Comparing two bicycle tour firms


A friend and I got together recently to compare notes and photos from our 2004 biking adventures in Europe.

My husband, R.C., and I, Donna Pyle, have done seven trips with Hindriks European Bicycle Tours (Box 6086, Huntington Beach, CA 92615; phone 800/852-3258 or visit www.hindrikstours.com), most recently to the Andalucia region of Spain but also including the Danube in Austria and Hungary, the Czech Republic, northern and southern Holland, the Cotswold region of England and Poland.

Jim and Vicki White have done five bicycle trips with Experience Plus (415 Mason Ct. #1, Fort Collins, CO 80524; phone 800/685-4565 or visit www. experienceplus.com), including Italy, France and, in June ’04, Denmark.

We reached the conclusion that these companies are quite similar in a number of ways.

Both are small, so we frequently find ourselves traveling with the owner and/or with staff members we’ve met on prior trips. This gives a personal touch and, we feel, helps ensure a successful adventure.

Both deal with small groups, mostly in the range of 10 to 25, also giving a personal touch.

Both select rural or biker-friendly areas, which helps with safety issues and also gives us a focus on getting to know the real people of the country we are visiting.

Both work with preplanned routes, with the sightseeing along the way plus suggested restaurants.

Both move our luggage for us to our next destination, and both offer “sag wagon” support in case of illness, flat tires or just the desire to take the afternoon off.

We believe that both companies offer fair prices and good value. The land cost for our Spain trip in March ’04 was $2,100 each for nine nights and breakfasts, six dinners and a couple of lunches. The Whites’ Denmark trip was $3,095 each for 10 days, including all breakfasts and eight gourmet dinners with wine. (This is not a valid direct comparison as the Scandinavian countries are more expensive, in general.)

The primary differences in the companies are leadership style and the level of traveler independence. With Experience Plus, the riders are given maps and directions plus a cell phone number for each guide. One guide goes ahead, leaving chalk marks on the roads to point the way. The bikers each proceed at their own pace, with responsibility for finding their way to the destination. One guide acts as “sweep,” following the slowest biker.

Hindriks Tours participants travel in a group, with a system of “sweeps” and “corners” (people who wait at key turns until they see the person designated to be at the end of the line), preventing anyone from getting lost. Groups wait for the last person to arrive before proceeding to a new destination. For larger groups, a split is done at the beginning of the day so that faster riders and slower riders may separate.

With Hindriks Tours, having the leader with the group offers some advantages: explanations of historical sites can take place on the spot, and a translator is present if we wish to talk with local people.

With Experience Plus, daily information sheets provide information about sites along the way, and a guide often will wait at the most interesting places to give explanations.

Experience Plus does slightly longer routes, averaging 25 to 50 miles per day, and appeals to the more independent, self-sufficient traveler.

Hindriks Tours aims for 25 to 35 miles per day and caters to the less-experienced biker. In 2004, Hindriks introduced bikes with flat-free tires and “automatic” rear shifters.

After talking all this through, neither couple is likely to switch to the other’s group — we have our long-established preferences. But it’s useful to know the different characteristics when choosing a bike tour company.

DONNA PYLE
Boulder, CO