Category Archives: Hannah Reynolds Series

Cycling journalist Hannah Reynolds has been guiding for Skedaddle for a good few years now and is one of the masterminds behind our popular St Malo to Nice journey. Alongside enjoying France’s best croissants on a regular basis (not jealous at all) she can be frequently found on our road cycling holidays across Europe. Having been the fitness editor at Cycling Weekly for 15 years, she is also the author of three cycling books: France en Velo, Get on your Bike and Fitter, Faster, Further; so it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about the world of cycling. Always eager to share our expert knowledge, we’ve teamed up to share a series of handy two-wheeled tips, offering advise on everything from nutrition to cycling technique.

Long-haul adventures with our top tips!

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For when a weekend getaway or a city break just doesn’t cut it, long-haul holidays are made for getting out of your comfort zone and exploring our beautiful and diverse world. Read this inspiring write-up by our guide and cycling journalist Hannah Reynolds about how nothing quite compares to cycling in far-flung destinations and get some of her top tips for your next adventure…

Long-haul travel, however you do it, is always an adventure. It’s frequently said that ‘travel broadens your horizons’ and it does, in every possible sense, but travelling by bike, pedalling towards that exciting, changing horizon brings you more in touch with the country you are travelling through. Here are a few reasons I prefer to travel by bike…

Travel like a local…
On the surface travel is about exploring and experiencing differences, but often the things that bring most warmth and humour are the connections created by similarities. One of the great things about travelling by bike is that you become part of the throng of cyclists. Many countries use bikes as a primary mode of transport, instead of being shut behind the glass of an air conditioned tour bus you are out there with everyone else, getting covered in the same dust, struggling with the same heat and sharing in an ordinary day-to-day experience.

In Myanmar we ended up in a race with two young boys. They were cycling home from school on old steel bikes, at least two sizes too big, with their tiffin tins banging against the handle bars. As we sedately rolled alongside them on the dry dirt road I caught a sidelong glance from the two lads and their pace increased. After a few metres they were out of the saddle and hunched over the handle bars, school bags flapping behind them. I caught what was happening and exaggeratedly pedalled faster myself. We kept glancing across at each other to see if either had pulled ahead and all of us were laughing. When they stopped at the end of the village we waved to each other. A few minutes of warm, funny interaction thanks to our bikes.

Sensational cycling…
Cycling makes the inrush of the new sensations of travel unavoidable. If you are riding you need to take deep breaths, to keep the oxygen flowing to your working muscles. In those deep breaths you might get the smells and tastes of fresh, spicy cooking, the scent of an unusual flower, a waft of perfume as someone walks down the road. Or it might be something much less pleasant, more basely human or agricultural but you have to suck it in. There is no sanitizing air-conditioning on a bike ride.

Food, glorious food…
Food and sharing meals is one of the greatest pleasures of travel, after a long day of riding your appetite is significantly sharpened making your meal not just more enjoyable but making you more inclined to try new and unusual flavours. Hunger is the best sauce and like an army, cyclists travel on their stomach. Whilst sitting in a restaurant is always pleasant the most memorable meals are often the spontaneous ones, when you pull up to a café, or grab a snack from a street vendor, and eat your meal with strangers taking a break in their own day.

Depending on the country and the season you might be able to refresh yourself with fruit picked fresh from the tree. Nothing beats eating a juicy sun-warmed pineapple that was cut free just moments before. On my most recent Skedaddle trip in Myanmar it was melon season, we passed row after row of ponderous melons, their stalks tied to canes with bailer twine to stop their heavy flesh contacting the ground. We could smell the ripeness as we cycled past, perfectly sweet to the point of almost bursting open.  When we came across some pickers by the roadside we were offered one to sample; cut into wide slices and handed around the group we ate it in big clumsy bites with the juice running down our chins. It beats a dry cereal bar as a riding snack any day!

Get out there!
Long-haul adventures take us further away from our comfortable and familiar environments. Whilst sometimes challenging and disorientating it is always exciting, if we are open to what is going on around us. The best way to experience a new place is full immersion, jump in with both feet, or as we prefer, with two wheels.

