Cycling the Camino

Between 15 and 20% of peregrinos who arrive in Santiago do so by bicycle. Cyclists are eligible to receive the Compostela if they document that they have ridden the final 200 km to Santiago, essentially from Ponferrada. American Pilgrims recommends that cyclists interested in the French Route consider early- or late-season travel, as the French Route is the most popular and can be crowded. We strongly encourage cyclists to consider other routes, such as the Via de la Plata, during the busy season.


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 the cyclist is 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 Europe and then back?
Most major airlines will accept a bicycle as for a fee—and fees are increasing yearly. 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.

Our experience is that 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. For RENFE's (Spain) policies click HERE (English). For the SNCF (France) click HERE (French). For an excellent overview of the policies in most countries in Europe click HERE (English).

Are the cycling-specific guidebooks?
Yes. The Confraternity of Saint James (London) 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 the small book with general information "The Cycling Pilgrim on the Camino Francés". Among the external links at the bottom of the page, GoXploring and Interam.com have good lists of books oriented toward 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 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 that offer guided tours will often offer bicycles as part of the package. Renting in-country can involve complicated logistics, especially getting the bike from the point of origin to the beginning of your Camino -- and then back again. There are services advertised in the Santiago area that offer bicycle shipping to points in Spain and Europe.

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.

Do the albergues discriminate against cyclists?
Walking pilgrims often have priority over cycling pilgrims, the general policy being that walking peregrinos will be given beds first. The premise is that if a walker appears at an albergue and it is close to filling its beds, the walker will be in a difficult way having to walk an additional 5 km to the next albergue. However, there seem to be more albergues opening every year, both public and private, so 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 vocabulary of Spanish cycling terms which might not be a normal part of your vocabulary.

What about interacting with foot-borne peregrinos?
Courtesy is called for, of course. Let's be blunt here: Far and away the most common complaint that foot-borne peregrinos have about bicigrinos is the latter approaching and passing the former without any callout or warning at all. This is VERY dangerous! Not to mention extremely 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.


Internet resources to consider

  • 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.

  • Santiago Bicicleta: The Santiago Bicicleta Yahoo! group is aimed at those who have ridden, or who are planning to ride, the Camino francés or any of the connecting routes.

  • Bicigrino: A large and growing site with extensive information on bicycling the Camino francés, the Vía de la Plata and the Camino del Norte. (Spanish)

Rev 03/11/16