Levels / FAQ's
Click here to go back to the FAQ page. Regarding our cycling tours in Europe and USA, our adventures including bicycle tours and walking tours use this system for rating the tours and your ability:
About the "Level" rating system we employ:
All of our tours throughout are rated on a scale of 1-5. The system is simple, and not region specific but instead the ratings are based on all of our tours across the board. So, a level 2 in Czech corresponds to a level 2 in Alsace France. A rating of 1 is easiest and 5 is most challenging.
We do not use a scientific formula to arrive at the rating number for a tour and sometimes we often rate a tour as 1-2 or 2-3 which indicates it is slight more challenging than the lower number but not so hard as the higher number. We arrive at these ratings based purely on our experience and the experience of our local guides who help us develop our routes. Two main factors are considered:
- Distance of the ride or walk/hike - which will determine how long to spend each day
- Amount of elevation gain (hill climbing) and gradient with the climb(s)
Surface conditions - road/trails; this can impact a rating. Usually the bicycle tours are on paved routes, but not always. Mountain bike tours have levels of technical skill involved and obstacles and trail conditions make it more challenging. Hiking/walking trails are assessed for any technical aspects as well as gradient. If some unforeseen event like heavy rain should occur, this can change trail/surface conditions; but this is not factored.
Level 1 [All Ages] - typically flatter terrain, no notable hills or anything of steep gradient. Low kilometers by comparison to other tours. These are the easiest trips available, and we don't have many that rate here. This could be good for a family however with young children. Some level 2 trips can be modified for kids. Cycling would be 20km or less per day and hiking would be less than 3 hours and under 8km.
Level 2 [Moderate] - rolling countryside, occasional hills, possible short gradients of low percents but lower mileage. These are available to most people of some experience and average fitness who are working out regularly. Hiking of up to 12km or 3-5 hours. Cycling 20-45km per day average.
Level 3 [Fit] - more consistent rolling countryside; some notable hills with longer distance rides. Longer rides/hikes like 45-60km+ for cycling and 12-20km+_for hiking, 4-6 hours.
Level 4 [Challenging]- rolling to hilly countryside with notable grades and long days in the saddle. Trips like this may not have every day of the same degree of difficulty for some rest in between. These are for stronger cyclists and walkers. 50-70km plus important elevation gain riding; and 15-20+km with important elevation gain over rocky or uneven terrain for walking/hiking 6+ hours.
Level 5 [Extreme] - The most challenging trips we program for experienced and strong persons. There are technical aspects of hiking and riding on unusual surfaces. Road tours could go over 100km per day or include famous and difficult climbs like Alpe d'Huez in France. Walking/Hiking at this level would be high mountain routes where elevation can impact ability - above 10000 ft/ 3000 meters would fall in this category. This is not mountaineering however.
Any tour can be made more challenging by you if you simply take our maps and add miles to your route. Feel free to improvise, but know your limits and know what the symbols on the maps mean!
Independent of our rating are other factors that can influence how hard or how easy you find the tour such as weather, the load you add to your backpack/bicycle (if you stuff packs with bottles of wine for example!), how you dress, and how you use the equipment.
Weather: heat, rain, and wind will all have an effect on your ride/walk and extremes of each will make it more difficult. Load: carrying excessive weight obviously makes more work for you. We always transfer luggage, so this refers only to what you take in a day pack or in panniers.
Dress: layering, using appropriate and lightweight clothing, protection from the sun, and good footwear make it easier for you.
Equipment: primarily relates to bikes; but knowing how to shift, when to shift, and maintain your bike will make it easier for you as well.
How long will it take to cover the rides/walks/hikes at these levels? There is no specific answer because everyone travels at his or her own speed. However, when we indicate a time, such as in the hikes, we generalize with an average of 2 miles/hour or 3.2 km/hr on flat and low grade. Those times do include bathroom breaks, but not time for lunch and visits. Everyone should allow time to stop and explore, visit sites, and check directions.
If you can ride a bike at 20 mph or 32km/hour ; you cannot take a trip and expect to finish a ride in 2 hours. First, you need to allow time to check directions as you go, and then stop to visit. No less than 4 hours should be allowed to do any of the hikes and rides we have in our programs on any day. Longer days will last as much as 8 hours with stops and visits included. Itinerant Tours - where you ride/walk from hotel to hotel; these trips, being self-guided, require you to be able to make the distance involved. If you cannot, then you need to call for a taxi because we do not provide SAG support.
Star tours - aka loop trips! These are days where you return to the same hotel where you start the day. This means that people who are less strong can do shorter days than stronger persons. It also allows a day off, non-active participants to come along, and is a great way for families and groups of varying abilities/interests to do the same trip together. These tours offer everything from easy to challenging rides, (Levels 1 - 3) but are usually rated as easy because it accommodate easy.
Hiking vs. Walking:
There are probably scientific definitions somewhere, but we go with what most people think of when they hear these words :
Hikers hike on natural trails and Walkers walk on any surface. (Many hiking trails in France and other parts of Europe are Grand Randonee (GR) routes recognized on maps and marked with waypoint markers. Many of these GR routes have become partially paved in recent years. Nonetheless, they traverse rural areas.)
