Category Archives: Cycling

“Loneliness Of The Long Distance Cyclist?” Oh Dear…

A few months ago in late spring I was interviewed over the phone (I suppose that bit is important) by a journalist from The Weekly News. Excellent! It was a nice chat with Craig, I sent him some pictures and he proceeded to write the article and send it to the editor of his newspaper for publication. Nothing appeared in June or July and I began to wonder if my story had been jettisoned in favour of another. In August I headed off to Scotland for my short cycling tour and began to forget all about it… But a few days ago I remembered about the interview and emailed Craig; yes, it had appeared in mid-August. Brilliant! Today, he emailed across the page where the article had appeared and… oh dear. Who is that bloke next to Reggie?* It’s not me!122523210.XdG6MV7Y.IMG_29273000x200075crop

*It is, in fact, my cousin Richard. He gets quite a few mentions in Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie as I met up with him for a few days in Andalusia. I’m sure even he would admit that he is no great cyclist but, as you can see above, he did pose with Reggie. The photo of him with the bike wasn’t one that I supplied to the newspaper – these are the ones that were – so I can only assume that they found it here on CyclingEurope.org. It made me smile…

Festival Of Cycle Touring 2015

I’m hoping to be on my next little jaunt across Europe when this event takes place in Clitheroe next May which is a great pity as I would have loved to attend. There is of course a website and Twitter account to keep an eye on. The organisers have posted the following information in the last few days:

07ad52be-8f1a-493e-bd57-a302764d488b“We are thrilled to announce that the date and venue have now been booked.  The first ever Cycle Touring Festival will take place at Waddow Hall in Clitheroe, Lancashire on 2-3 May 2015.  This is a fabulous location on the banks of the River Ribble, with on-site camping and plenty of excellent cycling to be had in the area.

We’ve been busy putting together the programme of events and can promise that the festival will have an exciting line-up.  There will be talks from intrepid cycle tourists to inspire you, workshops on all things bike-related, and the latest bicycles and kit to try out.  Above all, it will be a chance for cycle tourists to get together, share knowledge, plan future trips and have a jolly good time.

There are three things we want to mention in this update:

1) Save the date: 2-3 May 2015.  It’s the May bank holiday weekend, to give you the option of staying an extra night to explore the area – obviously by bike!

2) Tell your friends: If you have friends who might be interested in the event, pass this email on to them and encourage them to sign up for these updates.  There will be a limited number of tickets available for the festival and demand has already been high, so don’t miss out when they go on sale later in the year.

3) Get involved: There are all sorts of way you can get involved with the festival:

  • Send us your ideas
    This is the first time we are organising this event and we would love to hear from you with ideas of what you would like to see there.  Whether you want a weekend filled with talks and films, or prefer a weekend of cycling with like-minded folk, get in touch with your thoughts.
     
  • Use the festival as your departure point
    If you’re planning a big trip next summer, consider planning your departure so it coincides with the festival.  We can guarantee you a big send-off.  If this is you, let us know.
     
  • Competitions, talks, rides
    Full details will follow but in case you’re touring this autumn, be aware that we’ll be running a competition to find the best cycle touring photographs, so snap away.

Finally, a big thank you to the talented Tenny Adamian who designed the festival logo.  You can see more of Tenny’s work here

That’s all for now and until next time, happy pedalling.”

The Morning Commute…

After the long summer holiday afforded to teachers, the new academic year has started and is now over a week old. The days are shortening, the mornings getting colder, but the cycling commute is at its most beautiful. This morning was a stunner, certainly on my commute through the countryside of South East Oxfordshire… All these photographs – of the fields to the south east of Henley-on-Thames – were taken without filters or any digital effects apart from the very last one which has received the Instagram treatment… 123456

Sykes’ Standpoint – My First Column!

