Frequently Asked Questions

Okay, okay, perhaps not every one of these has been frequently asked. But they are all questions. Want to know something that we haven’t listed below? Please drop us a line.

Basics first:

Now over to kit questions:

Those which are Istanbul related:

And finally, gritty details about planning:

Why are we doing this?

This has a multiple choice answer as below:

  • We are crazy and have lost our senses – (favoured by those who don’t know us well)
  • We are following a dream we have had for years and hoping that while fulfilling current dreams and goals we will obtain a whole new set of experiences to set our future aspirations – (favoured by those of a spiritual disposition)
  • We REALLY REALLY like cycling – (favoured by other cyclists)

So take your pick (or suggest a new one)

How are we affording to take time out from working?

We both are very hard savers and have spent the last 6 years living in shared housing which means cheaper bills, cheap rent and a whole lot of fun times. Besides saving on housing we also enjoy cooking so spend very little on eating out. Our love of cycling means a fun day out is normally pretty cheap as well with maybe a few quid on train tickets and a bite to eat. We also both really enjoy going to see live music but spending money for regular gigs in London would have drained our savings in no time, so we found ways of volunteering at venues to get free tickets (and sometimes drinks thanks Andy!).

We also planned to work through winter 2010/2011 with our respective skills. If you have any IT (Justin) or journalism (Emma) work that needs doing please get in touch.

What gear and bikes are we taking?

Our gear page has full details of what we are taking on the trip and if you have any specific questions about gear performance or decisions then just drop us an email.

Where are we going?

In short, across some of Europe and Asia. This blog post shows our original plan.

What problems did we have with our bikes between London and Istanbul?

When we decided to purchase a pair of Thorn Sherpa’s for our trip we knew we would be giving them a tough life while on the road. After talking with the guys at Thorn we were confident that the Sherpa model could hack the type of journey we had planned. This has held true on the road for the last 12000km, including 10000km of fully loaded touring, and will hopefully continue through our cycle touring further east in 2011.

In terms of specific issues we have had only a couple of minor mechanical issues:

while in Cappadocia we have met Guy and Freddie from www.abikejourney.com who are riding Thorn Ravens. They were passing the 5000km and carrying out their first “major” maintenance, an oil change on the Rohloff hub. In comparison by the 5000km mark our bikes had gone through 3 chain changes, 2 broken cables and the broken gear shifter mentioned above.

We’re inclined to think that the Rohloff hub is a lot more durable than derailleur equipped bikes however for the distance we have travelled on our bikes the small number of problems we have had doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Is there anything we would change about our bikes if we had the chance?

One thing that we wished we had done ahead of setting out on the first leg of our cycle tour towards Asia was to have the valve holes in our rims drilled to accept the larger Schrader valves. When our tyres began to fail on the road to Cappadocia swiftly followed by our pump we wished we were able to take advantage of the free air pumps at gas stations.

We had considered carrying a Presta/Schrader converter with us but never got around to getting one. This would have solved our air pump issue but we would still be stuck with needing to buy Presta valve equipped tubes which even in Turkey are hard to come by outside major cities.

What problems did we have with our gear between London and Istanbul and how did you get things fixed?

When we were on the road every piece of gear that went wrong seemed like a major headache to fix. However during our first four weeks of being settled in Istanbul we managed to get most items repaired putting us in good shape for our continued cycle touring in 2011.

We put together a couple of blog posts about the things we broke and the things that we arranged to get fixed.

Is there anything we didn’t bring with us that we wished we had?

Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? There are not too many things we wished we had brought along but a couple that spring to mind are:

  • When we started getting holes and rips in our tent I remembered planning to get some Silicone seam sealer but never quite getting around to it. This is so light, small and useful I’m never leaving home without it again.
  • An adaptor for gas station pumps to fit our Presta valves
  • A 1 litre liquid fuel bottle for our cooker. We only carried 500ml to start with and found that although this would last us up to 10 days of full time cooking, getting such a small amount filled at gas stations was sometimes tricky.
  • We started our trip with inflatable mats but had numerous holes in them which we found difficult to locate and fix. We switched to compressed foam mats in Italy and haven’t had to worry about punctures since, even using the mats outside for dinner and a sunset.

