While walking the Camino de Santiago in 2018, we encountered cyclists on the Camino daily. We wondered what it would be like to cycle the Camino, and began looking into what it would take to become a bicigrino (like a peregrino, but on a bike!).
We researched what other cyclists have to say about completing their Camino pilgrimage. We hope this guide gives you a primer of what to expect if you are considering biking the Camino de Santiago.
Can you ride a bike on the Camino de Santiago? You can ride a bike on the Camino de Santiago. There are trails and roads along each Camino route which will facilitate cycling the entire way to Santiago de Compostela. Prior training is necessary as well as having basic bike repair skills.
Much of what we cover in this post can be applied to biking any of the Camino routes (French route, Portuguese route, English route, etc.). Because the Camino Frances (French route) is the most popular route of the Camino, most of the information covered will be biased towards this route.
Before digging into the many considerations of cycling the Camino as well as what to expect, we wanted to address some common questions as well as share a couple of statistics.
How long does it take to cycle the Camino de Santiago? For the average cyclist in good overall health, it will take 12 to 15 days to cycle the entire Camino Frances. Since the Camino Frances is 790km (approximately 500 miles) long, your pace would be 50-70km per day (30-45 miles per day) depending on the number of breaks. A professional cyclist could finish the Camino in as little as 8 or 9 days.
How many kilometers to bike per day on the Camino? Most who have cycled the Camino agree that a pace of 50 to 70 kilometers per day is a good overall pace. The amount of kilometers you cover in a day will depend a lot on what terrain you encounter that day. For a well-experienced cyclist, you can expect to cycle between 80 to 100 kilometers per day and higher, if you have high endurance.
Can you earn a Compostela for cycling the Camino? Yes, you can earn a Compostela Certificate for cycling the Camino if you meet the following three requirements:
You will want to have your Pilgrim Passport stamped two times per day if cycling the Camino. The Pilgrim Passport serves as proof to the Pilgrim’s Office that you biked the required 200km to receive a Compostela. You can find out more information on the Pilgrim Passport in our recent post.
How many people cycle the Camino each year? According to the Pilgrim’s Office, bicycling the Camino de Santiago has been on the decline for the past 8 years. In 2011, 29,949 of the pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela did so by bike (16% of the total amount of pilgrims). By contrast, in 2018, only 20,787 of pilgrims who received their Compostela did so by bike (approximately 6% of the total pilgrims).
General Tips to Know Before Cycling the Camino
Physical Requirements for Cycling the Camino de Santiago
If you are considering cycling the Camino, one of the main considerations will be the physical requirements of the journey.
You will want to keep the following four things in mind:
The terrain of cycling the Camino
If you plan on cycling the entire Camino de Santiago (on the Camino Frances route), then you can expect to cycle on all types of terrain. You will encounter flat sections as well as mountainous terrain, forest trails as well as paved highways, and shaded terrain as well as exposure to the sun. Despite the varied terrain, hills are the most common terrain you will encounter.
Most of the cyclists who have completed the pilgrimage rate the overall range of difficulty of cycling the Camino Frances from moderately difficult to very difficult.
The most difficult part of the Camino is near the beginning of the pilgrimage, in the Pyrenees mountain range. If you are beginning in St. Jean Pied de Port (the traditional starting point of the Camino Frances), the first day is reported as the most difficult. It is a straight ascent up the mountains, with very little breaks in between hill climbs.
Due to the difficulty of the first day of the Camino, you will most likely find yourself pushing your bike more than you are riding it.
Other difficult sections include areas around the other mountainous regions of Alto de Perdon and Cruz de Ferro.
Cycling the Camino is a very active experience, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and even coasting downhill presents dangers because of small rocks, boulders, dirt, mud and worn-out trails.
That being said, the Camino Frances offers many optional routes that are more suited to cyclists. Most cyclists advise you to take the bike-friendly paths because of the benefits they provide. Many times these bike paths will be on paved roads. Even though you are sharing the road with cars at times, this can still be preferable because paved roads are easier on the body, and faster than dirt trails.
