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A day in the life of a long distance cyclist

Bike outside a rope shop

A day in the life of a long distance cyclist. Or should that be a life in the day of a long distance cyclist? For once you embark on a long journey time and distance all warp rather weirdly. A 10 mile climb up a mountain pass may take an eternity to complete, the camp at day’s end and respite from a gale seems to arrive with glacial slowness, and yet in the blink of an eye you realise you have been on the road for a month already, you’re thousands of miles into the experience, and you’re rightly feeling smug, competent and proud.

So you’ve made the decision to undertake a long cycling expedition: what can you expect from a typical day on the road? Although the thrill of a big bike trip is the freedom to be spontaneous and do whatever the day inspires you to do, and although you will have odd and memorable and frustrating distractions galore (the memories that will live with you for ever), most days on the road are founded on a framework of routine so rigid it will make the life of a commuting accountant appear wildly bohemian. All long distance cyclists will feel comfortable with their own specific routine (a point worth noting for those not planning solo journeys). Here is mine.

Whilst I would not set a morning alarm (indeed I never even wore a watch), I did rise early. I enjoyed the cool, peaceful dawns, the feeling of having the world to myself for a short while, and I was also quite a mile-hungry cyclist unlike some.

So I’d normally be up at first light. As I would have been asleep since dusk this early start was not a painful one. What happened next depended on the climate. If it was cold I’d pack my tent, stuff a couple of things into my panniers (I always tidied most things away the night before – a relic perhaps of a brief military phase), jump on my bike and ride hard to warm myself up. Once warm I’d stop for food. In warmer places I would be more relaxed. I’d pack, eat a banana or a jam sandwich, and then get riding. I used to brush my teeth as I pedalled: I read once you’re meant to brush your teeth for two minutes. Only on the road do I ever have patience to make it through the full two minutes. Plus two minutes concentrating on brushing is two minutes not having to think about something to think about!

For the rest of the day my routine was pretty standard. I’d ride for an hour or two then stop, relax for a few minutes and eat, then ride again. Repeat until sunset…

My round the world ride was not a race. If I saw something interesting I would stop to investigate. If I met someone nice I would stop and chat (I tried to say hello or wave to every single person to pass the time) and perhaps accept an invitation for tea or lunch in their home. If I saw a river I would swim. If I saw a shop or a petrol station I would stock up on food and water.

And that’s about it. It’s not a complex life. I would daydream a lot, plan logistics, dream of girls and food and football. I’d calculate miles and speed and average speeds and ETA’s over and over. I sang songs and learned poems. I listened to music and shouted at the wind or idiot drivers. I moo-ed at cows (in all languages), waved at children, practiced riding with no hands. I daydreamed of home and wished I was anywhere but “here”. I looked around and felt privileged to be out “there”.

As the sun slowly sank across the sky I would start looking for somewhere to sleep. This was almost always wild camping or serendipitous invitations into strangers’ homes. When wild camping I would start looking for a good spot about an hour before nightfall. The art of wild camping is essential for long distance riders. It’s fun, liberating and free. Ideally you find a spot out of sight of the road, away from houses, with a bit of flat land. If you’re lucky there may be grass. If you’re really lucky there’s water – a lake or river to wash in, and there is always a sunset to enjoy and stars to stare at as you gobble down a filling pan of pasta, write your diary by the light of your headtorch, read a couple of pages of your book to generate tomorrow’s toilet paper, and then you’re falling asleep. And before you know it the dawn is breaking and you get to do it all again. Repeat a few hundred or a few thousand times and you’ll have made it round the world…

This post was originally written for Tim Moss.

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  1. Blackadder Posted


    Through yours (and Rob Lilwall’s) books I’ve decided to go touring by bicycle. One day I wanna bicycle all over the world, but to see if it’s actually anything for me I’ve planned a five week tour through Central Europe this summer. To test all my gear before setting out, I had a little 3-day tour in my homecountry a few days ago. I loved bicycling (and eating as much as I want and yet still losing weight), but the biggest problem I had those 3 days was the boredom in the evening after I pitched my tent.
    I used (mini) camping sites, not wildcamping but the problem would arise there too, and after pitching the tent, eating and showering there was usually still an hour or 2 daylight left. What are some options to kill time and actually enjoy doing so?

    I like to read, but not always and not every day. I’m not the type of guy that keeps a diary. I was thinking about taking a pack of cards with me, but still, I think if reading and playing cards are the only options in the evening I might not even go. I’ve grown up using the computer practically every day since my late teen years and I’m afraid I don’t really know what else to do in the evenings.

    Please help!

    • My 2 cents: Today it’s become normal to want to fill our every waking hour with sensory stimulation. Give it a few weeks or months and your brain will begin to wean itself off this constant stream of input, and you might find that there’s no need to have ‘something to do’ all the time…

    • Wow – this is a question from someone who needs to go on a big bike trip! You’ll soon relax, slow down, enjoy reading, relaxing, writing, drawing. Alternatively ride massive miles and then you’ll just be desperate for sleep! Go for it – you’ll love it…

  2. Great to see somebody else talks to the animals along the way. The longest I have ever done is JOGLE but even then I’d pass the time by talking to the animals if I wasn’t already cursing the weather or daydreaming

  3. Hi there,

    Great post, feeling the wanderlust well up quite strongly now with only 30 days before we set off on The Cycle Diaries Bondi by Bike tour.

    Blackadder: perhaps solo bike touring isn’t for you and you need a riding buddy? The antagonism one feels towards the other sure helps fill the time 🙂 Other than that perhaps invest in a Nintendo DS or go exploring around your camp to see what interesting things you could unearth?



  4. On full day cycling do you eat 3 meals per day or a number of smaller snacks or half meals?

  5. I leave in 10 days to go from Bilbao back home (Lincoln) along the west coast of France. Can’t wait!!! sunsets, croissants, and maybe a bit of surf 🙂

    Similar to blackadder – thanks for the inspiration in getting me touring.

  6. Brushing your teeth while riding is the best touring tip I’ve stumbled upon since I read about carrying a chopstick to clean out the mud guards.

    Thanks, Al!



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