CYCLING THE CAMINO
About 15% of peregrinos who arrive in Santiago do so by bicycle. Cyclists are eligible to receive the Compostela if they document they have ridden the final 200 km to Santiago, essentially from Ponferrada on the Francés. American Pilgrims recommends cyclists interested in the Francés consider early- or late-season travel, as the Francés is the most popular route and can be crowded with walking pilgrims. We strongly encourage cyclists to consider other routes, such as the Via de la Plata, during the busy season.
Join the American Pilgrims Facebook cycling group for conversation and Q&A with (mostly) other American cyclists!
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 you're 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.
How do I get my bike to and from Europe?
Most major airlines will accept a bicycle for a fee. Some airlines refuse to accept responsibility for damage to a bicycle during the flight, so pay for any charges with a credit card and document everything.
In our experience, prices for shipping bicycles via a freight or package delivery company can become quite high for international transport.
Here are two possible resources: In 2013 British Air would ship bicycles for free if they were in "a recognised bicycle bag" and didn't weigh more than their weight allowance and Bike Flights for shipping bicycles and cases once you arrive in Europe. The Guardian newspaper has a summary of bicycle policies on airlines serving England.
In Europe, be aware of different policies regarding bicycles on trains. When buying train tickets, be clear that you have a bicycle and specify whether it is boxed or not. Follow this link to RENFE (Spain). Follow this link to SNCF (France). For an excellent overview of the policies in most countries in Europe see The Man in Seat 61 (English).
Are the cycling-specific guidebooks?
Yes. The Confraternity of Saint James 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 a small book with general information "The Cycling Pilgrim on the Camino Francés." Among the external links at the bottom of the page, GoXploring has a good list of books for cyclists.
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 hex keys/Allen wrenches and screw drivers to assemble/disassemble your bike at the airport if needed, and to make minor adjustments en route.
What about renting bicycles?
Companies offering guided tours will usually offer bicycles as part of the package. In recent years, numerous bicycle rental companies have sprung up, most offering convenient pick-up and drop-off options. We suggest doing a search using key words like "camino bicycle rental" to start.
How long should this take me?
For an experienced touring cyclist in reasonably good condition, plan a direct journey from for St. Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles to Santiago for 12 to 15 days.
Are cyclists welcome in albergues?
Walking pilgrims often have priority over cycling pilgrims and will generally be given beds first. The idea is if a walker arrives at an albergue and it full, the walker will be in a difficult position having to possibly walk an additional 5 km to the next albergue. However, with seemingly more (public and private) albergues opening every year, 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. We recommend that you download our list of Spanish cycling vocabulary which might not be a normal part of your repertoire.
What about interacting with walking pilgrims?
Courtesy is key. Let's be blunt here: Far and away the most common complaint that pilgrims on foot have about "bicigrinos" is being surprised and passed by a cyclist without any call out or warning. This is very dangerous and also discourteous! Please give some kind of warning of your approach, whether a robust "¡Buen Camino!" or a helpful "¡A la derecha!" or your (loud) bicycle bell.
Helpful Online Resources
Join the American Pilgrims Facebook cyclist group for Q&A and conversation with (mostly) other American cyclists.
The "Biking the Camino" sub-forum on the Camino de Santiago forum: A very active sub-forum within the most widely frequented Camino forum.
The International Bicycle Fund: The IBF is an independent, non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to promote bicycle transportation. There are two specific pages in the site that should be consulted concerning transporting your bike to the Camino: Airline baggage regulations for bikes and the report "Bikes Can Fly".
GoXploring: A useful site with a list of suggested equipment, a Spanish-English bicycling vocabulary and a representative day-by-day travel plan.
Bicigrino: A large and growing site with extensive information on bicycling the Camino Francés, the Vía de la Plata and the Camino del Norte.