Opinion: Why I love cycle touring

Josie Dew and her touring tandem
Josie Dew has been cycle touring since she was a child, her love of adventures on two wheels have taken her all over the world. Josie is Cycling UK's vice president and has written many books about her cycle touring journeys. As the summer holidays are upon us Josie explains why cycle touring is an excellent way to get away from your usual routine.

Cycle touring comes in all shapes and sizes.You can get on your bike and go micro-touring (for just a day or weekend) or holiday touring (for a week or two or three) or expedition touring (for months or years). It doesn’t matter, whatever suits, whatever your capability, whatever your time or your commitments – just riding off on your bike to see a city or a county or a country or a continent. Whether you cycle 10 miles or 10,000 miles under your own steam is almost always an irrepressibly enjoyable experience.

I started cycle-touring when I was ten. None of my family was keen cyclists; I just fell into it by lucky chance. I loved my little Dawes Kingpin Shopper bike and I loved Ordnance Survey maps. And I loved exploring.

At first I went out on day rides (with strict parental instruction to be back by nightfall) then after a year or so it turned into weekends with a tent and a reticent older brother who was roped into accompanying me by parents who thought along the idea of safety in numbers.

My brother soon got bored of it so I convinced my parents I would be fine and off I went experiencing the ultimate sense of freedom for a child. I rode to the sea and back. I rode to Land’s End and back. I rode to Wales and Ireland and Scotland and around the Isle of Wight enough times to make me dizzy.

Holidaying this way was better than anything I’d ever experienced before.The joy of cycling is its simplicity and freedom.

Unlike travelling by bus or train or car (too fast to see the finer details of things and too difficult, or often impossible, to stop) by bike you can come and go as you please. Like the look of that side lane more than the one that you’re on? Then turn your handlebars and off you go. Come across an interesting church or a ruin or a wood or an animal or an unexpected café or a come-hither beach or a friendly gesticulating local then just pull on your brakes to have a look or a swim or a rest or a chat.

You can be as organised or as unplanned as you like. You can pore over maps, plot your distance, keep to precise computerised itineraries, join a club ride or tour, sign up to travel company that does all the organising for you including carrying your luggage and providing food and accommodation or you can throw caution to the wind and just take off and see what happens.

This latter method is the one I’ve always preferred because I love that sense of spontaneity and uncertainty. I like not knowing exactly where I’m going every day or who I’m going to meet, where I can find food and water, where I’m going to sleep. It keeps you on your toes and imprints all the new places and faces into your memory like stone.

Soon after I left school at 16 I cycled to Africa and back and although that’s nearly 40 years ago it feels almost like yesterday. The exhilaration and excitement and intensity of the experience was such that you never forget. I went on to cycle tour all over Europe, across America, India, Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand as well as parts of China, Australia, South America.

 I’ve been chased by wild animals and wild weather and wild men. I’ve had bits of bike fall off or bits of body conk out while crossing deserts and mountain ranges. I’ve run out of food, I’ve run out of water, I’ve run out land, I’ve run out of luck.

There are times when it’s painful and awful but there are far more times when it’s joyous and fun. That’s why I keep on going because for some people, once you start cycle touring, you can never stop. You can never get enough.

Josie Dew, Cycling UK Vice President

There are times when it’s painful and awful but there are far more times when it’s joyous and fun.That’s why I keep on going because for some people, once you start cycle touring, you can never stop. You can never get enough.

Since having three children in my forties my cycle touring has come closer to home (this country along with stretches of continental Europe easy-to-reach-by-boat such as France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark).

Children don’t half turn your life upside down but there’s no reason to stop completely what you did pre-children, you just do it in a different way. All children seem to love bikes and trikes so I planted mine on them almost as soon as they were born.

I bought a cargo trike and a wodge of fat foam from the local market and piled it into the cargo part among which I strapped a carrycot; refined reclined sleeping-on-wheels for the baby. As the baby grew they progressed on to as many various shapes and guises of bikes and trikes and tandems and trailers and seats and free-wheeling contraptions that I could muster. 

We went away cycle touring for days or weeks. Children by their very nature are unpredictable little blighters, this makes cycling with them all the more fun, exciting, rewarding and nerve-wracking, as you never quite know from one day to the next how they are going to react to a certain situation while mounted on a bike or trike or tandem. But if there’s one certainty with children, they start, they stop, and they eat a lot. And they love and learn from the experience.

So summer’s here, the weather’s looking good, the bike is rearing to go. What better way to have a holiday? You can cycle lots, see lots, eat lots, and generally return home looking better than when you left despite a large calorific intake. Just remember what Earl Wilson said: If you look like your passport photo, then in all probability you need the journey.’ Just try and make sure it’s by bike.