Sunday 17 December 2017

5 Tips for Cycling Trips: Even if you haven't been in the saddle in ages

On Yer Bike

'Reggie' in Greece. Photo: Andrew P Sykes
'Reggie' in Greece. Photo: Andrew P Sykes
Family cycles in Ireland - on yer bike! Photo: Deposit
Cycling the Old Rail Trail, between Athlone and Mullingar. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Cycling can be as simple... or complex... as you want. Photo: Andrew P. Sykes
Andrew P Sykes in Portugal
'Reggie' in Germany. Photo: Andrew P Sykes
A cyclist on the Waterford Greenway.
Cyclists on the Waterford Greenway
The Great Western Greenway

Andrew P. Sykes

Thinking of a cycling trip? It can be as simple or complex as you like.

Adventurer and author Andrew P. Sykes is one of the speakers at the 15th annual Immrama Festival of Travel Writing in Lismore this June.

Andrew will tell of epic journeys across Europe on his bicycle ‘Reggie’... but you can get just as much fun from a pedal in the park.

Here, he outlines his top five cycling tips.

1. Keep things simple (if you want to)

Let’s imagine you have a bicycle. Taking it down to your local bike shop for a service is simple. Explaining to the mechanics what you are planning to do is simple and them telling you pretty quickly whether you have a bike that is up to the job is simple.

If it’s a ‘yes’, they’ll probably be able to sell you a couple of pannier bags and with that, you are more or less ready.

Cycling can be as simple... or complex... as you want. Photo: Andrew P. Sykes
Cycling can be as simple... or complex... as you want. Photo: Andrew P. Sykes

The chances are, however, that even if you don’t like to admit it publicly, most people actually enjoy complexity. It’s an arguable fact that just as much enjoyment can be found in planning for a holiday as in actually taking one.

So, if like me you love trawling the Internet or magazines for the perfect bits of equipment that will solve the kinds of problems that you never even knew existed before deciding to set off on your bike (and which will probably never happen anyway – I still have to use that chain repair thingy), cycle touring can provide complexity in abundance; the bike, the handlebars, the tyres, the gears, the brakes, the bags, the camping equipment, the cooking equipment, the clothing…

You’ve come to the right place if you like spending hours poring over the technicalities (and it can be fun doing so).

But stop! Always remember that cycle touring is fundamentally simple.

'Reggie' in Germany. Photo: Andrew P Sykes
'Reggie' in Germany. Photo: Andrew P Sykes

2. Prepare what you need to prepare, not what you don’t

You’ll need a starting point and, perhaps, an end point. You might have found a path to follow – a regional or national route or even a continental route such as one of the EuroVelos – but if you haven’t, don’t worry too much about that.

A canal? That will do, or rather the towpath will.

The chances are that you know how far you are capable of cycling in a day. If you are already a daily cycling commuter, your body adapted itself to being on a bike for extended periods long ago. Five, six, seven times your commuting distance every day for a week should not have you straining any muscles.

If you are new to cycling, take things more gently; you are the best person to know what your body is capable of. That said, the risk is probably in underestimating rather than overestimating just how far you can cycle in a day.

Andrew P Sykes in Portugal
Andrew P Sykes in Portugal

With these rough distances in mind, seek out some potential overnight stops but fight the temptation of booking everything in advance. It’s simply not necessary. If you’re camping, no campsite will ever turn away a cyclist, especially if you are by yourself (more of that in a moment). If you are using hotels and hostels, download some accommodation apps to your phone and, mid-afternoon when you know with a good degree of certainly where you are going to be stopping overnight, find a bed.

 The risk of being committed to a particular destination on a particular night weeks in advance will turn your carefree journey into a series of gruelling checkpoints.

3. Don’t worry: you’ll only be lonely if you want to be

You may have a burning desire to set off on your bicycle; your family and friends might not share your enthusiasm. Your dream is over… Or is it?

Most people who have never ventured beyond the front door by themselves let alone on holiday, imagine life as a solo traveller to be one of glum isolation. I certainly did prior to setting off on my first cycle tour, along the Pennine Cycleway in northern England. In my mind was a future, longer continental trip but I needed to be reassured that I wasn’t going to be miserable and alone.

As I trundled from village to village through Northumberland and the Yorkshire Dales, it quickly became apparent that loneliness was never going to be on the agenda unless I wanted it to be. Invariably when I stopped to look at the view or take a drink, I would be questioned by passers by as to where I was going or where I’d been. In the evening at the hostels I would fall easily into conversation with fellow travellers, swapping stories and comparing route options. After a pint of beer, it was like chatting with old friends.

A cyclist on the Waterford Greenway.
A cyclist on the Waterford Greenway.

The advantages of being in charge of where you go, what you do and where you stay – no consultation, no arguments – far outweigh any perceived risk of being lonely. Far more frequently have I yearned for a bit of isolation than actually experienced it.

4. “Allow yourself to travel slow and explore”

I found this line quoted in a small tourist guide that I picked up in Norway when I was in the final few weeks of my journey to Nordkapp for ‘Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie’. It was timely, pertinent advice.

There will be times, especially when you are towards the end of a long journey, to get on with the job, finish and tell everyone how wonderful your experience has been. But it’s worth the effort of fighting the urge to get to the next village, town, campsite… Pull on the brakes – your fingers, at times, should be more active than your legs – and stop to appreciate things.

On a bicycle, it’s easy and you can do it far more frequently than you are ever able to do in a car. If you see something signposted that sounds interesting, go and find it. If miss your ferry across the fjord, gaze at the mountains for an hour. If you stumble upon some ruins that are begging to be climbed, go climb them.

Don't be the person who, at the end of the day, thinks ‘I wish I’d…’.

5. Share your adventure, even if it’s just with yourself

One of the best things about travelling by bicycle is that it gives you time to think.

The Great Western Greenway
The Great Western Greenway

Einstein famously claimed that he came up with his theory of relativity ‘while riding my bicycle’. I believe he probably did and although I make no claim to have come up with any thoughts of my own which will set the world of astrophysics alight, some of my own best lines have been carefully crafted whilst riding Reggie the bike.

With an ability to communicate with the world no further away than the smartphone in your pannier, embrace the technology to share your finely crafted musings with others through writing; a blog, a Facebook post, or even a 140 character tweet.

If words aren’t your thing but photography is, then social media is your best friend. If modern communications are not for you, take a notebook and a pen to record your thoughts.

They may never be read by anyone other than yourself but one day you will pick up your old journal, reflect upon what you did many years previously and smile to yourself in acknowledgement that you had the courage to get on your bike and spend that summer cycling.

I guarantee you won’t regret it.

NB: For tickets and info on the Immrama Lismore Festival of Travel Writing 2017 see lismoreimmrama.com or call (058) 53803. Andrew’s latest book, 'Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie', will be published on May 11th.

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