Primer on Cycling the Camino
Completing the Camino by bike can be a rewarding endeavor. Riding far and fast across country sides and forests living by the seat of a two-wheele. Give yourself a few days and you can get as far as you could in a car without all the pollution. Its just you powering a bike, exploring the world.
I personally enjoy bike touring more than hiking for a few reasons; for one you get to see more of the landscape faster and, the second, the different muscles used for powering the bicycle means you will be able to walk without pain when you get to town. But its not as easy as getting on a bike and going. There are some precautions that need to be taken to achieve a comfortable bike touring experience. Here are our tips on how to prepare for a bike tour on the Camino.
Make a plan
Plans can always be modified, but not having a plane can make a Camino chaotic and stressful. When you can set your brain on “sit back and relax” mode, the trip can be so much more enjoyable. If you are coming overseas and only have select days of vacation, making a plan is going to be the best way to succeed on the camino.
The first thing to consider when making a plan is knowing if you want a Compostela when you get to Santiago. The Compostela is an official certificate given out by the camino organization stating you hiked or cycled a certain amount kilometers on the Camino. For cycling, the Compestela is awarded to pilgrims who have traveled more than 200km. If you do want a Compostela, this will be your minimum starting distance.
Set a goal of anywhere from 25-80 kilometers a day. Anything around 25km can easily be done walking, so by bike it may be a waste of time. Over 80 should be done by more experienced riders. The average is around is anywhere between 40 to 60 kilometers a day.
Using the above information you can than figure out how far you can travel based on how many days are available to you. Depending on how long you are traveling or if there is something in particular you want to take the time and see you might need to account for rest days.
“I always make a calendar, spread sheet, or list of all the places I will pass and stop and on what days. This helps me keep organized and prevents me from missing anything important.”
The camino can be a busy through hiking trail. I once got to a town and had nowhere to sleep because all the albergues and even hotels were full. Reserve your albergues. This simple email or phone-call will prevent big headaches on your trip.
Finding albergues may also be a factor of how you will be breaking up your days. You will have to find online (or text) resources to see many albergues a town has, what there ratings are, if they are full, and if they have a place to store bikes as some albergues have specific bike storage areas. This is an easy google search and there are many websites that provide information of all the albergues in each town along the whole camino.
During this planning stage you will be able to break up your days based on the kilometers traveling per day, albergue availability, and the interest of the town. You will soon find, by research of course, that there are key towns that are very popular stopping spots with plenty of albergues and interesting things to see.
Bike specific gear
Of course, if you are bike touring you are going to need some bike touring specific gear. Overseas pilgrims can rent bikes and gear. Since I wont know where you will start, I can not give a specific place to rent a bike, but your best bet will be finding a company online and reserving your bike before hand.
Besides the bike, and basic travel items, you are going to need some important gear. The first will be bike specific containers to hold your stuff like panniers, frame bags, seat bag, or handlebar bag. I specifically did not mention backpack because a riders back muscles will already be in constant use while riding so there is no need to add extra stress. What suites you will be based on preference. To beginner riders I suggest panniers since they are secure and range in many sizes.
Next is bike repair items. Some items in this list are air pump, patches, spare tubes, multi-tool, tire pressure gauge, tire levers, chain link, maybe some tape, etc. Again, this is personal preference but beginners should have all the items listed above and should know how to use each one. The camino is littered with hiking and bike shops so it is not the end of the world if something happens or you need a specific item.
Lastly, you will need some bike essentials. Some of these items may include helmet, gloves, bike lock, bike light, map, water bottle or hydration pack, bike shoes or other pair of shoes suitable for riding, bell, reflectors, blinking caution lights, etc. This list does not include clothing or other travel items you might need.
Gear may vary depending on the riders needs and setup, but these lists should be a good start point.
Biking the camino
Even though you are officially allowed to walk, bike, or ride a horse on the camino, most of the trails are accustomed to walking. Sometimes trails are impassible on bike. This is why a map, such as google maps or camino specific app, is important to help find detours.
The trails will range from every type of terrain; grass, dirt, rock, steep mountain, road, cobble stone, bridges, sand, mud, shallow water, and deep water. This is why a bicycle that can ride on all terrains is important. I use a mountain bike, but an adventure road or cyclocross bike fitted with the correct tires can be a suitable alternative.
Since the most common form of traveling the camino is walking, you need to be alert and respectful of pedestrians. Pedestrians have preference on the sidewalk so operating on the road will be more comfortable for everyone.
When on the road cars need to yield and treat you as you were a car. Bicyclists are allowed to travel two side by side on all roads, but are forbidden on highways.
Sometimes the camino forces us onto narrow dirt paths with other pedestrians. In this case it is polite to signal that you are approaching a walking pilgrim by ringing your bell. Pass with caution and then be on your way.
The very last thing you need to do to get started is to just start. Stop putting this trip on hold. Stop making excuses. You are ready so just go for it and leave the problems for when they come up. You might even find out they are not as big of a proublem as you thought.
For more information on the camino check out our camino guides here