Cycling the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path is a wonderful and challenging endeavor and in order to enjoy it, and make sure that the original walking pilgrims can enjoy it, there are a few common sense things to think about as you ride to Compostela.
As more and more travelers discover the experience of cycling rather than walking the Camino routes, some of them chose to follow the well worn hiking trails, invariably riding past fellow pilgrims on foot. Naturally the hikers will be traveling at a much slower pace and it is simply good manners and good sense to consider their safety and yours, to make sure everyone has a Buen Camino - a good pilgrimage.
"I hiked the Camino and was appalled at the majority of bikers who approached from behind at high speeds with no warning"
Don't aim for Strava KOMs
Cycling the Camino de Santiago is not by any means a race and in fact you would miss out on so much of the experience by not slowing down to smell the flowers and occasional field of cows, that it would be a shame. It would also very much against the spirit of friendship on the Camino to zip down a bumpy single track trail or cobbled village, weaving through the unsuspecting pilgrims. Also remember that down-hills are much harder on walkers than uphills. If anything, offer to shuttle a weary pilgrim's heavy pack to the next Albergue!
Don't practice your Freeride skills on the trail
Some of the forest trails on the Pyrenees and in Galicia would be superb for some root-ridden enduro decents, only they are designated hiking trails... Graciously shared with cycling pilgrims by the hikers who began walking the Camino over a 1000 years ago. As a mountain biker myself, I have often been crazy to speed down the single track on my 29er, and I know we are both good for it - but that is not the point of the Way and I know this is a lifetime journey to be savoured by me and by everyone else.
Don't ignore lost, broke down or tired pilgrims
Sometimes where you are rolling at a fine pace, the last thing you want to do is slow down, let alone stop, but part or the Camino spirit is one of selflessness and willingness to give or help out. Just because you are hauling down the tarmac hairpins on your way in to Ponferrada with nothing but the warm wind in your face and a grin from ear to ear - not everyone in your team might be riding so happily. So take the time to stop and help and if needs be pedal back up the hill to help fix that blown out tire - or just to give a kind word of comfort; I can tell you from personal experience you will be much happier if you do!
Don't block Doors and Passage ways
At the end of a long days ride, you can be so tired you just want to lean your bike against the closest wall and grab a cold Aquarius. Just make sure it is not blocking a local's front door or path of passage for fellow cyclists, hikers or drivers. This can happen a lot more often that people care to imagine, I know: I have done so myself to a shepherd who was no doubt even more tired than I was!
Fit a bell to your bicycle
All our Camino bike rentals, rental packs and tours include a pretty handlebar mounted bell. Not only do they have a nice ring to them but they can keep you and your fellow pilgrims safer on shared trails and in the narrow streets of old towns and villages. If you are bringing your own bicycle to ride the Camino, make sure to fit a bell before you leave or certainly before you start your journey.
Make yourself known whenever you approach a walking pilgrim
No point in having a bell if you are too shy or forgetful to ring it to be heard! The point is to make your presence known before you pass the hikers, so if they are a little hard of hearing, let them know you are about to pass them by calling out some friendly heads-up words. As there are pilgrims from all over the world, I recommend using the timeless "Buen Camino" or Good Pilgrimage greeting!
Go slow when passing
To keep things safe, particularly when cycling on rough or technical sections of the Camino, it's best to slow way down when passing as you don't know when a hiker my decide to pull over for a rest, nor to which side. You won't know if they have headphones in or are hard of hearing so don't take a chance and just play it safe for both of you even after you have announced you presence.
Be a Goodwill Biking Ambassador
As you cycle the Camino you will start to feel the Camino "Vibe", a kind of kinship of fellow travelers on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Be a part of it! Help other bikers and hikers along their way and you help someone have a little Camino miracle with something as simple as a shared bar of chocolate or a plaster from your first aid kit, for a painful blister.
Can you think of more Camino Do's & Don'ts? If so, drop us an email and we will be happy to share your Camino words of wisdom here too!
By Martin Thompson
Avid Mountain biker, Bike Tourist & Founding partner at Cycling Rentals