Updated: Sep 28
WORD & PHOTOS | Lyra Olivia
Between theft, injuries and non-existent campsites, Lyra finds the time to curate her most memorable anecdotes from two decades of bikepacking around the UK and Europe.
This started out as a short, simple ‘5 memorable moments’ piece, to remember the ways that the bicycle can leave its mark in your memories (and sometimes on your body as well). Given that I’m in a bit of a bicycle slump at the moment it’s turned into more of an attempt at an inspirational message to remind me how much I’ve been missing these adventures (large and small) over the past 2 years.
All the upheaval worldwide and big changes closer to home doesn’t have to mean an end to the exploration.
On the first big tour with my partner (from Warsaw to the Uk. Cut short when my bike was stolen in Copenhagen). When the campsite on the map doesn’t exist and the villagers suggest you camp on a patch of waste ground next to the village shop in country Poland. The shop owner asked if all English people were so poor that they can’t afford cars.
Woefully unprepared and riding without mudguards.
We were completely soaked and freezing cold somewhere in Romania, sheltering outside a village shop, drinking cup after cup of cheap machine coffee and hot chocolate. We tried to negotiate either somewhere to sleep and dry out or even a lift to the next big town on the Black Sea coast. In the end, we managed to get a ride in a small battered van.
Being recommended an easier less hilly route out of Thessaloniki, Greece by some really cool bike shop folk (basically the motorway… no it’s fine, use the hard shoulder, they regularly ride there on their training rides) only to be caught and escorted off said motorway by the highway maintenance truck, meaning a very frustrating backtrack on a steep unmade road.
Driving my friends Citroen H Van to Land’s End, then all the way to John o Groats following the Deloitte Race Across Britain (I was never sure why they called it this, it’s more like a race up Britain?) feeding hungry cyclists cake and hot drinks; driving and working long days and then nearly falling asleep at the wheel on the way back home.
Completing my only Rapha Festive 500 on New Years Eve, in minus temperatures riding up and down the main river path in the snow just to make the magic 500 (I had icicles on my beard, that’s how long ago it was!)
Watching the sunset and then the sunrise on my (so far) only bivy camp out on the Höhe Strasse near Frankfurt. This was probably only a 25km round trip, a handy reminder that beautiful memories and micro adventures can often be found in your backyard.
Building a beautiful practical bicycle from scratch to race in the recently resurrected Concours de Machines at Bruniquel in France. The organisers send a list of requirements for the project (carrying shelter, water, food, lighting etc) and points are awarded for build innovation, race results and equipment reliability over the weekend. Unfortunately I crashed and retired from the race after about 60km.
The bike is still going strong.
Trainpacking up to the north of Germany to cycle and camp in Denmark, and on to the beautiful island of Aerø where my partner and I would marry. This was honestly, and bizarrely, the easiest way, much less complicated than doing the same thing in either the UK or Germany even though we were living in Germany and both had British passports.
Having the opportunity to race my beloved Brompton in the Brompton World Championships in London, meet David Millar, and spend the weekend riding around the city with my sister.
On a day ride with my wife going south along the Rhine river, I had my worst cycling accident. I had been struggling with a deep depression and felt powerless to fix the niggles she was having on the ride. My subconscious decided that a trip to A&E would provide an exciting distraction. Next minute I’m upside down, grazed and with fingers seemingly bent in every direction shouting "hospital hospital hospital". Some friendly Germans offered to look after our bikes while I was taken to the nearest hospital. A quick X-ray in an empty A&E showed multiple dislocations and a fracture in one finger but no major damage elsewhere. The fingers were reset (ouch…) and a couple of weeks later I would have the fracture fixed with a tiny titanium screw.
My first cycling event as ‘myself’, the annual Fancy Women’s Bike Ride in Pforzheim. This event was started in Izmir, Turkey in 2013 as a way for women to actively campaign for safer streets for cycling and is now held in hundreds of cities around the world every year. I felt welcomed and respected by all the other participants.