I live in Reading, Berkshire and I’m a member of the Reading Cycle Campaign. I wrote the following for their current newsletter:
“The Cycle Campaign asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be interested in contributing something to the newsletter and here is my first piece. For those of you who don’t recognise the name, I’ll briefly explain that I’m the chap who wrote the cycling book called ‘Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie’ and my second book – ‘Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie’ – is about to be published [it now has!]. But fear not, that’s the last mention that I will make of the books. Away from travelling, cycling and writing, I’m also a secondary school teacher working in Henley-on-Thames, although I have lived in the centre of Reading since studying here at the university in the late 90s. I’ve been paying my subscription to RCC for many years but it’s now nice to contribute in a different kind of way.
Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite widely on the European continent on my bike (although I’m sure that many people reading this will have travelled much more widely than me!) and it has been interesting to compare and to contrast the cycling situation in towns and cities across Europe with the lot of cyclists here in Reading. We often like to think that we have a rough deal, as cyclists in the UK in general, and, in our case, Reading. But how true a picture is that? When visiting another town or city the first thing that I tend to notice is not whether there are cycle lanes or cycling signs or cycling refuges etc… ; I do like to look around me and see if there are other cyclists. A cycling-friendly environment will generally mean more cyclists on the road and I have visited plenty of towns and cities where cyclists are very few on the ground. People vote with their feet (literally!) if they don’t feel comfortable using a bike in the place where they live. Two good example of this are Rome and Athens where you are hard pressed to find many cyclists at all and it’s easy to understand why. Yes, it’s to do with the infrastructure in place – which is limited – but also because people simply don’t feel safe on a bike. I’ve cycled through countless other places where facilities are a little better – perhaps a few cycle lanes here and there – but where cycling is still shunned by the majority of the locals. At least here in Reading we cyclists are out there on the streets and through organisations such as the RCC, we are vocal. At the other end of the spectrum are the towns and cities which are famous for being cycling paradises. We are right to compare the situation in Reading to Amsterdam, Copehagen and other towns and cities in the premier league of cycling but neither should we beat ourselves up too much that we have a particularly raw deal. From what I’ve seen, we are about average. Fear not, I’m not condoning being average – why shouldn’t we have a cycling environment which encourages people to consider cycling as a ‘norm’ rather than a fringe activity – but change takes time. What I do have concerns about, however, is whether the local authority here in Reading has real long-term vision. A couple of years ago, Hamburg declared that by 2020 the centre of the city would be car free. They have put in place the necessary funding and a staged plan to make this a reality. Can you imagine such a strategic decision ever being made in Reading? There is nothing stopping Tony Page [he's the council leader in Reading and also chief 'transport' person] from standing up and declaring that he intends making Reading – let’s say within the IDR [the ring road] – into a traffic free zone by 2025. But would he? It’s unlikely. Alas we live in a world where results have to be delivered quickly. Things don’t tend to be measured on a ten-year basis but upon a year or two if we are lucky. From start to finish, a bicycle hire scheme can be implemented in a couple of years and a bridge can be built [both of these are happening in Reading]. But how about our councillors doing something brave and making a decision that they probably won’t be in office to benefit from themselves electorally? Would they do that? Perhaps next time I meet one of them, I might ask.”

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“Humorous, entertaining and even informative. Hard to put down. Travel writing at its best.”

Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie‘ has now been available for over a month and the reviews have been very positive! Here is a selection of comments from the reviews so far posted to Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com:

Med_Cover3“Humorous, entertaining and even informative. Hard to put down. Travel writing at its best.”

“I wasn’t disappointed and thoroughly enjoyed reading about his exploits across southern Europe.”

“A very well written account of a fellow Yorkshireman’s two month odyssey through southern Europe.”

“The book made me laugh (and at times wince).”

“A wryly amusing and inspirational account.”

“I’m thoroughly enjoying it and I don’t want the trip to end.”

“Another excellent read from Mr Sykes.”

“Loved this book.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed reading the second adventure of Andrew and Reggie.”

“It’s a real page turner, more from this guy please.”

“An enjoyable account of a cool journey. Read it!”

And finally, a comment made on the signed copies page of this website by Ade Morris:

“You will be missing a lot of life if you don’t read these books! Anyone who rides a bike just has to read these! You will never get in a car again, changed my life when I read of Andrew and Reggie, let it change yours. It will!!”