Most people who cycle the Camino prefer not to dismount during the day. Taking the alternate bike-friendly paths on the Camino will decrease the amount of times you dismount. This is due partly because of the terrain, but also partly because you will not encounter walking pilgrims on the bike paths.
The best way to get a feel of the terrain of the Camino Frances is to head to Youtube (like this one) and watch a couple of videos of people who have captured their journey on video and posted it there.
Distance you plan to cover each day
The amount of distance you cover in a day will be affected by the difficulty of the terrain. A moderate pace would be approximately 50-60km per day. 60-80km per day works well for experienced cyclists, while 90-120km per day can be done by professional cyclists.
Do not be afraid to lower your pace on days in the mountains. You will be able to pick up your pace on straight sections on paved road.
An easy way to plan your Camino route is to pick up the Brierley book, and anticipate completing approximately two stages per day on average.
If you are planning on biking the Camino with your family, most bicigrinos recommend a pace of approximately 25km per day.
Your previous experience riding a bike
After reading about the various terrain that you will confront on the Camino, you will want to take into account your previous cycling experience.
Considering the difficulty of cycling the Camino, we feel that the Camino is not the best choice for beginners. One cycling tour company rated the difficulty as a 4 out of 5 (with 5 being the most difficult), further showing the need for previous cycling experience before embarking on the Camino.
This doesn’t mean beginners cannot cycle the Camino, it just means that if you are a beginner, you will need additional training prior to cycling the Camino, or you will need to cycle it at a slower pace.
If you have completed at least one or two bike tours of similar lengths (or if you regularly ride a bike to work or for recreation) then you will have enough cycling experience to consider taking on the Camino.
Your overall health
Unlike walking the Camino, cycling the Camino requires more endurance and stamina.
If you rarely cycle long distances, you will want to visit your doctor for a general checkup beforehand to make sure that you are healthy enough for cycling the Camino. Let them know what you are planning so they can best advise you if cycling the Camino is doable or not.
Once you are good-to-go, then it is time to begin training for cycling the Camino.
Preparing Physically to Cycle the Camino de Santiago
Preparing to cycle the Camino is very similar to preparing to walk the Camino, except that you will be training with your bicycle.
We wrote a post detailing how we trained to walk the Camino, and after researching how people trained to bike the Camino, we found that the process is very similar.
For those that regularly ride a bike, you will want to begin training for long distances on varied terrain while carrying your gear. You will want to decide how many kilometers (or miles) you plan on completing per day on the Camino. As mentioned before, 50km or 60km per day is a good target (30 miles to 40 miles per day).
For those that do not regularly ride a bike, you will want to start training earlier. The best suggestion we saw for beginning cyclists is start riding your bike to work as preparation for the Camino. This is a good way to see if this is something you want to do, while also getting some exercise during your preparation.
Regardless of whether you are a beginner or an experienced cyclist, you will want to begin training 2 months prior to your Camino. Begin with riding on your bike for at least one hour per day. A good daily target would be to ride 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) each day. You can start with the terrain closest to your house.
For the entirety of your physical preparation, wear the clothes that you are planning on wearing when you cycle the Camino. This will help you decide whether you need to change your plan for the gear you bring. For example, by wearing the clothes you anticipate wearing, you will find out if you need the protection that padded shorts or a gel bicycle seat would provide.
When you are 1 month away from your Camino, you will want to increase your daily riding to at least 2 hours per day, covering a minimum of 20km (or 12 miles) per day. You will want to incorporate riding uphill and downhill. You will also want to add your gear to your bike.
When it comes to adding weight to your bike, we would recommend adding a similar amount of weight that you plan on adding to your bike when you ride the Camino. When we practiced walking, we simply added books to our bookbag and this worked well. This would also work well for cyclists by simply adding books (or other heavy objects) to your panniers.
About 2 weeks before your Camino, you will want to cycle your daily Camino distance (for as many days as your schedule will permit). If you are planning on riding 50km per day, then you will want to ride as many 50km days (on hills and with your gear) as possible.
