German and Dutch World Cyclists Share Their Best Tips and the Top 5 Safest Countries for Cycling

Cycling around the world has taught duo Baerbel and Johan a lot of things.

One of the most important things they have learned is how to live a simple lifestyle. That they don’t need to buy just to have things, but they buy things because they really need them.

Now it’s time to take a good look at their adventurous journey and all their best tips and recommendations for aspiring cyclists (including their top 5 safest countries for cycling)!

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

We are Baerbel (49) from Germany and Johan (53) from the Netherlands, currently living in a small village in the South of Germany.

In 2012, we resigned from our corporate jobs to cycle the world. Our first journey took us from Germany to New Zealand. From there, we flew back to England and cycled home again. We cycled 26,000 km through 20 countries. You can find out more about our travels on Cycling the World.

After a break of around one year, we embarked on our second longer cycling adventure and flew to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to cycle through Central Asia, including the Pamir highway in Tajikistan and Iran. From there, we took a boat to Dubai in the UAE and also cycled two months in Oman. We took a short winter break in Thailand before flying to Anchorage in Alaska, USA. We ended our trip in Calgary and flew back to Italy in summer 2016. We added 12 more countries, another continent, and 14.000km to our cycling experiences. To find out more please visit our current blog on 2cycletheworld.

Our joint favourite activity is of course cycling. We both love to sport, be active and out in the nature. Baerbel loves handcrafting and cooking and Johan is collecting and restoring Italian vintage road bikes.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

How and why did you get into cycling?

We both have been into cycling since we’ve been children. Johan always says that the Dutch are born with a bike between their legs. Johan did his first self-supporting bike tour in 1980 from the Netherlands via Belgium to Luxembourg.

After we met, we would most of the times go on bicycle holidays, beginning with long weekends and ending up spending our annual leave on bikes across Europe. We soon discovered that a maximum of three weeks in a row per year wasn’t enough for us. As we had worked very hard and work determined our lives while living in a city we never liked (Brussels in Belgium), we decided to change that. During a snowy winter vacation we made up our minds, resigned from our jobs two months later and were free again another three months later.

The most difficult part was to take the decision and tell everyone, beginning with our employer. As from then all went pretty easy and we are enjoying our lives at the fullest.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

Why is cycling important for you?

Cycling is for us a perfect way to get from A to B. It keeps you fit, you are not too slow and can make some good progress in a day. You can combine daily activities like commuting to work, shopping, etc. with staying fit and being outside.

While cycle touring you need to be very conscious about what you take on a trip and what you better leave at home. At the beginning, it was hard to leave with just three t-shirts and cycling shorts but we easily got used to having lesser choices and we both love the idea of only having the most needed things with us. We don’t miss anything and noticed that buying stuff has been a priority in the past. Now, we don’t need to buy just to have things, we buy things when we really need them.

Being outside is important if you want to discover yourself. You are exposed to the elements such as sun, rain, wind, snow, etc. You will learn more about yourself, what you can endure, and the more you discover nature, the more you will enjoy the beauty of it.

While on tour we found that being on a bike is the best way to get in touch with locals. We are approachable as there is no barrier between us. This way we are able to meet some of the most amazing people.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

What has been the best parts of your cycling adventures?

Discovering new cultures and landscapes. Seeing first hand how beautiful our planet is and being able to cycle almost everywhere without leaving a trace.

We both love meeting locals. We always have the best experiences in areas where there are no tourists and outside of big cities. We noticed that most people are friendly and will help you, where ever you are in this world.

Being able to tackle a difficult pass or extremely bad roads with a fully loaded bicycle is always very rewarding and makes us proud and happy to have it managed without any support other than our bikes.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

What has been the most difficult parts?

We both had good jobs, had worked many years and were able to save enough money to be able to live the way we live now.

The most difficult part of a trip is planning where to go to. It can take weeks to find a destination we both like, but once that decision is taken, all the rest is a piece of cake. We prefer not to plan too much in advance such as accommodation or exact route as we like to rely on local recommendations and are happy to take a detour if someone tells us it is worth it.

