Recumbant, tandem or just a regular bicycle, Geographical rounds up advice for bicycle expeditions
In 1886, Thomas Stevens became the first man to cycle round the world. His two-year jaunt on a penny-farthing saw him tackle roads more suited for ox-drawn carts than bicycles. Stevens met riots, bandits and a harsh winter in Iran, along with other perils.
No matter how dangerous – and precarious – life on a penny-farthing was in the 19th century, Stevens was lucky compared to today’s cyclists. At least he didn’t have to deal with the bicycle’s unnatural predator, the car.
If you’re thinking about becoming a ‘wheelman’ like Stevens, here is some advice from the experts:
Emily Chappell worked as a cycle courier in central London before setting off to cycle round the world in 2011:
Don’t stress about packing. You’ll almost certainly end up carrying far more than you need, and you can buy most things in most countries, should disaster strike. (Hint: lots of cycle tourists helpfully publish their entire kit list on their website. Plagiarise!)
Learn how to use and maintain your technical kit (e.g. bicycle, stove, tent) before you leave. It’ll be so much easier than trying to figure it out by the side of the road in a rainstorm. That said, I didn’t follow this advice, and I was fine. You will be fine too.
Never turn down an invitation. Even if you weren’t planning on stopping. Even if it takes you miles out of your way. You’ll make new friends, encounter new food and drink, and – in my case at least – discover whole countries you weren’t planning on visiting.
Cold, exhaustion and hunger will make everything seem worse. You’ll be more susceptible to fear and pessimism, more likely to quarrel with your travelling companions. You’ll also be more prone to acts of stupidity, like losing your wallet or accidentally stabbing yourself with your pocket knife. Remind yourself of this when you’re cold, tired and hungry.
The hardest bit is leaving: Taking the plunge and quitting your job; waving goodbye to a family who took you in at the end of a hard day; or just getting out of your warm sleeping bag, packing up the tent and getting back on the road. But it’s on the road that the magic happens. Get out there.
Andrew Welch cycled across Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal in two years. His company, Georiders, provides mountain bike tours in Georgia:
My top tip for a cycle expedition is to follow the process and listen to your thoughts, feelings and emotions when the many experiences and adventures unfold before you.
I once met the owner of the Dusk til Dawn bike shop in Kathmandu, Nepal and he told me that when he is riding along in the foothills of the Himalayas, he listens to the subtle sounds of the bike as a meditation.
It is easy when cycling in a place like India to let the chaos and attention get to you, but the trick is to go with the flow of experiences and in time you’ll learn to steer yourself in a way that means you’ll get the most out of your travels.
Tom Allen is trying to move beyond being ‘that guy who cycled around the world and got married along the way’. For the film Karun he followed Iran’s longest river using human-power, including a bicycle:
Make sure that at the very least you undertake a safety training course appropriate to the conditions you’re going to face, preferably training tailored to the demands of your expedition. Rivers can be hugely rewarding and great fun but they are innately hazardous environments to be in. It pays to be aware of the potential dangers and how to steer clear of them, as they are often neither obvious nor visible. Safety equipment such as throwlines in the wrong hands can easily make things worse. Do have fun, and do stay safe!