Our Cycling Holiday/Bike Tour Difficulty Ratings

Several years back I attended the ATTA (Adventure Travel Trade Association) Annual Conference in Killarney, Ireland.  As part of the conference, a seminar was organised specifically for operators of bike tours/cycling holidays.

One of the main aims of the seminar was to come up with a uniform system of rating how easy or difficult a bike tour is.  It was the ideal time to discuss the topic as there were operators of cycling holidays from all over the world present.  However, as the discussion proceeded, it soon became clear that coming up with a standard rating system would not be as easy as it might appear.  Several strands of the discussion went along lines such as:

  • Distance cannot be the only determining factor: a bike tour averaging 30 km per day might be easy on flat paved roads, but it might be very difficult if it involves numerous steep climbs.
  • The type of surface cannot be the determining factor. 30 km on tarmac is very different to 30 km of mountain biking.
  • Guided tours are different to self-guided because there is a support vehicle.
  • The weather must also be taken into consideration.  Cycling in temperatures of 25 °C is very different to 38 °C.  And what about wind?
  • What if someone is using an E-bike?
  • Ratings for competitive cyclists need to be different to leisure cyclists.

Cycling on the Wild Atlantic Way The discussion went on and on with more and more variables being discussed.  Needless to say, no decision was arrived at.

Here at Ireland by Bike we rate our bike tours on a scale of 1 to 5.  To illustrate this we are adopting a picture system showing five bicycles, with the number of coloured bikes showing each tour’s rating.

We assume a rating of 1 is a tour with an average distance of 25 to 30 km per day on a flat paved road.  A rating of 5 would mean a tour averaging 100 + km per day over tough hilly terrain, but on paved roads.  We don’t provide off-road cycling tours, so for now at least we don’t need to take that into consideration.

Causeway Coast Cycling Tour with Ireland by BikeWith the growing trend towards the use of e-bikes, we also give every tour a rating based on a traditional type bicycle and also an e-bike.

Here are some guidelines as to what you can expect from our tours based on using a normal bike.

Difficulty rating 1 bike1 Bike: 25 to 30 km per day.  Mostly flat or minor hills.


Cycling Holiday difficulty rating 2 bikes2 Bikes: Mostly short daily distances 25 to 30 km per day with some hills.


Bike Tour difficulty rating 3 bikes3 Bikes: Up to 50 km per day over hilly terrain.


Bike Tour difficulty rating 4 bikes4 Bikes: Up to 70 km per day over hilly terrain.


Bike Tour Difficulty Rating 5 bikes5 Bikes: 100 km per day over hilly terrain.


If a particular bike tour falls betwenn any of these definitions we give it a rating such as 2.5, 3.5 etc.

Obviously there is a lot of possible variation within this rating system.  We would prefer to keep it reasonably simple rather than writing a several page description about the terrain you can expect on one of our tours.  If you are in doubt about the hilly nature of the terrain, we recommend using an e-bike. You will still get the exercise, but without the pain.

Cycling in Ireland with and E-bike