Frequently Asked Questions

The questions we are asked most frequently are "Where are you from?", followed by "Where are you going?". Of course in foreign-ese it can be hard to tell these two apart so we told countless Greeks that we were Bulgarians on our way by bike to England. Anyway, I was inspired to add this page by an email I received from a fellow cyclist who'd seen our website. It read:

I'm wondering how much preparation you did before you went, and how well you have it all planned out (or whether you just go where you feel like it). How did you estimate how long it will take you? Do you assume a certain number of miles per day? How do you cope with the cold? How do you manage to carry everything you need with you wherever you go? I read that you carry a laptop with you. If I did a tour, I'd definitely want to take a lot of pictures and keep a web log, but that's a lot of extra weight, and isn't it difficult to find an internet connection to download the pictures? Have you had previous experience of camping and cycling? Some of the sights you have seen on the way are spectacular - did you plan to go to certain places, or just happen across them? Also, do you have any problems coping with the different language barriers you've encountered?
Anyway, thanks for a good read, and good luck with your travels. I shall be following your progress and wishing you well!

To this almost exhaustive list I thought I should add:


How much preparation?

A lifetime (well about fifteen years) of hiking, pedaling, climbing, camping. Three week tour of Ireland a full year beforehand, a weekend in Wales with all the gear. A year of research and planning and preparing things like the electronics and the bikes.

How well planned?

We have a rough plan but are fully prepared to change it. We leave the details of where we go in each country until we get there, and don't usually know where we'll stop that night when we set out each morning.

How do we estimate how far we can go?

We began with an estimate of 25km per day as the crow flies (in a straight line). This may not sound much but it includes rest days, sightseeing, etc. Remember that we are thirty plus years old, overladen and not out to pedal ourselves to death. We've found that in hilly country we pedal twice as far as the crow flies. We used the measure tool of Encarta as a rough guide to how far it would be.

On the flat we have found that 60km is no bother, 80km or occassionally 100km is feasible. In hilly country 25km can be a hard day and 50km is the max. But then the roads wiggle so how long it takes to cross a country is harder still to gauge. I did create a complicated spreadsheet of distances and weather conditions (temperature and rainfall) and use it to try to choose a route that would avoid severe temperature and rainy seasons. Basically we pedal each day in the direction we wish to go, and if we find we aren't crossing Siberia quickly enough (to be in Mongolia by autumn) we will catch a train (as we did!).

How do you cope with the cold?

It's the heat that worries us. Cold you can just dress up for, and from mountaineering and winter hiking we're used to camping on snow and keeping dry and warm. Good gear and practice in how to use it are essential, but don't forget that even if it is -5°C at night in Greece in winter, it often gets warm enough during the day to dry out. The worst weather we've encountered is endless days of 2°C and driving rain in Scotland, and we've had nothing that bad on this trip yet. Also on the bike you can sometimes stop at a cafe to warm up.

How do you carry all that stuff?

Slowly. But actually it doesn't make too much difference on the bike. We often carry an extra day or two's food and every day we take on about seven litres of water sometime in the afternoon for our night's camp. The important thing is to bear this in mind when you pack, so there is empty space in the panniers for the food you'll need.

Isn't the computer a lot of extra weight?

Yes it is, all told it must add about 6kg and fills most of a front pannier, plus I am pushing a dynamo all the time to charge the batteries for it. It has a number of uses, perhaps the foremost is that I earn some money doing technical support for my old employer. But I'm a gadget freak so I like it for its own sake. Its other major uses are email, doing the website, archiving the photos (you couldn't really use a digital camera unless you had a laptop or similar to download the photos to) and storing a heap of information such as maps, CTC information sheets and other cycle tourists' websites. It also keeps me out of mischief on days off. Handheld computers are steadily improving and anyone contemplating taking a PC on a bike tour would do well to think hard about whether something like a Palm or a Compaq IPAQ could do the job instead.

Isn't it difficult to find an internet connection to download the pictures?

Fairly, but I also post website and photo backups home (on Clik disks) to my long suffering father who publishes the website and copies the photos to CD. Every month or so I find an internet cafe where they will let me try to plug my computer in (I just copy the settings off a computer in the cafe, unplug that computer from the network and plug in mine), but it doesn't always work for one reason or another.

Have you had previous experience of camping or cycling?

Yes, although nothing on this scale before. The wild camping is pretty new to both of us although I used to bivy on bike rides as a teenager. You have to camp wild across Western Europe because there just aren't enough campsites (at least not for the distances we pedal) and you'd be broke if you stayed in hotels every night. We're both used to camping in the hills of mountains but the dangers are different in the lowlands. See Ju's guide to wild camping.

Did you plan to visit certain places, or just happen across them?

A bit of both. We're not usually willing to go very far out of our way for something like an ancient ruin or some famous architecture, but we are prepared to go a long way round if it means the scenery will be better. This usually means less cars too, although it also normally means bigger hills. We've been visiting more 'places of interest' since Greece because we now have guidebooks so we are better informed.

How do you cope with the language barrier?

We make sure we have a phrase book for the local language and we have some language CDs loaded onto the computer. It is a constant struggle, we've just got reasonable at one language and then we're into the next country and back to square one. It's one of the things which appeals about cycling through the Ukraine and Russia that we'll have the same language for a period of several months. I have a set of key words and phrases in my barbag map case, where I attempt to learn them as we pedal along. It would help a lot if one of us spoke German properly as that seems to be the most widely spoken Western European language in Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria.

How did you afford it?

We (particularly Ju) saved up for several years and we sold our house. I also managed to persuade my old employers that they should pay me a retainer for technical support. So far (just crossed from Greece to Bulgaria) we've lived on a little under thirty pounds a day. This is more than we expected but it includes a couple of months of staying in rooms and six hundred pounds worth of new bicycle frame. While on the road in Western Europe we were spending about twenty euros a day for the two of us.

From Bulgaria onwards our living costs dropped dramatically to about $10 a day for the two of us.

See "planning the money" for what we spent on the trip

How did you get spare parts and maps?

We prepared several parcels before we left with the spares we anticipated needing and maps, guidebooks and phrasebooks for the next few countries. My old employer (Porpoise Viscometers) kindly agreed to hold these for us and despatch them when requested. As other bike parts wore out and bits of camping gear needed replacing we ordered these by email and had them sent to Porpoise where they were added to the next parcel.