Today, one of my hallmarks is travelling with my bicycle. After everything had started very harmlessly with weekend trips by bike, I’m now at a point where I have already made my first experiences with “a bike on a plane” or cycling alone for weeks through several countries. There are, of course, a couple of reasons why I’ve discovered bike travelling as an option for me at all. As well as a lot of essential benefits that make bike travelling more attractive to me compared to many other types of travelling. In the following, I have put together my personal ranking list with ten good reasons, why I recommend everyone going on travel with a bike, and what’s so great about this type of travel at all:
1st Good Reason: You are very independent and you can enjoy a great personal freedom
When I travelled with an Interrail ticket through Sweden and Norway in 2012, there was one thing that really annoyed me: the massive restriction of my personal freedom through only sparsely served parts of the country by train or bus (for example, only two connections a day) as well as some remote highlights with no public transport at all. If you don’t want to be tied to sparse timetables, hitchhiking or anything else, but nonetheless you want to get from A to B, or you want to reach remote places you would like to see, you have a very huge personal freedom with your own “wheels”. You can go wherever you want to go; on the path that you want to experience and see; at flexible timetables that you determine by yourself; and all this without being dependent on other people in any way. This independency, personal freedom and flexibility, I really value most when travelling by bike.
Two views in Slovenia one cannot experience neither by public transportation nor by car.
2nd Good Reason: You have a much more intense experience of everything
Allright, some of you will now say, “Yes, but with my own car, I have this flexibility and personal freedom, too.” That’s right. But: you cannot compare travelling from A to B by car with bike travelling. In a car you are always a little bit separated from the landscape that surrounds you. Also, the world flies by at a high speed, which makes it difficult to really experience this world during the ride. However, it’s quite different on a bicycle. You don’t sit in a tin that shields you from the world around you. You are part of the landscape through which you ride. And you do not race through our world. With a much slower pace you can simply experience more. You can perceive even the smallest things. You can see details that you cannot see from a car seat. You can experience the world, the landscapes, the nature, but also the culture and the whole life through which you travel, in a much more intense way.
Finding tiny things at the roadside and cycling through picturesque landscapes in Andalusia, Spain.
3rd Good Reason: You have a personal pack mule
“Well, then: Walk!” Legitimate counter-argument to the first two reasons. But: If you are travelling for several weeks with your tent & Co., with equipment for various activities (e.g., marathon running, mountain biking, mountaineering, fishing, etc.), with your camera equipment or other stuff – and you are alone, which means that you cannot share even one gram of the whole weight with someone else – if this is your situation, then a personal pack mule aka your bike is extremely practical. The record of transported equipment and thus, overall weight, on a travel bike that I saw in person, currently holds a Belgian guy, whom I have met in Slovenia. He is on a one-year lasting cycling trip through the Balkans with approx. 40kg equipment without (!) any food and water. This weight must be even added on top of it. 😀
The Belgian guy with his really huge travel equipment is, of course, the exception. But especially people who are struggling with back problems and thus aren’t even able to carry a backpack with a “normal” weight at all, can really benefit from bike travelling. Since the whole weight of all of your baggage is carried by your bike and not by yourself, all you have to do is to make sure that you have a very good ergonomically correct sitting position. Then, you also can enjoy the nature and landscapes without back pain.
Of course, if you want to, you will always find a way to walk even with a lot of equipment and therefore weight, e.g., some people build themselves creative, self-developed trolleys for extensive camera equipment, of which even MacGyver would be impressed. But there is still another disadvantage when you travel by foot. This is the fourth reason why bike travelling is so beneficial.
Covering a wide range of weather conditions and various activities within a three weeks solo travel: camping equipment and clothing for +20° C, additional winter equipment and clothing for climbing and crossing snow covered mountains with temperatures down to -5°C, running and mountain biking stuff, and, of course, my camera equipment.
4th Good Reason: You can still move fast and far enough
When you walk, you are simply slower and you cannot make as many kilometers per day as you can make with a bicycle. Regardless of whether you are on the road, in nature or even in a city. On the one hand, travelling in slow motion mode is very welcome in certain situations – but if you would like to see and experience much of a large country within a very short time frame, it becomes a bit of a problem: because then you will inevitably go back to reason number 1, thus, your partial restriction of your personal independence. Therefore, bike travelling offers a unique combination of personal freedom, an intense experience of landscapes and nature, and, despite all this, still the possibility to travel long distances independent of others in short time.
