What made our first cycle trip different? I’ve decided to reflect upon this, while shivering to death in the middle of some Kazakh desert, and this is what I came up with.
Most people plan their cycle trip over the span of a year, sometimes 2, sometimes even longer. I suggested the trip to Michael while we were working the ski season in France, and within 6 weeks we were on our way to China. I had looked up the route to get us out of France and into Italy, but apart from that our plan was just to head East and take it as it comes.
To be perfectly honest I didn’t think we would make it as far as China. I was happy just to make it across Italy. That’s still an entire country we crossed on a bicycle, and still an awesome feeling. I guess that’s one bonus to lack of planning and the lack of money spent on equipment, we were less likely to be disappointed with the outcome if we didn’t make it the entire way. We had no expectations on our first cycle trip!
We were on a very tight budget, which meant we had hardly any money to buy good gear. We were also living in a very small, remote ski station. The closest town was about 20km away. We only had limited access to a car, which made getting all the gear together, within a fews weeks, also a bit of a challenge. The end result was that our gear was complete shit and not really designed for the kind of travel we were planning. To prove this, below is a photo of my pannier, taped together with duct tape.
To give you an idea of the shit gear we got together:
Our Hybrid bikes, were second hand €250 bikes. This versed the touring bikes of every other cycle tourist we’ve met. Most decent touring bikes cost €2000-3000 and even some of the midrange touring bikes are in the thousands.
Shitty ebay panniers (mine started to fall apart on the day we left and weren’t at all water proof. I now have a plastic bag cover on them) $30US for the set vs. waterproof panniers that are anywhere from $100-500US.
Tent €70 Coleman 2 person hiking tent (I actually like our tent, but it’s a bit small for Michael) vs. tents from $300-800 plus.
Overall budget for all our gear €500 vs. the average cycle tourist €3000-5000+.
Pretty much everything we bought was the cheapest piece of shit you could find. If we had the money, resources and ability of going back in time, there are definitely a few things I would have invested a bit more money in. Not the bike (I liked my Trek), but definitely the panniers, good lights, a multi fuel stove and a good pump.
So as you know from the equipment budget, we were going to be doing this trip on a very tight budget. Luckily, as it turns out, bicycle touring is a super budget travel option. Originally we had hoped to do the trip on about €5 ($8) per day, and I don’t think we are far off it, maybe closer to $10-15 per day on average. The cheapest countries were Turkey and Iran where we spent on average $4-5 per day, and luckily this where we also spent the most time. The more expensive countries, unsurprisingly were in Europe about $20 per day.
Of course it would have been amazing to have more money to do the trip with. Things would have been a lot easier and less stressful. What it came down to was; if we don’t do it now, even though we have bugger all money, will we ever do it? Probably not!
Well we had absolutely no training whatsoever! Actually, in my case I was probably at my lowest fitness level of the past few years. About 3 months before we started we set off on our first cycle trip I was in a skiing accident and tore a ligament and my mensicus. This meant I was pretty much doing nada for the months leading up to the trip. Actually, up until 2 weeks before we started the cycle trip, I couldn’t even get on the bike. I think in total we took the bikes out twice for about 20km and that was it. We decided the only way we could do this trip was to ‘train on the go’. So that’s what we did. And though it was not the easiest way at first, it worked.
Nada! This was our first cycle trip. I didn’t know anything about bicycles, and hadn’t really cycled since I was 13. In fact, up until I started going out with Michael last year, I had never even considered cycling across a country or even part of it. I thought it was just nuts and sounded like hell! It was Michael that had the dream of cycling across a country. So we started talking about one day cycling across Canada. That day still hasn’t come.
Even more surprising, is that the whole cycling to China was actually my suggestion. I was bored at the ski station, feeling sorry for myself as I couldn’t hike, ski, run or do anything fun. I felt a bit trapped and just wanted to get out. We had to be back in Australia for Michael’s brothers wedding in less than a year, which had put Canada on hold. We also didn’t want to do the sensible thing and go back to work in Australia for the year. Originally I was looking at teaching English somewhere, such as Thailand, but Michael wasn’t to keen. Then we got talking about doing a cycle trip.
Originally we were planning to cycle to Croatia… With the time we had, why did we have to stop in Croatia? Let’s just see how far we can go… Maybe all the way to China?
Despite Michael’s dream of wanting to cycle across a country, he also knew nothing about bike mechanics, and we have just been learning as we go. Something that isn’t always very fun, but ‘touch-wood’ we’ve had no major problems so far.
So, why did we set off so unprepared…
Stupidity? Maybe. Did we underestimate the entirety of the trip? Most definitely. But what really made us head off into the unknown, on bicycles, was the fact that we had this crazy opportunity to do it now. Would we get the chance to do it again, who knows, but what mattered was ‘the now’. So we seised the moment, and here we are. I write this as I freeze my butt off in a tent, unable to sleep because our gear isn’t fit for cold weather (one of the downfalls to lack of planning). I’m wondering how we are going to survive the approaching winter, but hey, I’m in Kazakhstan. I’ve made it here from France, on a bicycle. So as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already succeeded, and I’ve had the experience of a lifetime.
So basically, what I’m saying is there are no excuses not to give it a go. Head out on your first cycle trip. You got kids? Take them with you (I’ve seen people cycle touring with kids). A career? Then just go for a couple of weeks. No money (like us)? Work to a budget that suits you. It’s doable, I don’t want to hear the excuses, ‘just do it!’ It’ll be hard work, you’ll hate it at times, but it’ll be one of the best most rewarding experiences of your life. So, what are you waiting for, head off on your first cycle trip.
Chau for now from a frozen cyclist!
I actually wrote this blog post about our first cycle trip one night in Kazakhstan when I couldn’t sleep because our tent had frozen over. I’ve only just got around to typing it up. I hope you enjoyed it!
If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy our 10 secrets to cycle touring.