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You Are Viewing Bike Touring Tips

The Stove Tube: Waterproof, Smell Proof and Out Of Your Panniers

Posted August 15th, 2012

Stove TubeIf you carry a multi-fuel stove on tour then you’ll know that it can sometimes be quite dirty and smell of fuel.

For that reason, a lot of cyclists aren’t crazy about keeping a stove in their panniers.

World bike tourists Dave & Bethany think they’ve found a solution to this dilemma: a stove tube. Watch the video to find out more.

Bike Touring Belgium & France: Our Planning Resources

Posted July 24th, 2012

We’ve just returned from a 2-week bicycle tour though southern Belgium and northern France. Here are some of the resources we used to plan the trip, plus a few thoughts on how it worked out.

Trip Overview: The goal was to cycle 550km from the Netherlands to a small town in northern France, where friends had rented a house for a few days. We hoped to camp most of the way. In terms of sights, we wanted to see:

Leaving the highest beer cafe in the Netherlands

The Route: This was our first bike tour with 5-month-old Luke. Our main priority was to find smooth, quiet roads. We used the following sources:

Putting all of this together, we came up with the route that you see below. It includes a train journey back home. You’re welcome to download the GPS track but beware: it includes all our wrong turns and detours! There’s also this relatively clean pre-trip plan.

How did our trip work out?

Highlights: We definitely achieved our goal of riding only on quiet roads and bike paths. We were often on dedicated bike paths and the roads we did use had very little car traffic. We felt very safe with Luke in tow. We also loved the area around Compiègne in northern France: it’s full of beautiful chateaus, forests and historic sights.

Lowlights: In addition to poor weather (just a matter of bad luck), here’s what we didn’t like so much…

  • Bike paths in Belgium weren’t always up to scratch. Sometimes major paths such as the RAVeL network were little more than a muddy track through the forest, and a poorly maintained one at that. The picture below illustrates our point. On one day, we spent more time walking than cycling. It wasn’t always so bad. Many sections were excellent but the inconsistent quality was frustrating.

Belgium's 'national' Bike Route
Walking and lifting our way along a bike path in Belgium. Photo by Alicia.

  • There’s little to see in southern Belgium. Once we left the Ardennes, we found very little to see other than the countryside. It was surprisingly hard to find supermarkets and other services without detouring to major towns. The whole area felt a little isolated and run down. Finding a nice cafe to have a coffee and a slice of cake seemed like mission impossible. This was very different from the cycling we’ve done in northern Belgium.
  • Coming back by train was a pain. It’s perhaps stating the obvious but getting a fully-loaded touring bike on a train in Europe is often difficult. Bike wagons may or may not exist, often involve lifting your bike up a steep set of stairs and can be crowded in the summer. We managed but only thanks to the help of many other cyclists along the way, and a good sense of humour. We were also lucky that the staff at two stations led us across the tracks to change platforms, rather than making us lug our bikes and gear up and down flights of stairs. We are seriously considering folding bikes (such as the Dahon Speed TR) for future tours of Europe. A reader also suggested that the Bicycle Bus (Fietsbus) would be a good option for journeys to and from the Netherlands.

Conclusion: Not one of our most memorable bike tours, though we are happy to have done it and we particularly enjoyed cycling in France. If we cycle to Paris again, we’ll probably plan a route along the North Sea and then south through France – and we’d get folding bikes for an easy train journey home.

Tips For Bike Touring In Turkey: Visas, Food, Roads & More…

Posted July 7th, 2012

Roberto Gallegos is slowly making his way around the world by bicycle. From that trip, he sent us the following series of tips for bike touring in Turkey.

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Cycling in Turkey, as you may already have read on this blog, is a pleasant experience for the touring cyclist. Here are our experiences with the 5 most important things I think cyclists need to know about when visiting:

By now, you’re probably thinking: what about money and costs? Yes, I’ll cover that too within each topic because it’s also an item of some importance.

My goal is to prepare you and make you excited to cycle in one of the world’s fastest developing countries. In every major city and along the main roads, there’s one construction site after another. This was our route:

Route across Turkey

Continue reading Roberto’s tips.

