One of the most wonderful things about cycle touring and bikepacking is this:
You are no longer restricted to anyone else’s idea of a place worth going to.
In fact, you have an enviable degree of freedom from the usual structures of tourism.
And you get to decide on your own focus for travel, rather than feigning interest in what guidebooks and travel blogs assume everyone must be interested in.
Pedalling requires no services or facilities other than a grocery store every few days and a regular supply of drinking water. Unlike motorists, you can easily carry enough ‘fuel’ for days – even weeks – while you follow your nose.
Carrying a tent means that, rather than worrying about finding a hotel or hostel each day, you can wild camp anywhere for free – in fact, the further away from hotels and hostels, the better.
And bus routes become things to be actively avoided, rather than limitations on where your curiosity might take you.
Sure, you’ll spend most of your time riding a road or trail of some description, because roads and trails were built to connect people. But the range goes from smooth asphalt all the way to winding singletrack. Your options are almost limitless.
Choose a good all-round touring bike or a hardcore expedition bike and there’s almost nowhere you couldn’t go on the world’s road network. Alternatively, build up a bikepacking bike and reap the rewards of off-road bicycle travel.
Common cycle touring wisdom holds that the smaller the road, the more rewarding the experience, and the further from the tourist trail, the more authentic the local welcome.
Amaya Williams spent years on the road before fully embracing this.
“We’ve been sticking to a lot of back roads in the past couple of years and our level of satisfaction has increased immensely,” she says. “Sure, it takes longer and it’s rough going at times, but the rewards are well worth the effort.” And she should know: as of the time of writing, she’s pedalled 220,000km across 118 countries and counting.
Then there’s the act of cycling itself, which encourages you to take pleasure in your surroundings. The details of the landscape and the slow evolution of nature and culture become your personal sightseeing attractions, missed by those who pass overhead at 35,000 feet or overtake you at 60mph.
Whether you’re riding through the green and pleasant lands of England, the towering peaks of the Himalayas, the rainforests of South East Asia, or the deserts of Saharan Africa, bicycle travel invites you to hunt down intrigue on the roadside the world over.
So the question of ‘where to go’ bicycle touring is a whimsical one to which the only real answer is ‘anywhere you like’.
There are very few nations on Earth in which it is impossible to travel by bicycle. Read enough blogs and trip journals and you’ll realise that cycle travellers have explored pretty much everywhere.
Visas and bureaucracy may complicate things a little bit, but this will rarely prevent you from going altogether, and there are fewer excuses than ever for not making a trip to that place you’ve always wanted to visit, or simply sticking a pin in a map. If you’re reading this, chances are you have a useful passport to travel on, and it’s worth remembering that this makes you far more mobile and unrestrained a traveller than the majority of Earth’s population, and that any additional paperwork is a relative doddle by comparison.
Amaya is a good example of what’s possible – she is midway through a mission to cycle every country in the world. “Sounds daunting,” she says, “but little by little, I’m confident we’ll realise this dream.”
Inspiration can also be found in the story of Jumber Ledzhava, a man who, aged 52, set off to cycle every nation on Earth, and visit every capital city. He spent 12 years achieving this dream, mostly alone, ticking off all but five of the more than 200 countries in existence at the time and setting a new record for the world’s longest continuous bicycle journey, with over a quarter of a million kilometres of pedalling beneath his wheels.
What’s remarkable was that he did this as a citizen of the tiny former Soviet republic of Georgia. Without the luxury of a Western passport, he pulled off this feat by persuading diplomats the world over into granting him visas and permits through sheer determination, persistence and charisma.
Something to remember, perhaps, next time we in the West are tempted to complain about having to apply in advance for a tourist visa!
Header photo courtesy of Eric Fiala.
This is a modified excerpt from my beginners’ introduction to cycle touring and bikepacking.
How To Hit The Road is a low-priced newcomer’s guide to every aspect of planning and surviving your first bike bike trip. Available as an ebook (Kindle/ePub) or print-on-demand paperback.