Top Tips for your next cycling adventure…
Some people approach travel with a lot of preparation, research and planning; others go for the feet first full immersion without any preconceived ideas. Whichever approach you prefer here are some practical things to do before your trip to help you get the most from your experience:

1. Visas – it’s a small bit of admin vital to your trip, do it ASAP within the time frames for the country you are visiting. Some don’t allow you to do it more than a few months in advance.

2. Injections and health. Some courses of injections need to be started several weeks before you travel so visit your doctor for advice as soon as your trip is booked.

3. Buy some cycle clothing appropriate to where you are travelling. You may need lighter weight clothing, or even SPD sandals instead of your usual mountain bike shoes. Long loose clothing on the bike is often cooler than tight skimpy Lycra and will give you more sun protection.

4. You don’t need to read every guide book going before you travel but do learn a little bit about local customs and traditions, particularly anything that might cause offence, even accidentally.

5. If your trip includes many visits to temples or shrines make sure you have something that you can slip over your cycling kit to cover your legs and shoulders that will fit in your rucksack.

6. Download the xe.com app to make quick and accurate currency conversions so you don’t get stung when haggling in the markets.

7. Have a little bit of cash ready to use when you land. Most international airports have an ATM so make sure your cards will work in the country you are visiting.

8. Buy World Adapter socket plug so you can charge all your devices and have the right socket wherever you go.

9. Trying new foods is part of the fun of travel but some people find it comforting to have a few familiar snacks, especially if riding all day, so throw in a couple of treats.

Feeling inspired? Discover our full range of long-haul holidays for an unrivalled opportunity to explore the heart and soul of a destination on two wheels!

Simple pleasures of a cycling holiday…

Simple pleasures, that is what life is about, breathing in fresh clean air, feeling the sun on your face and the wind in your hair, our cycling holidays are packed with these moments.

Here are our top ten simple pleasures of a cycling holiday…

1. Working up a hunger so food tastes really good…
When you have been cycling all day and build up an appetite, the tastes and flavours of food are heightened. When travelling to a new country trying the local cuisine and savouring new flavours is one of the best ways to discover new cultures and cycling makes room for more of these food experiences. Your hours on the bike mean you have space in your belly for not one, but maybe two desserts, and it can all be eaten guilt-free.

The smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the bakery as you pedal past, the rich dark scent of coffee at just the right moment to perk you up and the first sip of an ice-cold drink at the end of a hot day, are simple pleasures, richly enjoyed.

2. Feeling really relaxed at the end of the day, your legs lightly buzzing with tiredness…
The physical exertion of cycling makes it much easier to relax. The endorphins from exercise calm the buzzing in your brain and a gentle feeling of tiredness slips through your whole body, leaving you heavy legged and relaxed. When you reach your destination for the day it is time to sit back and recover from your efforts. There is no need to rush around. Laze by the pool, read a book, take a gentle walk or kick back with a beer. Cycling will have used up your nervous, chattering energy leaving your body feeling peaceful and indulgently sleepy at the end of the day.

3. Ever changing scenery…
Travelling by bike is fast enough to see changes in scenery and culture, even over the course of a day, but slow enough to absorb it and take it all in. You can easily see the big panoramas of mountain tops, castles, dramatic waterfalls and deep gorges but cycling is also slow enough and intimate enough to notice the small things. Flowers growing by the road side, the herd of cows that turn to watch you as you pass, the witty piece of road side graffiti you’d have missed in a fast car. Taking the time to really observe and feel the place you are in is a mindful exercise we don’t always have time for.

4. Exploring without the coach trip herds…
In a small group of cyclists, you have the freedom to soak up the ambiance and discover new places in peace. Instead of battling your way through a busy car park, or elbowing people out the way for a better view, you have the luxury of choosing when and where to stop and look. Whilst the hoards flood one picturesque village, snapping away and waving their selfie-sticks you can pedal your way to the next one, the one off the beaten track. There you can take time to listen and observe without a bus horn honking to get you back on board to tear off down the road to the next compulsory stop.

