Tour company reviews
I've seen a couple websites with short reviews of tour support companies but they've seem to be lacking in many ways. I'm looking for a tour company because I don't have any experience organizing multi-day rides. Also neither of my bikes is optimal for hauling gear (Santa Cruz Heckler full-suspension and LeMond Maillot Classic). I have all of October and November available. And I can fly cheaply on Delta (buddy passes). I've seen a couple off-road tours of Utah, Colorado, and the Northwest from google searches, Ridemonkey.com ads, etc, but without reading reviews from other people, I'm hesitant to drop $1000+. Can anyone give me some hints?
I did a Western Spirit tour in Utah about 4 years ago it was called "Brian Head". They were very good - great trails, nice guides, back country tent camping with lots of good, mostly healthy food.
But, you have two months! Supported tours are often more than $1000/week, not /2months. You could get a BOB trailer for a few hundred, use camping gear you probably already have, and go out for a couple of months for as much $ as a few weeks of payed touring. Your time frame is probably fine for a west coast / utah desert tour. Check out adventurecycling.org's pacific coast, western connector, grand canyon, and southern tier routs.
My original plan was to depart New Hampshire on the road bike and tour Canada into America, until I ran out of energy/money. But the road bike doesn't have rack eyelets and the wheels are Bontrager Race Lite's with 24 bladed spokes. They aren't stupid lite so they'll probably last but...
So my plan changed and I decided to join any organized tour for my first attempt. This way I'll pick up a few tips from others. Then when I get back I'll have enough confidence to do a solo. The only camping gear I own is a sleeping bag the size of a large photocopier. No lite tent, no stove, nothing. So I'm looking at a few hundred dollars investment there as well. One of the attractions of touring was to get away from financial concerns for a bit, and now I'm looking at buying racks, panniers, trailers, camping gear, maybe a used touring bike.
I'll chime in because some of my experience from this year is similar to your set up and what you have.
When I was young (14 years thru mid-twenties) I did annual summer tours of 1-4 weeks in duration. I used the standard steel frame bike of the 70's, stuck a rack on, and somehow cobbled together a tent/bag rig, plus some Bellwether or Cannondale panniers. I was poor as dirt, a kid, yet I pulled it together and had a blast.
Jump ahead like 3 decades:
I get a new bike (Felt F-65) and me and my gal get this notion to do a week long, supported tour here in Wisconsin bikenorthwoods.com . They haul it all, I just got a front bag to hold snacks, flat repair, etc. The Felt has NO braze-ons or eyelets for anything. the ride was Fun as hell, EXCEPT after a week on what is basically a road/performance bike, my body was cranky and my hands a bit sore (could have been some fit issue, but I think it was more that this is a day-rider bike made out of stiff aluminum)
I sold the felt (at 50, I just don't feel like the 22 MPH club rider thing was my gig), and I acquired a Jamis Aurora, used, which I am using daily as a commuter, but will double as a 'Credit card tourer' or, fully loaded if I ever get that crazy idea in my brain. Ya gotta have a rack on a bike on tour.
As far as blowing lots of dough on gear: you can do that or you can spend time to rig stuff together 2nd hand, hand me down, borrowed, etc.
The point is ya gotta think of the long haul, and for the long haul, simple is better for touring and repairing while on the road. An older steel frame Trek/Miyata/Nishiki, even a friction shifting 6-7 speed is fine (mine is an 8 speed, bar end shifters... who needs steenkin' 9-10 speed cassette?). It's not a race; most of the time, you find a gear and you stay in that gear for miles, go lower n the hills, and when the hill get too steep, you get off and walk and listen to the birds and have alook around. Comfortable and relaxed geometry, more upright are key.
I will say that doing the week ride, and hanging out with other riders did help me get a POV on how it could be done. See what bikes folks are riding (like old Schwinn LeTours, old Treks, even no-names and such), and what kind of gear they actually bring along helped for the future. And it was fun to ride with the group (the BNW group is small, under 350, so there isn't that cattle call lines for food and such like some big rides).
Acht! I rambled!