16th March 2016

Anyone can go on a cycling expedition, and here’s why

Laura Moss says that anyone can get into touring

Laura Moss says anyone can get into touring

Written by Laura Moss, bicycle adventurer

There is a man in India who can’t mend punctures. He doesn’t own a tent, roll mat or sleeping bag. Most of all, he has an impressive gut.

All these factors make him an unlikely candidate for a cycling expedition. The belly alone suggests he is more at home on a sofa than a saddle. The truth is, he has cycled thousands of miles across four continents.

“No fancy equipment? No problem. Don’t know your crank from your chainset? You’ll manage.”

He arrived in Australia, ready to cycle 1,000 miles, without owning a bicycle and unable to afford any model in the local bike shops. Eventually borrowing one from a friend, he made up for the lack of camping equipment during his journey by sleeping on picnic tables. When it rained, he slept under those tables. Faced with a puncture which he had no idea how to mend, he pushed his bike 100km to the next town. He fits his adventures around a full time, demanding job, while his bemused family shrug and enjoy the break from his eccentricities.

The reason for telling you about Hemant is to demonstrate exactly why cycle touring is open to everyone. No fancy equipment? No problem. Don’t know your crank from your chainset? You’ll manage. More fat than fit? Don’t worry, that will resolve itself once you set off.

Laura on a cycling expedition in Thailand.

It’s the people you meet along the way that makes it worthwhile.

When we were planning our bike ride round the world, we were plagued by fears. Crossing the Alps was my own particular nemesis, and I would wake up in a cold sweat having dreamed that my knees had popped out of their sockets or that my other half had left me for dead on the side of a Swiss mountain. For months before we left, I fretted that I didn’t know how to fix a broken spoke, whilst never actually getting round to learning the required technique. My aforementioned other half spent an entire year researching the perfect glove, footwear, camping mat, stove: anything that would help us cope with a Turkish winter. We spoke to dozens of people and read scores of blogs in order to plan a perfect route, aiming for the fine line between adventure and danger.

Ultimately, it was all in vain. Our route changed within weeks of setting off. My high tech gloves leaked, so I switched them for a pair of army surplus overmitts which I bought for a fiver from eBay. On the odd occasion we had a broken spoke (or worse, a split wheel rim), we carried on, cautiously riding to the next bike shop. The Alps, it turned out, were over within two weeks of leaving home, took two days to cross and we soon found ourselves crossing bigger and steeper mountains without even realising it.

Cycle touring isn’t difficult. If you can ride a bike for a day – even a couple of hours – you can cycle to a destination, sleep, and cycle again the next day. It’s this winning formula – what we refer to as ‘Cycle, Sleep, Repeat’ – which allows you to creep across the surface of a region, country or continent, powered by your own efforts. It is the log chopping of the expedition world: low tech, low skill and low glam, but immensely satisfying.

Tim Moss putting up a tent during a cycling expedition.

All you need is a little bit of kit – it doesn’t have to be fancy.

Cycle touring opens the world up in a way like no other: moving fast enough to cover reasonable distances but slow enough to take it all in, you end up seeing places and meeting people you would never otherwise have cause to. We feel priviliged to have had the sheer variety of experiences we were offered as we pedalled our way across the world, whether it was being scrubbed down by an old woman in a traditional Korean spa, visiting a sacred Iranian site (usually off limits to non-Muslims), or sharing a meal with Georgian nuns, hearing their stories about the Russian occupation of their town during the South Ossetian war.

a cycling expedition in Iran

Thailand, Armenia, Iran – you can cycle anywhere!

My yearning for the open road is most acute when I reminisce about the places we slept, particularly those nights (and there were many) when we were taken in by local people. Being on a bike means you are vulnerable, and with that vulnerability comes a trust, borne of necessity, in innate human goodness. Throwing our defences down meant we were adopted by people the world over, from Albanian peasants to a Texan millionaire, via a Japanese tulip farmer with a penchant for Elton John. In almost 500 nights on the road, we didn’t have a single bad experience.

If this form of travel appeals to you, but you are daunted by the thought of the open road, don’t be. Learn what you can, buy whatever kit you can afford, but above all just think of Hemant. After staying with him in Jaipur, all my fears seemed inconsequential: at least I can fix a puncture.

Laura Moss cycled 13,000 miles around the world in 2013-4 with her husband, Tim. She organises the Cycle Touring Festival, a weekend of talks and workshops which aims to inspire and equip people to explore the world by bicycle. Read more about Laura and Tim’s journey here, and find out more about the here.

Check out Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative Touring Bikes

Read ‘Bikepacking in Ireland’ by guest blogger Fiona Outdoors.

One comment on “Anyone can go on a cycling expedition, and here’s why

  1. Hilary Kitching on

    Laura’s is right, ‘Anyone can do it’!
    Having cycled from Aberdeen to Tangiers solo in 2014 (with a Specialized Vita Elite I purchased from Edinburgh Cycles in 2012) I set off on March 24 with four panniers, basic cycle tools (including NBT2, and spare spokes) a tent, low budget and just kept heading South.
    I had arranged to meet a friend in Sevilla at the end of May and although I did encounter some mechanical problems along the way (BB was replaced at Inverkiething, 3 broken spokes replaced by myself on an isolated, sleety Clermont Ferrand hill), I could still have walked with my bike to the nearest cycle shop as part of the journey to get the repairs. Biggest and consistent issue was keeping my back wheel in true, which is just a case of patience, observation and some minor adjustments.
    If anything, camping solo was the most amazing part of doing this trip, especially here in the UK with so many dense forests who needs to pay for a camp site which could be populated with people who don’t understand the benefits of cycle touring.
    Be pure and face your fears!

    Reply

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