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There are plenty of ways to explore the world, but not all of them give you the sense of freedom and the strong thighs you get from seeing the sights from your bike. The first thing I ever fell in love with about cycling was actually a bicycle bell that I was given for my 13th birthday; it had the classic ting ting! sound that I’d heard in countless movies during my childhood, and I spent the rest of that birthday ringing it in my family’s ears over and over again.
I’d had a bike for years, but it was that bell that motivated me to get out and start riding every day – and I never looked back. But you don’t have to have the best bike bell in the world to fall in love with cycling, and especially not when your bike is the vehicle that takes you to the places you’ve always dreamed of going.
So, why do I always tell people that the best way to explore the world is by bicycle?
The Pace is Yours to Set
When you’re on the road on a cycle tour, you’re 100% on your own schedule. You can enjoy lazy days of cruising through beautiful landscapes or push your body to speed your way through challenging terrain; you can wake up somewhere and decide to stay a while, or decide to move on without having to wait for a train, bus or plane, and without even having to find somewhere to fill your car with fuel.
You can stop to soak up the scenery or the society wherever you are. I had a conversation recently with a close friend who’s a serial cyclist across continents, and he said something that stuck with me: your bike only travels as fast as you are ready to travel. Have you ever had that feeling of getting on a plane in one country and getting off it in another, to find that although your body has arrived in this new place, your mind seems to be a few thousand miles behind, and you feel disorientated and not-quite-right? If so, you’ll appreciate the joy of moving at a pace dictated by your own legs.
You Feel Good (and get fit)
Travelling doesn’t always make you feel good and flexible. Even flights and drives that are only a few hours long will leave you tired, drained, itchy-eyed and achy (in a bad way). But although cycling also makes you ache, it’s a wonderful ache – the satisfying ache of a body that’s been working hard and working well, burning energy so that your next meal feels well deserved (and tastes extra delicious, somehow).
The aerobic work of cycling improves lung health, cuts the risk of heart disease, boost energy, helps you sleep better and improves mental wellbeing – a study by the YMCA shows that cycling makes you happier. But anyone who cycles already knows this; the feeling of just-feeling-really-good after a long ride is one that’s hard to quantify in numbers, or even describe in words.
A Moving Meditation and Rolling Therapy
On your bike, you think thoughts that never would have come into your head if you’d been sitting on a bus or in your car. It’s proven that movement boosts creativity and inspires methods of thinking and problem-solving that are profoundly beneficial to life in general. And indeed, lots of research suggests that exercise – and in particular, exercise that you enjoy – is of huge help in dealing with the great challenges in life, such as trauma and grief. So spending a long stretch of time exploring the world by bicycle could actually help you to do some serious internal work, and develop an understanding of yourself that will stay with you for life.
And sometimes, cruising descents or powering up inclines, you enter a state that I definitely believe is akin to deep meditation. You experience your body in a way that brings you into the present moment. Those moments in which there’s nothing but you, the body, the bike, the ground beneath the wheels; those moments are precious.
You Make Friends
Around the world, people like seeing a cyclist on a long tour go by; you’ll be waved at and cheered on, offered drinks and food, and you’ll never be short of a conversation topic because everyone wants to know about your trip and what inspired you to take it.
You meet other cyclists, and the best cyclist-to-cyclist meetings are the ones that turn into days or weeks of cycling together; you come across people going the same way as you who you get on easily with, and find yourselves travelling together until that moment comes when you go your separate ways, usually with fond memories and email addresses exchanged. One day, you might meet up again, and reminisce about the bicycle journey that changed your lives; or at least, you’ll always tell your friends and family about those people who shared moments of your trip.
Cycling Makes You Feel like a Kid Again
EDIT EDIT EDIT Sometimes we are considering cycling is an adult sport. In a world of grown-up age means having a lot of stress and responsibilities, when you were a child, being on a bike meant being free. You can go anywhere if you want. Cycling is carefree and adventurous. So, you can experience one of the best feelings on your vacation is that return to childhood by a cycle and have a simpler time when you had no cares in the world.
These are just a few of the reasons why I think that cycling is the best way to explore new countries and continents. If you take the plunge and hit the road, I’m sure your list will grow much, much longer than this.
Sophie Elise is a passionate cyclist, author and blogger (and owner of the best bike bell in the world ;-). She is very passionate about writing on different types of women’s bikes, accessories, health, fitness and more and regularly writes on bestbikesforwomen.com