Hit the Road


Six Lies I Routinely Tell While Cycle Touring

A touring bicycle laden with luggage will make people curious and, whenever you stop, it will not take long before people come up to speak to you and ask questions. Generally, most non-cycling people start with a similar set of questions… Where did you start from? How far do you cycle each day? Where do you sleep? Do you ever hitch a lift? It happens so regularly that I find myself giving the same answers to the same questions over and over again.

While we have been off the bikes for last few weeks and before we set off again on the cycle back towards the UK, I have reflected on the routine answers I have been giving to those routine questions. Looking back on it, I think I may not have been 100% truthful in my stock responses.  Here are six of my little half-truths:

1. “No, I rarely feel like just jumping on a bus or train – I love cycling too much”

There are, of course, low points while cycling – moments when you wonder why you don’t just hop on the bus to the next destination rather than ploughing on through headwinds and rain. I am happy to admit to those moments but, when faced with those tough days, I just keep on cycling to the next destination. In my mind, I credit this to determination, ambition and strong willpower. Yet, I secretly suspect the fact I don’t routinely resort to public transport is almost-wholly motivated by my hatred at the difficulties of putting the bikes and gear on and off buses, trains or plane. Maybe it is just easier to grit your teeth and carry on cycling.

2. “The favourite thing about cycle travel is…”

My answer to the question “what is your favourite thing about cycle touring” seems to change from day to day. Sometimes I answer by saying “…meeting people”. Other times I say “…being outdoors” or, perhaps, “the physical challenge”. However, the untold reality has begun to dawn on me that my absolute favourite thing (and the thing I will miss the most when it is all over) is actually the monstrous eating.

Self-propelled travel means that you have to keep refuelling – huge portions and calorific horrors are the norm. When I think back to highlights from previous trips, I think first to the bacon-maple donuts, chocolate-covered potato chips and huge pancake breakfasts.

3. “Yep, I have cycled all the way from…”

I’ve even convinced myself that this one is true. For example, in Australia, I am completely happy to claim we cycled all the way from Brisbane to Melbourne. We did not cheat and resort to public transport at any time. No hitching lifts. No buses. No trains. No taxis.

We did, however, take eight ferries to make various river crossings. I never mention the ferries. Despite the fact that most of these rivers had bridge crossings further upstream, I have completely convinced myself that taking a ferry does not amount to cheating in same way as hopping on a bus would.  I’m not 100% sure that the logic is sound but I’m sticking by this one.

4. “I agree, this view is incredible”

I hate to admit it but I have found myself occasionally spoilt for scenery and becoming somewhat numb and apathetic to otherwise amazing views.  For example, travelling along the coast for a couple of thousand of miles means that you see a lot of beaches… a LOT of beaches. When faced with an objectively beautiful scene and locals fishing for compliments on their hometown, I have shamefully caught myself thinking “meh, it’s just another beach.”

Travel is complete privilege and one should learn to appreciate every single moment but I think sometimes that is it easier said than done – let’s put these moments down to occasional fatigue or hunger.

5. “I try to camp every  night… it is a dream being outdoors as much as possible”

I do truly enjoy camping and being outdoors. It’s great and we do spend roughly 90% of our touring nights camping.  But, secretly, would I really like to be in hotel every night if budget was no obstacle? Probably.

As an aside, when we do treat ourselves to a hotel, we really, really try not to be but I suspect that we are the worst hotel guests ever…  drying out wet clothes, washing gear in the shower, cooking using the gas stove on the balcony or in the car park. Apologies to all those hotels whose tone we have lowered.

6. “Travelling by bicycle allows me to explore the smaller rural communities and shop locally and ethically”

If I am feeling particularly pretentious, I may drop the above line into the conversation. Usually, back home, I do try and shop with local businesses as much as possible. On a cycle tour, as we only wish to carry 1 or 2 days food at any one time and with no refrigerator, it means that we have to shop at small, locally-owned businesses. In my mind, before we set off, it was all going to be fresh and locally-grown and delicious.

There are those moments when you do stumble across a fantastic local fruit-stall or bakery on the side of road… it is amazing and a proper highlight. Yet, the realities of cycle-touring (and particularly true in the rural parts of the States) means often the only shop for miles around is the family-run gas station with a bleak range of sad-looking, injured fruit and overpriced tins of briny vegetables.

The sad truth is that I can get quite excited when we come across a big, branded supermarket – it’s cheap, the standards are good and they are well-stocked. Now… don’t get me started on how excited I get when I see a Starbucks or a McDonalds, complete with clean bathrooms and free wifi.

Lastly, a “lie” non-cyclists will tell you in return…

BONUS LIE:  “I could never do it… It’s far too dangerous to cycle these roads”

The non-cyclists routinely tell me that cycling is too hard, too difficult or too dangerous. They are happy to tell you this and call you “crazy” over and over again. In reality, of course, these issues with cycling are grossly over-exaggerated. People convince themselves that cycle travel is far too dangerous or difficult so they can excuse themselves in their minds for continuing to use their car. Come on people, it is easy as… erm… well… riding a bike.


Ian • 22nd April 2012

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  1. Rob 3rd May 2013 - 12:01 pm Reply

    Awesome article – it’s lovely to hear both sides of the story going on in your head!
    Keep up the good work.
    Rob, Dublin, Ireland.

    ps I’m with you – ferries aren’t cheating!

  2. Harriet 21st August 2014 - 2:37 pm Reply

    Haha! There are so many lies that cycle tourists tell! On the Carretera Austral it had been raining for about 3 weeks and it used to crack me up how people would say ‘oh I don’t mind cycling in the rain, its camping in the rain that I don’ t like’. I hate cycling and camping in the rain but I never admitted it!

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