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Camino Frances Basic Questions

SeanG

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(September 2018)
#1
Hi all,

Planning to cycle the French Route starting at Pamplona in about a month - Mid Sept. A couple of quick questions:

1. I'm planning a 7-day itinerary, averaging about 65 mi per day, based loosely on an itinerary that I've seen from a touring company online. I plan to stick to the roads mostly. I can handle these distances here at home (New England, USA), do you think this is reasonable, or will I be rushing things / will this be very strenuous?

2. I have not made any reservations for accommodation yet. I was hoping to book as I went, so that if there were mechanical issues or weather, or other deviations from the itinerary, that I could be flexible. Is this wise? Will I have trouble finding accommodation?

3. Finally, I am renting a bike. I have not *quite* reserved it yet - am planning to once I get your advice - but if I am sticking to the roads mostly, should I plan a road bike or a hybrid? I am most comfortable on a road bike, but it seems like the hybrid bikes are the most popular.

Thank you thank you thank you!
 

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Camino(s) past & future
Frances Sept 2017 (bike)
#2
Hi Sean,

I biked the CF last year at about the same time as you but I am not an experienced cyclist, so I found the distance and weight in my paniers difficult. Good choice on using the roads, I did the same mainly because the track probably requires about 30% more effort. However in some areas, the track is unavoidable unless you are prepared to make reasonably long detours.

I left SJPDP on 15 September 2017 and found several places were booked full on arrival, so you should probably have a couple of albergues in mind at the destination where you want to stay. Also not all albergues accept bikes, so make a list.

Choice of bike is probably up to you, I used a mountain bike package from Bike Iberia and it worked well.

You might like to check reports that Jenny and I made in the biking section of this forum.
 
Camino(s) past & future
please see signature
#3
@SeanG , kia ora (greetings and good health)

As a walker I applaud to the rafters your intention to bike on roads as many of the paths can be little more than a goat or sheep track.

And you will find roads pretty much follow the designated route. For example
NA-1110 Pamplona to Logrono - covers much of the route
N-135 Logrono to Astorga with some others needed from time to time
minor Astorga to Ponferrada
N-135 Ponferrada to Herrerias (morphs to N-VI)
minor Herrias to O'Cebreiro
LU-633 O'Cebreiro to Gonzar
various from Palas del Rei to Santiago

If you should be tempted to ride up to Alto del Perdon please consider carefully how to ride away. The next 2 km or so is steep with loose rubble. A cyclist and walkers both trying to avoid disaster may not be a good mix. Better to mix with walkers at an albergue or cafe or restaurant than on a dodgy surface.

@SeanG , kia kaha (you take care, be strong, get going)
 

Paladina

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Cycled caminos francés, Finisterre, primitivo & del norte (2017); VdlP/Sanabres, ingles et al (2018)
#4
In response to your questions @SeanG

1. Are you intent on reaching SdC in 7 days? A daily average of 65 ml/104 km may be too ambitious if you are (a) carrying a heavy load (b) finding the heat or the hills hard going (c) wanting to spend time in some of the places you are passing through at speed. While you should have no difficulty going the distance across the Meseta, other sections of the route may demand more time and attention. I am quite capable of covering daily distances of > 60 ml/ 100 km on my home terrain, but I would not normally exceed 50 ml/80 km on the Camino. Don’t be misled by tour guide itineraries that presuppose luggage and even bike transfers.

2. Is it important to you to know where you will spend each night? Booking accommodation in advance may relieve the uncertainty, but it may also increase the pressure to stick rigidly to your plan. Only on a single occasion did I fail to find a bed in an albergue, not because I was a cyclist but because all the accommodation was full. Private albergues are less likely than municipal to observe the so-called pilgrim hierarchy.

3. An all-terrain bike is not necessary for road riding. Choose a road bike if that’s what you prefer, but make sure it has the carrying capacity that you will need.

Buen Camino bicigrino!
 

PeteD

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Bicigrino Camino Frances March 2016
Via de la Plata (Sept 2018)
#5
Seven days does seem overly ambitious in my experience cycling the CF in March 2016. In all, I took 14 days from SJdP although I tried to stick to the walking path wherever possible for the experience away from the roads. This made the progress much slower than those using the roads. My fitness was good given my daily commute of 38kms one way. The path also results in more mechanical issues with dust, mud, snow etc.

