13 Mar 24

Cycling the Camino – Everything you need to know 

Sam McCrow Camino

While most people choose to walk the Camino, cycling along Spain’s world-famous pilgrimage routes is growing in popularity and is a great way to travel along the trails. It’s an excellent choice for those who want to experience as much of ‘The Way’ as they can in a shorter time frame, and there are plenty of options. You can do a full cycling trip or choose to walk some of the way and cycle some of the way. We supply top quality bikes and look after your luggage and accommodation, so you are free to enjoy the ride! 

We often receive questions about cycling the Camino, so here’s everything you need to know.

Looking to experience the Portuguese Coastal Camino on two wheels? We’ve just added a new cycling itinerary from Porto to Santiago!

What is the terrain like?

The cycling conditions on the Camino are highly variable. They range from sealed roads through to non-technical mountain biking over rough terrain with sometimes short steep climbs and descents. We provide high quality mountain bikes that are able to handle all the conditions. If you aren’t into off-road cycling there are, in many cases, alternative routes that take you along roads rather than the Camino. These may present an additional navigational challenge as those alternative routes will likely not be signed, and you will likely encounter traffic. You should still be prepared to do some cycling on unsealed tracks or trails at some point during your trip. 

What are the average daily distances?

The daily distances that cyclists cover are determined by their fitness and the terrain. Most people aim to complete 40km to 60km in a day, while very fit cyclists may aim for 80km or 3 walking stages each day. We do recommend that you err on the side of caution when planning your daily distances with our destination experts. We often find that it is not uncommon for travellers to overestimate the daily distances that they comfortably can cycle/e-bike in a day. You need to take into account the added time taken while sharing the paths with other walkers and cyclists, for navigation, riding challenging sections of terrain, weather conditions. Also factor in time for exploring and enjoying the towns and villages along the route. 

How many kilometres does a cyclist have to ride to get their Compostela?

You need to cycle the Camino de Santiago for at least 200km to earn your Compostela when you reach Santiago, so start from no closer than Ponferrada and once you hit the hills of the Cantabrian mountains you’ll feel you’ve really earned it! At the time of writing, if you arrive in Santiago having used an e-bike you are not eligible to receive a Compostela certificate.

Do cyclists share the Camino paths with walkers?

Yes. For the most part, walkers are happy enough to share the path with cyclists and a cheery ‘Buen Camino’ with a smile as you approach is enough to alert them to your presence and for everyone to adjust and make room to pass safely. In the busier summer months of July and August, the paths will have more walkers on them so if you prefer not to have to slow down for walkers frequently then it’s best to avoid these months.

The midsections of the Meseta are especially suited to cycling and it’s hard for walking pilgrims not to feel a twitch of envy as they see cyclists whiz past them on the long roads across the plains. In fact, some people walking the full Camino choose to cycle the sections from Burgos to Leon to cut out this sometimes monotonous walking and feel the freedom of a bike.

When are the best months to cycle the Camino?

April, May, June and September are the best months for cycling the Camino. 

What are the hardest days cycling on the Camino Frances?

On a full length trip starting in Pamplona some of the most difficult days are cycling up to the high points and where the terrain is both hilly and off road. These include going over Alto del Perdon, the section between Rabanal del Camino and O Cebriero, any days that are long, and also where you are sharing the path. 

Why is safety more of a concern on cycling trips than walking trips?

When you are on a bike, you are more exposed to cold; you may encounter slippery, muddy conditions, and you have less control over rough terrain. You may also not be as visible to walkers you share the Camino with. The bikes do not have bells to warn walkers of your approach. Riding on roads and in traffic poses more risks. There is more potential for injury in the event of a fall from a moving bicycle rather than while walking.

How do I get my bike?

You’ll have your high quality mountain bike delivered to your hotel the day before you will start cycling, along with panniers, tool kit, lock, small handlebar bag and pump – everything you need to get you on the road with the exception of a bike helmet, which you will need to bring. 

