Cycling from London to Istanbul

Posted by Ben Wade at 04:46 on Friday 23 April 2010

Guest Blogger Ben Wade is cycling from London all the way to Istanbul. Here is the first of his dispatches:

Ben practising for his epic cycling adventureBen practising for his epic cycling adventure

Over the next couple of months I am planning to cycle across Europe from London to Istanbul, a journey of about 4000km. The trip will follow several major cycle routes along the Rhine and Danube Rivers and, if my past attempts at bike touring are anything to go by, will inevitably involve getting lost and cycling along a main road or two. I will be writing updates for Greentraveller as I go to document my adventures, and hopefully provide information for others planning a cycle trip of their own.

Bike trips are a great way to experience a country and also the most environmentally friendly way to get about. A bicycle does the equivalent of 1000mpg, and if you think about it, on a hilly route you only pedal 66% of the time, on the flat and going up. This means that over 4000km I’ll only actually be spinning my legs for around 2700km, that’s over 1300km for free! (I know this theory is radically floored but it’s a nice thought.) Whether you are simply exploring a city by bike, or undertaking a multi-country expedition, the bicycle gives you that sense of freedom that motorised transport cannot provide. It also happens to keep you fit.

Ben and his trust steedBen and his trust steedThe Bike
For this trip I am going to use my ‘entry level’ road bike with two rear panniers and a bar bag for luggage. As a commuter bike in London this has been ideal, whizzing between traffic and getting me to work early at least, oh, twice. For longer distances however we will see how it performs. My friends will tell you how paranoid I have become about the bike breaking. I even took it to a bike shop after finding a ‘dent’ in the frame, which turned out to be some break dust trapped in a weld. However, I also like the idea of being able to jump on my own bike and pedal for the horizon, so that’s why I’m sticking with it. On the whole any bike will do the job. You can buy specialist touring bikes that are strong and sturdy or even versatile mountain bikes that will be able to handle different terrain. My advice if you are thinking of buying a new bike for the trip would be to make friends with your local bike shop and tell them exactly what you are planning to undertake. If you already have a bike then the planning is even simpler, just jump on and ride. You’ll be amazed by how far you can get.

Ben will be camping en routeBen will be camping en routeThe Kit
You can get all sorts of different gear for cycle touring, most of it very expensive. The great thing however, is you don’t need much of it, and there are always ways of keeping costs low. I’ve managed to borrow a lightweight tent, acquire some discounted panniers and even bought a small stove to allow for the obligatory cup of coffee every morning. The key is to try and get things that are lightweight and don’t take up too much space. Think multi and function in the same sentence. Jeans might be good for those evenings at the bar, but they weigh a ton (well it feels like it) and aren’t much good if it rains. Go for some cotton trousers instead, you can wear these while cycling, sightseeing and chatting to locals over breakfast. Think like this for everything and you’ll soon see how little you really need. Having said this I still seem to have loads of stuff, some of which I am sure will be getting sent back home. Of course what you’ll need to take will depend on the time of year, and where you are going.

The Route
My route across Europe follows some of the more popular cycle ways. Information about all these routes can be found on the Internet and in guidebooks that you can get in advance. Stanfords is a great source of maps and guides. I plan to cross the English Channel via the Dover - Dunkirk Ferry and follow the North Sea Cycle Route to Rotterdam. From here I will pick up the Rhine cycle way  and head down into southeast Germany.  After a brief excursion onto Germany’s highway system I’m hoping I can find the Danube River cycle path  and follow this into northern Bulgaria, passing through some of central Europe’s best know cities on the way. Once in Bulgaria I will be employing the ‘make it up as you go along’ route finding technique, using my compass to head southeast towards Istanbul. I have no maps, which may prove problematic, although I am planning to purchase these en route when I get fed up of getting lost.

Cycling on the road less travelledCycling on the road less travelledSo there it is. I’m trying to keep the trip as simple as possible and apart from a bit of internet research and the indulgence of a guide book from Stanfords, I’ve not done a huge amount of planning. This may turn out to be a ridiculous over estimation of my ability, but at the same time I hope it will also be a great adventure...

Practical Information for travelling by bike from London to Istanbul
There is a great guidebook you can download for free from the Royal Geographical Society’s website. The Bicycle Expedition handbook has been the bible for many cycle tourers in the past and is well worth a read.

  • If you are looking to plan a trip based around European cycle routes have a look at the European Cyclists Federation Website. It includes links to the EuroVelo (cross-Europe) cycle routes on the left hand site.
  • I was partly inspired to undertake this trip after attending a workshop at the Explore weekend held at the Royal Geographical Society, in Kensington, London. The event takes place in November each year and will surely inspire you to go and have an adventure of your own. You boss might not be so happy though!
  • I am doing this ride in association with the charity Scope. If you would like to sponsor me visit www.justgiving.co.uk/benlwade and click the Donate Now button.

You can follow Ben's route from London to Istanbul on this google map of Ben's route.

For a wide selection of unique and adventurous cycling holidays, see greentraveller's cycling holidays in Europe reachable by train.

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