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The Unglamorous Side of Cycle Touring

Now I know what you’re thinking, cycle touring is all champagne parties on yachts; eating caviar with dignitaries while watching an artificial sunset created especially for you by setting aflame 10,000 flammable eagles; and good naturedly high fiving Lance Armstrong after beating him in a race up Mont Ventoux while simultaneously saving Natalie Portman from a vicious mauling by suplexing a wolf.

But shockingly cycle touring does have its more rough elements, which, until now, have been kept under wraps by THE MAN. But I for one am sick and tired of dancing to his tune and I’m blowing the whistle on this whole sordid business.

Does a Cycle Tourist Shit in the Woods?

Well yes, and lots of other places actually. While on tour you will likely, from time to time, get caught short far from any pristine man made convenience, (also read, less than pristine squat toilet behind a petrol station).



Obviously this isn’t too much of a problem – just always keep some TP in your panniers and try to find somewhere away from the eyes of the locals.

The Reeking Beast

There are also times on you tour when you’ll be wild camping for a relatively extended period of time… and wild camping often means no showers. One or two days are not really a problem and you can get by with a quick ‘whores bath’ with baby wipes; but any longer and you should probably think about alternate bathing strategies, (some of these are not really applicable, especially for the ladies, in conservative counties such as Iran) a few examples are;

• Using hamams or similar

• Local swimming pools

• Lakes and rivers; but always a good idea to check if it’s safe and also what’s up-steam, (factory runoff, dead animals, local toilet) first

• Ortlieb Shower attachment for your water sack

• Just pay for a dam hotel or campsite for one night you cheap bastard

Clothes can also be a problem in this scenario – having as much stuff made from merino wool, (good stuff like IecBreaker… not the cheap useless crap) as you can is good, (really good material for touring in general and very odour resistant) as you can get away without washing this for longer. As for other stuff, well, our old friend the Ortlieb folding bowl is perfect for doing a bit of washing in the middle of nowhere; and remember there are certain items, like your cycling shorts, that you really can’t get away without washing, (for the sake of your own health, and the noses of those around you).

Make do and Mend

Unless you want to buy new clothes when they get a bit worn chances are you’ll be doing a bit of sewing; the end result of this is that you may end up looking more like a homeless than you already do. I say embrace this, as long as you’ve got something to wear when you do want to look a bit smarter you can afford to look a little tattered some of the time… this also has the added benefit that in some counties, locals may not think you’re quite such a ‘rich westerner’ and hassle you for money/try to rip you off less.

Getting Ill

No matter how well you eat, no matter how much care you take; chances are than at some point on your tour you will get sick; especially because, as a cycle tourist cycling tens of kilometres each day, your immune system has to work a little harder than your average backpacker.


Loperamide... must have for the medi kit

Being ill is no fun at the best of times, but this is how we deal with being sick on the road, (just to be clear, we are not doctors, so please don’t take this as sound medical advice!):

• Get a room: being sick in a tent is the worst kind of rubbish, a room, no matter how basic, will be a step up. Obviously things like an on suite toilet, AC if it’s really hot, WiFi and a TV that’s showing some mindless films with Arnold Schwarzenegger make the experience a bit more bearable.

• Like your mum said… drink plenty of water, (if it’s diarrhoea, rehydration electrolyte solutions are good).

• For tummy trouble mint tea, (you can usually get bags of mint from spice stalls for next to nothing) with honey and lemon works a treat – this advice was given to me by a Turkish doctor our friends were couch surfing with when I got sick in Erzurum, (thanks, Doc!).

• Don’t cycle! I know, I know… you’re really hard-core and you can cycle through everything and you’re going to cycle every kilometre of the way if it kills you. Don’t be stupid, you’ll only make it worse and unless you’re actually going for a word record then no one will think any less of you for hopping on a bus to a town with a hotel if you’re sick. And if you’re already in a town with a hotel then stay put until you’re well.

• If you’re really sick go see a doctor!

• Like I said before, don’t listen to us… we are not doctors :)

4 comments to The Unglamorous Side of Cycle Touring

  • Darryl

    Hello again. Nice article and very true, after having to stay in Marseille for a week waiting for bike parts and other stuff from England i was eager to get back on the road. Even though i felt dodgy grumblings in my stomach i figured, as you said, i’m hardcore i’m gonna carry on regardless..Big mistake. After 13 miles i threw up, had sudden loss of energy and needed the toilet badly, this continued to get worse so i detoured to the nerest port, by the time i got therei could barely stand and was very dehydrated, i managed to get a Mc donalds workerto call me an ambulance and was taken to hospital, there they drip fed me water and sugar and gave me painkilers and meds to stop the vomiting and diarrhoea. I’ve been ill like this before in normal everydy life and it has been unpleasnt but managable, on a bike it is a whole lot worse. When the hospital released me a couple of hours later i found a hotel and stayed there for a couple of days while i recovered,(it was crappy and expensive, but i had no choice, i knew i had to rest so i took the hit). After 2 days i had had enough and although i wasn’t well enough to ride, i was well enough to travel by other means and bought a train ticket to Nice,(it ws cheaper to travel than it was to stay put).

  • Phil

    Hey man,

    Dam – that doesn’t sound too good. How you feeling now, all cleared up? Where have you got too… not too cold in Europe?

  • Darryl


    Yeah all cleared up. I’m currently on the greek island Skiathos visiting a friend, but also awaiting the arrival of some packages from the UK including a new Goretex jacket as i lost mine when i left Athens on the 22nd, so i’m pretty much stuck here until it arrives. It’s not too cold, certainly mild cpmpared to home, although we have had rain for the last 6 days. I’ve been comtemplating my route through Turkey and the Stans over winter with a certain amount of dread and excitment at the prospect of a real adventure and then i see on your site that you fast tracked to S.E Asia. I’d be lying if i said i wasn’t tempted to do the same…haha.

  • Great article!

    I’m currently feeling sorry for myself having caught a bug while cycling the Carretera Austral in Chile. We decided to hole up in a hotel (expensive, but necessary) until I’m better again. We will probably do the next section by bus and ferry, too, as it’s been raining for three days solid now and much more wetness is forecast. Sometimes, you just have to shell out a bit of cash to get on the road again, and back to health!

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