Given that the European tandem touring season is in full swing, we’re starting to reap the rewards of post-tour reports and photo galleries by those who participated in the June & July tours. As always, the images and anecdotes from these tours stir the imagination as well as the desire to investigate the possibility of doing an organized tour, if only to ‘check the box’ and have that experience to draw upon when considering other tandem holiday options.
Of course, the exclusivity and associated luxurious accommodations, meals, logistics support and expertise of the guides who ensure the tour participants get the most from their experience come at a cost. In looking at just the cost for some of these tours, the cost variability can sometimes be quite substantial. However, to fully understand the difference in ‘value’ often times requires a bit of homework to reconcile what’s included and not included by the different tour operators.
In doing our own homework and looking at our past travels, the cost variability bears itself out in dramatic fashion but also speaks to the different approach and locales. In ascending order, here’s what we’ve found looking at costs on a per couple/per day basis excluding travel related expenses (which can be substantial) for some of the tours we’ve taken or considered, noting that tent camping is not an option for us at this point in our lives, nor are hostels, dormitories or gymnasiums with bunks:
- Freeloader Tours: Well under $100 a day. A freeloader tour is where you enjoy the hospitality of a friend’s home and share the expenses associated with the meals and other costs incurred by the group and hosts over the time spent freeloading. In fact, these types of weekends can easily fall well below $50 per couple per day.
- Tandem Rallies: $100 – $250 a Day. Even some of the more expensive rallies can become downright bargains if you ride for 3 days or extend the stay to include a 4th day. But, just sticking to the basic 3-day formula typically yields a great value for a short get-a-way of riding and/or socializing with a large group of tandem enthusiasts.
- Self-Planned Tours: $120 – $250 a day. These are trips where moderately priced motels, hotels or B&Bs are used for lodging and meals are found at local eateries along the route or at the daily destination. Sometimes these trips use a single lodging facility as the hub for daily rides, while other days find you moving from place to place self-contained or by self-arranged/self-supported SAG when touring as a group where the cost of a rental vehicle is split as well.
- Best Value Organized Tours – Under $400 a day. While space is always limited, one of our friends runs a small tour company called Pennywise Cycle Tours that provides tandem teams who are looking to smell the roses with perhaps the most affordable way to see Europe by bike and, of course, the one and only California Coast back in 2002. While they lack some of the “extras” of higher-end tours, they more than make up for it in other ways, including fewer guests, first class accommodations, several dinners but also allowing for time to do your own exploring and to take in meals with companions at the time and place of your own choosing. Like the other better value tours, they typically plans their trips over two weeks so that you can amortize the time and expense associated with air travel.
- 18-Day Tour of NZ – Under $400 a day. While prices are subject to change, when Mel & Barbara Kornbluh of Tandems East last visited New Zealand in January 2010 the cost per couple per day for the 18-day adventure was $383. While partially a by-product of stretching what was at one time a two-week tour into 18-days, it’s a great trade-off in that teams are able to spend a little more time amortizing the time they’ll spend flying to and from NZ, never mind the cost of that airfare. For comparison, our friend Rob Templin’s Second Summer Tours offers a 14-day NZ tour that’s closer to $485 per day and Santana offers a high-end, 10-day tour for $1,000 per day per couple.
- Great Values In Domestic Tours – Under $500 a Day. While they are short tours, many of Santana’s 4-day domestic tours are really great values that come in under $450 per couple per day, for about 1/2 the cost of most 6-day, domestic ‘luxury’ tours offered by firms like Trek Travel or Backroads. Of course, fewer days means less time to amortize travel time and airfare so another option are once again Rob Templin’s Second Summer Tours, who offer 7-day California and Oregon tours for under $500 per couple per day: even their Maui deluxe tour comes in at just around $500 per couple per day!
- Great Value + Challenging European Tours – About $500 – $530 a day. Several year back Bicycling Magazine selected Erickson Cycle Tours as some of the most challenging tours offered. Big miles, big climbs and as it turns out a pretty good value to boot. The accommodations and meals are purportedly quite exceptional and, as with our friend’s best value tours, Erickson tours span 15 days to stretch the value of your travel time and airfare.
- Different Ways To Do Europe – $450 to >$1,000 a day. There are both less expensive and more expensive ways to tour in Europe. Once again, value-conscious Tandems East has in the past teamed up with Bill and Ann Speckman’s Your Cycling Italia for week-long loop tours of Italy from their host hotel near Bassano del Grappa that typically cost less than $500 per couple per day, depending on exchange rate. Although we often times think of Santana’s European tours as being the “high-end” at or near $1,000 per couple per day, again we find that’s not out of line with the better value single bike tours offered by firms like Velo Echappe and are certainly more affordable than Trek Travel or Backroads tours which all lack the exclusive tandem clientele that you can find on tandem tours.
For us, our tandem holidays thus far have mostly been our attendance at tandem rallies and other weekends or week-long adventures ‘dutch-treat’ with friends and/or where we’ve pooled our resources. However, our travels have also included a four-day weekend Santana Tour at Asheville, North Carolina back in 1999 and a two-week Pennywise Cycle Tour of the California Coast back in 2002. Our bucket list includes a desire to take at least one Erickson Cycle Tour with Glenn & Nancy Erickson, a Maui Adventure with Rob Templin’s Second Summer Tours, a trip to Italy and perhaps even New Zealand with Mel & Barbara Kornbluh of Tandems East, and perhaps a few more Pennywise Cycle Tours. We’d also like to attend a Northwest Tandem Rally at some point and do some less formal riding in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps even doing a West Coast ‘Tour de Tandem Fabricator’ that starts with the Seattle builders (Rodriguez/Bushnell, Davidson, Erickson), work our way down to Eugene, Oregon (Co-Motion), then to the Santa Cruz area (Calfee), Sacramento (Ventana) and then Claremont, California (Santana) while collecting a few interviews and insights into the history behind these firms.
So many places to see, but so little time and… well, you know.