If it comes to visas, there is a good amount of planning necessary to avoid disappointments later. But as Baerbel likes to plan, it’s been her job to make sure we don’t miss out on anything. We met a lot of people in Central Asia with visa issues, just because they didn’t plan ahead.

The biggest danger is the traffic. Most countries we’ve cycled through don’t have dedicated bike lanes. This means you are the weakest part on the road and you need to be very careful in countries where they are not used to cyclists. We both have mirrors on our bikes to be able to continuously watch the traffic behind us and to be able to leave the road if needed.

The advantage of cycling as a couple is the fact that the lows usually don’t come at the same time. This means one can cheer up the other and support as much as possible. When we cycled in India, we couldn’t always cope with the crowds surrounding us, and usually one of us took the lead to talk to people.

However, we always told ourselves that we would go back home as soon as we don’t enjoy travelling anymore. And this is what happened in Canada. The original plan was to cycle all the way down to the tip of South America. But bad weather, headwinds and monotonous landscapes made us return early.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

This depends on where we are. In Western countries, we usually camp as hotels are too expensive and we love the outdoor experience. In Southeast Asia, however, we mostly slept in guesthouses due to the heat and also because it was so cheap (you can easily find accommodation for about $10 for a room).

Same counts for eating. We always have all our cooking stuff with us as we like eating healthy and cooking. However, we always try local food, that’s part of the local culture. We go to street markets, farmer’s markets and also small restaurants.

We never leave our bikes alone. If we are camping, they are locked next to the tent, if possible against something to make stealing even more difficult. In Asia, we usually took the bikes into our room. We would rather turn down hotel accommodation than leaving the bikes somewhere outside.

We also made use of the Warm Showers community around the world and have made very good friends with some of the members. As we’ve both worked for a multinational corporation with international jobs, we have former colleagues around the globe who we try to visit if we can.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

What are your best advice for new cyclists out there?

Most people don’t like riding a bike because it doesn’t fit. It needs to be the right size, right saddle position, etc. and then it is fun to ride a bike. It is hard to convince someone who doesn’t like hills to convince to ride a bike but it is a sport everyone can do no matter how old or fit. We often get asked if we trained a lot to get fit: that’s not necessary, because you will get fit while going.

There is no better way to discover your surroundings than by bike and you will get fitter every time you step on your bike.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

How do you prepare for your cycling adventures?

We both have always been sporting. Baerbel is running a lot and we do some strengthening exercises as well. But as we said earlier, for a longer tour it is not important to be fit when leaving, you will get fit on the way.

We read a lot of books from other cycling adventurers as well as many cycling blogs. Johan (and Baerbel as well in the meantime) is a big fan of the Dutch cyclist, Frank van Rijn. Baerbel loves the books of Josie Dew. They are both good writers and very inspirational.

Once we know where to go we search the internet for recommendations on places to go. As we are both nature lovers, impressive or unique landscapes are more important to us than other landmarks. We sometimes buy travel guides.

In terms of gear, we usually decide for quality. This is the advantage of having worked and saved some money. We can spend a bit more money on our gear. We have excellent bikes from Idworx, a small German manufacturer who regularly gets top ratings for their bikes.

We also invested in good mattresses as we mostly sleep in a tent and a good night’s sleep is important as cycling is physically very restraining if you do it on an almost daily basis.

We also bought very good padded cycling shorts, but this is a very individual matter and needs to be well tested upfront. There is nothing worse than ill-fitting cycling shorts.

We both don’t really like to wear cycling jerseys as they always make you look like a cyclist. We wear just “normal” shirts, again depending on the climate. If it is not getting too hot (into the 30s), merino wool has become our favourite fabric. Even if you sweat a lot you don’t start smelling and if you cannot wash your shirt every evening this has a big advantage over lycra. And believe it or not, but wool cools you down in hot temperatures.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

How do you finance your cycling?

We have two sponsors: Idworx, our bike manufacturer and Rohloff, the producer of our speed hub.

