This post is part of a series of inspirational short essays exploring the who, what, when, where and how of cycle touring and bikepacking.
It is sometimes assumed that cycle touring is the exclusive domain of the lean and lycra-clad. Since when did a ‘normal’ person get on a bike and routinely crank out between fifty and a hundred miles a day without breaking a sweat?
That requires fitness, and therefore training, and therefore a passion for sport and competition, and determination and pain. Which seemingly only describes a talented and slightly masochistic elite of cyclists.
Except those baseline assumptions are false.
Study the demographics of those actually out there wandering the world’s back roads on bicycles and you’ll find that very few are in it for the physicality or the challenge, or even for the cycling.
Athleticism is a byproduct of a mode of travel that creates fitness as it goes. The only requirement is the ability to ride a bike without falling off – something we all learn at an early age, and for most of us our first real taste of freedom. It’s that same freedom that attracts fully-grown adults back to their bicycles later on.
Sure, if you’ve spent the last few years indulging a little too heavily in sofa- or office-based activities, you’re not going to hit the ground running, so to speak.
But you don’t need to hit the ground running.
Nobody’s waiting for you at a finish line with a stopwatch. You can take all the time you need to get where you’re going. Who’s going to know how long it took (except you), and does it matter if it takes a little longer? You’ll only see more of the world as you go.
It won’t be long before you shift your attention away from your lacklustre mileage and towards the ever-changing landscape, the opportunities to explore, and the people and oddities you’ll stumble upon. You’ll find that slowness actually amplifies the intrigue of exploring new roads. Pedalling along, beholden to no-one and nothing, you’ll start to wonder:
Why would anyone take the freedom afforded by the humble bicycle and squander it on a mad dash to the finish line?
Allow days and weeks to pass by, and you’ll find that something even stranger happens.
The aches and pains subside. The saddle actually starts to feel rather comfortable, as though you’re ‘becoming one with the bike’. You’re no longer thinking about the cycling itself or how hard or strange it is, because it’s getting easier and more natural by the day as your experience grows, and you’ve got more interesting things to think about anyway. And the moment will come when you realise you’ve got on a bike that morning and cranked out a hundred leisurely miles without even noticing.
Because you, as a human, by applying yourself to something new, will have done what millions of years of evolution have optimised you for.
You will have adapted.
And so cycle touring – far from demanding a level of skill and strength available only to the chosen few – is in fact one of the most egalitarian types of adventure there is.
Try it. Take this simple man-powered machine, combine with your naturally curious spirit, and see where you end up.
Header photo courtesy of the Sathre-Vogel family.
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.
2 replies on “Who Can Go On A Bicycle Tour? (Hint: Not Only Cyclists)”
You don’t have to leave England to go cycle touring… It’s the same thing here as ‘over there’! There are decent camp sites via the Camping and Caravan club or you can go to small outfits all over the country, but not regretfully now the YHA, who now cater for motorists…Even a one day tour can be fun. I take a gas stove and a mess tin for a cup of coffee in the middle of ‘no-where’ and even make toast on the stove„, (my wife thinks I am mad!)…Don’t fret if you cannot up sticks and clear off.…you can ‘tour’ anywhere.…
I went to see your film at Wirksworth (Northern Lights), where you did a Q&A. You were inspirational.
Shortly afterwards, I cycled to Istanbul. I must admit I did no training (had a deadline for a guide book published by Bradt), but I had a ‘cunning plan’ aka Baldrick — to cycle the flat river Rhine and Danube valleys into fitness for the hills — and to my surprise, it really was so. I was a 54 year old woman and a bit overweight. But why let a little thing like that get in the way?
Cycling is for everyone. You don’t have to be a hairy, muscular man — and there’s nothing to beat getting out in the fresh air every morning and cycling for miles and miles — not knowing what’s round the next corner.
That was 2015 and I still miss being out on the bike every day.