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Thursday 4th September: Cycle To Work Day

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From the Cycle To Work website:

“Celebrate your commute and take to two wheels on Thursday 4th September 2014!

Cycle to Work Day is a national event, championed by multi gold medal winning Paralympic cyclist, Dame Sarah Storey, which aims to encourage everyone to take to two wheels and cycle to work for just one day on Thursday 4th September 2014.

According the census data, 760,000 people in the UK cycle to work regularly – this number keeps growing steadily, but with Cycle to Work Day’s help we are aiming to make those numbers skyrocket this year and beyond! By 2021, we hope to see 1 million people regularly commuting to work by bike.

Last years event saw a Herculean effort from the 20,000 commuters who hit the streets and cycled over a quarter of a million miles on Cycle to Work Day. This year we want to double the number of budding commuters saddling up and achieve (at least) half a million miles pledged! For this to happen, we need your help. Here are some of the ways you can make a difference:

  • Promise to get in the saddle on September 4th by pledging miles for cycle to work day here: www.cycletoworkday.org
  • Share www.cycletoworkday.org on your social media pages and encourage your friends, family and colleagues to sign up and get involved.
  • If you know a wannabe cyclist in need of a new bike, let them know about the cycle to work scheme.
  • Ask your employer to get behind the day by offering staff that ride a free coffee and croissant as part of Britain’s Biggest Bike Breakfast.

You can also hook up with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to be sure you’re the first to hear about our competitions and prize draws.

Don’t forget to pledge your ride!

We hope you’re planning on taking part this year too! Show us your support and pledge to ride by clicking on the link above!”

Preparing For A Long-Distance Cycle: Cycling Europe’s Top Ten

I’m frequently contacted by people who are planning their own long-distance cycle and I’m always happy to reply. I do, however, often find myself repeating the same bits of core advice, so, here is my own top ten of things that I would recommend that every prospective long-distance cyclist considers doing prior to their adventure on two wheels. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means and you may disagree with me on some of the advice I give (that’s what the ‘comments’ section is for!), but here goes…

1. Choose a great destination

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We cyclists might like to ‘upgrade’ ourselves from ‘normal’ tourists but fundamentally (brace yourself!) we are still tourists. Few of us would choose to head off without our bicycles to a place that wasn’t interesting or beautiful or inspiring, so there’s no reason for not doing so on a bike. At the same time, consider doing something a little different. I heard someone on the TV this week say that ‘it’s only when you move outside your comfort zone that the magic happens’. How true. Don’t go crazy; circumnavigating the earth is clearly not for everyone but at the same time don’t be afraid of moving your adventure up a notch or two. Once complete, you’ll be proud of the achievement.

2. Buy an overview map

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.06.57When I’ve decided where to go, I buy a map. Modern mapping technology is great (see below) but nothing on a screen can replace the joy of crouching on the ground next to a map that shows your route in its entirety. My next cycle – at some point next year from Spain to the northern tip of Scandinavia – is still many, many months away but I already have a map of Europe (it’s the EuroVelo overview map) pinned to my wall and every few days I will stand in front of it and examine a small part of the route in detail for a few minutes, dreaming. It keeps me motivated!

3. Don’t over-plan your route

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.08.38So, you know where you are going and you know roughly your route. You might even have bought some more maps that give you more detail than the large-scale map on your wall at home. Stop! Do you really need to know more than that? If you have decided to follow a signed cycle route the work has been done for you already. If you are simply joining the dots by cycling from place to place over an extended period of time, are you really going to get out a piece of paper every few minutes to check that you are cycling along the ‘correct’ route? Forget that for the moment. Detailed route planning is a job best done when you are actually on the ground the evening before or even the morning of the cycle itself.

