An Ode to Bicycles: The Perfect Travel Companion
Think back to the first time you hopped on a bicycle seat, pushed your feet to the pedals and felt the sensation of motion entirely propelled by your own force. Most of us were likely eager children looking to join in on the fun.
However, if I think back to the moment I truly fell in love with cycling, it wasn’t as a stumbling child with training wheels. It was the moment I realized a bike was the best way to travel.
Paris: The birthplace of the bicycle
It was just over three hundred years ago that the French mathematician Jacques Ozanam proposed the advantages of a “human-powered carriage” where “one can drive oneself wherever one pleases without horses.” In proposing the early premise of the bicycle, Ozanam introduced a revolutionary self-driven method of transport accessible to all members of society.
While the streets of Paris are now lined with fuel-efficient speed machines, bicycles remain one of the city’s main methods of transportation. More importantly, for visitors to the City of Light, the bicycle provides a unique opportunity to explore the lesser-known Paris, one commonly overlooked by the average tourist.
Though a little slower than the elaborate metro system, riding a bicycle through Paris allows one to stumble upon beautiful parts of the city that often go unnoticed – the centuries-old architecture, riverside pathways, cobblestone streets, and decadent food markets that never fail to charm. This is the city loved by Parisians, and it’s waiting to be discovered by pedal.
The Netherlands: A country of cyclists
A love for cycling could not be more evident than in a country where bicycles outnumber the residents. And while this method of transportation is a first choice for locals, it is also an ideal way for travellers to experience the wonderful history, culture and beauty of the Netherlands.
Being a small country, the Netherlands offers the unique opportunity to cycle to multiple cities and regions in a single day. Here’s one sample itinerary:
Begin in Delft, the city where Holland’s famous blue and white ceramic pottery is made. This beautiful city is easily navigated by bicycle, with all roads seemingly leading to the city’s main square, where a late-morning meal of bitterballen and croquet can be enjoyed.
Next, continue south for a 45-minute ride to Rotterdam, arguably the most modern-looking city in the Netherlands, primarily due to heavy bombing in World War II. The city’s market, held in Binnenrotte, is the largest market square in the country, and home to some of the best stroopwafels and fresh gouda cheese.
Finally, conclude your journey in Kinderdijk. Along the way, you’ll cycle past what was once the world’s largest port, and continue into the lush green countryside. Upon arrival, you’ll be rewarded with the infamous Dutch windmills, a centuries-old invention that propelled the country’s energy innovation and a UNESCO Heritage Site.
As you stare out at these historic machines and think about the day’s trip, you’ll be amazed to realize all that was seen and experienced on a bicycle seat.
The Netherlands is a country where the best travel advice is “do as the locals do” – ride a bicycle!
Tanzania: Where no bike goes unused
While bicycles are used most commonly by choice or for recreation in developed parts of the world, in countries like Tanzania, they are an absolute necessity for basic transportation.
For visitors, a bicycle provides not only a great vehicle for exploring the country’s diverse cities, villages and landscapes; it also offers insight of the area as experienced by locals.
In rural communities, such as those found in the country’s Mbarali District, paths and roads are easier to navigate by bicycle than any other vehicle, especially during the rainy season.
You’ll find small family homes, primarily made of mud bricks with either straw or metal roofs, as well as schools, markets, and eateries where chipsi mayai makes a great lunch. This type of bicycle trip requires the accompaniment of a local guide, for knowledge of the area and translation.
In Dar es Salaam, bikes have been fully embraced by the growing number of tourists the city welcomes each year. Bicycle tours provide a less stressful and more personal approach to touring one of East Africa’s largest cities.
Toronto: We’re bringing the bicycle back
As a current resident, I can say with optimistic confidence that Toronto is a city in the midst of a bicycle comeback.
While infrastructure has done a great disservice to eager city cyclists, a push from the local community has the city’s government rushing to find ways to expand and improve accessibility and safety. The new Toronto Bike Share system is a step in the right direction.
However, for now, Toronto is a city best explored by only the most confident cyclists.
Enjoy the journey
Bicycles are a great alternative for travellers, providing an opportunity to explore regions around the world in a simple, intimate way. As someone who’s fully embraced travel by pedal, I can say the old adage rings true: the journey is just as rewarding (if not more so!) than the destination.
Which cities or regions have you explored by bicycle? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!
This article was originally published on January 20, 2015 on Anew Traveller.
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