Monday, 13 September 2010

An Ode to cycle touring - Otesha style

The next three days blogs will be about some of the aspects of my epic cycling adventure that I have just had with the Otesha Project UK. There was a series of blogs at the end of July taken from my cycle tours' group journal and the full series of these journals with all of our shenanigans can be found on the Otesha website (

Otesha is a Swahili word meaning ‘to plant a seed and make it grow’ and The Otesha Project is a youth led charity that is empowering young people to make big changes in the world through their everyday actions. Every summer Otesha organises cycle tours where volunteers aged 18-28 cycle around the country visiting schools and youth groups delivering plays and workshops about issues, such as Fairtrade, grow your own and ethical fashion, informing and empowering children to change their world. Also trying to be a living example of what is possible – carrying everything with us on our bikes and 3 trailers, trying to only eat a low impact diet (difficult when you have such high protein requirements), wearing recycled clothing, living in a small supportive community (24/7) and crafting amazing things out of various cardboard packets, old maps, bike inner tubes and brake pads. We made a short ‘day-in-the-life’ video while we were on tour, which I have included below if you want to know more!

The first part of the tour that I’m going to explore is the cycling. Having been predominantly a town cyclist before the tour, it has been somewhat of a revelation in the world of bicycles! The first observation is the change in my concept of distance. Before the tour I would have thought twice about cycling to something 10 miles away, due to the time and effort involved and choosing the bicycle as my mode of transport for a 60 mile journey wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. But now, having regularly cycled 70 miles in a day carrying all of my life on my bike, it seems a perfectly reasonable way of travelling long distances. Since returning from the tour I have cycled 20 miles to a friends for dinner (2hrs) and 60 miles from my parents house to Cambridge for my return to Norwich (5.5hrs).

It is amazingly liberating to have an entirely independent, fossil fuel free way of travelling considerable distances. And actually the time it takes is not prohibitive, it does however involve a slight change in your frame of mind to accept that actually 60 miles is a fairly long distance and it is therefore justified to spend 6hrs travelling it! The point of sharing this revelation is not to boast of my new found agility, but to point out that before this trip I would never have considered this and doing a mere 21 days of long distance cycling this summer has now made it seem perfectly possible. One proviso is that making sure your bike is in good nick does make a huge difference to how easy it is!

My next observation is about the assurance and satisfaction I now get from knowing how my bike works. Now I am not claiming to be a bicycle expert by any means, but I now know how all of the bits work, can do bike maintenance and basic repairs and have some idea what is wrong if there is a problem. This has increased my wonder at these magnificently simple, efficient machines and also means I can ensure that my bikes are always easy to cycle and that I am not constantly reliant on bike shops for small problems like misaligned brakes (which saves me money and hassle). I would encourage anyone who goes cycling – even short distances – to acquire basic bike knowledge for all the reasons mentioned above. I hope to organise a bicycle reskilling workshop this autumn so if you want to learn then keep your eyes open.

My third observation is just how fantastic bicycles are as a way of touring an area or the whole of England. You can get to anywhere you want, but you get to take all of the lovely small roads - and if you are lucky cycle paths - and to see the true area rather than it’s A roads. The joy of travelling is largely in the random discoveries you make on your route, such as the amazing tea shop in Dornoch and the Clava cairns Neolithic burial site outside of Inverness. And even the ‘boring bits’ you travel through are quite interesting in themselves and more than compensated by the beautiful views and quirky town and street names.

We are blessed in this country with a fantastic national network of marked cycle routes, many of which are off-roads and through many beautiful places. There are occasionally issues of inappropriate gates, steps and slightly more off-road than expected, but generally we found the national cycle network to be an absolute blessing. You can find them marked on any OS map by little round dots, alternatively you can find all of the routes on the Sustrans website or you can buy cycle maps of many areas including Norfolk from Goldeneye

So before you dismiss long distance cycling as an activity you would never be able/ want to take part in, just consider its many benefits and the relative ease in which I found myself converted! Peace and bicycle grease to you all.

Photos: Me on my bicycle (Sam White), video - a day in the life (Mike Snyder), a tour of bikes! (Laura Kim), learning about bikes in our training week (Mike Snyder), an exciting find on our way - the ice cream bike! (Sarah), celebrating at the John O'Groats sign (Sam White)

1 comment:

  1. Agreed on the risk of some places being more off road that expected.... Biking on the San Juan Islands yesterday, I discovered that it is important to read the small print on (non OS) maps... And if you are going to (unexpectedly) cycle several miles of dirt road with a big hill in, have mudguards....