4. Get yourself a bike that’s fit for purpose

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.09.32You probably already have a bike that you are using regularly. The first thing to do is consider using it. It may need a few modifications – some new tyres, a pannier rack, a better saddle – but it might suit your needs just fine. That said, we all love a new bike and there are many on the market, from specialised touring bikes (like Reggie!) to hybrid commuting bikes to mountain bikes that will do the job of long-distance cycling justice. And if you are working on a budget (most of us are), don’t forget that there are places like Argos that stock a good selection of hybrid bikes. You don’t need to spend a fortune in a specialised bike shop.

5. Prepare your bike

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.10.54You have your bike, old or new. Think about where you are going and the terrain that you will be cycling over. Good quality roads? Most tyres will be fine. Rough tracks? Your racing tyres might be an issue. My own technical skills are rudimentary to say the least so this is where the specialised bike shop comes into its own. You may not have used them to buy the bike, but they will be more than willing to help you get your bike into shape. It will be money well spent. While you are there, invest in a few spares; inner tubes, spokes, cables, chain links and brake pads. You may not know how to change them yourself but you will probably be able to find someone en route who does (but who doesn’t necessarily have the bits that will fit your bike).

6. Prepare yourself

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.12.05You do not need to be Bradley Wiggins in order to cycle surprisingly long distances. But you do need to have a certain level of fitness. Most regular cyclists will have this already. In 2006 I sold my car and started commuting by bike. It is a round trip of 13 miles and it keeps me fit! You might not want to sell your call, but make a commitment to regular, moderate exercise in the months leading up to departure. You are ‘training’ for a slow cycle across hopefully beautiful countryside and up a few hills (and if you are lucky, the occasional mountain at very slow speed), not an Ironman triathlon.

7. Shed some weight

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.13.33This can be done in two ways. Getting a little bit fitter before you set off is, as mentioned above, a good idea. Losing body weight (if you have an excess of it) is highly recommended. I speak from experience when I say that cycling thin is so much easier than cycling fat. Fortunately, what better way is there to lose weight than regular exercise, which is what you are already doing! The other way to reduce the overall weight of you and your bike is, of course, to carry only the essentials. Pack your panniers, lift them up, realise how heavy they are and then repack, ruthlessly eliminating all but the essentials! Three cycling shirts? Really? Surely two will suffice or, dare I say one? Socks? Yeah?

8. Embrace technology

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.14.57I love my technology and at risk of contradicting what I have just written about minimising weight, there are certain bits of kit that I wouldn’t leave home without. A smartphone; it is a PC in your pocket (as well as a GPS tracking device) and increasingly, not expensive to use abroad. A spare battery pack (such as a Power Monkey – worth the investment), a digital camera and perhaps a small tablet computer to help you record you thoughts and post your pictures online. Like all bits of kit, get used to using them in the weeks and months before you leave, not the day before!

9. Register with Warm Showers

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.18.51If you have deep pockets, you can reach for your smartphone and easily reserve a hotel room within minutes. But do you really want to spend every night in the isolation of a soulless hotel room? Occasionally, perhaps, but even if you only use Warm Showers from time to time, the reciprocal accommodation sharing website for travelling cyclists is well worth considering. You need to be prepared to welcome visitors to your own local area from time to time, but there are few better ways to spend a night on the road than in a cycling-friendly home being fed and accommodated for free (or for the price of a bottle of wine!).

10. Prepare to camp

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 10.22.05Even if you do have deep pockets, camping can be so much nicer than a hotel. You have chosen to spend your days in the open air so why not spend the evenings there too? It’s cheap, good for meeting other like-minded travellers and fun. You’ll need to carry your tent with you – mine is a Robens Osprey 2 and it’s great! – of course (instead of those extra kilos that you have now lost through regular pre-trip exercise) and a camping mat but if you are going somewhere hot, you probably don’t need a sleeping bag; a folded sheet will suffice. If you haven’t camped for a while, go away for a weekend prior to your trip to make sure you know how to put up your tent! If you can’t find a campsite, you could even enter the world of wild camping…

So there you have my top ten pre-trip considerations. September is a great time to start planning next year’s adventure so what are you waiting for? Comments welcome!

P.S. Two other essential pre-trip activities can be found here :-)

(All the photographs above were taken from my own Instgram account.)