1. Unexpected encounters
- We ask a couple on the side of the road for a spot to setup our tent and we end up in a wedding on the same evening (Uzbekistan)
- A one-night stop in a truck drivers motel turns into a pleasant day of discovery of an unassuming town with four students (Osmancik, Turkey)
- A small puncture leads us to meet two wonderful families and stay with them for a week (Unye, Turkey)
- Sat on a bench in a park, one night, with our bicycles, we meet a young Malaysian who invites us to spend the night in her small student room (Wakayama, Japan)
… and so many more stories that never happened to us when we were backpacking in Asia (10 months in 2005). With a bicycle, you are more flexible, no bus or plane ticket to change or cancel which enables you to with the flow very easily. An invitation? We stay! Being outside all day also allows us to be in contact with many people thus more encounters.
2. Contact with people
Try it … travel for a week by public transport and then get on your bike in the same region. You will see that the contact with people is completely different. Vulnerability to the elements, physical and mental efforts put in, simplicity of the mean of transport… It’s hard to explain why but most of the time a cyclist triggers positive reactions from people: from the small gesture of a bag of mandarins (a Japanese woman in Kyushu) to an invitation for a week into a family home (an Iranian family in Tehran). We spotted the difference of travelling on a bicycle when we visited Thailand and Lao for the second time (countries we visited in 2005).
3. Camping in beautiful and peaceful spots
At the top of Sharyn canyon (Kazakhstan), on the shores of Lake Song Kul (Kirghizstan), at the top of a hill overhanging above harvested rice paddies (Japan), on the shores of a mirror-lake at the foot of the Andes (Chile)…
4. The satisfaction of continuity
A bicycle allows us to discover what lies between cities. Fields, mountains, villages, desert, hills… In a bus at 100 km/h who can tell if the road goes up or down or the colour of the little flowers on the side of the road? Life in the countryside can be quite different from the life in the cities. Sometimes people live without running water and electricity only 20 km from the nearest city. Things that we wouldn’t suspect when travelling on a dotted line in a bus.
5. The cycling community
We get often asked: ‘do you meet a lot of people on the road?’ Once we got into cyclotouring, we discovered a whole community, like a family, of like-minded people: there are those who got back from a trip and are preparing the next one, the lucky ones who are currently on the road and those who leave for the first time. We meet cyclists on the road, we meet them again a few months later, and we meet more on the internet, while researching the perfect bicycle or road conditions of a country.
6. Satisfaction of effort
You have heard it before, physical effort releases endorphins and makes you feel good. That’s probably why we feel cranky after a few days rest! On a bicycle, we also have the satisfaction of looking back at our day and know that we have travelled those 50 or 100 km with our legs.
7. Pleasure of eating without counting
As our saying goes: ‘An ice-cream today will be consumed tomorrow’!
8. Sport is healthy
If you don’t like ice-creams (really?), your body will get the benefits: losing weight, lowering your blood pressure etc. etc. Girls, don’t expect to look like a goddess (as I did!). Most girls we see on bikes didn’t lose weight while the men did. There are also (rare) cases of cyclists who put on weight (too many ice-creams?).
Cycling is a kind sport in the sense that everyone goes at his own speed and rides the distance he/she can (or want). We didn’t train for this trip and we started with 20-40 km a day before increasing the distance little by little (until one day, we covered 187 km, in China). We see a lot of retired people on bicycles and some of them only took cycling a few years before.
9. Push back your limits
A 6-km ascent seemed dreadful at the beginning of our trip. Now it’s just part of the day. The body toughens up, muscles develop but most of all, your character strengthens up. Riding 50 km under the rain on a dirt track full of potholes requires a doggedness that is acquired over time. After having sweat and cursed to climb five ‘endless’ slopes, the sixth one won’t have any effect on you.
Don’t be harsh with yourself and increase difficulty little by little. Going on a bicycle trip in a far-away country with a different culture and bad dirt roads can either turn into the trip you dreamt of or a nightmare. On a bicycle, what matters is mental strength, not so much physical strength.
10. Autonomy and flexibility
Once you are on your bike, you can go anywhere you want, whenever you want. No more: ‘this bus is full … this one only runs every first Thursday of the month’.
Changing route… This path looks more tempting than this one, this road is closed, this village is prettier … you only have to turn the steering to modify your route!
Stopping whenever you want… On a bike at 15 or 20 km/h, it’s easy to stop in the right spot for the perfect picture. Easy also to stop to chat with another cyclist or to accept the invitation of a Kirgiz who wants us to try some koumis (fermented mare milk).
11. Getting around easily with all your gear
Who hasn’t sweat for two hours with his/her backpack, looking for the ‘perfect hotel’? On a bicycle, hotel research takes much less time and the bicycle carries the luggage.
12. ‘Human’ speed
We go from one region to the next one without big temperature or culture shocks, faces of people change smoothly… and no jet lags!
13. The cost of travelling is reduced
Of course, no bus or train tickets to buy anymore (or fuel and road tolls). Once paid the bicycle and the equipment, remains the food (the gasoline of the cyclist!), camping or hotel costs and occasional repairs on the bike. As with a bicycle you can stop anywhere, it is very easy to wild camp or to ask a farmer to put the tent in his field. Travelling on a bicycle allows you to lower the costs in expensive countries like Japan for example (it’s so safe that we used to setup our tent on rest areas on the side of the road!).
14. Let the Earth breath
Even if you are not die-hard ecologists (we travel by bicycle but we do occasionally fly), travelling by bicycle means less pollution, less CO2, less noise (we see a lot of animals when we cycle)…
15. A bicycle is easy to repair
Changing an inner tube, brake pads or a derailleur cable… anyone could do it. And if you cannot be bothered (some cyclists like round-world-the-world traveller Anne Mustoe left without knowing how to mend a puncture), you can always have it done for cheap in a garage.