I rode my own Hybrid with panniers and did find myself pushing up the steepest sections of track. Don't be discouraged from riding on sections of the track as I found most pilgrims very friendly. Smiles and cheery greetings help ease the passing of pilgrims. And at times you can get off the bicycle and have a chat!

@AlwynWellington makes a good point about making informed choices about descending. I agree with his comment about Alto del Perdon for instance where taking the road down is definitely the best option.

Accomodation - don't bother booking. Ride as long as you feel when the legs are good and see where you end up at the end of the day. One advantage of cycling is that the next town is much closer that it is for those walking at the end of the day making it easier to be flexible.

Enjoy your ride bicigrino!
 

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#6
Pamplona - Los Arcos - Santo Domingo - Burgos - Carrion de los Condes - Leon - Rabanal - Villafranca - Sarria - Melide - Santiago. That was 10 days for us. You could cut the number of days but if you want to see around places like Leon and Burgos etc 7 days will be tight and they might not fit in your 100km/day schedule.

Booking as you go should be fine, perhaps a day ahead so you know there will be a bed if you are stretching each stage as some nights will be in small towns or villages.

If you are sticking to the roads a road/audax/touring bike will be good if you are using some of the path, as we did in the safer sections, a hybrid.
 

SeanG

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(September 2018)
#7
Thank you for the response Mark. I've read your thread and I think it will be incredibly helpful. I'm hoping the combination of a lighter bike, smoother surface, and packing a very light load will help me turn out some extra KM each day. Still, I think I'm going to plan an extra day or two. I do want time to stop and look around, but part of this for me is the physical challenge and some long lonesome hours in the saddle for contemplation.


Hi Sean,

I biked the CF last year at about the same time as you but I am not an experienced cyclist, so I found the distance and weight in my paniers difficult. Good choice on using the roads, I did the same mainly because the track probably requires about 30% more effort. However in some areas, the track is unavoidable unless you are prepared to make reasonably long detours.

I left SJPDP on 15 September 2017 and found several places were booked full on arrival, so you should probably have a couple of albergues in mind at the destination where you want to stay. Also not all albergues accept bikes, so make a list.

Choice of bike is probably up to you, I used a mountain bike package from Bike Iberia and it worked well.

You might like to check reports that Jenny and I made in the biking section of this forum.
 

SeanG

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(September 2018)
#8
Thanks for the advice. 7 days is not mandatory in any way, but having a few extra days at the end to enjoy the atlantic coast sounds like a nice wind-down. And a large part of why I am doing this is for the physical challenge and solitude of long hours on the bike. I'm also hoping that a nice light road bike, sticking to roads, and limited gear will help me make time.That said, I think I will add a day or two to the camino itinerary to reduce the daily mileage. Thank you. Exactly what I was looking for.

In response to your questions @SeanG

1. Are you intent on reaching SdC in 7 days? A daily average of 65 ml/104 km may be too ambitious if you are (a) carrying a heavy load (b) finding the heat or the hills hard going (c) wanting to spend time in some of the places you are passing through at speed. While you should have no difficulty going the distance across the Meseta, other sections of the route may demand more time and attention. I am quite capable of covering daily distances of > 60 ml/ 100 km on my home terrain, but I would not normally exceed 50 ml/80 km on the Camino. Don’t be misled by tour guide itineraries that presuppose luggage and even bike transfers.

2. Is it important to you to know where you will spend each night? Booking accommodation in advance may relieve the uncertainty, but it may also increase the pressure to stick rigidly to your plan. Only on a single occasion did I fail to find a bed in an albergue, not because I was a cyclist but because all the accommodation was full. Private albergues are less likely than municipal to observe the so-called pilgrim hierarchy.

3. An all-terrain bike is not necessary for road riding. Choose a road bike if that’s what you prefer, but make sure it has the carrying capacity that you will need.

Buen Camino bicigrino!
 

SeanG

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(September 2018)
#9
Perfect! For me this is part of the adventure - though I'm sure I'll be cursing those words at some point.

