Demand for long distance charity rides in far-flung countries is booming. And, this July, thousands of Brits will cross the Channel to support Chris Froome and Team Sky at the 100th Tour de France.
It means bike holidays abroad have never been more popular. But the excitement of seeing new sights and sounds also comes with risks – unfamiliarity with local road rules, travel document issues, run-ins with officials after a bribe, stolen or broken bike kit or – worse – accidents and health problems can threaten the fun of the trip.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have issued guidance for Brits abroad on bikes (see below), and BikeRadar spoke to former round the world record holder Vin Cox for his top tips on extracting yourself from a tight spot.
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The Cox tips
Cox, who has visited more than 20 countries on his bike, said hiring a reliable agency to obtain travel visas is well worthwhile. Shop around and visit forums to find reasonably priced companies, he advised.
“Visas can be quite daunting,” he said. “I live a long way from London, so the opportunity for me to visit a foreign embassy is actually going to cost me quite a few hundreds pounds in travel, and a day off work at least. So if you can get an agent who can quickly go and do that for you it takes the hassle out of it.”
Cox on day 40 of his round the world record-breaking ride in 2010
Once on the road abroad, “play dumb, be a smiley person and always look poor”, said the 37-year-old, who was once detained as a spy in Egypt. “After getting arrested [as a spy] I was pretty reliant on being dumb and smiley to get away from it,” he said.
Cox also recommended stashing emergency cash in the bike – behind a handlebar plug is his favourite. But never give in to the temptation to flash a few dollars to ease your way out of a situation. “Be patient and act like you’ve all the time in the world – even when you’re in a rush.
“If you start paying people off it’ll never stop. I do know people who always showed a few American dollars to different people and there will always be the next person down the line who’s been warned about you and asks you to pay a little bit more.”
Finally, carry insurance policy details, medical details and as much travel documentation as possible on your phone – and guard it with your life, he advised. “You’ll only lose other important stuff if you carry a lot of paper work, so carry it on your phone and then look after your phone like your life depends on it. It does in many, many ways – your navigation, your communication and all your reference materials; and it reduces weight massively.”
Vin Cox's round the world bike. Sturdy
FCO travel guidance
- Take comprehensive travel insurance that covers injury and cycling equipment.
- If you’re staying in Europe, remember your European Health Insurance Card (available from www.nhs.uk/ehic), which entitles holders to free or discounted healthcare in most EU countries.
- Research the road rules in the countries you’ll visit and visit www.fcowidget.com for road safety advice overseas.
- If required, ensure you have a visa for each country on your trip.
- Guard your passport at all times and take photocopies of important travel documents, just in case.
- Make sure you take enough foreign currency with you, as you might not have regular access to cash points on the road.
- Learn some phrases and research local customs. People will appreciate the effort and it might keep you out of accidental trouble.
- If you're going somewhere hot and sunny, drink lots of water and wear plenty of sun cream.
- Carry local FCO contact information for the countries you’ll be visiting, in case you find yourself in a spot of bother.