Cycle or walk?

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I’m in Singapore and have now officially finished my first, longer cycling tour. I’ve done a lot of cycling earlier but no touring so this was a very new experience for me. A pleasant one (well, most of the time).

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More than one person has asked me to compare walking to cycling and how they stack up against each other, so here goes…

You would think that they would be very similar and, although they are, there are quite a lot of differences.

The biggest one is speed. Cycling is just so much quicker! You not only cover about 3 times the distance per day, you also arrive earlier and have more time to sightsee at your destination. If you still have the energy that is!

If I had chosen to cycle instead of walking to Sydney, then I would have been there a long time ago. In fact, that is one of the major reasons I decided to walk, I wanted it to take time.

The speed has a few effects, both positive and negative. Because you spend a lot more time travelling through the scenery while walking, you will see more and experience it in a much more elemental way. You are more a part of the landscape. Walking tends to demand, at least a little bit, less concentration and that also lets you observe the surroundings more acutely. I found that when I cycled along stretches of road that I had previously walked, I had a very good recollection of my earlier trip. I even remembered individual bushes along the way! I doubt that the same can be said about cycling, even though cycling naturally gives you a more intense experience than riding a train or bus.

One of the positives with the extra speed is that it is much easier to decide to take small side excursions and do some extra sightseeing. A 2 or 3 km side trip when you are walking takes an extra hour, but on the bike it feels like it just takes a few minutes. It makes side trips much more appealing.

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Unless you need to cover large distances every day, you also tend to arrive at your destination earlier and have more time to explore the surroundings. On top of that you have the bike to help you get around, that store that is just a little bit too far to walk to is now suddenly within easy cycling reach.

Baggage is also very similar, especially if you walk with a cart. I cycled with a Burley Travoy trailer and had no problems at all. It gets heavy on the uphills if you pack too much stuff, but so does pushing a heavy cart while walking. One really big plus for the bike is the downhills! Where walking with a cart can be hard work, especially on steep down hills, cycling downhill is great. You get back all the effort you put into pedaling up!

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In the same way that you need to get used to walking long distances in the shoes (or flip-flops) that you are going to use, you also need to get used to sitting on a bike for hours at a time. I had great problems during the first 2 weeks and ended up having to buy a new saddle to get my backside to stop complaining too much. Make sure you have a saddle that suits you and you have some time in it before you set off.

Another problem area was my wrists and elbows. Not at all used to supporting my upper body for a whole day, I developed aches and pains that had me shifting around, trying to find a comfortable position. Nothing that would stop your tour, but it would have been a lot more comfortable if I had a bike and seating position I was used to. You can solve these problems in 2 different ways. Either you have the equipment you are used to and spend time on before your tour or you start out slow and adapt as you go. Both methods work but adapting on the go takes more time and is therefore better suited to a longer trip.

The cycling community is huge as well. I have not met many walkers but long distance cyclists abound and there are groups and people that are more than willing to help out a cyclist. Warm Showers is just one example and there are plenty of Guest Houses and hostels that offer special deals to cyclists. I’m staying at one right now in Singapore, The Tree In Lodge, a great little place that offers a 50% discount to long distance cyclist!

I have really enjoyed the cycling and am glad that I decided to have a little bit of an extra adventure and not just take the train from Hua Hin. In fact I am sure that I will be doing some more cycling in Asia when I have finished the-walk, after all I have to do something and just hoping on a plane back to Europe feels a bit lame.

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There are already advanced plans to pick up a new bike in Kuala Lumpur in March or April next year….

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All that said, I am glad to be walking again, or I will be as soon as I get going from Singapore. Really looking forward to it. Indonesia next!

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