For me, I really appreciate it very much that I have the opportunity to cover 120 kilometers in one day – if I want to do so. On the next day, I then leave my bike behind and wander through nature or hike up to the next mountain peak – without carrying my whole baggage up and down, of course. But also in cities, I already have had the positive experience, how nice it is, to have a bicycle to discover the whole city – or that I really would like to have had a bike.
On one day crossing Galilee (Israel) from west to east, and on another day crossing Judea (Palestine) from north to south.
5th Good Reason: You can save a lot of money
I think it’s obvious that if you travel by bike, you don’t have to pay for gasoline, toll fees, several train or bus tickets or other common travel expenses during a round trip. Due to the fact that you can easily ride 100-150 kilometers per day – depending on the topography, of course – and that you are much closer to everything around you, cycling is an excellent way to travel on low budget through a country.
For example: When I travelled from Budapest (Hungary) to Bratislava (Slovakia) and then from Pardubice (Czech Republic) right up to the front door of my home (Germany) within a total of ten days of travelling, I finally spent just 70 euros for travel and accommodation expenses for the whole ten days. During the trip, I always camped wild and only two times, I spent the night in a cheap guest house. Overall, I travelled through five countries (including Austria), saw a lot of things off the usual path, many small villages, cosy forests, blooming meadows, endless fields – and I found some great camping locations during this trip. Travelling doesn’t necessarily require to spend a lot of money.
Cycling from Hungary to Germany means travelling on low budget with relaxing rides through silent forests and along the blue rivers Danube and Elbe.
6th Good Reason: You slide into a meditative mode
When I was cycling through Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic along the rivers Danube and Elbe during spring 2014, I experienced for the first time the “meditative” effect of long-distance cycling. In autumn of the same year, I was cycling again for ten days in Slovenia. This time, I could feel the effect of this mental-meditative recovery even much more intensively than the first time.
Anyone who has been doing a physically very monotonous, but not too strenuous activity for several days in a row, in which the brain has no other function than to perceive the landscape and nature, and no constant talking to anyone, knows this peculiar “trance” into which you slowly slide. For days, from sunrise to sunset, your legs do nothing else but to pedal, you are just looking around, and you are inmost with yourself, as I in person rarely experience elsewhere. It is something very unique, which is also very difficult to describe and feel it, if one hasn’t yet experienced this trance by himself. Perhaps this is the equivalent of the so-called runners high: the “Bike Traveller Trance”. In fact, there is a runners high counterpart: the biker flow. However, the biker flow is more related to the feeling of mountain biking when you are truly “in the flow” with you, your bike and the terrain.
The Bike Traveller Trance is a bit different. I would rather compare it to a state of meditation, a very inward look, a concentration on yourself, a mental rest and finding balance, while the body performs its monotonous work by itself and carries you through the world around you.
Travelling by bike can create a deep mental relexation.
7th Good Reason: You have your sports equipment already with you
For those who enjoy cycling and also enjoy the mountains and nature, mountain biking as well as off-road cycling in general often is a great pleasure. The great thing about bike travelling is that you have your own sports equipment already with you. Thus, during a round trip, you can easily go on a day or multi-day biking tour to the mountains without spending extra money on rental fees for a bicycle on site. You just get rid of all your baggage and ride through the nature without your heavy stuff. On the other hand, if you combine your mountain biking adventure a little bit with bike travelling, you can also save a lot of money.
If you prefer the race feeling of road biking more than mountain biking, then you can choose a lighter bike for travelling with narrow tires and, if you would like, a racing handlebar. But always remember to choose a sufficient rugged material for carrying the overall weight of your entire baggage. With a road bike instead of a mountain bike as your preferred travel bike, you can enjoy brilliant day trips or even multi-day trips, cycling countless beautiful mountain pass roads of the Alps – or, of course, anywhere else – without the ballast of your baggage.
Biking the multi-day tour “Stoneman Dolomiti” (Austria/Italy) and a one day bike trip to Mount Sedom (Israel) during my several bike travels.
8th Good Reason: You don’t need much equipment or technical skills
To start a first adventure with your bike, it doesn’t need that much. Per se, a long weekend, a (to some degree) well-functioning bicycle with a luggage rack and e.g., a basket or anything alike, a sleeping bag and a mat, your personal stuff, food and water as well as a good portion of joyful anticipation, curiosity, enough pleasure of cycling and, if possible, good weather conditions.
With very few equipment and even less expertise, I started relatively spontaneous to my first cycling weekend about five years ago. I didn’t go through a purchase list for special equipment before I started at all. I just used the things I already had. Also, you don’t have to be a specialist for bike mechanics to be able to successfully travel by bike. If you don’t have an incredible amount of bad luck, you usually don’t have serious technical problems. At least, this is my personal experience.
