Cycling is one of the best ways to see the world. Many people who have done the Camino de Santiago in Spain would agree. The Camino de Santiago, which can be translated as "the Way of St. James," is a pilgrimage route that stretches across most of northern Spain. It's a popular destination for cyclists and hikers alike - and someone with a love for long-distance biking won't want to miss it!
In this article, we'll give you all the information you need to plan your own bike tour on the Camino de Santiago. We'll talk about what you can expect and how to plan your trip so that you don't feel overwhelmed by this epic journey. Don't wait any longer; read on to learn how to take on cycling's ultimate challenge!
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The Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route that traditionally goes from France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. There are in fact many other variants, but the Camino Francés remains one of the oldest on most popular routes. It has been an important site for Christians since the Middle Ages. The trail, which is about 800 km long, was used by medieval Christians on their way to Jerusalem. Today it's used by cyclists, hikers and other travelers who want to embark on a spiritual journey.
The route has traditionally been followed in stages, with pilgrims carrying a backpack with supplies including clothes and food. A more modern approach is to take some preparation at home as well as along the way.
Planning your trip
If you're still deciding if cycling on the Camino de Santiago is right for you, start by considering some of these questions:
Once you've answered some of these questions, it'll be easier for you to plan everything out. You'll know how long it will take and what type of experience you're looking for. You'll also be able to figure out which parts of the Camino de Santiago are better suited for biking than others. You don't want to spend hours on a long stretch of uphill biking if that's not what you wanted in the first place! And don't forget about accommodation! There are lots of different options available, depending on how much time and money you want to spend. If these thoughts have left your head spinning, don't worry! We'll cover all this information below so that it won't be such a hassle figuring out all the details as well.
What to pack
If you're cycling the Camino de Santiago, you'll need to invest in a few items before you leave. First, and most importantly, you'll need a bike! You can get a bike from a rental store, or you can buy one if you have the time to look for one. Next, you'll need some cycling gear. You should pack high-quality biking shorts and padded cycling gloves to avoid getting saddle sores and blisters. If your bike trip is going to be longer than five hours at a time (and most of them are), it's important that your shoes are good quality so they don't wear down too fast.
You'll also want to pack other basic necessities like water bottles, sunscreen and lip balm. And while we're on the topic of what not to forget--don't forget your phone charger! It's important that your phone is fully charged at all times so that if anything happens, you won't be left without help. The Camino de Santiago isn't always easy--you should be prepared for anything!
Where to stay (how much it will cost)
When you're planning to travel by bike, it's important to know where you'll be sleeping. Luckily, accommodations on the Camino de Santiago are plentiful and reasonably priced.
You can find hotels for around €30 a night in towns along the route--and sometimes even cheaper. If you're looking for more of an authentic experience, there are albergues for €6-10 per night that are usually maintained by volunteers. These albergues provide shelter and basic amenities like WiFi, breakfast, and dinner (complimentary or not).
What to eat/drink
One of the most difficult parts of any bike tour is food and drink. You can't just stop at a restaurant or store when you're on the Camino de Santiago. Pack your bags with plenty of high-energy snacks to avoid getting off your bike to search for food.
The best choice is protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, and even cereal bars. This should be enough to keep you going until you reach the next town or village.
Drinks are also important to bring on a bike tour! If you're not bringing water with you, buy bottled water from a store in towns as needed.
Another tip: bring plenty of electrolytes to prevent dehydration and muscle cramps during your cycling journey! Have an electrolyte drink handy in order to replace fluids and minerals lost through sweat.
Safety tips for cycling on the Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago is a challenging adventure for even the most experienced cyclist. It's important to plan ahead and make sure you're prepared for all the conditions you might face.
- Research the terrain: The terrain along the Camino de Santiago varies from flat to mountainous, but there are some difficult stretches with steep slopes and mountain passes. Even if you plan to ride on a road or touring bike, not a mountain bike - you'll have to cycle through small villages and towns over some larger cobblestone streets. If you raide along the actual trail, be aware that walking pilgrims have priority, and some sections are not appropriate for cyclists at all.
- Pack light: You won't need many supplies on this trip; pack only what you'll need to get through the day. Make sure your water bottle is full before heading out each morning. In terms of clothing, it's best to dress in layers so that you can adapt when the weather changes throughout the day.
- Keep an eye on your belongings: Be cautious about where you store your bags when resting at albergues; never leave them unattended in public areas, as sadly, there are professional theives who have operated along the Camino since the very earliest times!
- Wear a helmet at all times: Always wear your helmet! They're essential safety gear that can protect you if anything happens. You'll also want to carry some basic first aid supplies like bandages, antibiotic cream, and painkillers in case of an accident or injury.
Cycling tips for your Camino bike tour
If you're planning to cycle the Camino de Santiago on your own, here are a few tips that will make your trip much more enjoyable:
-Pack a map and a navigation device device such as a smartphone or GPS. The route is well marked, but you'll want to be able to find your way without relying on signs every step of the way.
-Dress appropriately. If you go during the summer months, wear light clothing and sunscreen. For cooler seasons, pack warmer clothes like long underwear, tights and wool socks. And don't forget to use layers, rather than heavy jackets and the like.
