Cycle Touring – Destinations
Half the fun with long-distance cycling is deciding where you will go, and determining your route. Below are a few descriptions of different areas in the world. We are keen to expand this page, and invite cyclists to submit information on their own travels.
Europe can be both a paradise and a nightmare for cycling. On our ride from Moscow to Portugal to Moscow, we were surprised by how many roads are closed to cyclists, and how dangerous some of the narrow roads are for riding. On the other hand, we passed through many areas that were well-endowed with cycling-only paths and beautiful countryside.
Overall, it seems that Europe is not conducive to traveling large distances along major throughways. It is excellent, however, if you are planning an unhurried trip, and research your route to utilize bike path routes, or quiet meandering country roads. Rules and attitudes to cyclists vary from country to country.
|No Cycling Sign|
Hungary possesses a few modern and high-tech freeways, however, cycling is strictly forbidden on the freeways. This rule is enforced and cyclists will be escorted off by the police. Cycling is also not permitted on most secondary and tertiary highways with frequent no-cycling signs, however, this rule is not enforced. Most roads are not very safe for cycling being very narrow and littered with potholes. Additionally motorists are very keen to reiterate the no-cycling signs with blasts of the horn or raised middle fingers. For those that do not wish to flout the no-cycling laws, there are large parts of Hungary that can’t be traversed by bike. There are several cycling path networks in the country, however, so for those wishing to explore parts of Hungary by bike; it is possible to explore the country side on good bike paths. Most towns and villages have good cycling paths within their proximity.
Cycling through Austria is like pedaling into the pages of a fairytale book. The scenery is spectacular, and Austrians are Europe’s greatest perfectionists maintaining beautiful gardens, picture-perfect villages, and incredible bike lanes. Although some of the Austrian roads are quite narrow, they are all in excellent condition, cycling is allowed, and the drivers are courteous. There are many bicycle path networks which allow cyclists to get off the roads completely. The most impressive bike path in Austria follows the Danube River for 900 km right across the country. This paved 2.5 metre path is mostly flat, traveling over the dikes built alongside the Danube. Although the trail itself is flat, it travels along the northern edge of the Alps through spectacular scenery and canyons.
Germany has many extensive path systems along its canal and through regions of historical or geographical significance. It is recommended to travel on the trails or quiet country roads in Germany, as some of the more major highways are not open to cycling, and, like Hungary, the motorists are extremely keen to alert you of your mistake if you are on a no-cycling-allowed road. Cycling is absolutely forbidden on the autobahns.
Some of the highways in Switzerland have shoulders for bicycles which makes for pleasant cycling. Additionally there are numerous cycle trail networks.
In the land of the Tour de France, most of the population is quite accepting of cyclists being on the major roads, and many will give a not or wave of approval as they pass. Autobahns are still off limits, and cyclists will quickly be escorted off by the Gendarmerie. There are many quiet country roads meandering up and down and around through wine growing regions and old villages and fields of lavender and mustard which make for spectacular cycling.
For those wishing to cycle straight distances along highways, Spain provides some of the best cycling in Europe. Unlike most European countries, all Spanish highways have wide shoulders for cyclists, separated from the traffic with a white line. The drivers in Spain are courteous and laid back, almost never offering middle-finger salutes or angry blasts of the horn which can be quite common on highways in other European countries. Most of the highways are in good condition.
El Camino De Santiago: This is a pilgrimage route that ends in Galicia, NW Spain where Apostle St. James the Great was laid to rest. Thousands of pilgrims trek this ancient route every year, originating from all points across Europe. The trails merge in France, just before crossing the Pyrenees, and a proper path continues from here, over the mountains and through Spain. The Camino passes through spectacular landscapes and is ideal for the traveler looking for holiday combining spirituality. Although most pilgrims are trekking, cyclists are also welcome.
Roads in Portugal are not in as good shape as Spain, nor are the motorists as courteous. Portugal does have some wonderful scenery however, and the Portuguese people are warm and welcoming (when they’re not in their cars).
Russia and Eastern Europe
Many of the roads in Eastern Europe are in rough shape; however this is partially made up for by the courteous friendly drivers. It is a free for all attitude, and cyclists can cycle on all of the roads including freeways. The best part about cycling in Russia is the fact that there are numerous inexpensive and delicious diners spaced frequently along all highways. Hungry cyclists can eat tasty three-course meals in Russia and Ukraine without spending a fortune.
Due to the infrequency of cyclists, the local inhabitants will take a genuine interest in your journey and invitations to have dinner and visit the family are frequent.
