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Cycling the Cammino di Santiago

What 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.

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.

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.

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