Budget Bicycle Touring
‘Budget’ and ‘bicycle touring’ are three words that one normally cannot put together.
When I first decided to delve into the world of bicycle touring online, I was overwhelmed by the vast quantities of information available to me. I realized that I would have to figure out exactly which set of breaks to use, what material my frame would be made from, the number of spokes on each wheel, and how far I could travel per second dependent upon the number of calories I had consumed and the general well being of my great grandfather in 1903. If I did not think long and hard about all of these things, I would surely self-combust and take several neighboring towns with me in a fireball of unpreparedness. University, by comparison, had been a breeze.
I toiled and struggled over the material, reading about how important a route could be, how supplies mattered, and how many thousands of pounds I would need before setting off on any possible kind of bicycle journey: even a ride to the local shop had become a daunting prospect. Then I said no, I will not read this elitist material: I will not succumb to the pressure of the purists. Instead, I will quit my (awful) job, buy a bike and I will start cycling.
This was the birth of budget cycle touring for me and I hope that it gives you the belief to try it too.
I, along with two very close friends, bought three bikes from an old guy in a village near my parent’s house. Each bike cost £30. Rather than buying expensive panniers, we used a combination of cool boxes, backpacks, and bungee chords to fashion our own ‘unique’ panniers. Then we drew a line across the map from Castle Acre (UK) to Kostolište (Slovakia).
For 1,000 miles, we cycled up mountain paths, down roads, through the rain and the wind, and under a sweltering sun, until we completed our journey: 1,000 miles.
1,000 miles of sweat and happiness, frustration and extremes. In our whole journey, we did not pay for accommodation once. Each night, we would sleep outside, be it in a field, a forest, or an abandoned building: unless of course someone invited us into their home. We washed ourselves in lakes and fountains when we had the opportunity, and we salvaged food whenever possible through a combination of skipping (dumpster diving / freeganism) in the hope of reducing a little food wastage in the world and of course, in the hope of reducing our costs. While skipping, we found 15 liters of free beer and because of the kindness of strangers, we tried bareback horse riding and spent one evening swinging across a lake at sunset. To cook, we cut open a beer can and fashioned a small stove that ran on an alcohol based liquid.
Throughout our journey, we were powered almost solely on self-belief. Before this ride, none of us had cycled much more than ten miles at a time and none of us even knew how to change a flat tire. When things went wrong with my bike, I learnt how everything worked and how to fix it too (ish). Both pedals snapped, my cranks had to be replaced, I rode without brakes for days, I suffered multiple punctures (and blowouts), my wheel buckled, and even my handlebars fell off. Despite this, my broken seat was the biggest problem of all. When I broke my toe and ripped the end of another, I decided to cycle bare footed, using my socks as cushions on my pedals. We also had the slight problem of being arrested in Amazon (for sleeping) and opted for prison instead of a fine, only to be given court dates that we cannot attend. But none of this mattered because I was on the road and I was free. We travelled in one direction and that was forward.
This journey lasted around month. A month of feeling alive, a month of remembering every day. We were not athletes (far from it), we had little money, and we had never done anything similar. We just thought that it sounded like a good idea.
Could You Cycle 1,000 Miles?
If you are wondering whether or not you could cycle 1,000 miles, answer this quick quiz:
Question 1: Can you ride a bike?
Question 2: If you answered no to question one, are you willing / able to learn?
Result: If you answered yes to either questions one or two, you could ride 1,000 miles. You do not need experience, you do not need more than a hundred pounds, you need almost nothing at all. Just a little bit of desire. Now watch this, because sometimes pictures speak louder than words (then get on your own bicycle)…