Cycling In Turkey: Good Food, Beautiful Roads, Wonderful People

Posted June 29th, 2012

Roberto & Annika

In this guest post, Roberto Gallegos shares his experience of bike touring in Turkey: a wonderful country full of good food, beautiful roads and – most importantly – wonderful people.

He recently cycled there along with his partner Annika, as part of their extended world bike tour.

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Cycling in Turkey, as you may already have read on this blog, is a pleasant experience for the touring cyclist. Here are our experiences with the 5 most important things I think cyclists need to know about when visiting:

By now, you’re probably thinking: what about money and costs? Yes, I’ll cover that too within each topic because it’s also an item of some importance.

My goal is to prepare you and make you excited to cycle in one of the world’s fastest developing countries. In every major city and along the main roads, there’s one construction site after another. This was our route:

Route across Turkey

Now, without further delay, let’s get to the good stuff.

Visas
I’m a proud Mexican and travel with my significant-other Annika, who is German. That makes it fun in all sorts of ways. We get to research visa requirements for two countries instead of one. Briefly: German nationals (along with most European countries) get a free 90-day visa for Turkey. The Mexicans (along with our neighboring U.S citizens) are entitled to the same 90-day visa with a small difference: we pay a petty €15 for it.

This information may not be new to you, but the following will be: On February 1st, 2012 a new immigration law came into place. It restricts tourists coming from Europe and (as far as I know) Mexico to a maximum 90-day stay within a period of 180 days. This is a great difference from before when you could renew your visa every 90 days and stay for an indefinite amount of time. This means that you can’t get a boat to the Greek islands and get re-stamped for an extension of your visa. Sadly, you only have three months to cycle in Turkey. The good news is that 3 months is plenty of time to fall in love, as I did.

Roads
Our trip began at the end of March. Our plan was to cross the 1,620km from Fethiye to the northeast border town of Sarp. Turkey is a hilly country. Turkish people will insist that the center is flat but this is not true! Our first task was to climb from sea level up and over a 1,400 meter mountain peak, in order to access the central plain.

Overall the roads in Turkey are good to cycle, but there is still much place for improvement. Some sections have long and hard 10% grades. There can also be a lot of traffic. Be prepared for constant honking, especially when you are climbing. On main roads, the shoulders are wide enough for two cyclists to bike alongside one another. The signs are clear and accurate. You will know when you have reached the highest point of your climb.

Along the road, you will find local bike shops equipped with basic parts in almost every town. In some cities we found good bike shops with expert mechanics: Fethiye, Köyceğiz and Ankara.

Bike SHopsPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

Another big plus on the roads of Turkey, is that you will find fresh water springs along the roads. Water from these little oases of freshness is potable and never caused harm to our health.

A Favourite Landscape
Of all the places we cycled, we highly recommend the Afyon Valley (just behind Afyonkarahisar on the way to Ankara). You will cycle along interesting rock formations, very similar to the touristy Cappadocia. You will be able to stop once in a while to climb them and – if you are into photography – the golden hour in this valley is superb for landscape pics. The views from the high points are splendid.

On The Way To AnkaraPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

Along the so called Green Mile the fields of chai (Turkish tea) will trigger joy in your pedaling. You will be invited numerous amount of times for Turkish tea and soft drinks, especially in summer when the sun shines and the rain refreshes the day. The road is very easy to ride. The wind might be a factor but should not be a big problem.

Places to Sleep
It all depends on you and your budget and what you are looking for. Lucky you – we have tried them all! Cheap hotels range from 35-70 TL (about €16-35). At the top of that range you can have a room with internet and satellite TV.

Wild camping should be done discreetly, if you really want to be alone. On the other hand, if you enjoy meeting new people and sleeping indoors just put your tent in a visible place or ask if you can camp in a field. There is a big possibility that people will come and invite you for tea and food, or ask you to stay in their home.

camping spot
Photo by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

A great example of the experiences that are bound to happen to you is this one of ours: We stopped for water at a rest area along the Afyon Valley. A pair of truck drivers invited us for breakfast. Ömer, a thin happy man with grey hair and a mullet asked us with hands and feet our destination. We told him we were headed towards the Black Sea. With a finger on the map, he pointed to his home in Pazar. He then wrote down his telephone number and drew a house in the paper. He was inviting us to stay at his house for the night. We had 600 km to go and we already had a local waiting for us. How cool was that? We arrived 5 weeks later and we spent two incredible days in Ömers house up in the mountains of his hometown. We were even invited to participate in his friends reunion and although Annika was the only woman in the party they all behaved like gentleman.

