from lunch on the first day to lunch on the last day, with the exception of some trips when one lunch and one dinner are not included, and budget tours, where two lunches and dinners are not included. Dinner is eaten together at the best restaurant in the area. At most restaurants, guests order what they want from the menu. Except for alcohol, everything’s included, appetizers, salad, soup, and dessert. If BA has to shuttle everyone a short distance to get to a special restaurant, they do it. Size of Tours Most of tours have a maximum of 13 guests. Guides per Guest Typically, two tour guides will accompany each tour. One will drive the support van and trailer, while the other cycles from group to group offering support, mechanical assistance, tips on riding techniques, and directions as needed. Van Support BA employs a fleet of specially ordered and customized 15-passenger vans. Most have a seven-liter V-10 engine, high rear axle ratio and heavy duty trailer towing package for efficiently moving a van full of people pulling a large trailer full of luggage and food. The van tows a custom-built, enclosed, 12-foot trailer. The trailers are also equipped with work platforms and bicycle racks on their roofs. The insides are partitioned to efficiently hold guests’ luggage, food, spare bicycle parts and equipment, tools, and other supplies. Bikes BA provides riders Orbea road bikes and hybrid bikes designed to its specs. What’s Special Bicycle Adventures invest seven or eight months in hiring and training guides. It’s management says, “It would be hard to overstate the importance of the relationship between guides and guests.” Catalog Order a Bicycle Adventures Catalog or view it online.
Based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Carolina Tailwinds provides 5-and-six-day bicycle tours in the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Tennessee, Florida and Wisconsin in March through November. Tours include South Carolina Lowcountry, Southern Outer Banks, Northern Outer Banks, Colonial Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina Horse Country, Middle Tennessee, Wisconsin Door County, Best of Madison Wisconsin, New York’s Finger Lakes, Virginia Blue Ridge, Southern Shenandoah, Northern Shenandoah, Adirondacks and Vermont and Florida First Coast. Accommodations in country inns or boutique hotels. Dining and Snacks Dining is at fine restaurants along the routes. Riders should plan for one or two evenings for meals on their own at restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. Riders are provided with morning and afternoon snacks and water bottle refills. Support Van support with pre-established checkpoints. Group Size is limited to 18 with a seven-to-one guest to guide ratio. Bikes Bring your own bike or rent a Cannondale or Fuji. What’s Different. Every morning riders get a detailed cue sheet with the day’s route (and alternate routes) including mileage markers and alternate side trips.
Founded in 1979, and based in Hamlin, New York, Classic Adventures offers bike tour vacations to Europe and North America. North American cycling Tours are: Mississippi: Bicycling Natchez Trace & Antebellum Mansions; New York: Finger Lakes – Cayuga & Seneca Lakes Wine Trail; Canada: Historic Quebec – La Belle Province; New York: Historic Erie Canal; New York: The Historic Hudson Valley; Texas: Texas Hill Country. Accommodations lodging at select country inns and hotels. Dining Daily breakfasts and dinners on most tours. Support Support vehicle for transporting luggage, equipment, snacks, drinks and overall assistance. Expert bicycle mechanics accompany tours. Typical Group Size is 12-16 participants. Maximum is 24 cyclists. Bikes Trek hybrid and road bikes are equipped with trunk bag, map case, rear rack, water bottles, lock, pump, spare tube and odometer/computer. Catalog Order a free Classic Adventures Catalog.
Crossroads Cycling Adventures
Based in Littleton, Colorado, CrossRoads Cycling Adventures leads LONG (as 1,000 miles or more) guided road biking Tours from Los Angeles CA to Boston MA (3,415 miles); Los Angeles CA to Albuquerque NM (868 miles); Albuquerque NM to Champaign IL (1,370 miles); and Champaign IL to Boston MA (1,177 miles). The 3,415, 7-week, Los Angeles to Boston cross country tour can be done in segments spread over several years. Accommodations for all tours are in business-class hotels, such as Hilton Garden, Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn and Comfort Suites. Dining is in popular sit-down restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse, Cracker Barrel and Applebee’s. Support: Six leaders and three support vehicles accompany each tour. Something Special Crossroads has conducted 20 of the cross-country tours. Read owner Tracy Leiner’s inspiring essay about her first cross-country ride on the CCA website. Catalog Order a free CrossRoads catalog.
Based in Cannon Falls Minnesota, Cycle America offers nine different regional tours, plus a coast to coast tour that’s divided into 9 individual segments. Bikers may choose to ride one segment or several or complete the entire coast-to-coast tour. Regional Tours include Northwest Sampler (Washington, Idaho, Montana); Mission Montana (Montana, Wyoming); Range Ride (Wyoming); Monumental Memories (Wyoming, South Dakota); Mighty Rivers (South Dakota, Minnesota); Heartland Patchwork (Wisconsin); Thundering Falls Spectacular (Michigan, Ontario); Empire Strikes Back (New York); History Maker (New England). Accommodations Riders bring their tents, sleeping bags and personal gear. Cycle America makes camping arrangements and transports all gear. Showers are available at each camping site. Motel options are available on some tours. Dining Dinner and breakfast are provided each ride day, complimented by a picnic stop at the ride’s midpoint. Support Vans are available in route to give rivers and their bikes a lift. En route and in-camp mechanics keep bikes in top shape but charge for the service. Bikes Riders provide their own bikes.
