Tuesday 20 November 2012

Why Go Cycle Touring

"I would rather endure a hundred thousand cold Russian winters than do what you are doing,” Gabi – new friend in Kuala Lumpur – on cycle touring.  
“If after 30 kilometres it is abhorrent, abort it,” Malaysian High Court judge and friend of our KL hosts comments on our plans to cycle in Malaysia.
Campsite, Peloponnese, Greece
“The more I ride the bike the more I enjoy it,” Judy the Stoker.

A bike is a great way to break down cultural and social barriers.
 The staff  in this Malaysian eatery could hardly believe their eyes
when we climbed off the bike, and we enjoyed chatting to them.
A quiet road, the faint hum of the tyres, the occasional chatter of monkeys or the screech of unseen birds - this is cycle touring in Malaysia. We’ve barely touched down in South East Asia, but already we’re finding it warm, exotic, friendly and certainly cheap after Europe.

It’s a bit more than six months since we set out from Bridgwater in England, we’ve ridden more than 5,000 km on the tandem and had plenty of time to reflect on whether we made the right decision to leave our careers, pack up our possessions and climb onto a bike with just four panniers and a tent.

Dancing on the streets of Corfu's old town.
Several people have questioned us recently – why, they’ve asked, would you want to give up the comforts and security of home to go traipsing around on a bike. It’s a good question, and deserves a good answer but as the round the world cyclist Anne Mustoe once said, every time she was asked the question she gave a different answer and they were all valid.

Here are some of our reasons:

Cloud formation, Italy
Cycle touring is cheap - cyclists travel slowly and the more slowly you travel the lower are the costs.
Cycle touring gives cyclists the opportunity to be part of the environment – instead of gazing at it from behind a vehicle’s windows.

Cycling keeps you fit.

 A bicycle is a social leveller - it is a humble form of transport and no-one feels threatened by your presence. A touring bike with its panniers is almost guaranteed to start a conversation that begins with the question, “where are you from?”
Cycling is a very practical form of transport – cyclists don’t carry bus timetables, they just ride when it suits them.
On a more personal level, the why question can be answered like this:
Along the way we have met and made
new friends - with Rosi and Klaus in Vienna on his birthday.
We are both in our 60s and have spent most of our adult lives working – it was time for a change.
It had been years since either of us had done any serious travelling – we had some catching up to do.We chose to leave our careers while we were still performing, rather than wait for the day when someone considered we were over the hill.
Cycling - as mentioned above – is a cheap(ish) form of travel and we felt we could afford it. 
Pausing on a French canal.  Approaching is an English couple who gave us a pair of pliers to add to our tool kit. We still have them.

Given our ages, we needed to start sooner rather than later if we were to have the energy and fitness we would need.
After six months, the reasons for cycling are as valid as ever, and we can both say we are enjoying it even more than we had dared hope. It comes with a wonderful sense of freedom and there is the daily satisfaction of sweeping along a road and into a town where our only concerns are simple ones - what shall we eat, where shall we stay, are we too hot or too cold. As we put the bike on its stand, more often than not we are greeted with a smile or maybe that question,”where are you from?”

A Greek soldier wipes a guard's face
as he stands rigidly to attention at
 the tomb of the unknown soldier, Athens.
Regrets? Inevitably there are going to be a few. We both miss our families, friends and former colleagues but the internet enables us to keep in touch reasonably well and in a real emergency we can always fly home. We hope that when we do return, we will be more interesting company than when we left.

From a French cyclepath.

And finally on that big question, why are we doing it, perhaps part of the answer is to learn - about other people, their customs and lifestyles and yes (groan) a bit about ourselves. What have we learned about other people so far – that on the whole humankind is made up of decent, good people who want the best for themselves but more especially for their children. If you don’t believe us, just sit down at any food stall here in Malaysia and watch the parents with their kids – the adults attentive, patient and warm. The children boisterous, rowdy and delightful like kids anywhere.  And occasionally, in the midst of the mayhem, a parent will turn to us and ask, ”where are you from?”


  1. Hello you two. I think it's fantastic that you had the courage to realise your dreams and go off to see the world in the slow lane. It's heartening to hear that you've encountered mostly kindness and decency. Oh, and for the record, you were fantastic company before you set off on this crazy journey, so the bar is set high for your return. May your happy adventure continue for as long as you want it to. xx

  2. Just another wonderful read ! Thanks Mike and Judy, continue to enjoy the adventure, and have a glass of wine on my behalf :-)


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