For the last years, three days of cycling first turned into ten days, and then into several weeks of cycling in a row. The jouneys with the train to my starting points became longer and then, two years ago, I also took my bike with me on a plane for the first time. In the course of the years, my equipment has become a little bit more “professional”. This means: Now, I have two absolutely waterproof panniers as well as a handlebar bag (which is really very practical). I always take a mini tool, air pump, repair kit and a spare tube with me (and that’s also enough you need). And I’m a bit more experienced than in the beginning. But technically, I’m still very bad in bicycle repair issues. At least, for me it’s enough that I can fix a puncture or change a set of brakes if necessary. Fortunately, I didn’t had any major problems so far. And if something worse should really happen one day, I know that there are always many people in our world, who wants to help you.
One of my first cycling weekends with no special equipment at all and my first and only (!) puncture repair within 5 years of bike travelling.
9th Good Reason: You improve your health, your fitness and your shape
Everyone knows that physical activity in the fresh air and sunlight is healthy. The additional advantage with cycling is, that this kind of activity is also joint-protecting, the muscular as well as the entire cardiovascular system is strengthened, but in comparison to e.g., backpacking, the back is strongly relieved. After my first 10-day cycling trip on a flat route, I felt muscles, of which I didn’t even know that I had them at all. 😉
But not only your health and physical fitness in general benefit from cycling for days. Also your body shape will get improved by travelling by bike. On the one hand, cycling shapes the body very well; on the other hand, bike travelling can also help to loose a few extra pounds. There’s a very simple calculation behind: If you start, for example, at 7 am in the morning, and you cycle until 22 pm in the evening, minus some breaks, you can find yourself sitting up to 10 to 12 hours in the saddle. If you use these basic data to calculate your personal calorie consumption, you can spend up to 4,000 and more kilocalories depending on the terrain. And this, you have to eat first. Therefore, you normally spend more calories during a bike travel than you uptake through your food. Thus, you loose weight.
Physical activity in the fresh air, sunlight and nature is always good for your entire health.
10th Good Reason: You can do it!
This tenth and also last reason is my personal favorite. Because far too often, we let ourselves be restricted too much through our own set boundaries. But often, we can achieve much more than we think. And we should dare more than we think we can. This lesson, I learned not only by my own bike travels and the related experiences, but also by the many examples of other people who show that so much is possible which seems impossible at the first, second or even at the tenth glance.
Everyone can travel by bike! From young to old, from poor to rich. There are retirees, who spend their lifetime after work, to explore the world by bike. There are students, graduates, professionals, drop-outs, holidaymakers, open-end cyclists, couples, singles, friends, solo travellers, two people travel partners, or a full group of travellers. And all of them are happy to travel by bike through the world. It seems that there are no limits to bike travelling – or at least, nobody seems to stop or restrict from it.
Two examples of people who don’t let themselves be prevented from bike travelling by the restrictions of their own too narrow boundaries, or statements like “That is not possible”, I personally appreciate very much and want to mention: First, there are Oliver Schmidt and Elena Vladimirovna Poddubnaya (http://terracirca.de/), with their two sons Jakob (born 2010) and Arthur (born 2012). Since 2014, this adorable family is cycling around the pacific ring of fire on their bicycles. This couple proves in a remarkable and admirable way that even bike travelling with two very young children, at the age of 2 and 4 years when they kicked off, are possible. Chapeau!
The second person, I would like to introduce is Andreas Pröve (http://www.proeve.com/). A man who has been paralyzed by a traffic accident in 1981, but who doesn’t restrict himself from this “restriction” in his adventures in any way. Not even from doing wheelchair travels. How Andreas Pröve had managed to roll alone without company in his wheelchair, with a stem for the panniers and the equipment, just using his hands to move on in his wheelchair on the roads, for more than 4,000 kilometers along the river Mekong from Vietnam to Tibet … it’s really unbelievable! But apparently, it’s not impossible.
Therefore, people may forgive me, when I always assume that every “normal person” can also travel by bike or whatever kind of travel style, and that a statement like “I can’t do it” is rather seldom accepted by me. 😉
Everyone always moves and acts within the limits that he/she sets himself/herself. However, the true limits of what is really possible and impossible lie much further away from us than we think.
You can do it!
Andreas Pröve travelled more than 4,000 kilometers alone in his wheelchair on the dusty roads in Asia. And Oliver Schmidt is travelling with his wife and two sons on his bike around the pacific ring of fire for 3 years now.