Saddle up! Summer calls for a cycling adventure (obvs)—but what kind? Are you ready to pedal over mountainous countryside? Or would you rather explore your city using Freddie Mercury’s favorite mode of transport?
Heather Burt was already a commuter cyclist when she headed to Scandinavia to learn what makes Danes and Swedes so famously prone to pedaling around town.
Damian Jakibchuk was a novice touring cyclist when he decided to bike 3,728 miles from Argentina’s northern tip to the southernmost city in the world (and stick to his vegan diet while doing it!).
Here’s what they learned from two very different cycling reconnaissance missions. Use it to fuel your own bike adventure this summer.
Adventure 1: The urban cruise/commute
The inspiration: Scandinavian cyclists
Heather’s snapshot of cyclists in Copenhagen: Even on a drizzly morning in Copenhagen, the bicycle lanes are thronged. Most of the bikes are basic utility models kitted out with baskets and bells, rat traps and mudguards. The riders are strikingly diverse: school kids and seniors, bankers and baristas, a dad hauling three kids in a cargo bike, two women smooching at a stop light.
Feel like Copenhagen’s chill cycling vibes are for you?
Heather’s 7 tips for “Copenhagen-izing” your summer
- If you’re in need of a bike or other gear, look for something basic that will do the job. Swedish university instructor Christel Lindgren compares her basic utility bike to the ordinary but functional ballpoint pen: “For regular commuting, an old scruffy bike does the job, just like a ballpoint pen—maybe even better than a fancy bike.”
- Start small. Once a week or once a month, aim to travel, even part way, on your own steam.
- Recruit friends and organize a “bikepool.”
- Take it all in—pay attention to the world around you. Savor this time away from keyboards, screens and other distractions. Hanne Nilsson, a Swedish-Danish landscape architect, says, “Riding a bike gives me a feeling of belonging in and to the city. I discover places I would never have seen otherwise.”
- Plan ahead. Try to use designated bike routes—they tend to be more enjoyable than busier roads.
- Get help and get involved! Seek out bicycle advocacy groups in your community.
- Don’t let inconvenient weather stop you (within reason). If there’s a snowstorm in July, sure, leave the bike at home. But a little rain or nip in the air? Bundle up and bike on.
Adventure 2: The rugged rural tour
The inspiration: One man’s two-wheeled trip across a country
Damian’s snapshot of cycling in Argentina: In the desert, I battled relentless 60 mph winds with the power to roll my entire bicycle, and I hid from hailstorms. I carried up to 3 1/2 gallons of water, still begging for more and collapsing by the road. Elsewhere, small-town fruit stands would often give me fruit and vegetables, and the fruit in Argentina was the best I’d ever had! With more fresh and fewer processed foods in my diet, I was eating healthier than ever before.
Feel like you’re ready for the rush of a longer trip by bicycle?
Damian’s 7 insights for an epic bike tour
- For every good day on the road, there are five bad ones. Just remember: If you’re not cycling uphill and against the wind on an unpaved road in the middle of the desert, things could be worse.
- You can do it if you try. Don’t give up. People will also see you trying and want to help.
- Never take travel advisories as gospel. Think of them as an untrusting, risk-averse grandmother who would rather have you traveling in a bubble.
- Download a translator app to simplify food modifications abroad. Seriously.
- There will be times when you are absolutely terrified and want to quit, but after it’s all over and done with, it’s that fear and anticipation you miss the most.
- Cycle tours are for your enjoyment. Don’t get caught up trying to make them crowning achievements in life or expect them to fulfill or change you as a person. Nothing can live up to that.
- Pumas and snakes are often just as afraid of you as you are of them. Tarantulas aren’t afraid of you, though. Sorry.
Why you should commute by bike
You’ll be healthier
Bicycle commuting confers a wide range of health benefits, including lower incidence of disease and improved cardiovascular fitness.
You’ll be happier
Switching from car driving to active commuting improves your psychological well-being.
Your kids will benefit
Children who walk or cycle to school are better able to concentrate than those who are driven.
Still need convincing? Go find a six-year-old whose training wheels have just come off and ask how it feels.
Vegan packing tips for big bike trips
Travel spice kit
Create your own travel spice kit by rolling spices up in resealable airtight storage bags. Do the same with vegetable stock for homemade soup!
Don’t forget your pocket can opener. Some shops only sell canned produce.
This handy travelers’ staple comes in vegan options now. Buy a few packs for when you need something vitamin-packed and delicious.
Looking for a more thrilling bike ride? Make like a Dutch cyclist and get an electric bike. Last year, for the first time ever, e-bike sales surpassed sales of regular bikes in the Netherlands. The little boost of speed and ease you get from an e-bike can take your summer rides from “pretty good” to “can’t stop grinning (and zooming).”