Name: James Plumley
Occupation: Adventurer, Writer, Nomad
With three university friends I cycled and wild camped 1700 miles from Plymouth to Marrakech. Then in 2011 with my best mate I completed John O’Groats to Land’s End in seven tough days.
eBike cycling experience:
Before I set off I had probably cycled 5 miles around London on an electric bike.
White Bear Discovery eBike, Altura Dryline 56L pannier bags, Trekmates Jungle Hammock with mosquito net,Snugpak Travelpak Xtreme Sleeping Bag, MSR Petrol Stove
Distance of the ride:
How many countries did you cycle through?
11: Netherlands – Germany – Austria – Slovenia – Croatia - Bosnia & Herzegovina – Serbia – Kosovo – Macedonia – Albania - Montenegro
How long did it take you to complete?
4 - HOLLAND (Den Bosch)
5 - GERMANY (Kaldenkirchen)
6 - GERMANY (Cologne)
7 - GERMANY (Michelbach)
8 - GERMANY (Frankfurt)
9 - GERMANY (Hochberg)
10 - GERMANY (Nuremberg)
11 - GERMANY (Regensburg)
12 - GERMANY (Passau)
13 - AUSTRIA (Wels)
14 - AUSTRIA (Hofern)
15 - AUSTRIA (Leoben)
16 - SLOVENIA (Maribor)
17 - CROATIA (Zagreb)
18 - CROATIA (Zagreb)
19 - CROATIA (Velika Gorica)
20 - BOSNIA (Banja Luka)
21 - BOSNIA (Mitrovici)
22 - BOSNIA (Sarajevo)
23 - BOSNIA (Sarajevo)
24 - BOSNIA (Sarajevo)
25 - BOSNIA (Zvornik)
26 - SERBIA (Obrenovac)
27 - SERBIA (Belgrade)
28 - SERBIA (Belgrade)
29 - SERBIA (Belgrade)
30 - SERBIA (Belgrade)
31 - SERBIA (Belgrade)
1 - SERBIA (Belgrade)
2 - SERBIA (Belgrade)
3 - SERBIA (Novo Selo)
4 - SERBIA (Nis)
5 - KOSOVO (Pristina)
6 - KOSOVO (Pristina)
7 - MACEDONIA (Skopje)
8 - MACEDONIA (Skopje)
9 - MACEDONIA (Kichevo)
10 - MACEDONIA (Ohrid)
11 - ALBANIA (Farke)
12 - ALBANIA (Tirana)
13 - ALBANIA (Shkoder)
14 - MONTENEGRO (Budva)
15 - MONTENEGRO (Budva)
16 - MONTENEGRO (Budva)
17 - MONTENEGRO (Budva)
18 - MONTENEGRO (Podgorica)
19 - ENGLAND (Coggleshall)
How does each country’s cycling culture compare?
As I headed further east I found that cycle lanes and routes dried up and they would only sometimes reappear in the big cities.
Also I saw fewer cyclists out for pleasure rides and more people cycling to the shops, using the bicycle for more practical purposes.
Which was your favourite country to cycle through, why?
Bosnia & Herzegovina was stunning, especially when I ended up on a quiet road in the mountains. There was little traffic and long sweeping roads through forests, winding up and down mountains.
It was the first time I felt like I was really exploring in a new country with no prior knowledge of it; my hand gesturing skills became honed.
Why did you decide to do the White Bear Challenge?
There was something mysterious about the Balkans, no one I knew had been. All I knew about the countries was from news stories when I was young about war and famine.
So as part of the first White Bear Challenge – to take an eco-friendly vehicle on as big an adventure as possible – I decided to ride across Europe to the Balkans. When I became aware of the disastrous flooding that hit the Balkans in May I decided to raise awareness of that along the way too.
To add to the adventure I completed the cycle in a suit, it was surprisingly good for long distance cycling, beats wandering around towns in lycra!
How did you allow yourself to recover for the following days ride?
I would often stop an hour before it got dark, so at around 7pm. Recovery consisted of a good night in the hammock trying to ignore the rustling noises nearby!
Further into the trip as I entered the Balkans I spent some time staying in hostels and a few days sightseeing, which was a welcome rest for many parts of my body.
How did you prepare for each ride? (food + drink intake)
In the morning I would have muesli mixed with powdered milk and water, this allowed me to quickly get on the road to warm up. In the evenings I would generally cook 250g of pasta and a tin of tuna with tomato sauce. It’s my favourite meal, great for all occasions. I’d try and drink as much water as possible.
What food and drink did you have whilst on a ride?
Whilst riding I would normally drink water or ice tea which I found to be very cheap everywhere. For lunch I would pull in at a supermarket and buy whatever I felt like, this included ice-cream tubs, watermelons, apples, mangoes, pastries, malt loaf and cereal bars.
What are your three biggest tips when doing a long ride?
- Don’t plan too much. Go with the flow and see where you end up each day, embrace being on an adventure.
- Try wild camping. It allows you so much freedom and waking up to the rising sun is a great way to start the day.
- Meet the locals and make friends. Strange tan lines, wild hair and an overloaded bicycle are perfect conversation starters.
Most useful accessory used on the trip?
Camouflage tarpaulin. Can be used for basic shelter or over the top of a hammock and it is also great for covert wild camping.
Did you ever come close to losing battery on your eBike?
The battery would last anywhere from 20-60 miles depending on the severity of the terrain. Generally I was cycling 70 miles a day and only stopping at a hostel every 3 or 4 days for recharging.
Therefore I was cycling unassisted most of the time, except for large hills and when I wanted to casually cruise past some road bikers!
Highlight of the trip?
Cycling thirty miles through a thunderstorm in northern Albania I was soaked to the bone determined to make the next town in time for the World Cup Final. Arriving in Shkoder, I felt survival instincts kick in as I began shivering. I asked some locals who gave me directions to a cheap hotel, however 5 minutes later I was lost again on the street corner, now feeling quite desperate as the rain still poured and darkness drew in.
I asked a family standing in the shelter of a restaurant, the little kid understood me and told me to follow him. Just twenty meters down the road behind a garage door, a beautiful family-run hostel appeared with hot showers, hot drinks and two hot Dutch girls. An explosion of happiness ripped through me; that singular moment was the highlight of the trip.
Lowlight of the trip?
Waking up on my birthday in a thorny, mosquito infested, rubbish filled bush, to the racket of men clattering metal poles 20 yards away at 4am. Alarmed I stayed awake for an hour concerned that there was an angry mob gathering and I would be the first victim. Turns out I was wild camping on the edge of a weekly market, which they began setting up rather early.
Funniest moment of the trip?
Accidentally downing a very potent drink while my Serbian host took just a sip.
How does a long journey on an eBike compare to a long journey on a standard bike?
The difference is that you have to be more tactical on an eBike, learning when to use battery and when to conserve it. I found the upright sitting position very comfortable and I didn’t get any back pains, which I have had on road bikes.
eBike or standard bike? and why?
For the moment, I would have to go with a standard bike because they are lighter and you are entirely under your own steam, which I like the idea of. I think for people who are maybe not as fit as they would like to be then touring on an eBike could be the perfect solution.
As technology progresses with batteries lasting longer and becoming lighter I can see eBikes being fantastic for long distance trips where you might go for an extended time without charging.
If you'd like to read more about James' incredible adventure then follow the link below, where you can download James' book free of charge!