5. Smiles, waves and interactions with other cyclists and the locals you meet…
When you are on a bike you become part of the global community of cyclists; wherever you are in the world cyclists acknowledge each other. It might not be more than a casual lifting of a forefinger from the handle bars, it could be a beaming smile and a wave, but having a moment of connection with a stranger in a foreign place feels good.

6. The way a bike eases conversation in any language…
Bikes are great conversation starters. Arrive anywhere by bike and someone will want to know where you are going or where you have come from. Arms will be flexed to show how strong they think you are, the bike will be lifted and stroked with appreciative murmurs, thighs will be slapped in praise of your strong legs. People arriving by bike are interesting, they have a story, and you will soon be welcomed into a circle of faces to tell yours.

7. Cold drinks being cold…
Nothing is more refreshing than a cold drink when you are really hot. With sweat dribbling down your spine and dripping off your nose, your jersey damp and streaked with salt and the sun warming the back of your neck, the first sip of that drink is nectar. Watching the condensation bead on the side of the glass and the ice pop and crackle, you hold the glass to your face and really, really appreciate it.

8. Sleeping well, because your body has worked hard, and waking up refreshed…
When you open your eyes in the morning but barely remember your head touching the pillow the night before you know you have had a good night’s sleep. A day of fresh air and exercise is a great antidote to sleepless nights. Climbing into bed at the end of the day your body feels truly tired and relaxed, your bed a welcome haven, and before you know it your eyes will be closing as you drift off to dreamland.

9. Picnic stops in stunning locations…
Lying back in the grass, biting into a freshly made sandwich, is a wonderful feeling. There is something about eating out of doors that makes everything taste better. The flavours are stronger and richer, the textures more distinctive, you can dispense with uptight table manners and bite into a sun-warmed peach letting the juices drip down your chin and really taste the moment. Eating your lunch with your bare feet wiggling, or if you are lucky dipped in a stream, a gentle breeze blowing and a blue sky above can turn the simplest of picnics into a banquet that you won’t forget.

10. Embracing the trip bubble…
Ride, eat, sleep, repeat. Life on the road is simple. When you are in the trip bubble the worries of your day reduce to the important things; what is for breakfast? Where is the café stop? How far to picnic? Chocolate or strawberry ice-cream? Your daily chores are no more than wiping down your bike and rinsing out your cycling shorts. With so little to worry about your mind has space to dream, to think, to ponder the small and trivial things you see as you pedal. As the trip bubble reduces your stress your horizons can expand to take in all the new sights and sensations that reveal themselves as you pedal.

Feeling inspired? Check out our full range of cycling holidays in UK, Europe and worldwide to experience all of these firsthand!

9 things you’ll only understand if you’ve been cycling in France…

In the spiritual home of cycling, its glories are always celebrated! If you need more convincing on why France is the perfect destination for your next cycling holiday, we asked our guide and cycling journalist Hannah Reynolds to talk about her 9 favourite things about cycling in France…

After a season of working in France leading holidays for Skedaddle  there are a few things that I am really looking forward to enjoying again this season…

1. Bread
French bread is bread as it should be. Warm and fluffy on the inside with a tooth challenging exterior. On its own it fills your mouth with just the right salty, chewy sensations but when smeared with rich, creamy butter it becomes one of the best foods in the world. I could live on bread and butter, if the bread comes from a village ‘boulangerie’ and the butter is from Normandy, thick with crunchy salt crystals.

2. Wine is food
Every meal is accompanied by wine, not necessarily more than a small glass, but an indispensable part of every meal. It’s not treated as a luxury but is appreciated by everyone. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a ‘pichet’ or carafe of the local wine will enhance the taste of every other dish on the table. No one is drinking to be drunk, wine is there to quench thirst, add contrasting flavours to the meal and in a daily celebration. Enjoying a glass of wine is part of the joie de vivre. Why deny yourself? When in France I drink more often, but less in total, and the enjoyment is all the greater for that.