The bikes will be delivered flat-packed in a box so some basic assembly is required; this is not a concern for most cyclists. Speak to us if you are apprehensive about assembling your own bike and will be commencing your cycling in one of the major cities (eg. Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, Astorga or Porto). We may be able to arrange for the bike to be delivered to a local bicycle shop so they can assemble it for you. In this case you would need to pick up your bike from their location and on a business day during working hours.

After you have finished your cycling trip the bike/s will usually be picked up from your hotel or you will be advised to deliver it to a nearby location that day. Your bike does not need to be dismantled.

Each day your main luggage will be transferred to the next hotel so you can keep your weight in the bike light and just take what you need for the day. Each evening you’ll come into excellent accommodation, hand-picked for its character and location.

How do I train for a Camino cycling trip?

If you are cycling parts of the Camino, we recommend you prepare well in advance. Cycle the distances you would be cycling on the Camino including uphill/downhill and off-road. Get your body used to being in the saddle for long days before you leave home. 

What kind of cycling gear/shoes do I need?

Your clothes should be suitable and comfortable for cycling, and your shoes need to be compatible with your pedal system. Gloves will enhance your grip and control, especially on long rides. Arm warmers and leg warmers are a good idea. Also pack a windproof/rainproof jacket, buff/neck gaiter, sunglasses, water bottles and a  first-aid kit.

Do I need to wear a helmet?

Yes. Wearing a helmet while cycling the Camino is a legal requirement. For both hygiene and sizing factors, we do not provide rental helmets for our cycling trips. Be sure to take your own cycling helmet with you. Alternatively purchase a helmet when you arrive prior to commencing your Camino. In Europe helmets are readily available in large sports stores such as Decathlon and equally in specialised bike stores. 

What are the main cycling rules in Spain?

If you are cycling the Camino you will invariably find yourself pedalling on roads or in traffic during your trip. In Spain, everyone must ride on the right-hand side of the roadway. Helmets are mandatory. The fine for not wearing one is €200. Headphones are also prohibited while riding, as is using a mobile phone (fines of €200). Prior to your trip, familiarise yourself with local road rules and signage, and with the local traffic norms. 

Should I know how to repair the bike?

Yes. It is important that you know how to do your own basic bike maintenance when you are out on the trail, including repairing a puncture and fixing a slipped bike chain. Check out this video that demonstrates repair of a bike puncture.

What happens if I have a more serious problem with the bike?

The bikes are supplied in excellent condition and are serviced between each trip and replaced each year. There are partner service centres along the route and if your bike requires attention our support staff on the ground in Spain will point you to the nearest location. If you have any significant problems you can catch a taxi with your bike and take it to the nearest repair centre. This would be coordinated with our cycling partners in Spain. 

What type of mountain bikes are supplied?

For cycling the Camino in almost every area of Spain and Portugal the bicycles we provide are Cannondale Trail SL 2 or similar ‘hard tail’ mountain bikes. These up-to-date mountain bikes have an aluminium frame and feature RockShox forks and Shimano components including Monoplate with Shimano Deore 12 speed SLX gears. The pedals are dual platform – one side is shaped like a regular pedal and the other side is compatible with Shimano cycling shoes. Note that for clients only cycling in Galicia that different types of mountain bikes will be provided in this situation – these are usually Felt Dispatch 9/60 ‘hard tail’ type mountain bikes or similar. 

The bike models supplied may vary according to availability on any chosen date but it will be of a similar quality and range.

What type of e-bikes are supplied?

