Cycling the Camino

It is a fact that between 15 and 20% of peregrinos who arrive in Santiago do so by bicycle. Cyclists are eligible to receive the Compostela if they document that they have ridden the final 200 km to Santiago, essentially from Ponferrada. Cyclists are an increasingly common presence on virtually all routes of the Camino. American Pilgrims recommends that cyclists interested in the French Route consider early- or late-season travel, as the French Route is the most popular and can be crowded. We strongly encourage cyclists to consider other routes, such as the Via de la Plata, during the busy season.

Outside BeloradoWhat kind of bike do I need?
Most cyclists use a mountain bike with front suspension. It is possible to use a touring bike if the cyclist is willing to occasionally detour or parallel steeper or rougher sections of walking routes on nearby roads. Some guidebooks such as the series published by the Confraternity of Saint James will have specific suggestions for detours and parallel routes; these suggestions can help you decide what kind of bike will work for you.

How do I get my bike to Europe and then back?
Although most major airlines will accept a bicycle as a piece of luggage, they do charge a fee for a bicycle—and fees are increasing yearly. Find the best airfare you can, then contact the airline directly to determine the most recent prices and policies for bicycles. Many airlines refuse to accept responsibility for damage to a bicycle during the flight, so pay for any charges with a credit card and document everything.

Our experience is that prices for shipping bicycles via a freight or package delivery company can become quite high for international transport. Here are two possible resources: In 2013 British Air would ship bicycles for free if they were in "a recognised bicycle bag" and didn't weigh more than their weight allowance and Bike Flights for shipping bicycles and cases once you arrive in Europe. The Guardian newspaper has a summary of bicycle policies on airlines serving England.

Once you get to Europe your problems are not necessarily over if you will be using train transport. Some trains accept bicycles and even have racks, some require that they be bagged or boxed and some don't accept them at all. For RENFE's (Spain) policies click HERE (English). For the SNCF (France) click HERE (French). For an excellent overview of the policies in most countries in Europe click HERE (English).

Are the cycling-specific guidebooks?
Yes. The Confraternity of Saint James (London) has an extensive series of guidebooks and those covering the francés and the Voie Littorale contain information on cycling. Under the section "Practical Pilgrim Notes" they offer the small book with general information "The Cycling Pilgrim on the Camino Francés". Among the external links at the bottom of the page, GoXploring and Interam.com have good lists of books oriented toward cyclists.

If you anticipate getting off of the marked routes, or even if you don't, a set of good road maps will be very useful. There are many to choose from, many specifically for cyclists, but even the Michelin 1:400,000 road maps will serve.

What should I take in my bicycle tool kit?
Experienced touring cyclists will carry standard tools and spare parts: tire patches, spare tubes, a pump and enough allen wrenches and screw drivers to assemble/disassemble your bike at the airport if needed, and to make minor adjustments en route. All major cities and larger towns such as Pamplona, Estella, Burgos, León and Ponferrada will have bike shops for repairs, but the smaller communities will not.

What about renting bicycles?
Companies that offer guided tours will often offer bicycles as part of the package. Renting in-country can involve complicated logistics, especially getting the bike from the point of origin to the beginning of your Camino -- and then back again. There are services advertised in the Santiago area that offer bicycle shipping to points in Spain and Europe.

How long should this take me?
Like walking pilgrims, this will depend on many variables, such as what kind of terrain you will be crossing, how long you want to travel each day, how many rest days you wish to take during the pilgrimage and, naturally, your physical abilities. For an experienced touring cyclist in reasonably good condition, plan a typical journey from for St-.Jean-Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles to Santiago for 12 to 15 days. This would be about 50 to 65 km per day.

Do the albergues discriminate against cyclists?
Walking pilgrims often have priority over cycling pilgrims, the general policy being that walking peregrinos will be given beds first. The premise is that if a walker appears at an albergue and it is close to filling its beds, the walker will be in a difficult way having to walk an additional 5 km to the next albergue. However, there seem to be more albergues opening every year, both public and private, so accommodation is rarely an issue. It's important to note that there are only a few campground located on the French route.

Do I need to wear a helmet in Spain?
Yes, the law in Spain says you must wear a helmet. And American Pilgrims strongly endorses this idea.

Are there other legal requirements?
Cyclists are responsible for providing their bicycles with lights and reflectors, and they also must wear reflective clothing when riding in poor light conditions.

Are there many bike shops on the camino?
Yes, all major cities and larger towns such as Pamplona, Estella, Burgos, León and Ponferrada will have bike shops for repairs, but the smaller communities will not. We recommend that you download our vocabulary of Spanish cycling terms which might not be a normal part of your vocabulary.

What about interacting with foot-borne peregrinos?
Courtesy is called for, of course. Please give some kind of warning of your approach, whether a hearty "Hola," or a robust "¡Buen Camino!" or your bicycle bell, a bell that's loud enough to hear at some distance, not merely a little ting-a-ling bell. Whatever you do, do it enough in advance that pedestrians can react. Be sure and slow down if overtaking someone on horseback to give the rider plenty of time to take control of the animal and to help you proceed. Again advance warning on your part is called for.


Internet resources to consider:

The International Bicycle Fund: The IBF is an independent, non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to promote bicycle transportation. There are two specific pages in the site that should be consulted concerning transporting your bike to the Camino: Airline baggage regulations for bikes and the report "Bikes Can Fly".

Resting bicycle• GoXploring: A useful site with a list of suggested equipment, a Spanish-English bicycling vocabulary and a representative day-by-day travel plan.

• Camino de Santiago by Bike: An extensive site for the cycling peregrino with many photographs, suggested packing and equipment lists, an interactive map, a basic FAQ section and long lists of books and website links.

• Santiago Bicicleta: The Santiago Bicicleta Yahoo! group is "geared" to those who have ridden, or who are planning to ride, the Camino francés or any of the connecting routes.

* Bicigrino: A large and growing site with extensive information on bicycling the Camino francés, the Vía de la Plata and the Camino del Norte. (Spanish)



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