The most famous path in the world covered by bike in 12 days. An itinerary that is much more than a sequence of kilometers. Santiago by bike is an adventure to remember for a lifetime and which marks a "before" and "after" encounter with yourself, with your own strength and determination.
The (French) Way of Santiago de Compostella is a complex and not always easy itinerary, for this reason it is important to be equipped in the right way and collect some preparatory information for the trip.
The French Way is the one that starts from the city of Saint-Jean Pied de Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, crosses the regions of Navarre, La Rioja, Castilla y Léon and Galicia, and ends in Santiago de Compostela. The route is about 800 km long (on foot) and is traditionally divided into about 35 stages, arranged along generally dirt roads between woods and plateaus. The cities, villages and countryside crossed by this path have a remarkable artistic, cultural and landscape wealth and you will often stop to take photos: Pamplona, Logrono, Leòn, Astorga and Santiago de Compostela itself are just some examples.
The French Way is the most popular and most organized route: every 10-25 km there are hostels (albergue) for pilgrims along the road, where you can eat and sleep at reduced prices. Although it is not necessary to be an expert cyclist, the bike ride can be challenging, also due to the variable climate: the stages of this walk are in fact all flat, but there is no lack of elevations that require a discreet commitment, especially if you are carrying a heavy luggage.
For pilgrims by bike or “bicigrini” there is a special itinerary, certainly less picturesque but easier and less bumpy than the pedestrian one. Most of the signs indicate the route for pilgrims and the one dedicated to bicigrini.
You can decide to bring your own bike or to use a rental bike. The important thing is to choose the suitable bicycle. Many bicigrini opt for the pedal-assisted bicycle.
The route includes paved roads, white roads and mixed-bottom roads (compact sand and pebbles). The best choice is mountain biking because of its versatility but, if you are more accustomed to the racing bike seat, you can also opt for a gravel bike, the bdc is totally not recommended.
The climate of northern Spain is highly variable and rainfall can be very abundant and sudden, even in the warm months. The best periods are May / June and September / October even if they are the most crowded ones, especially in the last 200 km. If you want to obtain the Compostela, you must request the pilgrim’s passport.
Our Specialized Awol seemed made for the Way. The steel-chromium-molybdenum alloy frame is able to absorb most of the vibrations, giving a good reactivity, also with such a robust frame you are always quiet, even when the bike falls on the ground.
The 28 “wheels ensure good smoothness and if associated with the Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires you can walk the Path without thinking about the puncture problem. The current Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires have covered almost 20,000 km without even a puncture.
The general set-up of the bicycle is very comfortable but it also allows a slightly more “advanced” use, especially in the presence of “fast” downhill roads or with uneven ground. Tubus luggage racks are very robust and very functional.
Our choice was oriented by the need for a very robust and versatile frame that would allow us to tackle not only the Camino de Santiago but also the rest of the journey on any type of road surface and weather conditions. For a journey limited to just the journey of Santiago by bike, any solution can be considered as long as it is a comfortable frame on which quality accessories are mounted. An aluminum frame with a carbon fork with a bike-packing structure with a saddle bag can be an interesting solution, as well as a mountain bike with a saddle bag. Also to be considered is a touring bike with steel frame and side bags.
Our choice was oriented by the need for a very robust and versatile frame that would allow us to tackle not only the Camino de Santiago but also the rest of the journey on any type of road surface and weather conditions. For a journey limited to just the journey of Santiago by bike, any solution can be considered as long as it is a comfortable frame on which quality accessories are mounted. A gravel bike with an aluminum frame and a carbon fork, bike-packing structure with saddle bag can be an interesting solution, as well as a mountain bike with saddle bag. Also to be considered is a touring bike with steel frame and side bags.
