Around the World on Two Wheels - Travel Tips for the Cycling Nomad
Ah, there’s no feeling quite as freeing and exhilarating than discovering a new place on your trusty old bicycle. Cycle touring has long been a primary form of exploration for some travellers, but with COVID19 sweeping away our existing travel plans, some of us have been turning back to our bikes as an alternative way of exploring new destinations!
Over to Chris from the Workaway team, an avid and seasoned cycling nomad who’s all for touring different countries’ (and even our own!) nature and hidden paths. Based on years of experience and incredible discoveries, he is excited to share some tips for those who want to start this adventure too:
Your perfect cycle touring adventure: alone or accompanied by friends?
When alone, you get to decide where you’re going, the speed you get there and when to stop and take a picture, smell the roses or take a pee! What’s more, flying solo means you have the ultimate freedom to meet and hang out with new friends on the road, as well as the flexibility to make spontaneous plans without needing to accommodate your existing travel partner(s).
Yet, if you can find someone who is a similar level of fitness and who you get along with very well, having a cycle partner would feel like a godsend. [Pro-tip: Get connected with fellow cycle-loving workawayers and embark on your adventure together!]
From sharing the weight of a tent or other gear such as stoves, pans and tools -- to having someone to look after your bike and bags if you need to pick up something at the convenience store, there are definite benefits to having someone else around.
Having done cycle tours alone, with one partner as well as in a larger group, I’d say that finding ONE person who is a decent match can be quite tricky, and gathering a group of equally matched riders is almost impossible! In a group, the unavoidable differences in pace and places we want to explore makes it difficult to keep everyone happy. Having said that, one of my favourite ways to go about this is to split up into smaller groups and meet up later. Trust me, the rewarding feeling of cycling and exploring in sync with your buddies is definitely worth the challenge!
What should you take with you?
What you decide to take on a cycle tour depends on how long you plan for your journey to last, but there are some items that will ALWAYS be needed. The ability to fix a puncture (you will get a puncture!) is imperative. Having spare inner tubes, tyre levers (to remove the tyre), a pump and patches to repair the tube are essential too.
If you are able to invest in a tubeless tyre system, punctures become far less likely. This is a relatively new bike technology, which provides us some much-needed peace of mind by drastically reducing your chances of being stuck in the middle of the road with a flat tyre, struggling to find and fix a puncture.
Another tip is to ditch that expensive travel stove on your wish list, and make your own out of materials you’d otherwise be throwing away! Check out this cool camping stove idea-- it's made from a regular drink can and runs on alcohol. Ingenious and easy -- my favourite combination!
I’ve seen one of these before, but never a decent explanation of how to make one:
My list of essentials looked something like this:
- Tent (light as possible)
- Sleeping bag
- Tools for fixing the bike (Multitool with chain breaker, spare spokes, puncture repair kit, pump, chain lube, brake pads, spare chain link)
- Stove, pan & utensils for cooking and eating
- Map (Never wanted to rely on the phone in case the battery ran out leaving me stranded)
- Phone and charger (which could double as a camera/video recorder)
- One change of cycle clothes (so two shorts, two tops)
- One set of regular clothes (including lightweight shoes)
- Waterproof jacket
- Toilet Paper (you don’t want to be caught without this one in the middle of nowhere!)
The first long cycle trip I did (from London to the Mediterranean coast of Spain) all I took was one bag, worn on my back. There were two of us on that trip, so we could split the one tent we took between us. This is the most common way we cyclists carry all of our essentials on our tours.
On the plus side, you’ll tend to keep the bag light if you are wearing it on your back, taking only the definite essentials that you’ll keep with you at all times.
The downside though, is that wearing all you take on your back will become uncomfortable, no matter how light you think you’ve made the bag. I distinctly remember being half-way up a mountain and going through our bags throwing anything we considered superfluous away; Camera? Too heavy! Chuck it… Pages that we had already travelled on the map? Rip them out and throw them! Spare pair of socks? Sorry but bye..!!! Keeping the weight down is absolutely essential or you will be throwing good stuff away or at least posting it back home!
On my second trip, I had panniers as well as my bag -- which is definitely more comfortable! -- but I’d say the best solution is to have nothing on your back, and all the weight distributed evenly on the bike. Panniers that are easy to remove and carry are the way to go for sure!
There are also now many cyclist-friendly bags that can be mounted directly to your bike, so that panniers and their attachment points are not necessary anymore. These bags can be attached to various parts of your bike, and while they generally have a smaller volume than panniers, this also means they're lighter and encourage a more minimal pack.
Using Workaway while cycle touring
While staying in a tent is the easiest way to be able to just cycle until you feel like stopping for the day, after a while the comfort of a regular bed and the possibility of a proper bath becomes extremely enticing! Having some Workaway hosts lined up along the route of your journey can really help break it up into more manageable chunks, and allow you to recharge your batteries while helping others along the way! Areas where nature is luscious and roads are smooth also tend to be popular among travellers who like to bike, which makes it a wonderful hub to potentially meet new cycle buddies to explore with!
Here are just a few of many Workaway projects that cycle enthusiasts will undoubtedly love:
Another site that could be very useful when cycle touring is warmshowers.org which has been around in several formssince 1993. Here people will welcome touring cyclists to stay with them, and share great stories and a drink.
Travelling by bicycle allows us to savour the moments of a journey so much more than if we’re in a car. With the wind in our hair, trees and lakes within our reach and the freedom to enjoy getting from one place to another -- our way (rather than just arriving point to point), gives us a fuller and more diverse taste of the place! We all know that travelling really is more about the journey than the destination, and cycle touring is one of the ways that allow you to fully experience your trip as a traveller rather than as a tourist... the same way as using Workaway does! We decide the roads we will travel and who we will meet. Our journey and memories will be all the richer for it!