-Plan for plenty of rest stops and snacks. You'll need to refuel often on this long journey!
-Bring an ample supply of food and water. You don't want to run out of anything important during your trip!
-Carry cash for your meals along the way. Most restaurants take credit cards or traveler's checks, but some do not accept them at all--and many require cash only!
Important information while you're cycling on the Camino de Santiago
Cycling on the Camino de Santiago is a journey for the adventurous cyclist. You'll be biking for about 6 days along a variety of terrains, but you'll also encounter varying climates. Depending on the time of year, you may go from hot to cold weather and vice versa. Make sure you pack accordingly!
Another important thing to keep in mind while planning your trip on the Camino de Santiago is how long it will take to get there (and back). The average cyclist can expect to bike an average of 40 kilometers per day, which means it could take up to a month to complete the entire journey! Of course, this is just an estimate based on people who are cycling at an average pace; if you're a faster rider, then it would be possible for you to cycle an average 60 to 80 km a day and finish in less than 15 days.
The Camino de Santiago is a journey most cyclist have yearned to take at least once in their lifetime. If you're an experienced cyclist and want to take on a challenge, the Camino de Santiago is for you. Plan your bike tour of the Camino de Santiago today and enjoy the journey!
By Scott Sparrow
My son graduated from high school in 2021 and before he started his fist year of college at Brigham Young University (BYU), we set out on an epic adventure. While no great adventure is without challenges, ours almost never got off the ground.
We bought plane tickets for the day after he graduated, June 1st, and showed up at the airport in Texas, packs on our backs, bound for Spain. Only to find Spain closed to visitors from the United States due to COVID 19 concerns. So, we climbed back in the car, heads down, dejected.
My first call was not to my wife or to my employer, but to Cycling Rentals. “Please tell me you haven’t shipped the bikes yet,” I pleaded.” My fear was confirmed. “We shipped them this morning. Is there a problem?” I explained that our trip would be postponed because of the pandemic.
Over the next month we rearranged work schedules, albergue reservations, train tickets, and cycling rentals. Then finally, one month to the day after our first attempt, my son flew from Utah and I from Texas. We met in the airport, this time actually making our first connection in route to Spain.
Planes, trains, and cars later, we arrived in Saint Jean, France, where our bikes awaited us. We road for the next 7 days, covering close to 500 kilometers along the famed Camino de Santiago. We then dropped off the bikes and hiked the remaining distance into Santiago.
In total, we trekked 779 km over 14 days. It was exhilarating, it was gorgeous, it was exhausting, It was the adventure of a life time!
Having nursed our injured team member and worried over her likely journey from here, we understood she was in excellent hands, so of course we were itching to get back on the bikes to finish our journey.
That meant leaving Burgos. It wasn’t a place with good memories so we weren’t going to hang about even for a few more hours after her husband arrived. It was bucketing down rain, but we didn’t care. On the bikes and away sometime late-afternoon, with no idea where we might end up that day.
I don’t remember how long we rode for but my memory is that it wasn’t very long before we decided the rain was too much and wasn’t looking like easing any time soon, so we decided to take shelter. Well back in 2003, information on hostels was very scant. We were aware there was one nearby, but had no idea what it was like or how to gain access to it.
Still bucketing down rain, we located the locked albergue with not a soul around. It was a very desolate small 2 storey building which was in degrees of disrepair in a fairly residential area. Not sure how we got the key, (I think by talking to locals with our very limited Spanish) but we got in drenched and dripping to a small room with mattresses stacked in a corner and not much else. I think we might have been the only ones who have ever used it, but we were grateful for it at the time.
In the morning we reflected that in fact our mad desire to get out of Burgos had been thwarted as we were still only on the outskirts of the city!! We were also as you can imagine, a little nervous about taking to the busy highways and agreed to continue on the “true” path, only deviating to roads when they were parallel to it and not heavy with traffic.
Waking to a clear sky, we packed and planned to head off for a very early start. We had been told to leave the key inside and lock the door as we left, so we dutifully did that and mounted up when we realised a helmet was still inside behind the locked door!
Throwing ideas around, riding back into Burgos to buy a new one was not on the top of the list as we both wanted to get as far away as we could from this city. Having exhausted most options in our minds, we scouted around the perimeter and located an opening window on the upper level. Hazardous you might think, but we were pretty desperate. Access gained and helmet retrieved and despite our desire to have an early start, at least we could now escape Burgos!
The first part of the road was fine until Rabe de las Calzadas but the trail then took us through fields with a very soft and pitted surface. As you can imagine, rain does wonders for this and bicycles. After trying to navigate sections with 3 or 4 inches of mud, it was walking time for me. I had ridden ahead and couldn’t see my travel companion behind me but figured she would likely be in the same boat. Ever tried pushing a heavily laden bike through mud? It was a tedious 8km into Hornillos del Camino.
At the entrance to the village a farmer saw my plight and offered me a hose to remove the mud. Making headway with the cleaning I looked up to see a bike yet another Camino angel, offered to take her and the bike on his truck the next morning to get it fixed - being carried between two people, one being a gallant young man with a huge backpack. My first thought was, oh how lovely, that did look much easier than my pushing my touring bicycle through the mud.