To tackle the Way by bike, intermediate physical training is sufficient. Depending on the road surface and the beauty of the landscape, daily journeys can vary from a minimum of 40 km to a maximum of 100 km. Obviously you can decide to cover a greater daily distance, but this would distort the very essence of the Way. The bicycle, given the scarce presence of mechanics on the route, must be of good quality and well maintained. Even if you do not have covers with puncture protection (kevlar or latex) it is better to bring with you the replacement for the inner tube, the repair kit and the equipment for emergency repairs as well as basic lubrication. The baggage should be as light as possible. The albergue do not supply sheets or towels so if you choose this type of accommodation it is essential to have a sleeping bag and possibly a sheet bag, for towels we recommend those in microfiber, which are lighter and quicker to dry.
To tackle the Way by bike, intermediate physical training is sufficient. Depending on the road surface and the beauty of the landscape, daily journeys can vary from a minimum of 40 km to a maximum of 100 km. Obviously you can decide to cover a greater daily distance, but this would distort the very essence of the Way. The bicycle, given the scarce presence of mechanics on the route, must be of good quality and well maintained. Even if you do not have covers with puncture protection (kevlar or latex) it is better to bring with you the replacement for the inner tube, the repair kit and the equipment for emergency repairs as well as basic lubrication. The baggage should be as light as possible. The hotel does not supply sheets or towels so if you choose this type of accommodation it is essential to have a sleeping bag and possibly a sheet bag, for towels we recommend those in microfiber, which are lighter and quicker to dry.
The Credential is theoretically free, but it is always advisable to collect information well in advance regarding shipping costs and delivery times in order not to risk leaving without. Once you have obtained your credentials and started the journey, you can get the sellos (stamps) that will certify the passage to a conventioned place (bar, hotel, tourist information offices, etc …). Once in Santiago, the passport will be used to win the coveted “prize” for the efforts sustained during the journey. The recognition is the Compostella and to get it you will need to go to the Oficina del Pelegrino in Santiago de Compostela and have traveled at least 100 km on foot, or 200 km on horseback or by bike, having all the stamps in order: at least two for each day travel at distances that do not suggest the use of a vehicle.
Reaching the Camino de Santiago is not always easy. However, it is possible both by train and by plane. If you want to do the whole way (from Saint Jean Pied de Port) the best solution is the plane to Bordeaux and then the train to Bayonne (on French trains the bicycle is almost always free except on fast trains (major information on the website www.sncf.com) the last part of the journey (Bayonne – Saint Jean Pied de Port) is covered by the bus that does not accept bicycles on board, so it may be necessary to proceed with the bike. an intermediate stage of the journey, the intermediate airports are Bilbao, Pamplona and Irùn, from which it is then possible to travel by train www.renfe.com. Bicycles can only be transported on MD trains.
Given the complexity of transporting the bicycle by plane and train to the intermediate stages of the journey, a very interesting solution is to rent the bike directly on the journey. Some agencies offer excellent quality bikes and give the possibility to choose the model. In addition, we must also consider the possibility offered by rental agencies to replace the vehicle in case of breakage or mechanical problems. The agencies allow you to choose the departure and arrival stages with relatively low prices.
Along the Way there are many solutions to rest and stay overnight. Some of these are able to provide only accommodation, others also breakfast, others still the complete menu. The facilities available are:
Albergues de peregrinos and refugios – hostels for pilgrims and refuges where you can be welcomed only if you have a Credential. Hostels cannot be booked in advance, so the place to stay is not always certain and in any case they give priority to pilgrims on foot. They provide a bed (without sheets), bathroom with hot water and often the use of the kitchen. It is the cheapest solution ever;
Albergues Privados (redalberguessantiago.com) – privately managed, slightly more expensive than the previous ones and of a slightly higher quality;
Paradores (paradores.es) – state-funded structures often inside a castle or former monastery. Not very cheap but picturesque;
Casas rurales – similar to farmhouses, they have a limited number of rooms;
Hostales – guesthouses and inns with cheap prices where cyclists are welcome;
Pensiones – cheap guesthouses;
Hospedajes – very cheap but not very comfortable solutions;
Habitaciones – private rooms that can be very cheap;
Camping (very numerous in Galicia, quite rare in other regions).