Is there anything we did take with us that we wished we hadn’t carried?

We carried a fairly extensive tool kit including some spare parts which we didn’t use however this is one of those things that if we hadn’t carried it we would have needed something.

In Justin’s panniers there were a few bulky items of clothing that won’t be making it into round two of the cycling trip. While these will be useful for the winter in Istanbul when Justin was on the road he pretty much lived in one or two t-shirt’s, two pairs of shorts and a few pairs of cycling inners.

Are there any websites we find useful for planning our trip?

There are loads of good websites out there and we are constantly finding new sites. Just a few of the most useful ones below:

  • A directory of cycle touring sites – www.gobicycletouring.info/
  • Plan your route and compare elevations then export to your GPS if you roll that way – www.bikeroutetoaster.com
  • Ask your cycle touring questions here whether super technical or super simple – forum.ctc.org.uk
  • A wealth of information about all things cycle touring related – travellingtwo.com
  • Tara and Tyler are constantly inspirational in their writing and we will eventually forgive them for using a car to cross Russia and Mongolia – www.goingslowly.com

Where can I find a good bike mechanic in Istanbul?

One of the things we did as soon as we were settled in Istanbul was to visit a few local bike shops to check out their product range and investigate getting our bikes serviced. As a result of our visits Justin wrote a blog post about Istanbul bike shops.

Your choice of which bike store to visit depends on where you are geographically in Istanbul. If you are in the Sultanahmet area then Pedal Bisiklet is a safe bet with a big product range packed into their tiny shop and knowledgeable staff. We regularly hear good things about this store from other cycle tourists passing through Istanbul. Further out of town Aktif Pedal is the local Specialized bike dealer and is where we ended up having our bikes serviced and they did a very thorough job.

Where can I find good spare parts for my bike in Istanbul?

Check the question Where can I find a good bike mechanic in Istanbul? For details of a few Istanbul bike shops which all carry a fairly good range of components. There is wide availability of components from big to small with Shimano branded items being fairly easy to come by. Bear in mind that cycling in Istanbul has a small but loyal following so most shops usually stock only a few different brands. If you need something specific it could be worth travelling outside of Sultanahmet to one of the slightly larger stores where in our experience staff were a little more helpful even offering components from their own bikes if the store didn’t have what we wanted.

Where can I find a decent camping store in Istanbul?

There are a few decent camping stores located around the eastern end of the Galata Bridge along Necatibey Cd. If you want to visit both a decent cycling and outdoor store in one place then Bike and Outdoor on Barbaros Bulvari is worth a visit.

At the more budget end of things there is also a Decathlon store in Istanbul however it is some way out of the main centre of town. We have passed the store by bus and it looks fairly large but we have not yet visited it to know what their product range is like.

Where can I buy a set of Schwalbe Marathon XR tyres in Istanbul?

We hunted high and low for Marathon XR tyres in Istanbul and finally found a single pair in a bike shop in the Sultanahmet area nearby to Pedal Bisiklet. Unfortunately by the time we found this store we had already ordered new tyres to be shipped from the UK. As more time passes and the old stock of these now discontinued tyres begins to sell out I think it will get harder and harder to find stock not just in Istanbul but worldwide.

My suggestion would be that if your local bike store carries these pick up an extra set before you set off on tour and then arrange with a friend to take care of shipping them to you wherever you might need them. We are actually ordering some tyres from the UK to be shipped to New Zealand so we can then have them shipped to us in Asia next year.

If anybody from Schwalbe reads this please can you reconsider the decision to discontinue manufacturing these well regarded tyres. It seems ridiculous that cycle tourists use crazy amounts of carbon transporting bits of rubber to far-flung parts of the world.

I’m passing through Istanbul by bike before April 2011. Would you guys like to meet up for a chat?

