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Why traveling by bicycle?

Just yesterday someone asked; "why traveling by bicycle? My bicycle journeys have brought me to many places but I still get questions why I would bother myself with cycling, especially in tropical countries. Why travel by bicycle? Isn't it more fun to use the public transport, socialize with fellow travelers and locals alike? Why tiring yourself in the mountains when you could have taken a landrover or bus?

The West Tibet plains

Traveling by bicycle in West Tibet

It depends what you want

Let me explain, cycling has little to do with your physical condition, age or sex. Cycling is a mental exercise. Don't believe me? In 1999 I met a man with one and one leg who had cycled at the time around 10.000km. See his story here. So, cycling is mental.

So, what do you want in your journeys? If it is to see the tourist sites, you don't need to cycle. Or at best, you rent a bike when in the area. This is what I did in many place when I arrived the first time. It's a kind of best of both ways of traveling.

However, cycling is more than visiting "sights". And some sights are simply too difficult or impossible to reach. Think about the Mount Everest basecamp or Machu Pichu. Other destinations might take too much time, think here about traveling through West Tibet (on bike at least 2 weeks, by public transport easily a week and even by your own transport several days).

So what do you want? I can only speak for myself. So here are my reasons for using a bicycle:

  • Leaving the beaten travel paths behind.
  • Meeting people who might never or seldom have seen foreigners
  • Learning about your own strength (physically and mentally)
  • Being independent and gain more freedom in choice where to go

As you see, I don't travel to see just the sights, when I arrive at sights like Angkor in Cambodia, Bagan in Myanmar or Langkawi island in Malaysia, I enjoy these places as much as others. In my case they are the cream on the pie and usually not even the highlights in my journeys.

Traveling by bicycle in Laos
Traveling by bicycle on the road to Thakhek using a B-road.


Traveling by bicycle is a search for freedom. No need to wait for a bus, train or a plane. And you still have the benefit when you want to use these forms of transport. When I want to go "left", I go left! In a bus or train, you see the country passing by (if you have not fallen asleep).

As Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean says: "Give me that horizon", I say: give me the road... and the road goes on forever... you never know where it brings you.

Cycling in groups or on your own

Traveling by bicycle in cycling tours have become increasingly popular through the years. It's a healthy way to enjoy your holiday. A tour usually offers bicycles on the spot, so no need to worry about that. A guide will bring you around. Everything is organized, no need to worry about accommodation, food or even a flat tire.

Meeting Gert-Jan and Anne-Marie in Greece when traveling by bicycle
Traveling by bicycle and meeting Gert-Jan and Anne-Marie in Greece

Why cycling on your own or independent with your spouse? Same reason as above, independence and freedom. Part of the fun on the bicycle is to sort out the local customs, finding a place to sleep and food.

A good example is when I came in a little village in West Sichuan, China. It was a T-junction. In rural China at such places there's almost always a place to stay. However, the people in charge of the bus stop guesthouse were busy playing mahjong. A lady approached me, asking me if I needed a place to stay. I accepted.

She brought me to her home at the riverside which was important, as she explained, because it had a "flushing toilet". What she meant was that the toilet was located at the hills side with a hole in the ground so whatever you dropped, fell directly in the river.

Travel by bicycle in Malaysia
Almost all travelers from Thailand to Malaysia will never see this...
an ostrich farm in Perlis, 25 km from the border.

She made a nice bowl of noodles for me and than started cooking for her family. She brought in a pan with a reddish soup. Inside the pan I saw cigarettes floating, so it could not be for the family. I was wrong. When the soup was hot, husband and son came in and happily everyone ate, picking the cigarette pieces and throw those on the floor.

I would never have been even in this little forgettable village had I not cycled. The faces of these beautiful and friendly people have never left me while I have troubles remembering even the Forbidden City in Beijing has been fading over the years.

Traveling by bicycle in Cambodia
If you rent a bicycle, make sure it's proper maintained.
This shop in Siem Reap, Cambodia doesn't seem to have the best bicycles

This experience would also never have happened in a group tour but as an independent traveler on the bicycle it can happen and it does happen. Sometimes even more than you want.

Cycling as a form of traveling is not about racing from one place to another. It's not about speed, it's about the experience as is. To stop where you want, to eat where you want, to stay where you want.

Being alone and being lonely

Travelers on bicycle sometimes (like me) travel alone. Alone and lonely are two different things. Some can handle it, others can not.

Lonely or being alone? This is the road from Kerman to Bam in Iran

Traveling by bicycle can be lonely or being alone.
This is the road from Kerman to Bam in Iran

The benefit of cycling on your own is that you will learn how mentally strong you are, even if you realize after some time, you don't like to do it on your own. But you KNOW it now.

Cycling in pairs or in groups give you the backbone of safety in the group. You can hide yourself if you have a bad day and feel tired of finding a hotel, food etc. It also give you the possibility to share experiences, which is a great thing.

Everyone traveling by bicycle I met has days of loneliness but usually they handle it easy knowing this is part of the journey too. It is the Yin and Yang, you need to know how loneliness feels to enjoy not being lonely at all. So again, traveling by bicycle is mental.

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Cycling in China

Rent a bicycle is sometimes an excellent option to explore a not used road.

There is a nice back road to cycle from Yangshuo to Xingping. Few people take the opportunity but I did it a few times. Here's the story:

Back road to cycle from Yangshuo to Xingping

back road to cycle from Yangshuo to Xingping.

The road to Houay Xai
The road from Luang Nam Tha to Houay Xai is nowadays upgraded but the last time I did this journey it looked very different.

But even if the road is in good condition now, cycling in Laos in this area will still be a challenge

The road from Luang Nam Tha to Houay Xai


Johan cycled Pangkor to Penang

Johan, at the time of the journey, 8 years old, cycled on his kid bike from Pangkor to Penang, 250km. It took him 4 days cycling plus one day rest in Taiping.

Here's Johan's Story