When ExperiencePlus! started developing new tour styles in 2018, little did we know the pandemic would prevent us from launching our inaugural Explorer tours until 2022. Now that the season is getting underway and we’ve sold out our May 1 Cycling the Algarve tour, we want to better explain how this tour style differs from our Classic tours. After all, whether you’re a new or returning EP cyclist, you want to know what to expect on tour. So, we recently asked EP co-owner Maria Elena Price for the full Explorer rundown.
Q: What inspired you to develop the Explorer tour style?
A: Lots of things! The first is opportunity: We often find an incredible ride while scouting for a tour. I mean, the road is so perfect but suddenly it turns into gravel or dirt. In general, we stay on pavement because that’s how we’ve always designed our Classic tours. But what would happen if we take away that limitation?
We started seeing many benefits. Since 1972, we’ve seen destinations grow in popularity, making paved roads more and more busy and less fun to bike. Getting off pavement reduces a lot of stress for some riders. This move also coincides with a growing trend in gravel bikes and gravel riding. Our premium titanium hybrid bikes are perfect for this style. We’re outfitting them with wider tires and that make a huge difference.
Q: Tell us about the Explorer tour style and how it differs from the Classic tour style.
A: Great question! It’s super important to us that returning ExperiencePlus! customers understand how these tour styles differ. Perhaps the biggest difference is that we’re not using arrows on these tours. That decision is two-fold. Each tour will be led by two stellar tour leaders and so we want one riding with the group and one driving the support van. We also know that chalk doesn’t show well and is difficult to lay down on gravel and dirt, which make up about 50 percent of the route.
On those routes, sometimes the van is not able to follow riders off road all the time. In the daily briefing, we’ll make sure riders know when throughout the day they’ll see the van. In place of arrows we are providing GPS tracks and GPS devices on all tours so that people always have the route with them and can ride at their own pace.
Lastly, in an effort to provide a budget tour option we are staying in 2- and 3-star hotels as well as including fewer group meals and group activities. We will have the first and last meal together, and at times a meal in the middle of the trip. Of course, this does not mean that we won’t recommend or facilitate amazing group meals – we just will not have them be part of the tour cost so people can spend what they prefer.
We recommend checking out our tour styles grid for a side-by-side comparison of all our tour styles.
Q: It’s a major shift to not be using arrows! Some might say this goes against the guided independence that has defined EP tours to date.
A: We realize this is a major change in what is our “hallmark” and “signature” navigation system. We still love our arrows and ALL our other tour styles. We just didn’t want our route-finding for these tours to be limited by the concern that arrows may be very hard to place – and it would be harder to have portions of days where there were no arrows – instead of having everyone be comfortable using the GPS Tracks right from the start. Technology these days is so advanced we felt the GPS option was a good one for us to try out.
Q: Explorer tours cost less than Classic tours. Why so?
A: We wanted to create a tour style that allows for maximum fun but at a lower cost than our Classic tours. When we began in 1972, all our travelers camped! Then for years we featured comfortable 2- and 3-star hotels. These days we focus on premium accommodation. We wanted a style that could provide space for 2- and 3-star hotels and bed and breakfasts that you might find at the end of a great gravel road. Of course, we still want to make sure beds are comfortable and that there is a great meal and warm shower at the end of each day!
Q: What kind of cyclist is going to fall in love with the Explorer tour? Do you need to have previous off-road riding experience to have a great time?
A: Anyone who enjoys a bit of adventure will love these trips! We are aiming to have a collection of Explorer tours that range in difficulty (we currently have 2 tours that are level 2.5) and we do have e-bikes available on these rides as well. So, if you like the idea of being a bit further off the beaten path and you are comfortable with fewer included meals and 2- and 3-star hotels, these tours are perfect.
And, you don’t have to have previous experience on dirt or gravel. We don’t use any roads that require technical skills. In fact, we have an Explorer Primer series on our blog for those who are curious about “where to start”!