For those planning making the grand by bicycle across Russia to the Far East, there are a few routes that can be planned. Some cyclists have journeyed in Russia as far as Lake Baikal before dropping south, through Mongolia, and into China. Others have stayed within Siberia and cycled all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
For those cycling to the Pacific, there are two main coastal cities that can be reached: Magadan and Vladivostok. Vladivostok is situated in the south east of Russia, while Magadan is much further north.
Until recently there was a 1200-km gap in the Trans-Siberian Highway just east of the town of Chita, making a cycling traverse of Russia virtually impossible. Recently, however, the Russians have been working on filling in this gap. In 2005 this section of highway was still under construction, but EXTREMELY rough. It is a bare, bouldery roadbed, intent on shaking the life out of your bicycle.
From Moscow, seven thousand km to Chita, the road is paved. The road ranges drastically along this route from the occasional freeway (near larger cities) to extremely pot-holed and narrow roads in the more remote parts of Siberia.
Two Hundred km east of Chita the road turns to dirt, and shortly after the dreaded construction zone is entered.
For those wishing to travel to Magadan, turn north at the tiny village of Bolshoie Never (about 1200 km east of Chita). Here a dirt road (interspersed with the occasional stretch of asphalt) leads 1000 km to the city of Yakutsk (not to be confused with Irkutsk). The famous “Road of Bones” leads from Yakutsk 1800 km all the way to Magadan. This dirt road is not entirely complete, and parts are still categorized as a winter road (only passable in the winter when the bridgeless rivers and bogs are frozen).
Vladivostok is easier to reach than Magadan, and one only need to continue following the Trans-Siberian highway to the Pacific Ocean.
Many of the roads in Central America are in bad shape, however, the main artery, the Pan American Highway, is excellent for cycling. In Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, the Pan American was a corridor of smooth asphalt with extremely wide shoulders perfect for cycling on. Additionally many of the local inhabitants use bicycles so the traffic is used to (and accepting of) two wheeled transportation.
Although Costa Rica has a higher standard of living than its neighbors, the roads aren’t much better, and surprisingly it was one of the few countries where the Pan American Highway was in bad shape. El Salvador has the best roads.
The scenery is gorgeous and everything from tropical jungles to black sand beaches can be experienced in Central America. Costs are fairly cheap, allowing for inexpensive traveling. Food varies significantly from region to region. Our favourite cuisine was in El Salvador and Western Costa Rica.
Unlike most other places in the world, camping off the side of the road is almost impossible due to the fact that most of the land is owned and fenced. Additionally, crime can be a problem, and it can be dangerous camping in remote locations. Fortunately hotels are inexpensive and frequent, offering a safer alternative to camping.
Crossing the borders between these postage-stamp-sized countries is relatively painless, and usually a ten-dollar fee is charged.
Many of the roads in Mexico are narrow, windy and busy, creating nightmarish cycling. Additionally, Mexican drivers can be quite aggressive which significantly adds to the stress. It is much less dangerous cycling on the toll highways. Although no-cycling signs liberally adorn the toll routes, this rule is not enforced. The toll roads are usually quite busy but large break-down shoulders offer ample space for cyclists, well away from the traffic. Tolls are not collected from cyclists at the toll booths.
The food Mexico is renowned for is not served in the diners along the roadside. The food in the north, however, does seem to be better than that in southern Mexico.
Mexico is significantly more expensive than Central America. Potable water is scarce, meaning that most drinking water needs to be purchased, adding significantly to daily costs.
The USA is one of the easiest and safest countries for cycle touring. Away from the larger cities crime is low. Almost all highways sport wide shoulders perfect for cycling and the drivers are slow and courteous.
Most (but not all) states do allow cycling on the Interstate freeways (although it’s not commonly known) outside of the cities when there are no parallel secondary roads. The rules vary slightly from state to state, and information is available from the Ministry of Transportation. Some of the states that allow interstate cycling include Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, California, Oregon and Washington.
The vast open spaces allow for easy off-the-road free camping. Water bottles can be topped up frequently at service stations, and restrooms used for morning grooming.
Canada is similar to the USA except the roads aren’t quite as good. Some Canadian highways (especially in Ontario) are lacking shoulders which makes for more dangerous cycling.
Two classic highways cycle routes in Canada are the Cassiar in British Columbia and the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper in Alberta. The Cassiar is one of Canada’s most remote highways and travels through north-western British Columbia’s rugged wilderness. Here cyclists are guaranteed to see a montage of wildlife likely including bears and moose. The Icefields Parkway (highway 93) meanders 230 km along the spine of the Rocky Mountains traversing some of Canada’s finest wilderness.