Drinking water, in some cases, can be a problem, unlike food that you will always find in abundance and of excellent quality. In the restaurants on the Camino it is almost always possible to find the pilgrim’s menu which, with around 10 euros, allows you to make a complete first / second meal, side dish, dessert, wine, water and coffee. In most restaurants it is also possible to order a la carte. It is almost always possible to find normal hotels to book and that have a standard or superior service and international classifications. Regardless of the type of structure chosen, an advice is always to phone in advance to inquire about the possibility of storing bicycles in a safe place.
Drinking water, in some cases, can be a problem, unlike food that you will always find in abundance and of excellent quality. In the restaurants on the Camino it is almost always possible to find the pilgrim’s menu which, with around 10 euros, allows you to make a complete meal of first / second course, side dish, dessert, wine, water and coffee. In most restaurants it is also possible to order a la carte. It is almost always possible to find normal hotels to book and that have a standard or superior service and international classifications. Regardless of the type of structure chosen, an advice is always to phone in advance to inquire about the possibility of storing bicycles in a safe place.
Food on the way to Santiago is never a problem: it is plentiful, at relatively low prices but a little monotonous. The standardization of the pilgrim’s menu has led to a lowering of prices but also to a trivialization of the dishes. The pilgrim’s menu, in fact, almost always includes the same things, but given the price and the hunger after miles of pedaling, it is difficult to complain.
Given the abundance of indications (arrows, signs, etc …), the GPS navigator may not be essential but very useful for keeping an eye on distances. We have used a Garmin Etrex 30 because it is compact, extremely resistant to water, dust and shocks (IPX7) and ensures considerable autonomy with two 1.2 volts NI-mh batteries.
The bags we used are Ortlieb Sport Classic for the front luggage rack of both bikes, Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic for the rear luggage rack of one bike, Vaude Aqua Back for the rear luggage rack of the other.
The Petzl Tikka R + Headlight, compact, powerful, rechargeable, was the best choice to illuminate our path. Furthermore, being water-resistant, it does not fear rain.
The Ferrino Kalahari3 tent ensured all the comfort we needed with a really low price. With its 3.5 kilograms it is unfortunately not suitable for all uses.
The path can be covered all year round by bicycle, there is no official complete closure. Like all paths, however, it is not recommended to follow it during the winter season. Some sections are also closed in bad weather or during some seasons, so it is advisable to consult the official website of the Way where you can consult the variants and closures.
You meet many people (on foot, by bike, with the horse, with the wheelchair, etc.). People who have chosen to walk the path for many different reasons and who carry a baggage (even internal) often very heavy. The encounters are perhaps the most important component of the whole journey so you have to enjoy them thoroughly and to the last.
The path intended for pilgrims winds largely on unpaved roads, the path for bicigrini instead develops mainly on asphalt roads. The Spanish road system is divided into:
Autopista – highway, prohibited for bikes and pedestrians;
Autovia – expressway, in some cases passable by bicycle, never on foot;
Carrettera Nacional – state road, almost always practicable by bike but to be avoided on foot;
Carrettera Provincial – provincial road, always accessible by bicycle and on foot;
Carrettera Local – local road, always passable both by bicycle and on foot but almost always with asphalt in less than optimal conditions;
Desvio provisional – alternative route on a dirt road, specially designed for pilgrims and / or bicigrini, always accessible on foot, sometimes even by bike.
On all types of roads (even on the highway) you will find signs in abundance, so it is really difficult to get lost. The signs can be of various types: yellow arrows for pilgrims and white arrows for bicigrins drawn with the spray on walls, rocks or directly on the asphalt; horizontal and vertical signs dedicated to pilgrims and bicigrini. If you are distracted and you get lost, don’t worry the Spaniards love to give directions to pilgrims and bicigrini.
