10 Things I’ve Learnt as a Brand New Cycle Tourist

So it’s been a little while now in since I put my life on a bike and started cycle touring and wow, I’ve learnt a lot! 

Firstly, the Vietnamese were NOT expecting to see me! Whether it’s because I’m Western in extremely remote areas, female, a solo cyclist or all of the above, they looked at me as though I was riding a bear, not a bike!

And besides the obvious like how to diagnose and fix things on my bike, I’ve also found out a number of things, some of which have completely reshaped my style of travel. 

Check out my list below; if you’re thinking about getting on your bike for a long trip, it could help you with what to expect when making that first step! If biking isn’t for you, feel free to chuckle at my expense! 

1. Cycling in Asia is not for those with road rage

It’s no secret that driving in Vietnam is (slightly) less regulated than it is in the western world and every driver’s best friend is their horn. Beeping (or ringing your bell) can save your life on these roads and drivers here take pride in their (ridiculously) loud and customised horns – expect a giant truck type of sounding horn on a tiny hatchback and a sunny-sounding 3 second melody on a huge petrol lorry – weird. Plus, they love to honk right next to you (most of the time when it’s entirely unnecessary) just to shock your heart back into beating just in case it had stopped – thoughtful! 🤦🏽‍♀️😂 And don’t forget that you can’t get annoyed for anything on the road here, because the only rule in Vietnam is: if you don’t hit anyone, it’s okay.

2. My bum doesn’t hurt anywhere as much as I thought it would! EDIT – YES IT BLOODY DOES!

(Lol I had to put this one in – it started as a note I’d jotted down in week 1, I’d edited it in week 3 when my bum chafing was so bad I felt like I was sitting on sandpaper, not on a double padded saddle through padded cycle shorts!) – invest well in padded gear…it makes a huge difference!

Me, crying over bum chafing…

3. I thought I hated warm water until I was actually thirsty.

When your mouth is as dry as Ghandi’s flip flop, even the sweat from your top lip starts to taste good 😂

4. Want to eat as much as you want and never get fat? Become a cycle tourist!

And trust me when I say that biking is not just about your legs! I have muscles in my lower back that apparently, I’ve never used. (24 or 84 I started to ask myself!) Your core controls your balance, your back – your posture, your hands and arms – the distribution of your weight on the bike and your legs pedal…not forgetting the mental training keeping yourself motivated when you’re all alone on a 20% incline. Plus, being vegan, I’ve been advised to try and put on weight whilst I’m in places that I can access food more easily (as there will be times that it will become extremely difficult for me to eat) and it really is an actual chore to eat so much! If food is your god and you like being in shape, get on your bike and you can eat what you like! 

Vegan Mi Quang – one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in Vietnam (genuinely tasted exactly like chicken soup and it cost £0.50!) – this was my second meal in the same sitting! Sorry not sorry…

5. The position of your seat will change your whole riding experience

It took me 5 weeks of pretty consistent cycling and countless adjustments to find a seat position that was actually comfortable for my knees, my back and my bum and allowed me to pedal efficiently. Getting professionally fitted for your bike will help massively towards preventing injury. Something like having your knees too straight or too bent can cause long term damage to your joints, ligaments and muscles so listen to your body and make as many changes as necessary! Sometimes the smallest alteration can make the biggest difference. 

6. The cycle community is amazing and bigger than you think! (And the world is super small!)

It’s proof that you attract the energies you’re putting out – you might think it would be so unlikely to see other individuals cycling across the world, but I’ve crossed paths with 4 in just over 2 months and waved to others on the road. There’s even an international WhatsApp group that’s a lovely support network for all cyclists – experienced or new. It’s always full so if you’re trying to join, you have to click the link just as someone leaves. It’s the place to be for support and advice! Thank you Akmaral (who I met in Mai Chau) for sending me the link! If you’re a cycle tourist and want in, get in touch and I can forward it on for you ☺️ (plus of course, I’d always love to chat to another cycle tourist!).

Together with Akmaral and Claire, two other super inspiring, female cyclists that I met in Mai Chau, Vietnam

7. Hard and fast is not what’s best (despite what some might think! 😉)

In the beginning I was so focused on what I ‘should’ be achieving that it took away from what I was doing. Now that I have all my camping equipment, I couldn’t be more free and I’ve learnt that the experience really is in the journey. Time and statistics are things we’ve created to compare and compete, but when you’re cycle touring you become more interested in measuring your experience, not your miles.

8. The higher the mountain, the faster you get to fly

There is literally no better feeling than speeding far too fast down a mountain you’ve just conquered. Elevation gain was something that didn’t mean anything to me at the beginning except ‘that’s gonna hurt tomorrow’ and now it excites and terrifies me at the same time. Every bit of pain is totally worth it. 

9. Vanity is not a trait you can possess if you are a female cyclist in Asia

(I mean, I was hardly an active hair washer anyway, but there really is no point when you’re guaranteed to be a sweaty mess the next day…). Saying that…Even when you’re sweating from every pore in your body, you’ve got the most unflattering padded cycling shorts imaginable on (making you look like you have a swollen cameltoe) and are bright red whilst panting frantically like an overweight middle aged man that’s just walked up 8 flights of stairs, there really are still some guys that will STILL fancy you, ask for your number, want photos with you and even be inappropriate.

(Potential trigger warning: sexual harassment) Read here about a recent experience I had whilst cycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam. This was my first experience of seriously inappropriate sexual harassment whilst on my bike.

Note: it’s important to remember that stories like this are generally isolated and this one does not in any way reflect the manner of Vietnamese men in general, but instead the actions of one pervert that unfortunately crossed my path. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20,000km away from home or at the end of your road, psychos are dotted around and it’s important to raise awareness about how to deal with unexpected situations in order to improve confidence in solo female travel and also travel safety tips in general. 

10. Biking is the best medicine for self-care

Not only are you getting fitter every day anyway, but maintaining your 2 most valuable items become your top priority: yourself and your bike. Everything else is disposable and replaceable. When your body is the engine of your vehicle, not only do you learn how to thoroughly look after it, but you want to. Cycling all day also becomes my meditation – it’s so healthy to really have time alone to process your thoughts. So by cycling so far you inevitably improve both your mental AND physical health. Win, win! If you’re feeling like you’re not ready, don’t hesitate, just get up and go. With a decent enough level of fitness, you’ll be in perfect shape for most terrain within a few weeks👌🏼

Basically, life on a bike is tough, testing and bloody amazing! I could never have expected that I would be doing this so you can, too. The only person stopping you is YOU! 

For now, onwards and upwards! (Literally!) 🙃

I’d be interested to see what other cyclists have felt/experienced when they first started touring – I’d love to hear from you! And also if you’re thinking about cycle touring yourself and have some questions, get in touch! Send me a message or drop it in the comments!👇🏼

Peace and love ✌🏼♥️

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