Putting the bike down I learned it hadn’t been a simple exercise at all. She had been endeavouring to ride through the mud rather than push it and a rock lodged itself and snapped her derailleur. She had tried carrying it on her own through the slippery mud, when, as the Camino always does, a saviour was provided in a moment of need. The closest place for any possibility of repair was, yes, you guessed it, Burgos!!
We both thought at that point that this was too hard and perhaps the cosmos was trying to tell us something. But no, the hospitalero, yet another Camino angel, offered to take her and the bike on his truck the next morning to get it fixed. So back she went to Burgos.
Leaving Burgos - again!
Three days later and only about 20km traveled, we truly escaped Burgos. In high spirits and fine weather we made sure each day from here on that we would seek local advice on the trail’s suitability for bikes and when it wasn’t we took to the road. This worked well and we had about 10 days of absolutely glorious riding through the plains of the meseta, Leon and Astorga until we came to O’Cebreiro. But that is another story...
Along the Camino Frances, after the legendary stop of O Cebreiro, on a windswept crest, you’ll come across an impressive statue of a medieval pilgrim battling the elements. This is the poster child of the medieval pilgrim, San Roque, the Patron Saint of Plagues, and a perhaps a saint for our times?
San Roque was born about 1295 in Montpellier, France, the son of the governor. Nothing is known of his childhood except that it was privileged and that he lost both parents by the age of twenty. Whereupon, he joined the Franciscan Order and distributed his fortune among the poor.
He then went on pilgrimage to Rome and there cared for the victims of the plague that was taking its toll on Italy. He devoted himself to the plague-stricken, curing them with the sign of the cross. He next visited Cesena and other neighboring cities before going on to Rome. Everywhere the terrible scourge disappeared before his miraculous power.
Eventually, he caught the plague himself, while ministering to the sick, and was expelled from the town. Ill and starving, he was saved when a hunting dog found him and brought him bread every day.
He recovered and decided to devote himself to caring for the sick. He, also, eventually became the patron saint of dogs, as well. San Roque was reputed to have performed many miracles of healing throughout his life... and after his death!
San Roque’s intercession was called upon when a plague struck Germany in the 15th century. “In 1414, during the Council of Constance, the plague having broken out in that city, the Fathers of the Council ordered public prayers and processions in honor of the saint, and immediately the plague ceased.
Time and time again he was invoked during various medieval plagues and eventually became “The Patron Saint Against Plagues”.
At a time when we are all feeling the direct or indirect impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, and few if any, pilgrims are walking or cycling the Camino de Santiago, perhaps it feels like a good time to remember the brave example he set 700 years ago?
Written by Margaret Jeffries
Founder of Cycling Centuries bike tours, world traveler and Iberian travel consultant.
So you have decided to cycle the Camino de Santiago - you won't regret it - but be sure to pack properly so you can have a bike tour you won't forget, for all the right reasons!
Written by Didi Knowlton
With the growing amount of Camino Rental Packs we dispatch, we thought a Camino cyclist specific packing list would be very helpful! We update this article regularly and count on your suggestions to make it better and better.
The first thing to bear in mind is the Camino de Santiago is that you can essentially cycle the pilgrimage route any time of year - though our preference is for late spring, early summer or fall. Other times of year can be rather too cold or hot for comfortable cycling. Having said that, any time of year you choose to cycle the Camino, you should bear in mind that given the distance, elevation and natural micro-climates, the variation of the weather is something you must prepare for.
From the brisk mornings in the Pyrenees to the hot plains in and out of Leon, to the chilly heights of O Cebreiro and the possible rain showers around Santiago de Compostela, you will be exposed to a range of temperatures and weather conditions. With that in mind and because you don't want to pack too heavy (despite the generous 40 liter capacity of our Ortlieb panniers!), here is our suggested bicycle packing list - why not print it out and check items off as you pack?
1 x Bike helmet
1 x Sun glasses
1 x Fingerless gloves
1 x Full finger gloves
1 x Clear lens glasses (or changeable lenses)
1 x Cycle Shoes
2 x Padded cycle shorts
2 x Cycle Jersey
4 x Cycling socks
1 x Light Water-proof wind breaker
1 x Warm, light Fleece (makes a great base layer for your rain jacket on cold days)
1 x Arm warmers
1 x Sunscreen
1 x Small first aid kit
Post Ride gear
1 x Long sleeve "dinner" shirt
1 x Short sleeve "dinner" shirt or polo
1 x Long trousers / practical skirt
1 x Warm, light Sweater
1 x flip-flops or light walking shoes
5 x Underwear (if you only wear after showering each day!)
1 x Compact wash kit
Tools & Equipment
1 x Smartphone
1 x Camera (save space & weight and use your smartphone)
1 x Multi tool
1 x Spare tube (and / or patch kit)
1 x Small bottle chain oil
If you have found other items to be useful, or any listed items to be superfluous, get in touch and let us know!
This was first published on our old Blog.