Credit: Pikist

Pedalling through the pandemic

By Claire Thomson

Sports reporter Claire explores different ways we can venture on cycling holidays.

The Covid-19 lockdown caused an explosion in bicycle sales, increasing cycling in the UK by as much as 200%. This means that the concept of a cycling holiday, or bicycle touring as it is otherwise known, is certainly one that will attract many more people than before. 

Cycling holidays can take many forms: single-day trips, multi-day trips, and even expeditions, which can last months or years. In a more general understanding, it’s cycling for pleasure, adventure, and recreation, rather than for sport, exercise, or commuting. For many, cycling holidays are an opportunity to explore the wilderness and natural landscape through a means unachievable by other methods of transport. 

When organising a cycling holiday, there are two main directions you can take. Firstly, DIY bicycle tours are a good route to go down for a substantially cheaper holiday, compared to the second option of booking through a cycle tour provider. By booking transportation, accommodation, and planning your own rides, there is the possibility of travelling in larger groups for a smaller cost, for example, by dividing the cost of a chalet or minivan; but it will either require a very good knowledge of the area or the ability to successfully plan rides and read a map. On the other hand, the more expensive option of going through a tour provider can supply accommodation and transport, as well as a guide, who will lead rides. Often you will be accompanied by a follow car that will store provisions, such as food and water bottles, and even offer lifts for when you’re lacking in energy. 

Another pressing question is whether to hire a bike or take your own. Bike hire can massively increase the cost of a holiday – however, there are also additional costs required if you choose to take your own bike, especially when travelling abroad. Popular budget airlines will charge around £60 to transport your bike in the underbelly of the plane, with bike boxes costing over £100, although often closer to £300 or £400 for better-quality options. While taking your own bike is more convenient (with the handlebars and saddle height set), you have to ask yourself if the additional costs of shipping alongside the worry of a missing or damaged bike is worth it. For less active or experienced cyclists, a lot of the time there is also the chance to hire battery-assisted e-bikes to allow the casual cyclist to explore and enjoy a wide range of destinations.

Across the UK, there are hundreds of cycling routes and trails for all levels of adventure, challenge, and experience, with each one of them unique, containing a variety of different landscapes, landmarks, and terrain. 

Hadrian’s Wall bicycle route takes the cyclist from coast-to-coast almost parallel to the ruins of the old Roman wall. Beginning at the Solway Firth, the route travels towards Carlisle before passing the Sycamore Gap, where what’s said to be the most photographed tree in the UK stands alone against empty skies, and ending on the crescent-shaped beach and the ruined monastery and castle in Tynemouth. The route is 100 miles long and provides four breathtaking days of cycling. 

The Western Isles provide the perfect mix of cycling and island-hopping, as well as the chance to be amazed by and fully immersed in the spectacular scenery that western Scotland has to offer. The week-long bicycle tour begins with a ferry transfer from Glasgow to the Isle of Arran, passing by caves, castles, and crags along winding roads. Ferries then transport the cyclists to Isla, where there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spot dolphins, minke whales, and basking sharks. This is followed by a tour of an RSPB sanctuary before reaching Jura and more magnificent white-sand beaches. The boat ride back to Glasgow passes one of the world’s largest whirlpools, Corryvreckan. 

For more advanced cyclists, the lesser-known and underrated coast-to-coast route in Wales departs from Chepstow, on the Bristol channel, and absorbs the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. It is said that this long weekend bicycle tour involves more cycling than sightseeing, however the steep climbs and exhilarating descents are all a part of the outstanding scenery and brilliant views. 

Further afield, mainland Europe is renowned for its cycling routes and especially professional road cycling tour races, such as the big three of Le Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and La Vuelta a España. A two-hour flight away from Venice, the Dolomites mountain range, located in the Alps in northern Italy, can provide experienced cyclists with a large range of climbs and descents as the undulating terrain is rarely flat. Stretching between Spain and France, the Pyrenees mountain range has allowed keen cyclists to enjoy some incredible bicycle tours. Many of the famous climbs are visited annually by professional cyclists during the Tour de France, for example the Col du Tourmalet and the Aubisque.

Whilst the idea of an adventure and exercise holiday may not be for everyone, cycling holidays are becoming increasingly popular throughout the country due to the population being encouraged not to travel abroad. These types of holidays offer a chance of escapism away from day-to-day life and, more importantly, technology. Cyclists can explore nature and immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring landscape. Let’s get out there and try something new!


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