Leaving Town

Discovering country lanes and off-road paths.

Commuter cycling brings its own excitement and challenges, but a cycling trip to the countryside can be the perfect reminder of how peaceful life on a bike can be. There's little to beat cruising along a country lane or cycle path, to the sound of birdsong and your ticking freewheel.  Whether it's a brief summer's evening excursion or a longer weekend tour away, your bike is a magic carpet to new worlds.

A well equipped, reliable machine will help you discover some wonderful places where Nature is queen and horizons are wide. It's all about speed, or lack of it. You travel fast enough to cover some distance, but slowly enough to experience the scenery.  At cycling speeds you can stop at any time to chat to people, see a bit of interesting architecture, smell a roadside flower, pick some berries, or spot a bird whose song you can hear. Take along a pocket guidebook to help you identify birds, trees, wild flowers and geological features. The rural landscape may also show the signs of long abandoned activities and ancient highways – giving you insights into local history. Photography is an obvious hobby to combine with cycling.  Your bicycle can lead to activities that are pure fun. If you are in a group you can pack a frisbee, bats, balls, or a kite.

Not only do you have fun and stay healthy, but the countryside benefits too. You're not another car clogging the roads, and running over wildlife – and cyclists contribute millions to the UK rural economy. They can't carry a lot with hem so have to buy services locally.

True, cyclists can get wet, but they also experience the best of the elements – it's all part of the natural world. You learn to watch the sky and understand its ever-changing patterns. At one time you'll enjoy a scented breeze, at another time you'll feel the kiss of the sun and, just occasionally, it will rain. Just as a good modern bicycle can make a big difference to your riding comfort and what you can achieve, the use of appropriate cycle clothing can make all the difference between exhilaration and discomfort.

Getting there

Sadly, cyclists who wish to enjoy the countryside without a car often have no integrated transport network to rely on. You can take your bike on many train services. Some trains carry bikes free of charge, some carry none, while on others you have to book space in advance for a fee. The available space on many trains is poor, but no problem for the folding bike owner.

What Bike?

There exists a huge selection of cycles, which between them enable you to travel as far or as fast as you want, in as much comfort and style, and luggage capacity as you need. Use your own bike or try something different at a hire centre..

A lightweight road bike can offer you a different slant on cycling as you zip along at high speed, catching an adrenalin rush on the descents.

On a laden tourer, you can relax as you ride at your own rhythm, absorbing the slowly changing scenery around you.

Try exploring some off road tracks on an MTB But if you're going to use an MTB for cycling long distances on the road, make sure you're not riding on big, knobbly tractor tyres!

Cycle Touring

Touring is alI about self-sufficiency, carrying all you need on a machine specially built for the task. Long haul comfort is the name of the game. You've got the independence to go where you want, when you want. You can't say you've really visited somewhere until you've cycled through it.

Some tourists travel light, with just one change of clothes, a fast bike and a credit card. Others go for the half-luxury of carrying clothes but eating in cafés and restaurants, and sleeping in hostels and hotels.

Most take great delight in carrying everything they need with them; tent, stove, sleeping bag, clothes, tools, spares, maps, books, cutlery; all are swallowed into carefully allocated spaces in panniers.

Touring bikes are designed to take you long distances, carrying most or all of what you need with you. They have lots of gears to get up the steepest pass, and good brakes. Mudguards keep road spray off you, and racks front and rear carry all your luggage. Drop handlebars let you vary your riding position. Some look like mountain bikes, with straight handlebars for a more upright position. For long distances, touring bikes are excellent. The riding position is quite aerodynamic, but not so much that you can't have a good look around.

Touring on a tandem is a further pleasure, with twice the power and only slightly more weight and air resistance than a solo bicycle. Tandems are also great if you wish to ride with a child on board. or blind or disabled friends, or if you are incurable romantics who can't bear to be more than a top-tube apart.

Consider the International Youth Hostel Federation, the largest budget accommodation network in the world! Their hostels offer a warm welcome, with good food and affordable prices. As an individual you can book a bed for the night and as a group can book a whole hostel in advance. You get access to all the facilities (kitchen, dining room, common room, drying room etc) and pay a flat rate, not per bed. Having a fixed base gives you somewhere to retreat to if the weather turns bad. Usually, smaller groups can also stay in some hostels on an exclusive-use basis during the summer.

Winter

The countryside is open twelve months of the year, and wintertime riding under clear blue skies through crisp clear air will give you fabulous cycling memories. The countryside might look dull and dormant, but birds are active foraging for precious food, and smaller birds are better observed in the bare hedgerows. The lack of foliage on trees and hedges allows for much better sight lines across the countryside too. The weather may be challenging, but take heed of forecasts and you'll miss the worst of it. There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. And as any commuting cyclist knows, the weather is rarely as bad as it looks from inside the house.

Remember even a relatively short ride can leave you feeling on top of the world.