Bicycle Touring
on the
Camino de Santiago
Food and Drink

Traveling along the camino by bicycle is a challenging undertaking, for both person and equipment. The route is around 800 kilometers (500 + miles) and crosses two mountain passes; in addition, the original camino at times travels along forest roads, cobblestone, gravel, and soft sand paths. The route is marked by official signs, as well as yellow arrows painted on fenceposts, rocks, and buildings. It's been 10 years since this site was established, and unfortunately, there are still no bicycle touring guidebooks available in english. The guidebooks for foot pilgrims provide some useful info and a good map of northern Spain is also essential.

A touring bicycle with sturdy panniers is a must, and if one wants to travel solely on the camino, a mountain bike with full suspension is recommended. We chose to travel some stretches on the 'carretera' to avoid the rough sections. It is possible to travel all the way on the camino with a loaded bike. We met up occasionally with a group of 3 people from Switzerland who had chosen to 'do every inch on the camino'. I can not emphasize enough the importance of going for a testride with the loaded bike at home. Unpacking the bike at the Pamplona airport and discovering that the rack is not strong enough to hold the panniers, or that ones heels hit the panniers with every stroke is not a good way to start the trip.
Be sure to have your bike checked and tuned at your local bike shop before you leave. Your bike shop will also box your bicycle for you, often for free or a very small charge (ask where they are going to put the small parts! we found our front quick release pin inside our waterbottles). Airlines charge a fee for transporting your bicycle. Delta charges $75.00 per bike. If they insist on charging you more, asked that they look under 'international travel, sports equipment, bicycles" in their computer. If they still insist on charging more (they did for us) pay with a credit card and see one of the supervisors in the international terminal to have the difference refunded to you (we did). On your return trip, the ground personal at the Santiago de Compostela airport is used to bicycle pilgrims and will take your bike from you with a smile and handle it without you having to hunt for a box. Our bikes arrived in pristine condition in Atlanta. Between Atlanta and Chattanooga, however, ASA managed to break one of the barends, don't ask us how!

  Even the smallest towns in Spain will have a bar and sometimes also a grocery store ('alimentos'). Business hours are quite different and the stores are usually closed between 1 and 5 pm. Bars, however, are open throughout the day; lunch is served between 1 and 3 pm and the dinner hour does not start till 8:30 pm or later. All restaurants offer a 'menu del dia' (3 courses with wine or water) for a fixed price. In between these times, 'tapas' or 'raciones' are served. One might wish to carry a small supply of food along, either for picnics or the time when everything is closed and one's stomach is touching one's knees.
The water in Spain is safe to drink, many towns have public access to drinking water ('agua potable'), usually a fountain near the church. Be sure to carry plenty of water and drink before you are thirsty!
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One of the great ways to experience the pilgrimage is to stay in a 'refugio'. These are shelters provided by churches and Saint James Societies, usually consisting of sleeping facilities (dormitories with bunkbeds are common), showers, bathrooms, frequently also a kitchen and a common room. Pilgrims are allowed to stay one night for a very small fee (3 to 5 Euros) and are expected to have a sleeping bag. A pad is useful, sometimes the mattresses are all taken and the only place left is on the floor. One must have a 'credencial de peregrino' which is stamped at each stop, to stay there.
For those wishing a little more comfort, hotels and hostals are plentyful, and most bars also have lodgings available (ask 'tiene habitaciones?' 'do you have rooms' when stopping for a 'vino tinto'). Prices range from 30
Euros (double) for simple accomodations to 300 Euros for the luxurious Parador 'Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos' in Santiago de Compostela. We recommend staying there at the end of the trip if you can fit it into your budget, this 5 star hotel is located right next to the cathedral in the 'Plaza de Obradoiro'
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Obtaining a pilgrims pass is essential if one wishes to stay at the refugios. Even if you plan to stay in hotels, the pass is required to obtain the certificate of completion (Compostela) at the pilgrims office in Santiago. The pass can be obtained in numerous places including St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Roncesvalles, Pamplona at the Pilgrim Office in the University of Navarra and from many refugios, churches, police stations, the guardia civil, ayuntamientos and the offices of local Amigos del Camino de Santiago.
The pilgrimage is considered a religious/spiritual experience regardless of your motivations for travel.

