Cycleplan recently caught up with British Cycling-certified coach and Stows Cycles employee Royce Murphy, fresh from his 39-day cycle tour through Europe. Murphy explains the highs and lows of bicycle touring and gives us his best advice on how to prepare for such an epic ride.
So, Royce, how did you prepare for the gruelling 2,516-mile journey?
There were two main areas of preparation: physical and logistical. On the physical side, I ride regularly and I’m a British Cycling-certified coach, so my fitness wasn’t an issue.
But more logistically, I’d done some touring in the past and what we learnt back then was it’s great not being locked down to a particular route or schedule. We knew we were flying back from Istanbul, so we booked flights and a hotel there. But other than that, we did a general route using Google Maps to plot out a Northern European tour through Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and into Germany.
There were a few highlights we wanted to make sure we hit along the way like Munich, Vienna and Luxembourg City. So we plotted those out and got a rough idea of a route and distance. We then decided how many days we’d need, adding in some contingency and rest days. So with that in mind, we booked Istanbul (the final leg of the tour), and then each evening planned the next day’s ride depending on what there was to see, what the weather was like, or how sore our legs were!
What’s the best thing about touring?
When you’re walking, you can’t get across the continent in just a few weeks. In a car, you’re all closed up in a shell and it’s a hassle to pull over. If there’s something you want to see or you want to take a photograph, you can’t do it. You’re isolated from the world you’re travelling through. Whereas on a bike? You can smell, you can hear, you can feel what’s going on around you. All of your senses are involved.
Was riding on unfamiliar roads in foreign countries intimidating?
East of Vienna it was very much a trip into the unknown – I didn’t know what to expect in terms of roads, food or language! It was incredibly different to the first big tour I did, which involved riding across the States. Riding into this unknown area without the language skills was part of the fun – dealing with the different cultures, languages, foods and different kinds of road surfaces. Because believe me, they were not all good surfaces to cycle on!
If you were to do a similar trip again, is there anything you’d do differently?
Having ridden across the United States, I had a good idea of how many miles we could ride per day while still having time to get cleaned up and do your laundry.
I was thinking about 75-80 miles a day, but what I had underestimated was all the stopping and starting we had to do in Western Europe. Because it’s so densely populated, the navigation, the traffic lights and the time taken to make your way through the urban areas all took so much more time than in America. In America, once you’re outside the cities, you ride 75 miles down the road, do a left, then you’re done!
If I was planning a similar trip now, I’d plan to do fewer miles per day in Western Europe. Once you got into Eastern Europe where the population density is lower and the cities weren’t as big, you could get more miles done. There is just so much history throughout the West, you find yourself stopping and taking photographs much more frequently than I did whilst riding across the States.
Were you and your cycling equipment insured for your trip?
Yes, I had insurance on my bike and from a health point of view, I had travel insurance as well. Also, we carried a good, strong lock because if you lose your bike on a trip like that, you’re stuffed. So I carried a Sold Secure silver rated lock and we did look after our bikes. Many times we were able to put them in the hotel or behind the hotel in a safe lock-up.
Which was the most challenging city to ride in?
The most difficult ride was actually the very last day. We knew from the cycling blogs we’d read that Istanbul was going to be a rather difficult city to cycle into. But I hadn’t realised before the trip just how big Istanbul is – its population is over 14 million people!
On our final day, we stayed on the Western edge of Istanbul by the coast, still 45 miles from the centre of the city where we were due to finish. And those 45 miles were urban. We literally rode through the city for 45 miles just to get to the centre. There were some cycle paths along the coast, but we ended up on the roads in busy traffic. So that was probably the hairiest day – simply because it was an entire day of riding in traffic.
How much equipment did you carry on each ride?
I’m afraid I’m not a hardcore cycle tourist that carries all of their cooking equipment and cooks out and stays in a tent every night. We did carry tents and sleeping bags, just in case we got caught out, but I’m a credit card tourist. I like to stay in a reasonably priced hotel, have a bed, get a shower and I really enjoy eating local foods. And I really, really enjoyed that. I make a point of never eating fast food. I always prefer eating something that’s local and not just from some chain.
Was there a moment where you just wanted to give up and get the next flight home?
Back in June, Germany, Austria and France had massive floods. During the fourth consecutive day of torrential downpour, we pulled over because I was having a problem with my rear mech. All the rain had washed the lube away and lots of road grit had got in, so the mech wasn’t moving correctly.
The rain came down so hard that we took shelter under a little shrine in the centre of a small village. At that point, you’re thinking, “How long is this going to last?!”
Luckily, a woman pulled up in a car, saw us sheltering in this shrine and told us that there was a guest house just down the road. So we made it there, and whilst in the guest house, a chap with exceptional English described a bike shop in a city not too far away that we could cycle to.
Once we were in the bike shop and they were fitting a new mech for me, one of my colleagues was using their Wi-Fi. He saw on a weather app that just 30 miles away was the edge of this massive storm front. So we took the train for 30 miles, got off in bright sunshine and that was the end of the big storms.
That was the point where I certainly wasn’t going to give up, but I said, “Alright, I’ve had enough of this. We’re just going to get on the train and get away from the storm.” That was a good choice. So, my cycle tour from the West of England to Asia has a 30-mile gap in it!
Have you been on a long distance cycle tour? Do you agree with what Royce’s thoughts? Is there any helpful advice you would give to fellow cyclists looking to do such a gruelling tour?
If so, let us know in the comments section below…
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