Responsible cycling abroad

Cycling vacations are wonderful for getting that ‘not a care in the world’ feeling that so many of us crave in our busy lives. It is hard to imagine that there would be any issues of responsible tourism emanating from a few cyclists doing their thing. But, in some ways, because cycling vacations often take us into remote places, the issues resulting from our being there are even greater. Mass tourism destinations are often prepared for visitors, and local people have adjusted to having their annual invasion, but remote, rural areas might not be. So, to really play your part on a responsible cycling vacation, there are certain things to keep in mind in order to keep your ‘pedalprint’ as lightweight as possible in terms of the environment and, indeed, favourable to people who live there all year round.

People & Culture

Cyclists love their gadgets, collecting GoPros, GPS, cleats and cogs. They all have their place on a responsible cycling vacation, especially the GoPro, the favourite gadget known to many cyclists. It’s a question of sensitivity. People are living their normal lives in the mountain villages of coastal hamlets that you are cycling through. The chances are they don’t want to be snapped or zoomed in on as they sell food at the market, work in the fields, or just ride their own bike to work.

And yet, learning to let our lens cap be is one of the hardest things we battle with on our travels. The temptation is always to take photographs straight away or just sneak a crafty bit of GoPro footage from your helmet. Take your time to get to know people, always ask their permission to take photos, and check in advance with your guide whether it is appropriate to ask in the first place. And remember how you would feel if someone cycled into your home on a quiet Sunday afternoon, taking pictures and selfies by the second.

The GPS, however, is an interesting gadget for a responsible cyclist. Although you might not want to have satellite guidance for all your explorations, they are great for finding local shops, restaurants or bars along the way, and these are businesses that are often totally dependent on local business. A group of cyclists pulling into a small village tavern at lunchtime can be like Christmas for some small businesses. So, a GPS can really pay off for some people.
Melanie McAnaw, from our cycling vacation specialists Headwater, tells us about a clever system they have put in place to support buying locally while on a cycling vacation: "Make good use of the Headwater wine service. Over the years, many of our customers have told us stories of beautiful vineyards in lush valleys which produce exquisite wines. Having sampled the wines on offer they are then faced with the problem of how to get their favourite bottles (or cases) to the next hotel if they're cycling. So, we provide a free wine pick-up service in many of our regions. You simply order as much wine as you want and our rep will pick it up and take it to your final destination ready for you to take home at the end of your vacation."

Wildlife & environment

Is it OK to throw cherry stones into the Adriatic when cycling along the Croatian coast? Or an apple core behind a bush in Tanzania? It’s all natural, right? Wrong. Unless you picked the apple from a tree where you are cycling, or unless cherries grow among the coral, they don’t belong there, so if in doubt, take it out. Such is the message of worldwide organisation, Leave No Trace, which is the font of all knowledge and training when it comes to environmental protection and outdoor activities. It all seems like common sense and, in general, cyclists love the environment and are extremely protective of it. However, this doesn’t explain the wasters who leave things behind like drinks bottles, cigarette butts, banana skins, chewing gum and even pop up tents.

You can read more on the Leave No Trace website. Most is common sense, but here are some tips which are less obvious to most people but very important when it comes to lessening your impact.

If you are wild camping, pitch at least 60m from lakes and streams. Deposit solid human waste 15-20cm deep, at least 60m from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the hole when finished. When washing dishes, or yourself, carry water (you guessed it) 60m away from streams or lakes and use biodegradable soap. Respect all rules about fires. Most national parks do not allow them, for example. But in wilder areas, construct only small ones within a carefully constructed fire ring. Use only small sticks and put them out completely, scattering the cool ashes. Leave no trace applies to fires too.

Responsible tourism tips

Stick to your itinerary if you are on a self guided cycling vacation as much as possible. If you do choose to go elsewhere, always check if access is allowed, and never cycle on trails that are only meant for walkers. Respect any signs, regulations, policies and special concerns for the area that you wish to visit. Apply all the same safety rules on vacation as you would at home. Use lights and high-visibility clothing at night, wear a helmet, respect and give way to pedestrians, don’t run red lights or zoom through pedestrian crossings. A responsible cyclist is an insured cyclist. Accidents do happen, and even if they are just minor accidents such as a badly sprained elbow, or an injured knee, you might not be able to cycle the rest of the distance. So make sure you are properly insured. Observe wild animals and birds from a distance, especially during nesting time. Do not feed any wildlife or birds. They don’t tend to do energy bars. Close-fitting cycle clothing isn’t culturally appropriate in quite a few places. Check before you go, and be prepared to put another layer in your pannier for when you stop at places where this applies. Or get a good set of cycling underwear to wear under more culturally sensitive clothing.
The British Embassy in Spain – a popular cycling destination – emphasises the importance of having good travel insurance: "An emergency abroad can be extremely expensive. If you need to be returned to the UK it could cost you thousands, unless you are properly insured. It can cost, for example, £12,000 to £16,000 for an air ambulance from the Canaries. Every year British Consulates see cases of uninsured travelers facing huge bills – make sure you are not one of them. And it is good to be aware that the Catalonia region has started charging negligent hikers, bikers, climbers, skiers and other adventurers who have to be rescued. The regional government has started sending bills to all people who required emergency rescues, to encourage others to be more careful. People deemed to have been negligent will have to pay."
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: eGuide Travel] [Wine: CHUTTERSNAP] [Porto to Lisbon group shot: NH53]