A guest blog from one of our mechanics, Gwydion. He’s since been bike-packing around the world, read about how he got the bug for travelling the world by bike and how this one decision changed his life and he’s now travelling the world fixing bikes as well!
The birth of an idea
It was whilst working on a vineyard in northern Italy that the though first came to me. On the flight over I couldn’t help but think of all the places I was missing out on, the towns, the views but most importantly the people. I always had a curiosity for bike touring and as my season was drawing to a close I realized that the best time to attempt it was then, I had no out goings back home, I was about to get some money in the bank and I also had the greatest luxury of all, time. Something I was going to need in abundance. The thought stuck with daily, as my motivation to put grapes in buckets was now fuelled by a desire to buy a bike. Something that I had not done in my adult life. The idea was born, to cycle over 1000miles, with close to 70,000 ft of climbing back to my home in Wales. Sure I hadn’t been on a bike since I was twelve, but how hard could it be?
It’s not the bike, it’s the legs.
After spending a week in Venice, visiting bicycle shops between espresso stops, I realized a tight budget was the first difficulty of my trip. I had only just stepped into the bike world and I felt as though I didn’t have enough money to be a ‘cyclist’. That on top of my limited bicycle knowledge meant I wasn’t sure what I was getting for my money. The plus side of this though meant that I only really ever had one choice, being the cheapest bike I could find. An eight speed city bike designed to take people on their commutes. My doubts had grown over the week after seeing all the pricey bicicletta’s on display. Was this bike going to take me home? Was I able to ride it home? The decision was made when I asked the owner of a local shop if he thought that the city bike would make it to Wales. He looked at the bike, then back to me and said;
‘It’s not the bicycle, it’s the legs.’
I bought it there and then. I had my camping gear, I picked up some panniers, put it all together and balanced it in such a way to stop me riding in circles. I was ready to go.
I was five miles outside of Venice when had my first puncture. Standing on the side of the road with an upturned bike, tube in one hand pump in the other. Not only did I lack a spanner to remove the wheel, I didn’t even have a clue how to change the tube! How could I be so foolish! Stubbornness and pride forced me to walk until I could find a bike shop. I had the tube changed, bought a spanner and was taught how to change it for future mishaps. Fortunately I only had a target of 40 miles for that day. I would meet back up with my friend’s family who I had been staying with for the past couple of months. When I arrived I spent the night losing weight off of my pack and watching YouTube videos of ‘bike maintenance for dummies’.
With the first day of cycling under my belt and a lighter load, I had a growth in confidence for tackling the Alps, however ahead of me was my first night wild camping. I was equipped with a bivi and a blanket and for the first few days I had no fuel, I was dependant on fire to cook my food. Finding the right place wasn’t too hard. It needed to be off of the road and away from any visible trails, I’d lay my bike down, set a low sleeping set up and cook my food while there was still light. As the days went by I became more adept to not only selecting good spots but also the speed I could lay out my home from home. I continued on my bikes and over the following couple of weeks I would make my way to the Alps.
What goes up…?
When I first saw the Alps ahead of me I felt very overwhelmed and unprepared. Physically I was in no condition to ride the climbs. The only thing I could do was work within my comfort zone. In the first day on the mountains I would be walking alongside my bike rather than riding. It felt like I was cheating however it was the only thing I could do to move forward. Daily targets went out the window and the mentality became ‘as long as I end the day closer to home, then I’m doing okay’.
The beauty of spending a couple of weeks cycling uphill not only meant that I had incredible views, but also meant my time in Austria was mostly downhill. This in turn meant I cleared most of the country within a day. As I progressed through my trip I was beginning to get notably stronger on the bike. My confidence had grown while riding and I had my camping and set up all figured out. The problem with this was my days were flashing by, the lack of climbs across central Europe meant I was covering much more distance in a day. I had discovered an incredible infrastructure of bicycle routes that took me right through the heart of the countries. I was in my element, this was my life now, I could keep going forever. But before I knew it I was in Calais awaiting my ferry. The trip was almost at an end.
I almost begrudged the following days back home. I missed my coffee stops, I missed pretending to speak a different language. But strangely enough the thing I was going to miss most of all was cycling each day. I began my trip with the idea that a bicycle would be the perfect way to get to a destination, however as I progressed I realized that the destination was just an excuse to ride my bike. Either way the trip came to an end. I had cycled the whole distance, more than I had ever done in my life. But something wasn’t right, id reached my goal, but it felt far from the over
Looking back at what I learnt during my trip, three things really stuck out. Firstly keep moving forward, you will only end the day closer to target. Secondly, always be open to learning from others, find what works for you and make it your own. And finally, that this was only the beginning of my trips by bicycle.
Gwyd is now one of the best mechanics we’ve ever worked with and all round great guy, check out his website at goodgearcycles.co.uk