You decided you wanted to “do” the Camino de Santiago and you choose the right route for you (the French Way, Portuguese Way, Northern Way or any less travelled route) but should you cycle or walk?
Well, let’s be honest this depends on what you are really looking for in the Camino and your physical health. Don’t be fooled cycling the Camino is harder than walking but apart from the physical challenge it is also a totally different experience.
I believe when it comes to deciding whether you should cycle or walk you should take into account 3 factors: the amount of time you have and the distances you want to cover, your physical levels, if you are looking for a social experience.
The Camino by bike is a wonderful way to discover a full route in a shorter amount of time. You can cycle the full 706 km of the French in only 14 days on a bike compared to a recommended 30 to 35 days walking (see suggested map below). That means you can complete the full route within your paid holiday leave!
Covering more ground each day also means each night you can sleep in the middle of vibrant and historical towns. This means every night you will be able to mingle with real locals, experience the town nightlife and you get more choice in places to sleep, eat and drink. If you choose Ultreya Tours French Way by Bike, you will be able to stay only in 4 to 5* hotels and try the most well rated hotels & restaurants in Northern Spain. But if you are looking for more peace and quiet you can choose to stay in rural guest-houses on the Camino just as if you were walking.
However, if you are cycling the Camino without prior reservations, we must warn you – you do not have priority at albergues. This means in some hostels along the way if they know there is little availability, you might need to wait until 7 pm to be able to check in, just in case walking pilgrims need a place to sleep.
The idea is as you are much more mobile than a walking pilgrim, you are able to cycle another few kilometers towards the following albergue.
Always keep this in mind if you don’t wish to pre-book anything as this means you might need to endure extremely long days and won’t be able to participate in some of the best traditions on the Camino: the afternoon siesta and tapas & drinks with your Camino friends.
Most people think cycling the Camino is easier than walking but in most cases this is a mistake. Indeed, if you are to go for a 2h ride near your house, you might find it easier than walking the same distance. But just as walking long distances requires a lot of preparation (getting used to standing for so many hours, to carrying a backpack even if it is a daypack, avoiding blisters, choosing the right gear and breaking it in…) you will need weeks of regular cycling or spinning before you head to the Camino.
Of course if you are used to cycling long distance and attending your local gym spin classes, the Camino by Bike will be an easy journey but if you are an every other weekend cyclist you might find it quite difficult.
Staying 3 to 6h on a bike daily when you are not used to it will cause muscle aches (back, legs and bottom mostly), blisters on your hands.
You will find cycling any hill becomes difficult and crossing mountain ranges like O Cebreiro and the Cruz de Hierro is exhausting although manageable walking. Uphill you will feel any extra weight you are carrying with you. But downhills and flat lands like the Meseta feel like a gift from God.
So make sure you know your limits and capabilities. In doubt, walking is a safer bet.
I feel this is the most important factor to take into account when deciding how you want to complete the Camino but is also one of the most overlooked. There is an essential difference between walking and cycling the Camino which you will soon notice once you are there. It simply is not the same social and spiritual experience. In my experience walking is more social and cycling more spiritual.
My favorite thing about the Camino de Santiago is how uniquely social it is. When I am walking the Camino, I feel like I am part of a pilgrim community. Day after day, as I walk past or with other pilgrims, I get to meet new people, to discover new cultures, new point of views. I get to share a moment with another human being, someone who I probably would have never spoken to otherwise. After only a few days, by walking so many hours together I have gotten really close to other pilgrims who have shared their story with me and I keep a fond and probably everlasting memory of each one of them. This is, for me, what makes the Camino so special and one of the reasons why I created Ultreya Tours.
Cyclists do not get that experience, unfortunately or not. As you go fast past by walkers, you do not get to interact with them. As you cover more ground each day, you will only be able to share one evening with a group of walkers. If cycling alone, it is also difficult to join a group of cyclists because they tend to go at their own rhythm and it is difficult to adapt. Each cyclist usually has a pre-made plan of their itinerary and it does not always match other cyclist in contrast with walking pilgrims who have much less choice.
So cycling the Camino is not in my opinion a social experience.
But this also means you are not constantly interrupted and you get much more time to reflect as you travel during the day by yourself. This might be contrary to conventions but on a bike I was able to take time to really think and introspect without the fun distractions of the pilgrim community. I found cycling was actually closer to what a pilgrimage represented to me, in regards to the physical sacrifice and the almost meditative state I reached.
Therefore, if you are doing the Camino de Santiago for religious or spiritual reason and want to do the busy French Way, because it is the most traditional and interesting historically, I would highly recommend cycling.
If you are looking for a sense of community and to reconnect with other, you need to walk.
If you are able to do the Camino various times, try both as they are very distinct experiences.
Summary Pros & Cons Cycling Chart
|You cover more ground each day||You might miss something beautiful|
|Going downhill is exhilarating and gives you a real sense of freedom||Going uphill is exhausting|
|You get to experience the Camino in a different more introspective way with more time by yourself||It is difficult to meet new people while cycling as you will most likely not find someone who cycles at the same speed as you or plans the same stops|
|You can spend almost every night in a lively towns with great accommodation instead of having to stop in small villages or albergues||It is harder to stop during the day because you cannot leave your bike and belongings alone|
|You feel like you are having a real sporty holiday||If not properly trained beforehand cycling long distances is harder than walking|
|No blisters on your feet!||Your back and legs will be sore|
|You get to spend the evening with different groups of people every night||You won’t see again the groups of walking pilgrims that you got along with so well yesterday|
We hope this helps you decide whether you wish to cycle or walk the Camino, let us know below if you agree or disagree or if you would like to add anything.
If you have any particular questions don’t hesitate contacting us.