WHY TRAVEL BY BICYCLE
See all the great stuff in between.
There is no denying that when you travel by other forms of transport, be it a plane, train or bus, you do miss out on a lot in between your departure point and destination. You might board a plane in a tropical and humid climate for example, and arrive several hours later somewhere much more temperate and wholly different. You miss the conversion in between, the changing of the climate, weather patterns and the scenery on the way. In essence you miss out on seeing how the landscapes continually change and shift into something completely different and thus you also miss the sense of space and distance.
When you travel by bicycle, it takes so much longer to reach somewhere and thus, when you do finally make it under your own steam, the satisfaction and realization of the distances covered is immense. It's often indescribable and there is a real sense of accomplishment that goes with this.
Sleep wherever you want
Wherever you go you need to find somewhere to sleep and more often than not, this involves searching for a hostel or hotel in whichever city or town you happen to find yourself in. Instead, because you’re travelling by bike, you often aren’t in a town or a city but rather outside amongst the fields, countryside and the ever changing scenery. Due to this, you can sleep almost anywhere you like.
Perhaps you’ll only ride for 20km’s one day before you find a beautifully deserted beach and decide it’s the perfect place to pitch for the night. Due to this you ride no more. The next day you might cycle 60km’s before finding some wooded area by a stream that looks like the perfect spot. It doesn’t really matter as the outcome is always the same: a free place to sleep and no stress. Solitude and peace.
Meet the locals
The last point ties in with this in a way. The fact that you are cycling means that 90% of your time is spent away from tourist areas and cities and thus you get to actually meet local people who are, more often than not, a friendlier, more amicable bunch.
They’ll invite you into their home, offer food and drink and possibly, depending on the country, a bed. It’s all possible as you simply seem less threatening and often take people aback by what you are actually doing. Try asking for free water in Paris and then do the same out in the sticks and you’ll soon realise the difference.
Challenge yourself physically and mentally
Having cycled over the Swiss and Austrian Alps and over the Pamir highway, I’ve gotten a decent understanding of the mental and physical challenges that arise. It’s physically exhausting to haul a fully laden bike over 2000 metre passes, but the mental challenge faced when cycling through a barren desert for days on end with nothing to zone in on can be equally difficult
Whilst the exertion of crossing a mountain pass is truly immense, sapping every last bit of energy from your body, the days of solitude and reflection that come naturally when crossing immense expanses of wilderness allow thoughts, ideas and concepts to be questioned. Things that are inevitably put off will come to the forefront of your mind and this in itself is challenging. Still this is also the perfect time to really think about things.
There are times when you do think that you might not be able to do this anymore. There are times when you feel you perhaps can’t or shouldn’t go on when cycling through 45 degree heat or rain that never seems to cease. There are times when you become frightened. Nethertheless, you seem to push on, willing yourself through and you realise that you can do it.
Most things can be overcome if you push yourself hard enough, and the satisfaction you get from knowing that you could have turned back but didn’t, pushes you on even more. It gives you strength, courage and confidence that can, and surely will, transpire to all other aspects of your life.
Travel on the cheap
Ninety percent of the time, there is no need to pay for accommodation as you have your own tent strapped to the back of the bike saving money that's usually spent on arguably the biggest cost of any trip. You’ll also be travelling completely free as, yes you guessed it, you’ll be on a bike. Food is bought in supermarkets and cooked yourself on a stove and is thus so much cheaper than always eating out. It can also be a whole lot more nutritious as you can decide exactly what goes in it. Compare the 30 – 40 Euros per day budget of the average traveller with the 5 – 10 Euros per day budget with the average bicycle traveller.
See places you might never have seen otherwise
With a bicycle, you can go almost anywhere. You’re only limited by your imagination. Where there is a road or track, there is a path to be taken and you never know what might lie at the end, where it will take you, and what you’ll see on the way. Trains need railway lines and cars need good roads but a bicycle needs very little, and even when the road becomes too bad to cycle, you can always push. It really does open up a huge range of possibilities.
You might not always be eating the best food or drinking Italy’s best Chianti but most of the time it feels great anyway. You’ll set up camp knowing that you have put your body through a vigorous workout and you’ll feel pumped, the bloods still flowing and endorphin's have been released. You’ll almost certainly pass out by dusk and almost certainly wake up with the sun. Cycling and sleeping outside have this amazing affect on your body and you’ll wonder how you ever did anything else.
The chance to tell a great story
Great stories come from a variety of pursuits and cycling is really no different, especially if you're visiting unbeknownst parts of the world and interacting with the locals. There will be no shortage of weird and wonderful tales that will happen along the way.
Being a curious cyclist, arriving in a village and looking thoroughly out of the ordinary will usually only ever invite positive feedback. You might ask if it’s possible to fill up on some water and then be asked if you need a hot meal and somewhere to sleep. You might even be pulled over by a man in Spain whom invites you to dine with his entourage at the estate where his community live. Outside the cities and because you’re a curious sight, people are much more open, friendly and receptive to advances by someone they do not know travelling by a mode of transport not often used in this way.
This may seem strange when talking about safety and cycling but the only real danger you’ll have is with dangerous driving but, if you have common sense and your wits about you, you’ll be completely fine most of the time. Of course I have had my share of horror stories like anyone else. There was a time when I nearly got hit by lightning whilst camping outside of Istanbul. This is an exception though rather than the norm. Theft isn’t usually a problem as you’ll mostly be outside the cities and thus outside of hostels too. Violence also isn’t usually a problem because of the same reasons.
It gives you the freedom to do what you want, to be the captain of your own path and thus the ability to become more open and receptive to change. The chance to forge your own way and not be tied down to thinking about work or money and the obligations that we all have. In essence it allows you to live.