Our current e-Bikes are Mondraker Prime R Sports E-MTBs or similar, with a new Bosch Powertube 750Wh battery that makes them ideal for extended and challenging rides. These ‘hard tail’ mountain bikes feature a RockShox fork with 120mm travel and 29″ diameter wheels, to enable you to enjoy quiet, gentle rides as well as more demanding adventures. The bikes are fitted with Bosch’s wireless mini remote control plus the Intuvia 100 display System controller, to provide you with all the stats and information you need. The Bosch Performance Line CX engine (25km/h) Smart System gives excellent capability and assistance, even on rugged terrain and uphill sections. These are ‘Pedelec’ bikes meaning you still need to pedal and the bike motor assists you up to 25km/h, which is the legal limitation. Note that, on request, it may be possible to upgrade to a ‘dual suspension’ Cannondale e-bike with Bosch CX 750 motor – these are subject to availability and a surcharge is payable.

The e-Bike model supplied may vary according to availability on any chosen date but will be of a similar quality and range.

What is the difference between a mountain bike and an e-bike?

An e-bike allows you to take on the many hills and climbs of the Camino much more easily than with a regular bike whilst having the full experience. It’s a great option for people who may be less certain of their fitness levels and abilities to ride long distances. E-bikes do still require skill and effort though, and they are significantly heavier (around 23.5kg) than a normal bike because of the motor and battery. Unless you are quite strong, you will need assistance to lift up the bike upstairs or over an obstacle. If two or more of you are riding together then you just help each other, otherwise you can try asking a passing walker for help. 

Can a non-cyclist ride the Camino on an e-bike?

In essence, e-bikes make cycling accessible to a very broad range of people and have proven quite revolutionary in encouraging people to ride. However, that does not mean you should attempt to cycle the Camino if you are a non-cyclist. We strongly advise against this – the Camino is not the place to learn to ride a bike or an e-bike.

They are very suitable for people who are already cyclists and have basic confidence with riding a bike on and off road. Older cyclists appreciate the assistance offered by an e-bike and for people who may not be confident in their ability to ride longer distances day after day they are an excellent choice. Though you should be complacent; you still need to train and get your fitness and cycling skills up.

What’s it like to ride an e-bike

E-bikes make it far easier to cycle long distances with assistance from electric motors. They are not electric motorbikes though and don’t have a throttle. You still have to pedal and put effort in but less so than with a regular bike. You can choose between different levels of assistance: you may want light assistance on a flat section, or none on a downward slope and the highest assistance going up steep hills. They are an excellent way to cycle long distances and multiple days without feeling physically drained or exhausted at the end of each day. Typically, they are a very enjoyable and easy ride for people used to riding a bike.

How long will an e-bike battery last?

Typically you will have no trouble making the battery last for each day’s Camino stage providing you are keeping an awareness and varying the level of assistance as required, it should be perfectly adequate. On the largest climbs like the Cruz de Ferro you may use up your battery to reach the summit but you can freewheel down the long descent without needing any battery assistance at all. You will need to recharge the battery after each day’s ride unless you have had it on minimal assistance and/or medium distances. The battery is certainly capable of doing 2 full days’ ride on moderate terrain and medium assistance.

How do I select the right riding mode on an e-bike?

When cycling the Camino it’s easy to switch between modes with your handlebar controls to change the level of assistance: ECO, TOUR, EMTB and TURBO. Each mode uses progressively higher levels of assistance and therefore more battery life. 

How do I recharge an e-bike?

Each e-bike comes with a power pack and cable which you just plug one end into a mains power point and the other into a socket on the bike. Typically it’s about 4 hours to get a full charge and your handlebar display tells you how much charge you have in the battery when riding it or when recharging it. Hotels along the Camino are used to riders with e-bikes and so it should be easy enough to find a suitable charging point each night, they can advise you on where to charge and securely store the bike each evening.

Travel insurance

Purchasing the right travel insurance for your Camino cycling trip is essential. Before you travel be sure to check with your  chosen travel insurance provider that you will be fully covered while cycling/e-biking, and also that you will be covered for other important aspects including theft, damage, medical expenses and more. .

Ready to saddle up and cycle the Camino?

We have several self-guided cycling trips to choose from on the Camino Frances and Portuguese Coastal Camino. Ride at your own pace on a mountain bike or e-bike.

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