Discovery Bicycle Tours
Founded in 1976 and Based in Woodstock, Vermont, Discovery Bicycle Tours provides bicycle tours in the United States, Europe, and Canada. U.S. Tours include: California, Massachusetts Cape Cod, Florida Keys. Gettysburg to Washington DC; Maine, Maryland, and Vermont. Accommodations and Dining. Discovery Bicycle Tours specializes in inn-to-inn touring and dining. Inns are selected on the basis of friendliness, warmth and country comforts. Examples include an 18th-century farmhouse, an antebellum plantation, and a restored Vermont tavern. Breakfast and dinners are provided by the inns. Accommodations for each tour are described along with the tour on the Discovery Bicycle Tours website. Size of Tour varies from 12 to 20 riders. Support Each tour has two tour leaders and van support. Vans carry luggage, water, snacks and bikers if they want a break from the road. They also carry tools and spare parts in case a bike needs attention along the route. Bikes Hybrid and road bikes are provided for each rider. They come equipped with front handlebar bag, rear carrier, water bottle, mirror and flat pedals. The make of bikes varies by tour location. Riders can bring their own bikes as long as they have a minimum of 21 gears and are in good operating condition. Average Daily Ride 25-30 miles.
Duvine Cycling Adventures To Go
With its U.S. office in Somerville, Massachusetts, Duvine Cycling Adventures provides guided bicycle tours in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and North America. Its U.S. Tours include California Wine Country, Napa and Sonoma, and Sonoma 4-Day Tour. Accommodations are in boutique style inns that reflect the culture of the region. Dining High-end dining choices are selected to reflect the foods of the region. Support Van support and experienced guides. Guest to guide ratio is 7:1. Bikes Duvine provides a variety of high-quality bikes from hybrids to carbon fiber road bikes. Catalog Order a brochure.
Great Freedom Adventures
Founded in 1972 and Based in Sherborn, Massachusetts, Great Freedom Adventures offers 3-to-8-day guided and supported bicycling, walking and active tours of the U.S., plus an 8-day tour of Belize. U.S. Tours include: Maritime New England (6-days MA); Maritime Bike and Beer Adventures (6-day, MA); Best of Vermont (6-day, VT); Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket (6-day, MA); Boston to New York (6-day, MA, RI, CT, NY); Martha’s Vineyard: Islands and Seacoast (6-day, MA, RI); Hudson Valley (6-day, NY); Coastal New England Wine Trail (5-day, RI, MA); Rhode Island Inlets and Isles (4-day, RI); By Land and By Sea (4-day, RI); Woodstock and Beyond (4-day, VT); Rivers and Ridgelines (4-day, VT, NH); Short and Very Sweet (3-day, VT); Salt Marsh and Songbirds (3-day, MA); Island Idyll Martha’s Vineyard Vacation (3-day, MA). Accommodations include Select Registry Hotels, boutique Inns, Historic Hotels of America and inns on the National Register of Historic Places. Dining Meals offer fresh, locally-grown foods ranging from farm-to-table dining at a working farm to dinner at the Culinary Institute of America.
Outfitter Bicycle Tours
Outfitter Bicycle Tours offers one U.S. guided bike tour the Asheville, NC Craft Beer Bike Tour (5 nights, 6 days). Accommodations are in small family-run hotels.
Sojourn Bicycle Vacations
Located in Charlotte, Vermont, Sojourn Bicycle and Active Vacations Bike Tours include: Acadia National Park; Arizona Bicycle Tours; Best of Cape Cod; Burlington, Vermont to Quebec City; Columbia Gorge & Cascades; Finger Lakes Bike Tours; Niagara Wine Country; North Carolina Outer Banks; Ottawa to Montreal; Sonoma Wine Country; Texas Hill Country; Vermont Bike & Brewery Tours; Vermont Fall Foliage; Vermont Lake Champlain; Vermont Lakeside Escape Weekend; Vermont Landmark Tour; Vermontreal; and Women’s Weekend. Accommodations are at distinctive inns and boutique hotels. Dining. Most meals are included in the pricing except for occasional lunches or dinners where riders dine on their own. Snacks are provided. Group Size. Trips average 15 guests and are never larger than 18. Guests to Guides Ratio. Two tour leaders accompany every trip. Support. Van support is provided to repair bikes or provide a lift to cyclists who might want a break from cycling. Catalog Request a free Sojourn catalog or view in online.
