Cycle Touring for the First Time: A Beginner’s Perspective

With both Surly disc truckers purchased and eagerly awaiting their first ride, we wasted no time in setting off on our very first bicycle tour together. For those of you who may not have read our other posts, Adam is the experienced cycle tourist with several cycling expeditions in Europe under his belt. I, on the other hand, am the experienced tea-drinker and cake-eater, who can be found curled up next to the fire with my favourite book or most recent crochet project. However, as previously mentioned in my first blog post, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’, I am determined to continue to relish new experiences and, in preparation for our ‘Big Trip’ (as I keep calling it), push myself out of my comfort zone.

And I certainly did on our ‘Slow Tour of Yorkshire’. In a good way! A learnt a lot about bicycle touring, and a lot about myself. In total, we cycled 203 miles from Halifax in West Yorkshire to Hornsea on the East Coast and back again in a circular route.

Why Yorkshire?

Why not Yorkshire? As it’s the greatest county in England (as a Yorkshire lass I’m not biased in the slightest!) and it’s where we are both from and grew up, a ‘Slow Tour of Yorkshire’ sounded like the perfect route for my very first bicycle tour. We both agreed that it was important to do a bicycle tour that was a balance between being a far enough distance and long enough time to ensure I had a good feel for bicycle touring, but not too long or arduous that it put me off! I have been reading a lot of blogs and researching bicycle touring recently and one I have found particularly inspiring is Anna Kitlar’s blog on bicycletravellingwomen.com. Something she has said that particularly stands with me is:

“I think it is important to ease into the adventure and start venturing out step-by-step.”

And that’s what I did. The ‘Slow Tour of Yorkshire’ consisted of 5 days of cycling and four nights, three of which were spent camping and one where we splashed out on a hotel. I am not incredibly fit or sporty, so cycling 50 – 80km per day for four days straight was a physical and mental challenge for me.

My Cycling Experience

My experience with cycling, in general, is very minimal. I have been lucky enough to always own a bike and as a child, I would ‘play out’ with my friends – cycling to the shops and the park with no cares in the world. That was until I was 21. Hastily cycling home from my shift at a local pub where I worked as a waitress, a car drove into me. Luckily, I was not seriously injured. A panic attack ensued, combined with a bad case of whiplash. Despite escaping physically unscathed, mentally I was shaken. It took many years for me to have the confidence to get back on a bike, especially on busy roads with cars and other large vehicles. Eventually, my confidence grew, and I felt, slowly but surely, more confident on two wheels. That being said, I still hold some insecurities with cycling, especially on very busy roads – I don’t feel at all comfortable (does anybody?). I MUCH prefer cycling down a nice, quiet country road, or even better, a car-free cycle lane next to a peaceful canal or river.

Despite always owning a bike, until the Slow Tour of Yorkshire, I have never cycled more than 50 miles…! (That’s not in one go – that’s in total!!) The bikes I’ve owned have usually been ridden a few times, then left in the garage gathering dust and rust. So years ago, when Adam started heading out on his own cycle tours and began expressing his adventurous desires to cycle the world, my initial thoughts were,

“Sounds like my worst nightmare!”

And at first, it really did! For many years, Adam would keep coming back to the idea of cycling the world, and for many years, I replied with similar answers of, “No – that’s not my thing!” Bicycle touring is not for everybody, but I was knocking it before I tried it. Despite not being ‘adventurous’ or ‘sporty’, I do enjoy being active. Growing up with two brothers, I would climb trees and scramble up the Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor. But taking a year out to cycle through far-flung lands? “Oh no! Not for me!”

A Seed is Planted

That was until a holiday to Iceland in 2017. I’m not sure whether it was the fresh, frosty air of the land of ice and fire, but something stirred within me. Adam had decided to hand his notice in to leave the Army, and we knew we were leaving Cyprus to move back to the UK and get normal, ‘civilian’ jobs. Tentatively, Adam suggested the idea of taking three months out of our ‘normal’ lives to back-pack around SE Asia. To his surprise, I replied with a consensus – what a great idea. A manageable chunk of time to see another area of the world, experience new cultures and a diverse jungle of languages, people, landscapes and food. Three months didn’t sound too scary at all. We could travel September – December then I could get back to teaching in January. However, this idea grew and grew to where it stands now with our current Three Phase Journey Plan. And the method of travelling morphed from back-packing, to cycle touring.

And honestly, now I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t want to take a year out of work to go on an epic bicycle tour! Our ‘Slow Tour of Yorkshire’ has really made me realise just how much I am capable of.

What I loved about my first bicycle touring experience was each day didn’t have to be rigidly planned and thought out. As a teacher, whilst maintaining the ability to be flexible, it’s important to be very organised and have clear objectives for each day. Bicycle touring is completely different: No deadlines. No expectations. No pressure. One of the nights we splashed out on a hotel. We had camped for two nights by this point and we got to the lovely town of Pocklington after cycling 50 miles for the day, and we just fancied a comfortable bed to sleep in. We were able to wash our socks and pants, have a hot shower and I could wash my hair. We don’t feel like we have to justify staying in a hotel – we can do what we like – there are no rules! That’s what I love about bicycle touring. No set expectations. If we want to camp, we camp. If we want to get a hotel or hostel for the night, then we will. There are no medals or reprimands for us about camping or staying in accommodation. We will do what feels right for us. I kept saying, “It’s well deserved!” but why does everything have to be ‘well-deserved’?! We had the luxury of being able to afford the hotel that night, and it was worth every penny.

So all in all, I can confidently say my first bicycle touring experience was a success. Can I bicycle tour through foreign, unknown lands for a year or more? Yes! Absolutely! The main thing I’ve learnt from my first experience; we are capable of more than we realise. So go for it – you only live once and all that!

1 comment

Wow! You are an inspiration! Getting back on a bike a
Having been knocked off by a car is amazingly strong! Well done!

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