Bike-Touring England: (Part 1.) Packing and Planning
England is a really great place to bike around. The country side is so beautiful and there are thousands of miles of well-marked bike routes that take you through farms, villages and cities. This summer, we decided to try it out for ourselves, taking our folding Brompton bikes with us from New York. We planned to stop by the Brompton World Championship (more on this later) but we made no concrete plans whatsoever which is just how I like it. Sure, you miss lots of important things to see this way, but good things happen when you give chance a chance.
Ben: 5 shirts, 3 pairs of shorts, 4 boxers, bow-tie, sport-coat, sandals, sunglasses, poncho, helmet, safety vest, cellphone, bike lock
Nava: 5 shirts, 1 skirt, 3 pairs of black leggings, 2 paird of socks, underwear, sunglasses, tie, blazer, poncho, helmet, safety vest, toothbrush, shaver, camera (the x100)
The bulk of our stuff consisted of tools, spare tubes and other things we’d need to repair the bikes in case something happened out there. We had a really nifty toolkit that slipped into the bike itself.We also took a few packets of sunscreen, laundry detergent and the like.
It felt really great to be traveling so light.
We had an elaborate scheme involving bubble wrap and bags from ikea to check the bikes but we abandoned all that and decided to gate check the bikes. The folks at Virgin Atlantic were so nice and accommodating and we got the bikes through the security screening with no problems. The bikes fit into the X-ray scanners and then they did a simple test for gunpowder. In fact the TSA people were more amazed than suspicious about the folding bikes and asked us questions that sounded like they wanted to know where to get one for themselves. When we arrived, they were waiting for us at the baggage claim, without a scratch.
We got to London and did some of the usual things: the free walking tour, which was excellent as usual (we’ve done this in several cities) in which we learned many interesting and useless things about the Iron Duke, the Queen and the royal family (for example, how to tell if she’s at home) and about Guy Fawkes.
We saw the Westminster Abbey which is wonderful and creepy. We saw Macbeth at the Globe Theater which was brilliant, especially for five quid. We went to the British museum which just blew my mind. They had an old Celtic helmet from 3000 BC which they found in the Thames not too long ago. They had on display a pile of Roman coins from when Rome occupied England and nearby they had a pile of counterfeit coins from that same era. It was all so brilliantly displayed and organized, we went back again and again. It’s free and we were staying nearby.
After 1 day in the city we realized that London IS New York. The shops are the same and the shows are the same. Both are filled with internationals, tourists, and business people getting lunch. Sure, London is older and more beautiful and cleaner (where do they keep all their homeless people?) but the vibe is identical. We hadn’t flown 3000 miles for this so we determined to get out of London as soon as possible.
After visiting several bike shops in search of a biking map we realized that there were no real bike enthusiasts in London, even the shopkeepers seemed never to have ventured outside of the city limits with their bikes! It was unbelievable, they had no maps and no suggestions for where the nice bike routes were. We were at our third bike shop inquiring about maps when a middle aged customer approached and said,
“So sorry, I don’t mean to eavesdrop, really. But, you see, I’ve just come from a map store on Queen Street and I think you’ll find they have what you need. So sorry for interrupting, I just thought I could be of service.”
We thanked him profusely as he shyly gave us the directions to the store. Would you believe it? A map store! The store was no less wonderful than its name with displays of beautiful old maps and posters, and shelves upon shelves of maps and guide books. And it was no small store either! After browsing the cycling section for a little while, a salesman approached us and offered his help,
“Where would you like to bike to?”
“Uh, we haven’t a clue.”
So we browsed and perused and opened many of the maps on their large tables and eventually determined to go south because it sounds like an actual destination and there were good bike routes going south to the coast. Yes, we decided, south was a good direction to go. We would hit the coast after 50 miles and then decided our next move.
So we bought 2 maps of the south of England and set out. But first we stopped at a coffee shop and spread the maps out and pointed and drew lines with our fingers and decided on some specific routes. The ones that looked most appealing were called “Traffic Free Routes” and we decided to take these routes as much as possible. This turned out to be a huge mistake but I’ll leave the telling of that story to Ben, since he’s offered to write the next portion.
We left London in the late afternoon along with throngs of commuters all rushing away from the concrete jungle, on one of the hottest days London has ever seen.
We have got some glorious pictures and tales to tell. Keep reading!