If you would like to obtain your credentials before leaving home, American Pilgrims provides this service on a donation basis, primarily available to U.S. postal addresses but they will honor all requests.

Look for the Request a Credential page under either "Welcome" or "The Camino" or click here.

To obtain the compostela in Santiago, cyclists must have cycled at least the last, westernmost 200 km. This is essentially from Ponferrada at 210 km. Also the Pilgrim's Welcome Office that distributes the compostela will want to see two stamps (sellos) per day over that distance even if the cyclist started further away.

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There is only one way to travel by bike or on foot ... LIGHT !!! Select what you take with care, preferably items that can be used for multiple purposes and think of layering. For instance, a pair of socks can double as gloves to keep your fingers warm on a cold morning, and a set of convertible (from long to short with a zipper) hiking pants can be worn over your cycling pants. We discourage taking cycling jerseys, instead select some polypro t-shirts which can be worn in the afternoons and evenings off the bike. Light-weight rain-gear is essential, as the spanish weather can be unpredictable, especially in Navarra. Here again think multipurpose, the jacket should serve to keep you warm in the evenings and early mornings (it can be downright cold even in the summer when you get up to the Rabanal and Cabreiro passes). Shoes suitable for cycling should also be comfortable for walking to save you the weight of a pair of sneakers.

Here is a list of recommendations from us:

cycling shorts (2) cycling gloves (1) cycling shoes
longsleeve shirt (1) shortsleeve shirt (2-3) long pants (1)
rain gear sandals (Teva type !) socks (2-3)
underwear (2-3) toiletries helmet
sunscreen (>25 SPF) sunglasses repair kit/tools
first aid kit camera diary & pen
bungee cords (3) plastic bags (diff. sizes) lock
water bottles travel belt/fanny pack clothes pins (4)
guidebook/maps knife & corkscrew pilgrims pass

If you plan to stay at the refugios you will also need:

sleeping bag sleeping pad towel (1-2)
 ear plugs (there WILL be at least one snorer !) 

Also remember that you will be able to purchase most anything, so less is more when you pack.

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  The weather in Spain is most conducive to cycling in May, June, September, and October. July and August can be quite hot without any shade on the Meseta (Leon region) with highs 100 degrees F.
The altitude one climbs (up and down, multiple times !) is close to 4000 feet, so once again, be certain to pack clothes that can be layered for warmth.
In the winter, travel should be undertaken only by those who wish to experience the hardships faced by the early pilgrims during the middle ages.
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Forget the travellers checks. Take a small amout of money ($100) in Dollars and your ATM card. Make sure your security code for the card is only 4 digits and you will be able to draw money from your checking account as needed. Even the small towns in Spain have several instant banker machines.  
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Fluency in spanish is not a requirement for enjoying the trip. Many people speak some english, but knowledge of some phrases and common courtesies is quite helpful in adding to the experience. Several phrasebooks are available for the traveller.

Here is a (albeit non-comprehensive) list of bicycle terms:

allen wrench llave allen
ball bearing cojinente a bolas
bicycle bicicleta or bici
bicycle shop taller de bicicletas
brake freno
brake handle maneja de freno
brake pad zapata de freno
chain cadena
chain breaker desviador
flat pinchazo
frame cuadro
freewheel rueda libre
gear cable cable de cambio
lock candado
oil aceite or grasa
panniers alforjas
patch parche
patch kit estuche de reparacion
pedal pedal
pliers alicates
pump bomba
rack portaquipajes
rim llanta
saddle asiento
scissors tijeras
screwdriver destornillador
spoke rayo
tire cubierta
tools herramientas
tube camara
water bottle bidon de agua or botella de agua