Accomodation - don't bother booking. Ride as long as you feel when the legs are good and see where you end up at the end of the day. One advantage of cycling is that the next town is much closer that it is for those walking at the end of the day making it easier to be flexible.

Enjoy your ride bicigrino!
 

SeanG

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(September 2018)
#10
Thank you. I think I'm going to push for 9 days now. Looking at your itinerary, I noticed that your last day was relatively short - do you advise this, because of terrain, traffic, or just wanting to get in early? Honestly, I was thinking about making the final stage longer than average.

Pamplona - Los Arcos - Santo Domingo - Burgos - Carrion de los Condes - Leon - Rabanal - Villafranca - Sarria - Melide - Santiago. That was 10 days for us. You could cut the number of days but if you want to see around places like Leon and Burgos etc 7 days will be tight and they might not fit in your 100km/day schedule.

Booking as you go should be fine, perhaps a day ahead so you know there will be a bed if you are stretching each stage as some nights will be in small towns or villages.

If you are sticking to the roads a road/audax/touring bike will be good if you are using some of the path, as we did in the safer sections, a hybrid.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances May/June 2015, via the Atlantic Cycle Route
#11
. And a large part of why I am doing this is for the physical challenge and solitude of long hours on the bike. I'm also hoping that a nice light road bike, sticking to roads, and limited gear will help me make time.
Let me just throw a curveball at you based on the above.
I rode the CF in 2015, mainly on the path on a hybrid carrying 20-25 kg of gear. (The Camino was only a part of my trip). I also rode a lot of the roads early in the day, doubled back, then cycled the path :) (the path was quieter then).

It strikes me that you're picking a great route.... for the wrong reasons.
If you're looking for solitude, then I'd recommend a road based version of the Norte route. I cycled a lot of this in reverse and found the roads quieter and the scenery fantastic.

It's relatively easy to knock out longer mileage days. There are fewer pilgrims (solitude) and fewer albergues (a bit more planning required), but still lots of other accommodation options. (After Santiago I did not use any albergues - as far as I was concerned my pigrimage was finished, so I camped).

Unless you travel at night, it will be very hard to be alone on your planned route - there will always be other pilgrims either on bikes, in cars, buses and every place will be full of pilgrims. Are you planning on staying in albergues? They are the definition of the opposite of solitude! :)

The only other advice I would give you is to try, as much as is humanly possible, not to be in a rush. Whatever your spiritual leanings, the places, the people, the food, the drinks, the coffee.... are special. If you rush through it, you'll either miss so much you won't notice or you'll regret it until you can go back again!;) On the CF there are places every 10 km to stop and savour. On the Norte, especially on the road, there are less distractions, but still some fantastic places to stop and appreciate.

Buen Camino!
 

SeanG

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(September 2018)
#12
Interesting... I had assumed that the terrain on the Norte would be too much for me given my time constraints (10ish days) and hauling gear (I typically cycle unencumbered, but know how much a couple of panniers can change the equation!)... Maybe I'll check back into that, though, given your input. I'm less familiar with that route - what's the starting point and what was your itinerary?

Regarding solitude - I'm not expecting a human-less experience - perhaps I used the wrong term... I'm just looking forward to spending my days more or less on my own, with my thoughts. I figured the bike would facilitate that - there are fewer cyclists, and cyclists paces vary more than walkers paces do, so I wouldn't be "with" anyone for any measure of time.

I am a bit concerned about to social aspect of the albuerges... I guess I figured that I'd be in the mood for SOME social activity after a day of cycling alone, but also that I could slink away as necessary and also wouldn't run into the same crew over and over again. These assumptions may be FAR from reality, though! :)

The itinerary I've re-tooled averages around 50 miles a day - a couple of days at ~65mi on the Meseta, and a couple at ~40mi for big climbs. At a 10 mph pace and planning 8-9 hours start to finish each day still gives time for several good stops. On paper at least.

That's where I'm at right now at least!
Thanks for your response!!!




It strikes me that you're picking a great route.... for the wrong reasons.
If you're looking for solitude, then I'd recommend a road based version of the Norte route. I cycled a lot of this in reverse and found the roads quieter and the scenery fantastic.

It's relatively easy to knock out longer mileage days. There are fewer pilgrims (solitude) and fewer albergues (a bit more planning required), but still lots of other accommodation options. (After Santiago I did not use any albergues - as far as I was concerned my pigrimage was finished, so I camped).

