Pedal power: Cycling holidays

With more of us than ever before saddling up, Tamara Hinston offers the lowdown on the best options for clients craving some two-wheeled fun

Cycling holidays are big business right now, with this summer’s Tour de France, which started in July, generating a much bigger buzz than in previous years thanks in part to the new Netflix documentary, Tour de France Unchained, which first aired in early June.

Closer to home, Ireland has announced it hopes to host the iconic race’s opening section in 2026.

But keen cyclists are not confining their love of two wheels to just the UK or the Emerald Isle – they’re increasingly heading abroad for their cycling fix, whether on self-guided explorations or as part of escorted tours.

Part of the appeal is the recent increased investment in cycling infrastructure – both in the UK and abroad – and the range of biking holidays available now reflects this.

Here, the Government has announced plans to invest £32.9 million to develop better cycling schemes while investment in other countries’ cycling infrastructures is enticing clients to take their bikes further afield, too. Last September, for example, France invested 250 million Euros in cycling-focused initiatives.

Saddle up

Cycling tours 1

The UK’s Department for Transport recently revealed that in 2022 (compared with 2021), cycling levels in England rose by 47% on weekdays and 27% on weekends. And there’s plenty of proof that many are taking their hobby abroad. “A recent survey conducted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association found that cycling was the second most popular adventure activity after hiking,” says Vimal Mathews, manager of Authentic India Tours, which offers several cycling holidays in India. “69% of respondents had participated in a cycling tour or activity in the past three years.”

All of which is great news for operators specialising in active holidays.

“This year, bookings for our cycling trips have doubled compared to 2022,” says James Adkin, product manager at Explore. “Our best-selling cycling trip is our Cycle the Dalmatian Coast tour, which has seen a four-fold increase since 2019 in terms of sales.”

Long haul pedal power

Additionally, cyclists are exploring beyond the obvious contenders such as France, Italy and Switzerland.

Explore’s Adkin names Japan, Cuba, Vietnam and Georgia as destinations which are attracting growing numbers of pedal enthusiasts.

“Cuba is a perfect destination for cycling because of the very low traffic levels,” he says. “Our Cycle Vietnam and Cambodia tour has always proved popular and we’re seeing bookings pick up again now that places have reopened. It’s a tour which offers stunning scenery, ancient history, superb cuisine and great cycle routes.”

However, there are still plenty of options closer to home. Harvey Downard at BSpoke Tours references two which he believes will become increasingly popular over the coming years.

“There’s Italy’s Umbria region, with its history, culture and stunning views of Tuscany, but without the tourists,” he says. “And then there’s Sussex. With the wine industry there booming, more people are looking to hop between the vineyards by bike.”

It’s important that agents take the time to consider their clients’ cycling proficiency, as well as their interests beyond cycling. Someone who’s not far removed from ditching their stabilisers might well dream of pedalling their way around the French Alps, but the steep ascents, high altitude and twisting roads might be beyond their capabilities.

“Ask lots of questions about the type of cycling that your client enjoys,” says Downard. “For some, short distances and more cultural stops might be a better fit.”

Bike-related benefits

As an agent, it’s also important to bust any misconceptions, especially at a time when operators are rolling out a wider range of cycling tours – including ones which use e-bikes.

“A top tip for selling cycling trips is to remove the image of MAMILs (‘Middle Aged Men In Lycra’), and the myth that cycling holidays are all about super-fit athletes who power along without a bead of sweat on their brows,” says Adkin.

“Our cycling trips are suitable for anybody with a reasonable level of fitness who wants to do an active holiday and discover the hidden sides of a destination.”

And don’t be afraid to encourage clients to step out of their comfort zones.

“If a client is unsure of their fitness level, consider an e-bike option and emphasise the presence of a support vehicle, and explore multiple options that might help the client challenge themselves,” says Frank Cheshire, Intrepid’s senior product manager.

Agents shouldn’t assume clients who aren’t hardcore cyclists aren’t open to the concept of a cycling holiday. “By highlighting the health benefits, unique experiences and environmental sustainability, agents can appeal to any client looking for a memorable and active holiday experience,” points out Mathews.

Top five cycle tours

Headwater’s Brenner Pass to Venice: This seven-day self-guided tour is a good option for cyclists who want to enjoy Italy’s most spectacular landscapes on their own terms. “This region has an abundance of Baroque castles, ornate cathedrals and mountain fortresses to discover, and guests have plenty of time to stop in local market towns,” says Sarah Hughes, product manager at Headwater.

Cycling korea

Explore’s Cycle South Korea: Asia has emerged as a cycling hotspot in recent years, with destinations such as Singapore and South Korea rolling out vast networks of cycling routes. Explore’s 10-day cycling holiday is a great option for competent cyclists keen to gain a unique perspective on one of Asia’s most bike-friendly destinations. It covers 417km over seven days, mainly on paved bike paths and quiet country roads, and begins on the volcanic Jeju island, followed by four days of cycling along the east coast.

Authentic India Tours Classic Kerala: This eight-day package from Authentic India Tours is a great option for clients seeking a more leisurely cycling holiday. “This tour takes cyclists through Kerala’s countryside, passing coconut groves, tea plantations and rubber estates,” says Shagzil Khan, Authentic India Tours cycle tour leader. “The group also stay on a traditional houseboat and enjoy the beauty of the backwaters.”

Cycling wine

Cycling for Softies’ Sparkling Sussex E-Bike Tour: On this leisurely three-night cycle around Sussex’s vineyards, expect easy riding along riverside and coastal paths and some spectacular scenery around the South Downs National Park.

Cycling Slovenia

Intrepid’s Cycle Slovenia: Cyclists on Intrepid’s eight-day trip get plenty of opportunities to fuel their explorations, thanks to an abundance of picnics, barbecues and winery visits. Travelling from Ljubljana to Piran, the group will cycle around Lake Bled, wind through the Triglav National Park and take in alpine views of Kranjska Gora.

Where to book it

Explore’s 10-night Cycle South Korea trip costs from £2,654pp. It includes accommodation, bike hire and bullet train tickets, but excludes international flights.