Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

14 May 2013

8 reasons to travel by bike

Posted by Will

One of the questions people most often ask me is: why travel by bicycle? I’ve changed my answer over time. In what will probably turn out to be the first in a string of attempts to convert you to cycle touring, here are my 8 top reasons for why travelling by pedal-power is the way forward.

p1050140-800_01. See all the places in between. When it comes to seeing and understanding a country, a visit to the capital city only scratches the surface. In fact, if that’s as far as you get, you’ll probably come away with a distorted impression of that country as a whole. Yet this is precisely as far as most people get. Travellers I’ve met on the road tell me how cosmopolitan, busy, affluent and expensive it is in the UK. They’re talking about London, not the UK, because that’s usually the only place they’ve been. Travelling by bicycle opens up all the towns and tiny villages that aren’t frequented by tourist buses, trains and planes. This is where you’ll most likely find the traditions and grizzly country-folk unique to a country’s culture.

2. Meet the locals. Cycle touring makes for a lot of contact with the local people. It is a two-way thing. On one side, local people regularly approach and start chatting out of curiosity. On the other side, a cyclist is reliant on the people in the immediate vicinity for food, help and directions. In other words, cycling puts you in a position where you have to talk to the people around you. What’s more these are people who genuinely want to talk to you rather than just get your attention to sell you something.

3. Have a story to tell. Travelling on a bike creates a tale guaranteed to interest and impress those you meet, both on the road and back home. I attribute most offers of free accommodation or small acts of kindness to this ability to present myself in a unique way. Backpackers always have something entertaining to say but there are a lot of them. Once someone finds out you’re cycling a whole load of questions will follow and before you know it you’re in a conversation.

4. Cheap. Travel in the saddle is an inexpensive way to travel for a long time. A cycle trip can be designed with comfort in mind, which may turn out expensive, but at the budget end can even beat backpacking for making money last. Transport costs are reduced to zero, so food, accommodation and entertainment are the main drains on the bank. Food is cheaper than petrol (and more enjoyable to consume), accommodation is usually cheap away from other tourists (or is free in a tent!) and it is amazing how often having a good time (beer and all) is provided free of charge by some kind, hospitable local.

p1000347-8005. Constant exercise feels great. Contrary to what most people think, cycle touring does not make you feel tired all the time. In fact, the opposite: cycling regularly keeps you fit to the extent where the ‘I can’t be bothered’ sickness never sets in. Since I’ve been cycling I have no trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Exercising, so long as it’s done in a sustainable way, also makes you feel great.

6. Eat whatever you want. There’s something immensely satisfying about being able to eat a whole-baguette-sized sandwich, packet of biscuits, two Mars bars and a bottle of Coke without feeling even slightly guilty. Travelling by bicycle pretty much gives you licence to eat all the things you might worry about eating back home. The more calories the better. So long as your diet is balanced then you can eat as much as you like. And eating feels good.

7. Get involved with Warmshowers. This is a quite a specific reason but certainly worth including. Warmshowers is an online community which matches hungry, shelterless cyclists with lovely locals who are willing to accommodate them. The emphasis is on an exchange of experiences and cultures rather than an exchange of money. It’s like Couchsurfing but for cycle tourists. The people I’ve met via Warmshowers have gone above and beyond the call of duty and surpassed all my expectations. Having access to such a great network is such a valuable resource when travelling.

8. Satisfaction. Arriving in a new city, at a place of historical importance or on top of a high pass feels so much more satisfying on a bicycle. The sense that you’ve worked hard for a beautiful view makes it that much better. At times, cycling is tough and you’ll be wishing you had taken the bus, but it’s precisely this adversity that imparts the feeling of achievement.

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