Equipment Inspiration Planning & Logistics

280 Years, 196 Cyclists & 4,065,596 Kilometres — But What Does The Database Of Long-Distance Cycling Journeys Really Tell Us?

Tim & Laura’s quantitative study of the achievements of nearly two hundred long-distance touring cyclists makes for some fascinating browsing.

Who’d have guessed, for example, that the highest average monthly distance (9,673km) would be 41 times greater than the slowest (234km)?

Who’d have guessed that 38% of these cyclists would have chosen to use 700c road sized wheels on their bikes, compared with 62% using 26-inch mountain bike sized wheels?

Who’d have guessed that exactly two thirds of those riders would have cycled solo, and for an average trip length of 28,482km?

Who’d have guessed that it would be possible to get by on as little as £56 per month — yet that it would also be possible to spend as much as £4,167 in the same period?

Like I said, it makes for some fascinating browsing.

But what does the database of Long-Distance Cycling Journeys really tell us — especially those of us using it to plan our own long-distance cycling journey?

I’ll tell you what it tells us.

It tells us that it does not matter what your average monthly distance will be. Pick a rough target. Someone’s out there doing it.

It tells us that it does not matter whether your bike has 700c or 26″ wheels. People routinely ride round the planet with both.

It tells us that it does not matter what your fears are about going solo. The great majority took the same leap, and are getting on just fine.

It tells us that it does not matter how much money you’ve got. Someone’s pulled it off on a much tighter budget.

What it really tells us is this:

Whatever crucial factor you think will make the difference between success and failure — it won’t. Someone out there has proved it.

Your excuses are losing traction. What’s really stopping you from taking the leap?

18 replies on “280 Years, 196 Cyclists & 4,065,596 Kilometres — But What Does The Database Of Long-Distance Cycling Journeys Really Tell Us?”

“Highest average monthly distance 9,673km.”
I wonder why?
What can you possibly “see” if you are riding over 300km a day? Not my idea of a ride.

I view the stats’ and wonder about some of the origins.

By that I mean, is this a UK run site for example?

Seeing that the vast majority are British cyclists, and another stat’ that tells me that most solo riders are male by a long margin, I got to wondering such questions that naturally follow (historical precedents exist), such as how many of these riders are the bi-product of the British boarding school system and how many are ex British Armed forces?

It’s a perspective, having read so many biographies and travel books, from Shackleton through Sir Wilfred Thesiger, to Sir Ranulph (Twisleton-Wykeham) Fiennes, John Blashford-Snell, to the new crop such as Bruce Parry, though none of these limit themselves or claim to be long distance cyclists per se.

Hi Tim,

Yes we’re based in the UK and so naturally know more cyclists from this part of the world. As you’ll see from my response to the other comment above, anyone who has done a long cycling trip is welcome to join and we’re very keen to expand it as much as possible, to people from all countries. The more respondents we have, the more accurate the conclusions will be.

As for your point about people from boarding schools and armed forces, I agree that many ‘explorers’ can be typecast in this way. However, there are many, many people out there who have completed inspirational adventures and who fall outside this category…Dervla Murphy, Ann Daniels, Felicity Aston, Sarah Outen…

The beauty of cycling is that it requires no special skills nor heaps of money — in fact my husband and I have spent less each month cycling around the world that we spent on renting a crappy one bed flat in South London. Neither of us are ex-boarding school or armed forces. So while your point is certainly valid — the ‘explorer’ world is still dominated by white, western, posh blokes — many exceptions can be found, particularly in the world of cycle touring. An interesting point though, and one which is certainly worth debating.

Thanks Laura.

I dipped my own toe in the cycle-touring water this summer with a 4176 mile ride, a precursor for a longer, 2015 USA trip, hopefully leaving in the early New Year, so I may well qualify myself in due course!

I only curtailed my 2014 ride due to a major photographic competition needing “my” submission by 07 November, which is a real shame as I think the grandest months to ride and photograph the landscape in Europe are Sept / Oct.

I can tell you the hardest part of the journey (I do not see it as a bike ride per se since the bike is part of the toolset to get my pictures, though she’s a little more than that, of course) & that is the vast task of post production and editing of some 30,000 images on my return.


I’ve personally seen very little overlap between the public school / military explorer archetype and the world of bicycle touring — and when the overlap is there, it’s usually hand in hand with the high-concept, high-profile ‘expedition’ rides that get all the attention. I’d say that at least 95% of long distance cycle tourists I’ve met do not have this background.

There is a strong correlation between explorers and TV adventurers and the boarding school system and the military, this is true, I mused over the cycling-only aspect in passing.

There has historically been a strong recruitment from private education to RMA Sandhurst officer training and I guess after a training and career in adventure, they are likely to stick with an adventure career. 

However, cyclists don’t tend to come from an adventure background — it is a fairly unskilled type of adventure — unlike polar or climbing — and so the Al Humphreys, Mark Beaumont, Rob Lilwall and others come from a ‘take a break from the normal career’ mentality. 

In any career of adventure, it is difficult to make it pay — so anyone, no matter what their background who can go on expeditions as a profession has probably had to fight hard for what they do and the experience from the military background would lend itself better to expeditions, not least that it would be easier to raise funds by persuading potential sponsors of the likely successful outcome any such venture & past form.

Cycling from A to B doesn’t quite have that allure or sales potential and attracts a different less “enabled” participant, since pretty much anyone who can ride a bike can participate in a 10,000+ mile ride (given enough time & funds), with potentailly zero experience, no external fiscal backing nor any previous form.

Thus the (likely) answer to my musings, is, as you suggest, that there is possibly little correlation in long distance cycling and the British boarding school / British military route, though in fairness, you’d be unlikely to have knowledge of any given participant’s schooling unless you asked specifically!

Hi Tim
It’s very true what you say about the public school thing. The system trains kids to think they are special and can achieve anything. Parents pay many thousands of dollars to achieve that end. You are correct in the sense that most were from that background. There’s always class in Britain. Most people into cycling are middle class but not always. That would mean having the job to go back to. Assumption are made: you could programme or teach on your travel journey to make extra money.

Having said all that. I live in Birmingham. Lots of old boys from very modest, working class background just took off in the past before cycle touring was a “thing” like organic food or something.

My dad always said you would see lads from Liverpool and other cities with absolutely nothing on the hippie trail to India in the late sixties. Some died on the way or got in a mess. Of course there were more well off travellers.

However a nice person from any background is welcome anywhere in the world. Britain is a more open society now. Cycle tour people are preferable to road racers. I think we all agree on that 🙂

Interesting browsing indeed. I get those questions all the time… ‘what type of bike do I need,’ ‘how much does it cost?’ This just shows that it doesn’t really matter, just go.

However, we might start testing hypotheses such as “did those who had 700c cycle more Europe and road covered countries than those who had 26 inches ?” or “does the daily budget tend to decrease with the distance ?”. Things like that… It is promising. I wonder only how the respondents are selected.


The only qualification for entry to the database is completion of a cycling journey over 10,000km. You’ll see that some people have done more than one such journey so are on there multiple times. Anyone who has done such a trip is welcome to complete the form on the website.

We started collecting responses in December 2013. We’ve done a limited amount of analysis so far but are currently on our own long distance cycle journey so have limited ability to do very much. The hypotheses you pose are very interesting ones and hopefully we’ll be able to explore questions like these, and others, once we’re back home later this year.

Thanks for the blog post about it Tom — and I agree completely with your conclusion. Effectively, stop fretting about wheel size and gear choice and just GO.


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