I love to travel and I love to ride a bicycle. Bring both together and I’m in holiday heaven. A bicycle slows me down. I see more. It keeps me fit while I’m travelling. But it’s not always easy to do, writes Gail Rehbein.
Travelling comes in many forms. So do bicycles. And so do the different ways travelling and bicycles can be brought together. Since deciding to make bicycle riding a part of my everyday life, I’ve experimented with how I can bring this bicycle life to my travelling life.
Sometimes I’m travelling for holidays, sometimes for work, sometimes to visit family or share time with friends. On some trips I’m driving a car. For others, I’m flying or catching a train. There are destinations close to home and there are journeys that take me to the other side of the world. Every time and place is different, but one thing doesn’t change: the joy and freedom I feel riding a bicycle.
Three months into my experiment, we took a road trip to Bundaberg. Travelling with bicycles was easy. Our bikes sat safely on a bicycle rack mounted on the towbar at the rear of the car. With the rack’s tilting platform, we can easily access the car’s rear gate. Arriving at Bargara, Bundaberg’s seaside town, the car stayed parked and I used my bicycle to move around. As a kid, I used to ride around Bargara and not think too much about it. The bike was fun and took me from A to B. But on this visit, when I rode with my brother on his regular Saturday morning ride, tracing 45 km along the Coral Coast and through the sugar cane fields, I saw the land differently.
You see Bundaberg’s terrain has the appearance of being flat. Yet the land rolls in long low undulations that only a cyclist, runner or walker would notice. You never really know a landscape until you’ve walked, run or ridden it. These ways slow you down, sit you closer to the soil and let you see what’s there. That’s what I love about using my bike to explore a place. I see more.
I noticed this too when I visited Copenhagen in Denmark two months later. The thought of riding a bicycle in Copenhagen was intoxicating. It had been 72 hours and 15,637 kilometres since I last spun some pedals around. As well, Copenhagen is one of the world’s cycling capitals, a role model for bicycle culture and lifestyle, and I wanted to experience it first-hand. Making that happen was easy. We hired bicycles from our hotel with each bicycle costing 150DKK ($28 AUD) for the entire day.
In Copenhagen I noticed how mobile I am when sightseeing by bicycle. I cover more distance than I would by walking and I move more easily than by car. There’s no trouble with parking – I just park outside where I want to be. I feel energised by the exercise and the fresh air. Copenhagen has wonderful cycling infrastructure that makes bicycle riding very easy. I just had to remember to stay on the right hand side of the road. So I applied generous doses of this mantra – stick to the right and look left first … and again … and again.
So now, when I make a hotel booking, I check if the hotel hires bicycles. If it doesn’t, I then research to see if the city has a public bike system. These schemes allow people to share public bicycles. Stations of bikes are located throughout the city where registered users can hire a bike. There is usually a time limit by which the bike has to be returned. Public bike-sharing systems are available in over 400 cities. I tried one out when visiting Oslo in Norway.
Oslo Bysykkel is the city’s bicycle hire scheme. Registration for the current scheme requires a Norwegian phone number. At first I thought this restricted the scheme to residents but then learnt that buying a local SIM card for the mobile phone gave us a local number. Problem solved. A three-day subscription was 99NOK ($16 AUD). For a single trip, it was 29NOK ($5 AUD). A single bike can be ridden for up to three hours before having to return it to a station. And then you can just pick up another bike.
The Oslo bike-sharing scheme is popular with locals for commuting to and from work or university, as well as between work meetings. When I went to a bike station for my first ride, there were no bikes. However, I only needed to wait a few minutes before another bike was returned to the station and available for use. Hiring the Oslo Byskkel helped me explore places further away from my hotel and have a different experience from walking. I rode along the narrow river that winds through Oslo and also visited Vigeland Sculpture Park, which despite its stairs has ramps that make wheeling a bike around the park possible.
Access to a bicycle while travelling makes me more mobile, keeps me active and changes my travelling experience. But it’s not always easy pedalling. Climates differ and weather changes. Bicycle paths and networks vary from city to city. Living in the sub-tropics, I find a Scandinavian spring as cold as our winter and rug up with layers of wool while some locals are stripping down to shorts. Yet I love it. That’s part of the adventure of travel.
Folding bicycles are another option for travelling. I don’t own one but hear and read of their incredible versatility. Once folded, the bike can be carried onto a bus or train; it can fit into the foot well of a car’s backseat or into a suitcase for airline travel.
This year, I’m experimenting with touring by bicycle and cycling for multiple days, either independently or through an organised cycling holiday. In January, we pedalled down our driveway and rode 65 kms from the Gold Coast to Brunswick Heads. We designed the ride as an easy ‘first try’ at bicycle touring. We were ‘plastic card’ tourers, staying two nights in a comfortable apartment by the Brunswick River before riding back home. If it rained, it didn’t matter as we had a clean, dry place as our destination.
Arriving into a town by bicycle is different to arriving by car. I see the landscape change slowly. I feel the changes in temperature. I easily pause to look into the creeks and rivers. I arrive quietly and meet the town in a new way. I feel closer to the land she sits on.
Whether I’m travelling with my bicycle on the back of a car, hiring a bike at my destination, or bicycle touring, one thing remains the same – riding a bicycle makes my travelling life even better.
My next big adventure is something I’ve never done before. From November 26, I’m riding the nine-day RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride from the Grampians to the Great Ocean Road. This rolling bike festival will take me travelling by bicycle through amazing landscape. I’m going to really enjoy it.
Gail is a bicycle-riding writer who has a knack for guiding people through change. This article is an extract from her forthcoming book about her bicycle project. To discover more about Gail and her bicycle riding adventures, head to:
For details on the RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride, visit bicyclenetwork.com.au/racv-great-victorian-bike-ride/