Hikers seek natural environments like forests, mountains, parks and Walkers walk anywhere.
Hikers like to dress the part in natural fibers, sturdy boots, and occassionally use hiking sticks/poles. Walkers may take such extra attention; but often they are going as they please.
Walkers may walk as often as daily, while hikers go out on weekends or longer trips less frequently.
Your Fitness: How to know what you can do? Fitness and ability can be measured in a number of ways. We leave it up to you to determine if you are capable, knowing that if you take on more than you are capable of doing it will make for an unpleasant vacation.
We cannot recommend any of our tours to sedentary people. If you are not in the process of regular exercise then you should not consider a self-guided walking or cycling tour. Several factors such as age, resting heart rate, max heart rate, and weight will impact everyone's ability to engage in cycling or walking. You should know what you can do, and if you are not sure, you should see a doctor. We always recommend that every traveler consult their doctor BEFORE booking an adventure holiday.
Preparations - in General:
Level 1 [All Ages]: tours can be completed by persons exercising regularly by elevating the heart rate regularly and over sustained periods during any number of exercises such as running, swimming, stairmaster, etc. Of course, the best training is the cycling or walking that you will be doing. You should work in these activities to no less than 2-3 times per week.
Level 2 [Moderate]: as in level 1, you should be working out regularly. Cyclists should be out 2-3 times per week striving for at least 1-2 hours in the saddle each time or more on weekends; riding 15-30 miles per ride. Walkers/hikers should be out for at least 1.5-3 hours at least 2 times per week.
Level 3 [Fit]: cycling at least 80-100 miles per week including hill climbing or combining other workout activities. Walking/hiking at least 3 hours with small backpack with water at least 2 times per week.
Level 4* [Challenging]: cycling 150+ miles per week with hills and sustained climbs or higher heart rate pace; walkers and hikers should be training with packs and long distance hikes between 18-22 km more than 1 time per week.
Level 5 [Extreme]*: cyclists should be riding 10-12 hours per week with sustained climbing and descending as part of the ride. Walkers and hikers need to be covering 20+ km per day at higher elevations and carrying packs of 22 lbs and higher (10k).
*We recommend that persons over 55 and new to the activity you intend to engage in visit a doctor first to get an ok to train and take such a vacation. Persons planning Level 4 and 5 tours should also consider a personal trainer or certified training plan to prepare. We believe these recommendations will prepare you for your tour, however we also recognize that some people can do almost nothing and come out and have no problems. Ultimately, self evaluation is VERY IMPORTANT and you alone are responsible for your condition at the start of a trip. Daily work will prepare you better for the daily exercise you will experience on tour and prepare your muscles to recover daily for the next ride/walk.
Reading Maps and the Roadbooks: On cycling tours, you will find plenty of road signs and indications to keep you on course and roads are easily identified on maps. Reading maps however is a skill, and anyone unfamiliar with how to orient a map in the field should do what is necessary to learn before coming on a trip.
NAVIGATION AND INDEPENDENCE RATING GUIDE: to give you another little ranking system to gauge yourself before booking a trip, we rate the level of support to set your expectations and we rate navigational skills necessary to again help you decide about your skill level:
Level 1 [Most Support - Easiest]: Fully guided and supported tours with both vehicle assistance and activity support by certified professional guides. You should have basic map reading skills so you can have some independence.
Level 2 [Partial support - more self sufficiency]: Vehicle supported but activities are mostly self-regulated so that it requires more advanced map reading skills and GPS device skill recommended.
Level 3 [Self Guided with personal welcome and telephone support]: you will ride, hike, and complete activities on your own at your own speed. Advanced GPS skills recommended via smart phone app or your personal device; must be comfortable using a provided GPS.
Level 4 [Self guided with telephone support only]: no orientation, but telephone support available as needed during daytime hours. GPS navigation skills required. Expected to know how to manage GPX files and devices, can upload and set up navigation on own. Problem solving skills and self sufficient with maps, orientation, and technology.
Level 5 [Self Guided No support]: GPS navigation skills required. Expected to know how to manage GPX files and devices, can upload and set up navigation on own. Problem solving skills and self sufficient with maps, orientation, and technology.
Independence with navigation is important and also with basic bike mechanics. Nobody should ever come on a self guided bike tour with no prior knowledge of fixing a flat tire. Only on a guided tour can you expect help with a flat, but even then, you should know so you can keep going.
On hiking tours, it is even more important to know how to orient with a map as you will have fewer sign postings to rely upon. Hiking tours mostly follow GR routes which are marked trails, often paved, but nonetheless otherwise in remote areas. Hikers need to be able to read maps much better than cyclists and be able to recognize symbols, path lines, and direction. Anyone uncomfortable with map orientation, and basic orienteering, or their own GPS with our routes pre-loaded, should not come on a hiking tour without someone who is familiar with these techniques.
What else? You should be an independent person, capable of reading a map, interpreting directions, and taking charge of your planning. We are here to help you, but in the end, you will be the one out there on the road/trail and the more prepared you are mentally as well as physically, the more fun and better memories you will have! Use this tour as an excuse to increase your conditioning and fitness and take some time to read everything we send to you as well as do your own research. Preparation is part of the fun in travel - don't let it go unattended!
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