The reason we advocate a training schedule before cycling the Camino is that you just don’t know how it will feel until you do it. You will be better prepared physically (and mentally) before taking your pilgrimage.
One last note about training. If you are unsure about your overall health, please train on a bicycle before buying your plane (or train) tickets to the Camino. Rent a bike for a week and see how you get along riding. If you don’t have a bike, head to a gym and ride a stationary bike regularly. Once you feel comfortable on a bike, then start planning your pilgrimage.
Lodging Considerations when Cycling the Camino
While looking into cycling the Camino, we it found it surprising that not all albergues accept bikes.
Before planning the stages (days) of your Camino route, you will want to take the Brierley guide and highlight the albergues that accept bikes. This way you have a clear idea of how many kilometers you can expect to cycle per day.
You can also find a list of the cycling-friendly Camino albergues here.
If you are planning on staying at municipal albergues (as opposed to private albergues or hotels), then you will want to be aware that municipal albergues give preference to walking pilgrims over cyclists.
What this means is that because you are traveling faster than most of the walking pilgrims, you may arrive in town before most of them arrive. You might find yourself heading to check in at a municipal albergue, but they may turn you away. Some municipal albergues will not accept cyclists prior to the late evening, sometimes as late as 8:00pm. This can make it difficult to plan, as you might be turned away from an overcrowded municipal albergue in one town, which then forces you to find other lodging (or bike to the next town’s municipal albergue, which may or may not be full).
Because of this preference at the municipal albergues, almost all bicigrinos agree that the best option is to stay at private albergues (or some other lodging that accepts cyclists without giving preference to walking pilgrims).
Other than checking to make sure your lodging accepts cyclists, and not relying too heavily on municipal albergues, your lodging options are about the same as a walking pilgrim.
Advantages of Cycling the Camino
A couple of advantages of cycling the Camino (compared to walking the Camino) include:
Disadvantages of Cycling the Camino
Best Time of Year to Cycle the Camino
When is the best time to cycle the Camino de Santiago? Due to the cold winters and hot summers, the best months for cycling the Camino are in the Spring from April to June and in the Fall in September and October. Because you will be working up a sweat when cycling, it is best to avoid the hot summer months of July and August.
For more in-depth information on the weather, we wrote another post covering the weather of the Camino de Santiago and the best times to take your pilgrimage. Much of what we discussed in that post applies to both walking the Camino as well as biking the Camino.
To Cycle the Camino Alone or to Go with a Group?
Regardless of whether you decide to cycle as part of a group or go solo, the Camino de Santiago will be a deeply personal experience. We wanted to highlight the pros and cons of both going as a group (typically with a bike tour company) as well as cycling alone.
Cycling the Camino with a group highlights:
Cycling the Camino alone highlights:
If you choose to cycle the Camino with a group, here is a list of several Camino bike tour companies:
Added Costs of Cycling the Camino
For a detailed post on what to expect to spend during your Camino pilgrimage, click here. We included costs on everything that you may spend money on, including airfare, lodging, local transportation, restaurants, groceries, laundry and more.
In addition to what we covered in the Camino costs post, here are several additional costs that will be incurred by those cycling the Camino:
Gear Considerations for the Camino
One thing we found while looking into biking the Camino is how abundant bike shops are along the Camino Frances. This is important to keep in mind when considering what gear you bring along.
Most cyclists agree that you will pass a bike shop every hour or two while cycling the Camino.
We found one cyclist who offered a list of bike shops on the Camino; you can find the list here.
With this in mind, you will be able to pack light. We recommend packing as lightly as possible. Another option would be to send your panniers (and other luggage) ahead of you while cycling. These services are readily available on the Camino, and cost anywhere from 3 euros to 8 euros per transport depending on which company you use.
In addition to regular clothing, you will need toiletries and other typical things you would pack for the Camino. Here is a list of gear you will want to consider packing if you are cycling the Camino:
While all of the previous items will serve you well on your Camino, there are two that we wanted to highlight.
