Travel The World With Your Bike:
The Minimalist Approach
I have said this before but it’s worth repeating because a recent cycling trip to Greece really brought home the advantages to me. What it proved beyond doubt is that it is possible to travel large distances by bike with minimalist gear, i.e. small day-pack (10 kg) on the back – no panniers. You only burden yourself with a change of clothes, toothbrush/towel, the usual day-ride gear - and money/credit card.
Sure, there are limitations to this approach – the main one is that you must be going through areas where towns/villages are within a days ride (wouldn’t work in really remote places like Mongolia). You need to be able to find somewhere to eat and sleep at the requisite intervals, and you are seriously stuck with just what you brought with you.
The benefits are that your bike is light and so much easier to crank up the inevitable hills (or lift over fences, or bunny- hop, or go on tempting single tracks and other technical terrain – wheee!) It is also much less of a hassle getting your bike on to other transport if desired/necessary.
Accommodation & Food
My wife Jill and I have done a number of very pleasant trips like this. We try to stay in YHA/backpacker accommodation as these are cheap, friendly and have communal kitchens, where you can prepare your own meals. If you do this and ride a bike for transport, you can end up spending very little more than you do on day-to-day living at home. Of course, the travel to and from the destination can cost big $$$ for which you must save.
You also need time to enjoy this mode of travel. Do not add stress by planning tight schedules – stay cool man!
In June last year we did a trip through South Western Greece (the Peloponnese Peninsula) starting from Athens and returning there via some of the Greek islands. We cycled about 500km in all (a modest 60/80 km per day) utilizing a local bus to get us out of Athens and down to Kalamata (where the famous olives come from) thence ferry boats back via the islands (two of which we cycled round – Spetsi and Naxos).
People are invariably pleased when they realize that you have taken the trouble to learn some of their language and become very helpful and friendly. It is a rewarding experience to take the time to learn something of other cultures.
We had been warned that Greek drivers were extremely macho and reckless and that cycling there would be dangerous. We experienced quite the opposite. The Greeks do drive dangerously but paradoxically, they seem to recognize that human beings (and animals) outside a vehicle are vulnerable. We were treated with better caution by drivers in Greece than we are used to experiencing here. Even in Athens where traffic is unbelievably chaotic, drivers offered us sanctuary on the road by pushing outwards into the traffic, to allow us more room at the side of the road! The rarity of cyclists on the roads may well be a factor in this – a curious novelty to Greeks?
There is a pervasive serenity about Greece. The people have mastered the art of relaxed communal living despite the crowded nature of their settlements. There is no sense of urgency about the place (don’t have a heart attack there) People tend to stroll (they don’t know the city fastwalk) and much time is spent in eating, drinking and discussion. Very civilized.
Apart from the towns, where the local kids hoon around their immediate home area the same as they do here, we rarely saw another bike on the roads. It is just not a cycling country for the locals, yet it was fascinating for visitors like us
The Bike Riding
What was the riding like? Like any other bike riding I guess – there are always bloody hills. Greece is particularly endowed in this respect. It is a very dry and rocky country, most of it mountains. We had no fixed timetable and so we just rode as the mood took us. We didn’t try to do epic distances because the whole idea of the trip was to enjoy the total experience. Like all hills you get into autopilot slogging up and then go wild with exhilaration coming down. We’d stop at any places of interest (the smell of bakeries and coffee got me very interested) particularly on the coastline, where beautiful whitewashed fishing villages set in jewel-like Mediterranean bays, were commonplace. It was hard not to stop and have a coffee and baklava at them all.
June is early summer there and so it was hot at times –similar to what you get here but without the humidity. There is a noticeable lack of shade in Greece (not many forests) however, and at times we were desperately looking to rest behind fences, rocks, bushes – anything. You just had to soldier on and hope a village rest stop soon appeared, with icy frappes and other taste treats.
We didn’t have any mechanical problems with the bikes – about one puncture was it.
A Moving Experience
It is difficult to keep the story line centred on bicycles when writing about cycle touring as the whole experience takes over- the bike is just the means to an end. However, what a trip such as this does bring out is the sheer joy of moving through all these rich experiences on a bicycle. People are interested in you, they talk to you, help you. You see and experience so much more when travelling on a bicycle. Hear the sounds, smell the smells, walk the walk, talk the talk. Sure you can get tired, hungry, wet, muddy and irritable on a bike but this is experiencing life as it should be – the highs and the lows. Who wants mediocrity?
You can go on fully organized trips where every detail is pre-planned and sanitized but where is the excitement in that sort of bland predictability. For maximum return on life you have maximize your input.
Get on yer bike and go!
DOG MTB © 2003