approach

Blue Marble
Blue marble. A ridiculously large frame of reference for bicycle touring

On this blog/website you will find some impressions of my bicycle travels of the past years, current blog posts as well as some additional information about my tours and gear. On this page I’ll address the “why”…

My approach to cycling?

I don’t cycle merely for the sake of cycling. In fact, cycling itself is just a tool for me to make experiences that I would not be able to have otherwise.

To me, the great aspects of cycling are linked to…

  • exploring the world/my surroundings,
  • the feeling of independence,
  • finding and overcoming my own physical and mental limits
  • being aware of my position on this planet
    and thus making our huge planet more “tangible”, more like a big but limited object.

This may sound a little “big”, but that is really what I feel when I’m truly touring, i.e. a long trip from A to B with a clear goal. When cycling, you feel every mile in your bone, and somehow that makes the concept of geographical distance and location more accessible and physically tangible.

An example: Oslo

One moment when I felt this the strongest was when I cycled into Oslo, coming from the South:

Many people go by plane, which is like some Star-Trek-style beaming… getting from A to B without any perception of the way in between in terms of space or time. A common visitor’s only chance is to explore the region from the “inside out”, meaning: you slowly extend your range and the radius around your new location. That also means to start with a somewhat limited perception of the city and then, through “hard work” extending the spacial experience.

But cycling into Oslo was the opposite: It was exploring “outside in”, starting with the spacial reference and slowly getting to the core of it. There you realize that “Oslo” is a certain amount of surface with fuzzy edges at the gulf of Oslo, that is very smoothly embedded into hilly and rocky terrain. While I was in Oslo I always kept this scenario in the back of my mind: on the way to and into Oslo, around dusk, I cycled from the South-East into the outer suburbs. Along the edge of the mountains, through some some sort of canyon with all those little houses along the opposite wall – each window lit with a small candle light, around me the smell of the woods, moist but warm summer air. Its getting dark. Then the first symbol of a city: a tram. At some point, suddenly, the entire gulf opens up in front of me with a view all over Oslo; then a down-hill ride along the sea-facade of the mountain, and a smooth transition into the urban area. While strolling through Oslo, this impression and this reference never left and I’d argue that it very much enriched my experience of the city – once you have it, the big picture never leaves.

 

And here’s the other kind of spacial reference cycling provides: Before entering Oslo, I cycled there all the way from Berlin; a distance that a non-cyclist usually only measures as being “far”. Spain is “far”, Montréal is “far”, Shanghai is “far”. But a cyclist experiences what exactly that particular “far” is and to her/his surprise it is graspable and doable without any doubt. Somehow that experience suggests that nothing is really far anymore, but hypothetically within the range of our own mind and muscels.

So: Nothing is far. The world is small. On that Scandinavia trip I did 1777km. The circumference of our planet is 40.000km. So just multiply my not even so spectacularly long tour by “23” and you already experience the first kind of limit of the sphere we live on. “23”… that is a number almost scaringly easy to grasp… Many people – not me – have done it in remarkable, long, exhausting but accomplished tours around the world.

Confidence through accomplishment, independence and agency

One distinct but related aspect to the above is the element of accomplishment. It is satisfying to find out what one’s capable of, to learn, get more experienced. Discovering one’s own abilities and how they develop certainly boosts confidence and trust in all kinds of contexts in everyday life; at least it does in my case. Cycling tours are my proof to myself that sometimes things that once seemed to be principally not doable might become a normality soon after the first time they were mastered through the naivity of just doing them.

Another aspect with great effects on general confidence lies within the independence and agency experienced on the road… while doing it you don’t need to rely on anyone. Just on yourself, your muscle power, mental strength, your gear and ability to handle adversity and uncertainty (and… well.. a dense web of petrol stations for Coke and Haribo). And when stuff works out, when you can see the results of your own doing – just by looking at a regular map – it is very inviting to extrapolate that independence and agency to other domains of life.

How good to know that with the intensity of my tours I’m rather in the midfield of cycling tourists and there are innumerable ways for me to expand my goals and efforts; thinking of all the randonneurs and ultra-endurance heroes.

Malte