Trek Travel North American Bike Tours
Located in Madison, Wisconsin, Trek Travel offers bike tours to U.S., European and Latin American Destinations. U.S. Bike Tours include: Asheville to Highlands; Bryce and Zion; California Coast; California Wine Country; California Wine Country 4-Day Weekend; California Wine Country Luxury; Crater Lake & Oregon Cascades; Cross Country USA: Portland to Missoula; Portland to Portland; Glacier National Park; Great Smoky Mountains Blackberry Farm; Great Smoky Mountains Blackberry Farm 4-Day Weekend; Greenville Luxury with Jens Voigt; Greenville Ride Camp 4 Day; Greenville Ride Camp 7 Day; Ojai to Santa Barbara; Pursuit Ride Along; San Juan Islands; Santa Barbara 4-Day Weekend; Solvang Ride Camp 4 or 7 Day; Tour of California; Vermont; Vermont Brewery Edition; Vermont Family; Whistler Mountain Bike; Zion 4-Day Weekend; Zion 4-Day Family Weekend. Accommodations Lodging is in 3-star, 4-star, or other hotels compatible with the pricing of the trip. Dining All breakfasts and most lunches and dinners are included in the price trip pricing. On each trip riders are given some opportunities to dine on their own. Size of Tours. Maximum number of guests is 20 per trip. Guests Per Guide. Each trip has a minimum of two guides. Guides are trained bike mechanics. Support. Van support. One guide rides in the support vehicle and one rides with the tour. Bikes. A variety of Trek bikes are provided. Something Extra At the end of each trip guests are provided with a collection of photos of the trip. Catalog Order a Trek Travel Catalog or view it online.
UDC Tours (California Bike Tours)
Based in San Leandro, California, Undiscovered Country Tours (UDC) provides guided bike tours in California only, claiming that tour companies that operate on a broader geographical scope can’t match their depth of California knowledge. Tours include: Half Moon Bay Coastal Getaway (3 days); Monterey Coast and Carmel Valley (4 days); Golden Gate Getaway Weekend Bike Tour (3 days); California Desert Escape (6 days); Kiss of Death High Sierra Challenge (4 days); Big Sur Spectacular (6 days); Northern California Wine and Waves (6 days); California Central Coast (6 days); Sonoma Wine Country and California Coast (4 days). Accommodations Riders stay every night in hotels, inns or lodges with a UDC preference for intimate, historic inns. Dining All breakfasts and most dinners are included. Tours often dine at some of the highest rated restaurants in the area. Riders lunch on their own at recommended spots. Size of Group. Group size is limited to no more than 14 people. Support. Van support is available with water, snacks, and spare bike parts but UDC says, “We believe bike tours should be about traveling by bicycle, not shuttling in a van, so we design all of our tour routes to maximize amazing bicycle travel and minimize vehicle transfers. With very few exceptions, our cyclists travel from start to finish by bicycle.” Bikes UDC provides a premium, full carbon road bikes at no additional cost. Each bike comes equipped with a trip computer, two water bottles, saddle bag with spare tube, tire levers, and CO2 tire inflator. UDC will fit the bike with the pedal style of the riders choice.
VBT Bicycle Vacations
With headquarters in Williston, Vermont, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations offers bicycle and walking tours in Europe, Central America, Asia, South America, New Zealand, Africa and North America. U.S. Bike Tours include: Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard; Charleston to Savannah: A Southern Reel; Mississippi: The Natchez Trace; Florida’s Historic Coast; California Wine Country & The Pacific Coast; Classic Vermont; Vermont: Champlain Valley & Islands; Maine Coast: Purely Acadia; Colonial Virginia: Riding the Road to Independence; Biking Southern Vermont: A New England Idyll. Accommodations. Lodging is at properties that embody the spirit of the location. Dining is at restaurants that reflect the characteristics of the location as much as possible. Trips include daily breakfast, many lunches, and most dinners. VBT seeks out establishments that serve fresh, locally sourced ingredients. A vegetarian option is guaranteed at each meal. Van Support. A trip leader makes regular sweeps along the route in an outfitted van to assist riders. Pick up points are pre-arranged so bikers can flag down a van if they need assistance. Vans are stocked with water and snacks. Bikes are carried on the van roof or in a trailer. Catalog Order a free VBT catalog.
Western Spirit Cycling Adventures
Based in Moab, Utah, Western Spirit Cycling Adventures provides road bike tours on scenic roads and in national parks of the west. Tours include: Crater Lake National Park Road Tour; Escalante Road Tour; Glacier National Park Road Tour; Moab Road Camp; Mount Rainier National Park Road Tour; Rocky Mountain Loop Road Tour; Yellowstone and Beartooth Pass Road Tour; Yellowstone Road Tour. Accommodations. Riders stay in hotels along the route or headquarter at one hotel and make day trips. Van Support. A support vehicle follows the trip.