If you, for some uncomprehended reason, want to keep out from the experience of sleeping in a stranger’s house, there is another great option. Gas Stations or Petrol Stations in Turkey are your answer. They will all welcome you with arms wide open. Gas Stations are like the hostels of travel bikers, you have a place to sleep with toilet, security and in some cases even shower. Do not hesitate to ask, all the bike travelers we met on the way had the same experiences as we did.

And lastly, if hospitality in this country is superb and you have to work your way to avoid being invited, wild camping could be your last option and a really safe one. If you have ever been hesitant about the idea to sleep in the road or in the wild, Turkey should be the perfect place to gain confidence and end any misconceptions you might have about this idea.

The Food
Although Turkish food might not be as well recognised as French or Mexican, its glorious flavor is another reason why cycling here is so advisable. There is more than the famous çorba (soup) in their diet. We tried so many dishes that we could eat for 6 months without repeating them all at once and we were often invited into people’s homes..

The FoodPhoto by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

When you are not invited, here is the price range per person:

  • Gas station restaurant (expensive) – 15 TL (€6) per person (including a drink)
  • City fast food joint –  2 TL (€0.80) for a Gözleme (pancake) to 3.50 TL (€1.40) for a Döner.
  • Self-serve restaurants – from 5.50 TL (€2.30) with bread and all the water you can drink.

Usually free tea is served after a meal. Beef is very expensive and it is considered a luxury so if you want to save some money go for the chicken or the fish. Beer can be bought but it is very expensive:  3.50 TL (€1.40) for half a liter.

In brief, you can have three substantial meals a day including chicken for around 18 TL a day (€7).

The People
The best reason why cycling in Turkey is a wonderful experience is certainly the people. After Turkey we were injected with so much faith in people. We now feel that nothing in the world can stop us from cycling around the world.

Kind people of Turkey Photo by Roberto Gallegos, website: Tasting Travels

The only reason it took us so much time to cross the country (five months for not even 2,000 km) was the people: the ones who offered us shelter, helped us when we seemed lost or helpless, offered us tea or simply were kind to us in every possible human way. Another great asset about this country is the fast responses you get on Couchsurfing. There is always someone willing to host you. Through this magnificent tool of humanity we have made so many friends in Turkey we consider this country another home in our planet.

So cyclist friend, if you have the chance to cycle along this rich and historically important land of our mother earth – do so. You will have an experience of your life. There is much more detailed information about the route that we took, If you are in need of this information please contact us. We will be happy to help and keep you updated with what we know.

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For more on Roberto’s bike touring adventures, see his website: Tasting Travels.

John O’Groats To Land’s End: The Traffic-Free Way

Posted June 19th, 2012

Every year, hundreds of cyclists set out to bike the distance between the northern tip of the United Kingdom – John O’Groats – and the southern point of Land’s End.

The trip – often referred to as LEJOG or JOGLE, depending on direction – is about 1,500km long. It’s a great distance for a bike tour of anywhere up to a month (depending on your appetite for mileage) but not everyone makes this trip on the most quiet of roads.

There are alternatives, however, including one route that British cyclist David Piper created. It goes from end-to-end across Britain, on quiet country roads and bike paths. He took a few minutes to tell us about it. You can also view the GPS track, which we created from David’s map.

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Why did you create this route?

I live close enough to Land’s End to see streams of ‘End to Enders’ trudging up the A30 dual carriageway in the summer. While they’re fighting traffic and slashing their tyres on the broken glass littering the scant shoulder, I’m slashing my wrists in despair at their lack of imagination and planning.

I assume they have plotted the rest of the route in much the same manner when (with a little time invested) they could have taken the road less travelled along the blissful B-roads and scenic cycle tracks that criss-cross our green and pleasant land.

I’d been asked by the anti human-trafficking charity Bringing Freedom to plot such a route and I was so pleased with the results I thought I’d share it with you!