Johan doesn’t work anymore and Baerbel started working as a communications freelancer at the end of 2014. Since then she has been working from where ever she is. All she needs is a computer, WiFi and her brain.

Costs are very dependent on where you are travelling. When we left we both had spent 8,000 EUR each in the first year including everything (flights, food, visas, entrance fees etc.). And we are not the super cheap budget travellers. It becomes more expensive while travelling in Western countries as food and accommodation is much more expensive.

Our gear is more expensive than the travelling as we have invested in high quality things. But over time it is not expensive anymore as our gear gets used often.

How do you balance normal life with cycling?

Since our first tour back in 2012, where we’ve been away from September 2012 until May 2014, we’ve been away for another 15 months from August 2015 until October 2016. We are currently cycling again and Baerbel will be gone for about 2.5 months and Johan a little longer. We have no real plans on how often we are away but we both still love travelling by bike and will be regularly away for longer tours.

We both have family but no kids or pets. This makes travelling much easier. The only challenge is that Johan’s family lives in the North of the Netherlands and Baerbel’s family in the South of Germany (close to where we live at the moment).

We live very cheaply, meaning we have a nice but cheap apartment, we don’t have a car and we don’t buy new things constantly. And yet we are happy the way we live. Johan still lives from his savings and Baerbel can work from everywhere as long as she has her laptop with her and Wifi. This means we are quite flexible.

Of course, we miss our families and friends when we are away for a longer trip, but nowadays Skype and social media make it pretty easy to stay in touch with everyone.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

What has been your best cycling purchase below $100, what other favorite cycling gear do you have?

Our reusable coffee filters from GSI that stick to the mug, as we both love drinking a good cup of coffee. It costs less than 10 EUR and we even have two of them in the meantime. We also love our USB charging device on the bike that is connected to our dynamo hub. This way we can charge our phones or cameras. Our’s is from Cinq.

For Baerbel, it is certainly the lightweight merino T-shirts from Icebreaker. She has been wearing them almost daily on our second trip. It never smells, feels comfortable and dries very quickly.

What are your top 5 safest countries in the world for cyclists?

In no special order:

1 – Oman: Fantastic people who care about you. You can camp anywhere, no matter if people see you or not, you are never in danger. People there would often stop to give us water or check if we were OK.

2 – Netherlands: Bikes are always first and everybody rides a bike. There are bike lanes almost everywhere.

3 – France: Lots of bike lanes as well, and many remote roads with hardly any traffic. People are used to cyclists and motorists usually give you enough space.

4 – Laos: Little traffic, which for us is always the biggest danger.

5 – Iran: Even though it is the country with the most road accidents in the world we felt very safe. There is a lot of traffic and it is not often fun to cycle but there are usually wide shoulders that are safe to use. People are extremely friendly and invite you a lot to make sure you are safe.

Cyclists Baerbel and Johan

What will the future bring?

We are currently on another cycling adventure. We left our home mid June and cycled along the Danube river to Bratislava. From there, we cycled South via Hungary and Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our goal is to reach Greece and go back home from there.

We dream about an affordable tent that fits all our needs but doesn’t exist yet. Every tent comes with a downside, unfortunately. Other than that, we are quite happy with what we have now.

For the future, we hope we’ll be able to discover many more countries on this planet by bike and that we’ll embark on many more adventures – be it short or long – together.

We’d like to tell everyone who has a dream to not wait too long to fulfill it. Especially with cycling you might not be able physically to do the things you might have been able to in younger years.

The biggest challenge is always to do things differently than others and step out of the ‚normal‘. Make a decision, go for your dream and just do it! If it turns out to be wrong for you, just do something different again. Don’t feel bad about something that you thought would be fantastic and isn’t as great after all.

Cycle touring isn’t a vacation. It can be very tough as it is physically and mentally demanding. Being at a different place almost every day isn’t easy. You will make friends and have to leave them again. If you feel you need a rest, take a rest and don’t get stressed about the distances you have to cover. Live your life! You only live once.

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