For sure. We know some good bars, cafes and tea houses and are always happy to chat with any passing cyclists.

Is it possible to buy a touring bike in Istanbul?

Most people arrive in Istanbul either as their final destination or as a stopping point along the road east. However some people have asked us about the availability of buying a touring bike in Istanbul for a trip northwards.

Finding a steel framed bike with all the necessary braze-ons for touring and in the correct size would be a little challenging in Istanbul as the stores tend to focus primarily on MTB models with a smallish selection of road bikes and city cruisers. Where stores do stock something suitable for touring its likely that they will only hold a single size in stock but may be able to order different sizes if you don’t mind waiting for it to be delivered.

A good way to start your investigations would be to find a bike online that looks similar to what you are after and then send an email through to a few of the Istanbul bike shops mentioned in this post asking them if they carry anything similar, the sizes available and prices.

Another option would be to find try and make contact with cycle tourists arriving in Istanbul at the end of a trip who might be interested in selling their bikes. This guy we heard about while living in Istanbul www.tomlloydsmith.com had his bike stolen but was able to replace it from a cycle tourist he met in Istanbul. One way to do this could be by emailing a few hostels in Sultanahmet and asking if they could stick a notice up in reception for you a few weeks before you arrive.

What maps and websites did you use for planning your trip?

Before we set out on our trip we spent a lot of time reading travel books and researching online. We didn’t want to plan every single kilometre of the trip but also wanted to try and take in as much of Europe as we reasonably could. As we began travelling on the road our planning style relaxed a little and we began to make decisions on a day by day basis rather than trying to plan too far ahead.

Our cycling in Spain was largely planned before we left the UK by using a very useful guidebook Cycle Touring in Spain which helped us plot our route through the Picos de Europe national park and along the length of the Pyrenees. We also carried maps at a scale of 1:200000 for Spain and France which we picked up in the UK.

We were able to borrow a 2008 copy of a very good guidebook for cycling in Italy produced by Lonely Planet. It was out of print for a number of years but has just been re-released this year. Using this guidebook we navigated our way through the north of Italy on roads that would otherwise have been missed on our map as they were very small.

As we cycled further east we fell into a kind of pattern with route planning where we would purchase a country road map at a suitable scale as we arrived in each country and then sit down somewhere with internet access for a few hours of research and plotting points on the map. This worked well everywhere except Turkey where good quality maps were hard to come by.

We had a really useful online tool called www.bikeroutetoaster.com recommended to us for planning routes online and importantly seeing elevations. While we haven’t used this so far I can see how valuable this is particularly for comparing possible routes to find either least or most climbing depending on your cycling style.

For other useful websites we found check out the question Are there any websites we find useful for planning our trip?

What were your costs and budget for travelling between London and Turkey?

Our budget for Spain, France, Italy and Croatia was around 35 euro per day for both of us to cover everything. This amount was about right for a day we stayed in a campsite and cooked our own meals. Every night we free-camped we saved between 10 – 15 Euro from our budget leaving more money for additional yummy pastries!

We also saved money and met some wonderful people by using the website www.warmshowers.org for hospitality and a few nights out of our tent.

As we moved into Eastern Europe past Croatia we almost exclusively wild camped which saved us a lot of money. As you would expect the cost of food is much cheaper somewhere like Bulgaria than in Spain so our second biggest cost of eating was also reduced. Here our budget stretched a bit further and we were able to splash out on restaurant meals and staying in hotels a few times.

A few things that helped us stretch our budget out were:

  • Cooking our own meals which we do probably 95% of the time
  • Wild camping
  • Staying with hosts through www.warmshowers.org which saves money on expensive city hostels or hotels
  • Shopping at local food markets and roadside stalls to save money from as opposed to visiting large supermarkets.

What route did you follow from London to Istanbul?

Our route was far from direct taking us through 11 countries and over 8500km. Take a look at our route map that shows where we camped each night. The route between campsites tended to be made up as we went along and isn’t shown on the route map but if you would like to know about the route for a specific section of our trip then drop us a line and we will see if we can help.