John O'Groats to Land's End (traffic free)
A rough outline of the route. Click for a bigger version on Flickr.

How did you map out this particular route? 

I wanted to use as many of the Sustrans National Cycle Network (NCN) routes as possible, and traffic-free roads wherever possible.

Scotland really stood out in this respect. It was a cyclist’s dream of empty roads, fabulous mountain-scapes and enough bird and wildlife to keep any budding David Attenborough happy. We saw lapwings and ospreys.

In the far north, we could even use some main roads. It’s wilderness up there, and we saw more wild deer than wild drivers!

Can you give us a quick summary?

Sure!

We started in John O’Groats. From there, we climbed over rolling moorland south of Beauly and dropped down to Loch Ness. We braved the A82 to the quaint town of Fort Augustus but on reflection it would have been far better to pick up the tiny road (NCN 78) that follows the southern bank of the lake.

Land's End To John O'Groats

We then went off-road, beside the Caledonian Canal. We rode past snow-capped Ben Nevis to Fort William, then south of Loch Leven on  parts of the old railway (NCN 78). Next we detoured around Loch Awe past the Falls of Cruachan and the underground hydro-electric plant pumping out millions of watts of clean, renewable energy. Hidden, silent valleys beside Loch Eck took us through the Argyll Forest to the Dunoon Ferry.

Next it was on to B743 and a handful of unclassified lanes. These took us east over the bleak and desolate Southern Uplands to Abingdon – Scotland’s highest village. From here, the NCN 74 uses a deserted road all the way to Gretna Green – where eloping lovers could once be wed.

Land's End To John O'Groats

We climbed into the Lake District on the B5299 (NCN 7) to Caldbeck, then south on Pasture Lane to the utterly beautiful Ullswater before tackling the only real mountain in the whole trip – the Kirkstone Pass, descending to the touristy waters of Windermere.

Land's End To John O'Groats

NCN 55 & NCN 5 took us most of the way from Preston to Worcester through the heart of England’s Industrial Revolution on miles of canal paths. Then it was on to the old railtrack NCN42. We were disappointed that only a little of this was complete but soon it will be a grand route from Cheltenham to Welsh Chepstow.

Bristol is the home of Sustrans so a traffic free route into the city wasn’t hard to find. It took us out again over Brunel’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge and later on the Strawberry Line (NCN26), heading south to the gorgeous gorge of Cheddar.

Land's End To John O'Groats

In Somerset, we traced a canal from Bridgewater to Taunton, followed by the B3227 for the 50 miles between Taunton and Barnstaple. Next it was the NCN27 Devon Coast to Coast route, making sure we stopped at the legendary Yarde Café for a pint of homemade cider.

Now in Plymouth, we crossed into Cornwall and rode the magnificent coastal road along Whitsand Bay, hugging the coast until Looe before following the river valley to Liskeard. A short blast along the A38 was unavoidable but we soon got on unclassified roads that trace the new A30 as far as Fraddon.

From there, the B3275 follows the Ladock Valley toward Truro. Cornwall’s tin mining heritage was evident along the coast-to-coast cycleway from Devoran to Portreath. From there, we were treated to a fabulous run along the North Cliffs on B3301. Finally, it was NCN 3 all the way to Land’s End.

What were some of your favourite parts of the trip?

In Scotland, we briefly followed NCN 78. It’s part of an old railway line and in a few years it should connect Oban with Loch Ness. It hugs the stunning coastline and is quite possibly the best cycle track I’ve ever ridden!

I also loved the area around Preston and Worcester. You ride through the heart of England’s Industrial Revolution on flat, pretty and traffic free canal paths. And don’t forget the added benefit of a smattering of lock-side pubs! Willows wept and otters leapt, whilst happy holiday-makers waved cheerily from their converted barges. Fantastic.

Land's End To John O'Groats

Did you ever need off-road tires?

Not really. We first went off-road beside the Caledonian Canal but the surface was fine grit so our standard road tyres could cope with it. This was also the case with the other unpaved sections nationwide.

Isn’t your version of JOGLE a little long?

Our total route was about 2,000km but so what if it took a little longer? That’s the whole point, isn’t it? If you want to sprint up the highway, the record is under two days, so knock yourself out! Or maybe the traffic will first…

More info: