It's almost hard for me to believe, but I've passed the halfway point of my 3 month bike tour around Europe. I've been riding my Reid Granite each day for almost as long as most people spend at their day job, but I'm truly having the adventure of a lifetime.
In 7 weeks, I've covered over 4000 km starting in Scotland, then zig-zagging through England, crossing the channel and exploring France, heading north to Belgium and the “cycling Mecca” The Netherlands, east across Germany, into the Czech Republic, then back into Germany.
You can find out more about my Europe by Bike tour here.
I spent a couple of “rest days” exploring London, but that still meant lots of walking and even cycling (on a Boris Bike). I spent another day off the bike exploring Paris, and some careful planning meant I was there to see the Tour De France come down the Champs Elysee. The plan now is to head through Switzerland, back into France crossing the Alps, then again zig-zip to the south of Italy.
Each day is the opportunity to discover a few new towns or maybe an exciting new city, eat a mountain of delicious food (because after all, food is my fuel), and meet some awesome people to share stories of adventures and cultures.
On a bike you truly experience a place; the weather, the people and culture, the sights, sounds and smells, and I've rolled through many more interesting towns and nice smaller cities than people would if travelling by train or plane between the major cities.
Here are 3 reasons why travelling by bike is way better than by train, plane or car:
1. You’ll actually spend less money
A unique part of this type of adventure, and something people would rarely say after travelling through Europe for 6 weeks, is that I've spent surprisingly little money. My ongoing travel costs are almost zero - I’m not paying for train tickets or cab fares -, my accommodation costs have been very low, and I've avoided big food costs by stopping most days in a supermarket rather than a cafe or restaurant for meals.
My accommodation has been a mix of camping, and using a community accommodation sharing service called WarmShowers. It's similar to the much larger service CouchSurfing, but WarmShowers is specifically for bike tourers. After creating a profile, you can use either the website or app to find hosts in the area you intend to stay, and use the messaging system to start a conversation requesting to stay.
Hosting through WarmShowers can range from a yard to pitch a tent, a floor, a couch or spare bed, to in some cases a guest wing or even a separate guest house. In the end it doesn't really matter since I've slept well anywhere I've laid down after a day on the bike.
There is no cost to the service, you simply pay in kind, or pay it forward, and I'm really excited to play the part of host to other bike tourists when I return to Australia.
2. You’ll meet some of the most amazing people
The people I have met on this tour, whether it's been through WarmShowers, while on the bike, at campsites, or simply bumped into randomly, have made this trip very special. The generosity and kindness shown has been heartwarming, and I've felt safe and welcome everywhere I've been.
All the WarmShowers hosts have been extremely kind and generous, most nights having long chats while sharing a meal. The insight I've gained through spending nights with genuine locals is something that many wouldn't experience on holidays abroad, and hearing about the places that some of the seasoned bike tourers have been keeps giving me inspiration (Iceland has come up many times and sounds like an amazingly wild place, but I might start with Kangaroo Island to get a feel for that kind of potentially rugged touring).
If I wasn’t on my bike, I wouldn’t have met any of these wonderful strangers.
3. You can eat whatever you want (because you’ll burn it off cycling)
My health has also so far been good. Each day I feel a little stronger, and I've learned to love the constant dull ache in my muscles. I lather myself in sunscreen each day, but I've still got some excellent tan lines. A bit surprisingly I haven't lost any weight; which just means I'm consuming as many calories as I'm burning each day, and those who know me know my ability to eat.
I haven't had any mechanical issues with my Reid Granite, bar a couple of loose bolts (some of the rough roads, especially the cobblestones, felt like they could shake teeth loose), but that has just reminded me that it's important to do regular maintenance as I'm riding distances each week that at home I might not do in a month. Soon I’ll either rotate my tyres or buy a new set if I can find something appropriate. Since I'm often on the road less travelled, it can sometimes be a little bumpy, and wider tyres would provide some more cushioning.
Ultimately it’s the best form of travel
While 3 months feels like a long time, I can see why many people tour for years at a time or in extreme cases indefinitely, and why others jump on their bikes for shorter weekend or 1 to 2 week adventures at any opportunity.
Bike touring has a sense of adventure and freedom that most other forms of travel lack. It's satisfying to travel under your own power, you don't have to follow the schedules of the bus, train or plane, and is kind to the environment. You can ride as far as you like each day, choose your pace, take rest days when you find somewhere interesting or feel like a rest, and your accommodation and meals can be as basic or luxurious as your budget will allow.