3. Cycling is respected
If you ever get sick of your friends mocking your Lycra, or of car driver’s close passes, or reading the Daily Mail’s hate fueled cycling comments then come to France. France is the spiritual home of cycling; here both the pneumatic tyre and the greatest bike race in the World were invented. Cyclists are greeted with respect, car drivers give you space on the roads and the stories of your day in the saddle are taken as seriously as if you were retelling the time you won a stage of the Tour de France. Cycling is taken seriously, its suffering understood, its glories celebrated.

4. Meal times are revered
Plastic sandwiches eaten over your keyboard or microwaved meals eaten out a plastic container have no place in France, or I think in any civilized lifestyle! When in France I realise the importance of making time to eat; not just to enjoy the food but to relax and enjoy the company of the people you are eating with. Everyone downs tools and stops for lunch. Road workers shrug off their overalls and office workers step out into the sunshine. Even simple meals are likely to have at least two courses and evening meals can stretch to three or more. Each dish is small but builds into a satisfying meal. Making a little ceremony of every meal doesn’t necessarily mean eating more, it means eating well. Taking time to really notice and enjoy flavours means you often end up eating less than when shoveling it down one handed whilst typing emails. Slower meal times are better for your health – and your digestion.

5. Sundays are sacred
On Sundays you will be greeted not with ‘bonjour’ but ‘bon dimanche’ – good Sunday. For other nationalities the absoluteness of Sunday closure comes as a bit of a shock. Getting a pint of milk after about 1pm is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Bakeries do a roaring trade in the mornings, sending their customers on their way with beautifully boxed patisseries tied up with ribbon, and florists stay open so you can buy flowers for your host on your way to Sunday lunch, but by lunchtime the streets are empty as everyone sits down to eat together. If all meal times are sacred then Sunday lunch is the most sacred of sacreds. The bonus for the cyclist is that for the majority of the day the roads are virtually deserted and peaceful. No one works so there are no trucks, no delivery vans and few people want to drive when they know there will be a well-chosen vintage to be enjoyed with their lunch. Once you learn to check the milk levels on a Saturday then Sundays become a day of relaxation to be embraced.

6. Tarmac is smooth
Anyone who has cycled in France will be familiar with the ‘route baree’ sign. It is impossible to do a long ride without coming across a closed road but the pay back of this minor inconvenience is that the majority of roads are pot-hole free with a beautiful smooth tarmac top. When there are road works they are a proper job, you can see the deep slice that gets taken out before being fully relayed.

7. Mountains
Britain is beautiful, no doubt about it. We have stunning coast lines, vast wild moorlands, ancient forest and remote hills. We even have mountains, but what I miss when I come home from cycling in France is the big mountains. Mountains that take hours to cycle up which, when you finally reach the top, allow you to gaze down on other mountains and view spiky snowy peaks in every direction. Just looking at mountainscapes raises my heart rate. Baking hot sun on your neck and sweat dripping off your nose onto your stem as you inch and haul your bike up a pedal stroke at a time.  Then, at the top, the glorious release of a swooping downhill, just the sound of your free-wheel and wind rushing past your ears as you and your bike flow sinuously around every curve. I miss mountains.

8. Space
France and the UK have a very similar population, but France is three times bigger than the UK. There’s more space, more rural areas, more quiet roads, more picturesque small villages, more wild uninhabited spaces. If you ever feel claustrophobic and that you can’t move for queues, and people and traffic jams then a cycling holiday in rural France will give you breathing space. Yes, of course there are busy cities but it is easier to get further away from the press of civilization in France than it is living in the UK.

9. Rules that are made to be broken
As an outsider my observation is that French people love to make rules, but they love to break them even more. Sometimes it feels like it’s a national form of entertainment, especially to watch others try and work out which of the rules are really rules and which can be ignored.

However, remember that it is the French who gave us the word etiquette and you are far less likely to see cultural rules ignored than those of petty bureaucracy and jobs-worths. The rule that will never be broken? Correct swim attire in pools. Gentleman you had better pack your budgie smugglers or there is no chance of a swim.

Feeling inspired? The best way to explore France from the mountains to the coastline and all of the countryside in between is on two wheels! Check out our full range of holidays in France to inspire your next visit.