My cycling history
Originally I was inspired to cycle on holidays by a book that my dad gave me about the tour around the equator by Tilmann Waldthaler. The guy is something of an original in the cycle touring world, starting to cycle in the 70s, when there weren’t many around and you had to make the gear yourself. I read his book and was inspired.
My first trip was somewhere around 2007 when me and a few friends cycled the Camino de Santiago from Geneva to Santiago de Compostela in two weeks. We were young and fit and so we averaged around 100 km/day. At the time only around 114.000 pilgrims did the journey. That number has now tripled with 301.000 pilgrims in 2017. I already thought it was crowded back then, it must be rather busy now. We had great support from random people we talked to and met on the way. We managed to lose both photo cameras we took on one of the first days (one fell into a river and the other one got stolen in Geneva) and therefore most of the trip is just going to remain in our memories.
My second trip was in 2008 when me and my friend Malte cycled from Basel to Montpellier through Switzerland and France. Switzerland was amazingly beautiful, well organised and incredibly expensive so we didn’t hang around there much. The rest of the trip was just stunning and beautiful. France has amazing landscapes that change quite quickly. We also managed to stay again at a farm that I remembered from my previous trip and we rode past by chance. They have a composting toilet with Mont Blanc view, so I was keen to go there again. This was all pre-phone-with-camera time so not many great shots exist from that time.
My third and last journey for a long time was a trip to South Korea in 2010 with my friend Florian cycled from North to South, around Jeju island and partway north again. Although plagued by technical problems and the realisation that asian countries don’t use 28 inch wheels of any kind, the scenery and friendliness of the people was again incredible. We stayed in many Jjimjilbangs, which are public baths with a sleeping facility for not much money at all You also get to wear fashionable blue or pink robes.
And my last trip was the comparably tame two-week trip to New Zealand with only 450 km travelled in total.
So all in all, I have a little bit but not a lot of experience, if you compare with a number of serious cycle travellers, who are on the road (or in the mud) for years.
Why cycling is the best way to travel
I love cycling as a way of travel for a number of reasons.
Cycling is just the right speed to be able to enjoy the landscape and see the small things. You don’t have a metal capsule around you, like in a car or camper, which prevents you from interacting with your environment.
The same is true for walking, but rolling downhill is sooo much better than walking downhill. You also get somewhere as normally I would cycle anywhere from 40 to 120 km in a day. I would think 60km upwards is a good cycling distance as on average I go about 16 km/h (this includes uphill and downhill sections, where speed alternates between 5 km/h and 50 km/h).
The obvious benefit of cycling is that you get a lot of fresh air, sunlight and a good amount of exercise. Cycling is a healthy way to keep fit and doing it everyday is quite enjoyable. I can’t speak for doing it every day for years on end, but certainly for a trip of a month or so, cycling is great fun.
Being a cyclist and a camper means you are in tune with the natural cycles of light and dark. At the end of the day, when the sun has set, there is not much to be done except for looking at the stars and maybe reading for 30 minutes by torch-light. I also get up with the crack of dawn, because it’s light outside, birds are singing and possibly too hot in the tent already.
Cycling also gets you in touch with people more. Random people approach you in the street and want to talk about your trip. Other random people invite you to their homes. Other cyclists are instant friends because you share a way of travel. Which car driver does that? Drivers shout encouragements on uphill sections that make you smile and help you push through. Cycling is a great way to meet people.
5) Feeling good
Conquering a large hill or mountain with your own muscle power feels great. Besting an obstacle and seeing the limits of your own abilities is an exhilarating feeling that not many of us have the privilege of feeling on a day-to-day basis.
6) Time to think
Not all parts of a cycling trip are interesting. There are many parts that just go straight and are utterly boring. But even these places have a benefit to a cyclist. There is something to the rhythmic movement of the legs that just makes your mind wander and think. I also sing songs or make up stories.
When you have a bike you can take more things than when walking, but it’s still a fairly limited amount of stuff you can take. And when you are trying to be self-contained, with tent, cooker and all other necessary items, not to mention food and water, then a lot of the available space is already taken up by necessities. It is refreshing to experience that I don’t need many things to be happy and be alive.
8) The freedom
I reckon for most cyclists, this is what they get addicted to and it’s a really powerful thing. Being able to go anywhere, by your own power and on your own terms is immensely fulfilling. It’s hard to go back to a normal life, with rules, limitations and responsibilities after experiencing this degree of freedom for a long period (years). For the casual cycle tourist, this is probably more of a boon than a curse.
Cycling is great, I hope you feel encouraged to try it out for yourself. Even a weekend trip can be great fun and gives a taster for what’s possible. And everything is possible on a bike.