Cycling Tips for India by Keveen Gabet.
Cycling in southern India has been one of my favorite rides ever. It was extremely hard at times (heat, rugged landscape and hectic traffic) but it was an endless source of pleasure. I can only speak for the south west part (from Bombay to Kanyakumari) and do not wish to generalize for the entire country.
Choosing your bike:
I normally do not cycle back home, and the few times I did, my butt was so painful that I sort of avoided bicycles. In India, I bought a brand new local gearless ‘Hero Wonder’ bicycle (40 euros). The seat looks like my grandmother’s (very confortable, large and squeaky springs). I chose such a bicycle as I knew I was heading to the coast, far from towns and mainly focusing on tiny fishermen’s villages. Therefore, I would have little chance to find a proper shop tp get spare items. With my Hero Wonder, anyone could fix my tires, break pads, pedals and other tiny bits. I easily changed tires and repaired my multiple punctures. Besides, no one wants to steal your bike and it melts perfectly with the local crowd.
For a few extra rupees (10 euros) I added a large metal platform at the back, an iron basket in front, a bell (crucial surviving item in India. Get a horn if you can as truck and bus drivers seem to be deaf and blind).
Rules on the road:
Although I stayed away from main roads, I was doomed to reach some in order to join a larger village or to go faster. On small roads, you are a king. Everybody waves to you, tries to talk to you, invites you for tea and even offer to put your bike in the truck. However, on national roads or other bigger roads, you become a mosquito. Do not even think people care about you. Be prepared to go off raod to avoid a bus overtaking a truck while going uphill. Expect trucks to overtake you and almost push you in the ravine. Be very careful when trucks drive by you as the driver and most workers sitting on top want to see you from as close as they can and literally touch you. People also love loud horns, terrible sirens and ridiculously noisy sounds. I almost had heart attacks when I was peacefully riding on the road while being woken up from my reveries by the awful sound of a horn. It is really scary and irritating. Just remenber that people are curious to see who you are but do not care a bit about how hard it is to handle a loaded bicycle. Therefore, if you do not want to end up on a truck’s lights like a mosquito, stay away from main roads and make sure you stand aside when you see a big vehicule coming forth.
Where to sleep:
You could easily find small rooms to rent for the night (from 2 to 6 euros), but I never stayed in a hotel (3 nights in 5 months). People generally welcome you home if you mention you want to sleep on the beach. Besides, by each crematorium, you should find a shelter that will be the perfect bed for you and your bike. People believing ghosts live around such places, no one should bother you. It is possible to make a small fire almost anywhere, but always make sure you ask someone’s permission (who will generally accept or invite you home). There are faucets almost everywhere in villages, and people would happily lend you a bucket for your shower.
When you stick to small villages, you can also ask for Daramshala (it’s the place that was reserved for pilgrims when they were travelling through the country. Each village provided food and shelter for them.) of course, this custom is no longer in use, however, older folks might be surprised to see you know the term, and would often welcome you home. Some daramshalas are still in the village but havent been used in a long time (in France, we used to have an extra plate for the beggar or the traveller…although I doubt many people would still be happy to receive you around their table nowadays!). I also slept in front of temples, schools, and almost anywhere I felt like.
Dangers and nuisances:
I never felt threatened and never had anything stolen despite the fact that I would leave everything on my unlocked bike and leave for hours. People would never dare steal it, and would rather make sure no one comes close to it. Staying in villages was my most memorable experience, however, it can sometimes be tirying and emotionally exhausting. Your conversations remain essentially the same, and people tend not to think you could be tired or wanting to be alone. I was often woken up by people who were just curious and wanted to ask me questions. Expect people to sit very close to you, tap your shoulder and try to communicate. Be patient and understanding. They mean no harm. Indians are very curious and like to gather to observe you. One day, there was seven men watching me bathe under a faucet. It is often the same when you need to defecate. Coastal villages have no toilets and people walk to the beach which they use as latrines (do not pretend to swim so as to poo. You have to defecate on the sand so that the tide (dogs or seagulls as well) will take your fecal matters).
It is hard to follow Indian maps as they are not always precise and written in English. I kept the sea on my right and headed south. I also learned the local alphabet and a few sentences so as to read road signs. It comes very handy when they are only written in Marathi for instance. By knowing the first letter, you can generally follow the road to the next village. Starting a conversation in the local language is also very appreciated. People generally ask you the same questions, so learn the correct answers and it shoudn’t be hard to have a basic communication. Once again, patience is the clue. You will have to repeat yourself many times a day.