The first is biking gloves. While you may feel certain items on the previous list are optional, biking gloves is an item that we want you to highly consider taking. We have seen several cyclists encourage others to use them. Biking gloves can serve several purposes: they will protect your hands from the cold mornings, they will protect your hands from the many bumps along the way, and they will keep you from serious injury in the case of a fall.
The second is a bike bell, which we cover in the next paragraph.
Passing Walking Pilgrims on the Camino
If you talk to other pilgrims or read the online forums, you will quickly find that the number one complaint that walking pilgrims have of cyclists on the Camino is that some do not give a warning that they are approaching.
Please consider how you will notify walking pilgrims of your intent to pass them. A bell is highly encouraged as a way of letting people know you are about to pass. Please ring the bell well before you reach the walking pilgrims and slow down as you approach them. This way, they will have enough time to figure out how to let you pass, and will not be scared (or worse, jump in front of you).
A bell is the best (and quickest) way to let people know of your fast approach. If you do not use a bell, you can always call ahead, but just remember that not all pilgrims speak the same language as you, so they may or may not know what you are saying. By slowing down, passing them gently and acknowledging them with a “Buen Camino”, you will make many (walking) friends on the Camino.
What Kind of Bike Do I Need to Cycle the Camino?
After looking into several options for Camino cyclists, the most common characteristics we saw of rental bikes from Camino-specific tour companies were aluminum frames, disc brakes, 27.5” wheels and over 20 gears. We think these bike features would be a good fit for the terrain of the Camino. If you would like more information on appropriate bikes click here.
What to Expect When Cycling the Camino
In addition to all we have covered in this post, we wanted to list a couple of tips for when you cycle the Camino.
What If Something Goes Wrong While Riding a Bike on the Camino?
The bad news is that riding a bike presents higher risks of serious injuries than walking. The good news is that the Camino de Santiago is designed for pilgrims, meaning there are abundant resources for those who sustain injuries while biking (or walking).
If you are not part of a cycling tour group who has a van following you, the good news is that there are still taxis and ambulances waiting to be dispatched if you need help. A good way to be prepared is to carry your cell phone with you and make a phone call if you need help.
When you arrive in a new town or albergue, ask the person who checks you in for emergency contact numbers of the area and for taxi cab drivers’ numbers. This way you will be prepared to call for help in the case of an emergency. You can also find this information in most other places as well, including gift shops, restaurants, churches, and grocery stores.
Carry your health insurance card with you.
The word for help in Spanish is ayuda, por favor (help, please).
Don’t worry if you do not have a phone. In the case of a true emergency, simply notifying someone that you need help will get the ball rolling. Either they will have a phone, or they will ask someone with a phone to help you.
What to do if you can’t continue biking the Camino? If, in the middle of the day you find that you cannot physically bike the rest of the Camino, you can call a taxi to pick you up. If you cannot arrange to take your bike on the taxi, then you can still take the taxi and then arrange for a luggage transport service (typically a van) to pick up your bike and bring it to your albergue.
We cannot emphasize enough how easy it is to get a taxi on the Camino. You can always ask around for a cab number and find one quickly.
One last note about cycling injuries on the Camino. The Camino is a pilgrimage and you may want to spend a lot of time in deep thought. Please consider contemplating while off your bike to avoid injuries. Many of the bicycle injuries sustained on the Camino happen because of not staying alert.
If you are comfortable riding a bike, stay alert at all times, and jot down emergency numbers beforehand, you will be prepared to have a safe Camino biking pilgrimage.
Various Biking Laws for Cycling the Camino
There are two main cycling laws that you want to be aware of:
As mentioned previously, cycling the Camino is best suited for those who have previous cycling experience and are physically fit enough to cycle 50km or more per day.
We hope that you find this information helpful as you plan your Camino pilgrimage. Hopefully soon enough, you will be able to call yourself a bicigrino of the Camino de Santiago. Buen Camino!