Unless you travel at night, it will be very hard to be alone on your planned route - there will always be other pilgrims either on bikes, in cars, buses and every place will be full of pilgrims. Are you planning on staying in albergues? They are the definition of the opposite of solitude! :)

The only other advice I would give you is to try, as much as is humanly possible, not to be in a rush. Whatever your spiritual leanings, the places, the people, the food, the drinks, the coffee.... are special. If you rush through it, you'll either miss so much you won't notice or you'll regret it until you can go back again!;) On the CF there are places every 10 km to stop and savour. On the Norte, especially on the road, there are less distractions, but still some fantastic places to stop and appreciate.

Buen Camino!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances May/June 2015, via the Atlantic Cycle Route
#13
Interesting... I had assumed that the terrain on the Norte would be too much for me given my time constraints (10ish days) and hauling gear (I typically cycle unencumbered, but know how much a couple of panniers can change the equation!)... Maybe I'll check back into that, though, given your input. I'm less familiar with that route - what's the starting point and what was your itinerary?
Well, I recall it being hilly all right. But what you lose going up a hill you gain on the other side.
As for a strarting point? Wherever you like! San Sebastian, Bilbao or Santander are main starting points.
Here's 2 quick links to give some more info - I vouch for nothing in them!
https://www.bikemap.net/en/r/1104902/#/z8/42.8699255,-7.5476074/terrain
(A gpx route from Santander)

https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1mr&doc_id=20742&v=NW
(A blog from this year, starting in France)

My itinerary? I just made it up as I went along. Based on the advice of a Bartender in Santiago, I hit a few places on the west coast away from Pilgrims, then up to La Coruna and along the coast to San Sebastian. My shortest day was 15km :). The beach just looked too nice!
Regarding solitude - I'm not expecting a human-less experience - perhaps I used the wrong term... I'm just looking forward to spending my days more or less on my own, with my thoughts. I figured the bike would facilitate that - there are fewer cyclists, and cyclists paces vary more than walkers paces do, so I wouldn't be "with" anyone for any measure of time.

I am a bit concerned about to social aspect of the albuerges... I guess I figured that I'd be in the mood for SOME social activity after a day of cycling alone, but also that I could slink away as necessary and also wouldn't run into the same crew over and over again. These assumptions may be FAR from reality, though! :)
What I picked up from your post was that you'd appreciate the solitude during the day. On the CF, everywhere you stop there will be pilgrims. That can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on what you want.

You're right that you won't be with anyone for any measure of time, but on a bike, on the road, you'll see some of the same faces repeatedly. Again, a little different from solitude.

Just another point. The further along you go, the more likely it is to encounter "Camino families", pilgrims who have met up previously and travel together or meet up in the evening. Sometimes breaking into those groupings as a solo traveller can be a tad difficult.

As for the albergues, well, there won't be much solitude unless you're getting a private room. You'll be awake when the first early risers start packing up. It is a thing to consider for the mornings. Some walkers want to get up and out as early as possible, often when still dark outside. I don't like riding in the dark.

The itinerary I've re-tooled averages around 50 miles a day - a couple of days at ~65mi on the Meseta, and a couple at ~40mi for big climbs. At a 10 mph pace and planning 8-9 hours start to finish each day still gives time for several good stops. On paper at least.

That's where I'm at right now at least!
Thanks for your response!!!
For the experience, I preferred the path on the CF. For the cycling I definitely preferred the trip along the coastline.
The path is really not an option for you given your time limits. I'm sure you'll enjoy it whichever route you take. Spain is absolutely fabulous for cycling!
 
#14
Thank you. I think I'm going to push for 9 days now. Looking at your itinerary, I noticed that your last day was relatively short - do you advise this, because of terrain, traffic, or just wanting to get in early? Honestly, I was thinking about making the final stage longer than average.
On that particular occasion the front wheel had started falling apart at the axle and it was a Sunday so no bike shops open and I had to walk much of it. Galicia is surprisingly lumpy so also not the easiest section to cover the most miles. Doing the 100km stretch from Sarria in one go would avoid the worst crowds at the albergues.
 

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