Getting on a bicycle and going somewhere new is perhaps the most accessible way to have an adventure.
It doesn’t need to involve quitting your job, spending years planning, or embarking upon an odyssey of self discovery. It doesn’t need to look heroic. It doesn’t require “epic” days in the saddle, or energy gels, or Strava, or lycra. Nor does it have to involve physical hardship, highway traffic, vast mountain ranges, or continental crossings on a dollar a day with only pasta and stock-cubes for sustenance.
It can involve all of these things. But sometimes it can simply mean going somewhere new, exploring your surroundings for long enough to unwind, and coming home refreshed. That could be achieved in a weekend, or over the course of a year or more on the road. It’s totally up to you.
A bicycle adventure can be whatever you want it to be. And you can call it whatever you like – cycle touring, bikepacking, adventure cycling, cyclo-camping, travelling by bicycle; these are all different labels for the act of getting on a bike and seeing what you find. The rest is detail.
While a short trip is enough for many, some choose to take things further. The number of people who have cycled round the world is certainly in the thousands. And there are limitless adaptations you can make to the basic formula. Joff Summerfield has so far made three attempts to circle the planet on a penny farthing. Tom Kevill-Davies based a transcontinental bike trip on sampling and recording local recipes, which he later published as a series of travelogue-cookbooks. Emily Chappell found her adventurous calling by cycling across Alaska in the depths of winter on a fatbike. Ed Pratt spent several years riding round the world on a unicycle, becoming a YouTube sensation in the process.
Dig deeper and you’ll find dudes building custom surfboard-carriers and riding coastlines in search of the perfect break. You’ll find people building off-road bikepacking rigs, loading them up with home-made frame luggage and charting the unmapped dirt trails of South America and Central Asia. You’ll find tribes of modern-day hippies forming bands and roaming Europe on busking bike trips. You’ll find families cycling across continents with children of all ages, home-schooling in their tents and taking them on the best geography field trips imaginable every single day.
You’ll find people recreating cultural rite-of-passage journeys in traditional costume, people earning a living on the road by selling hand-made jewellery on exotic beaches, people riding from farm to farm as they work their way around the world. You’ll find cyclist photographers who spend months exploring on the profits of roadside postcard sales. You’ll hear of people serving bicycle-powered smoothies, not for money but just because they could. You’ll find people who travel money-free, bartering, dumpster-diving and volunteering their way across countries and continents. Whatever kind of eccentricity you might imagine, be sure that someone is out there doing it on a bicycle.
Yes, you’re allowed to have fun on a bike trip. Not the type of fun you later convince yourself you had. Actual, real fun. Sit by the riverside and read your favourite book. Wallow in a state of post-lunch, post-beer tranquillity for hours every afternoon. Cook elaborate meals. Eat ice cream. Brew coffee. Occasionally, ride your bicycle.
Sleep in wonderful, wild places that only you will ever know. Sleep in terrible, ill-advised places where no-one would dream of looking. Meet new people every day. Ride across deserts in a state of utter solitude. Ignore everything except what’s happening right here, right now. Daydream until you can’t remember where you are.
Leave your phone and laptop at home. I dare you. I double-dare you. Throw out your calendar. Spontaneously change your plans, your flights, your future. Travelling by bicycle can feel like the closest thing to freedom you’ll ever experience. Embrace it!
Header photo courtesy of Jamie Bowlby-Whiting.