La Flecha Amarilla
The yellow arrow always indicates the path (for pilgrims) towards Santiago de Compostella. Sometimes the arrow can be white and is exclusively for cyclists.
Piles of stones
You will find them everywhere and they are the symbol of the “moral weight” from which the pilgrim frees himself during the Way.
The milestones of the Way.
There are many but the most suggestive one is the red one in the shape of a sword on a white background.
The symbol par excellence of the Way is the shell that is present everywhere, even in the signs. It represents a scallop, an Atlantic mollusc. Collecting one in Finisterre was used to demonstrate that he had reached the end of the Way. All pilgrims carry one hanging in the backpack, in the bags of the bicycle or on the saddle of the horse.
Greetings from the pilgrims
“ULTREIA ET SUSEIA!”
“DEUS ADJUVA NOS!”
The Camino de Santiago by bicycle is certainly one of the itineraries that everyone dreams of following at least once in their life. We did it, living it with joy and determination from the first kilometer making a radical choice: “we want to travel the route for pedestrians, despite the fact that there is the simpler and faster variant for bicigrini”. We kept the track of the “peatones” as long as it was possible, in other cases we had to take the detours for the bicigrini for good.
Below are the 12 stages of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with altimeters. The total ascent is truly impressive, hovering around 18000 meters (2.5 times Everest) on an itinerary of not even 1000 km. This makes Santiago an epic bike trip for which one must be truly prepared.
This stage is one of the most demanding of the entire Way. The ascent to the top of the Perdon is a wall to climb with tenacity and determination, just as the descent to Roncesvall engages muscles, mind and above all the brakes. The view of the Pyrenees, however, repays all the effort.
This stage is characterized by a long and fun descent on asphalt and dirt roads. Do not miss the entrance to the fascinating city of Pamplona through the beautiful Comarca River Park.
A continuous ups and downs between medieval villages and bridges on ancient cobbled streets. Lots of asphalt, cycle paths dedicated to bicigrini and a breathtaking landscape.
A very demanding stage with a lot of dirt roads, long white roads and wheat fields with little shelter especially in the warmer months. The Irache wine fountain is unforgettable, where you can fill your bottle with excellent red wine for free.
The departure from Najera is beautiful especially in the early hours of the morning when the rays of the rising sun illuminate the red rocks that surround the city. The following is a somewhat monotonous itinerary on long straights of very dusty white road.
The stage from Villafranca to Castrojeriz is demanding, fun and very adventurous. Obviously it is possible to choose a more “easy” itinerary that travels more asphalt and less dirt, but if you don’t get dusty a little where is the fun?
After a fun up-and-down merry-go-round we begin a light but constant ascent that allows us to climb a few hundred meters to Sahagun. Unforgettable the surprising canals that you pass through crossing some bridges.
A stage with lots of asphalt, industrial areas and cities, on which Astorga stands out for its beauty with its churches and palaces.
A stage for half climb and half descent. A climb to be tackled with tenacity and determination up to the exciting Iron Cross. Then an endless descent during which to rest the muscles and meditate on the emotions experienced.
The climb up to 1300 meters of Alto do Cebreiro, the village of Pedrafita do Cebreiro, the infinite descent towards Sarria. A truly unforgettable and full of excitement for a day of cycling adventure.
A demanding stage because it does not give respite between breathtaking views, villages “moved” to build the dam, a continuous ups and downs that wear out and have fun. Galicia has much to donate with its humid climate and forests. For a bicigrino who has traveled the entire Camino de Santiago the greatest gift is the Compostela which is issued to those who have traveled the path. After all the effort, the emotions, the unexpected, the joys and pains experienced on the saddle of your bike, the emotions are uncontainable and explodes in a moving cry. The journey is over but the journey continues.
The last stage leads to the “end of the earth”. The journey officially ends in Santiago de Compostela but, after having traveled many kilometers, you cannot miss the chance to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets. A few more kilometers and you reach the extreme tip of Europe, where your gaze turns west to another ocean, to another continent.