“I can never really remember not being a cyclist although it is only in the last few years that I have called myself one,” says French teacher, writer and long distance cyclist Andrew P Sykes.
Having just published his third book about his long distance cycling adventures on his trusty stead Reggie, the ‘cyclist’ moniker is one that fits him pretty well.
Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie may be Sykes’s third book but it is the first one that he hasn’t self published. It is was also his longest trip - just short of 8,000km - which saw him give up his day job as secondary school French teacher in the south of England and return to his Elland roots before setting off on his two-wheeled four month adventure.
Sykes love affair with long distance cycling almost happened by chance.
“After studying Maths at York University I moved to London. I didn’t want a car in London and so always cycled to work,” recalls Sykes. “Then I moved to France for a few years to teach English, before moving back and working as a French teacher in Henley on Thames and I cycled the 12 mile round trip from my home in Reading everyday.”
But it was during the school holidays that Sykes started to think that cycling could be more than just a mode of transport.
“I was watching the Olympics in Beijing on the television. I was watching the cyclists including Nicole Cooke race around the Great Wall of China. Even though the weather was poor it was such an iconic place to cycle and I thought how interesting and adventurous such a journey would be.” The thought kept niggling away at Sykes and eventually, after a lot of research he came up with the idea of cycling the 3,000 miles from Reading to visit a friend who’d moved to southern Italy and his wife. He decided to write a blog about his plans and the adventures he had a long the way.
“I wasn’t worried that I could do it physically but I wasn’t sure about the mental side. Riding a lone day in day out.”
He needn’t have worried. As well as enjoying the time alone to think, he met many other cyclist and interesting people along the way. “I had also decided to mainly camp as that is a great way to meet people, and is much cheaper than staying in hotels.”
On his return a colleague suggested he should write a book.
“I’d never intended to write a book and after she suggested it I laughed and I dismissed it. But when I saw her again she kept saying that I needed to put it into a book. It was the Easter holidays so I thought I’d give it a go.”
Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie was the result, and although he failed to find a publisher he decided to self publish and sales were brisk.
“My books aren’t cycling books. They are part travelogue, part history, part culture, part politics and part geography.”
But why Reggie?
“People ask me that question all the time and I wish they wouldn’t as it’s really not that exciting. Writing the blog I couldn’t very well just keep referring to the bike and the name Reggie just popped into my head and made it easier to write.”
That said, Sykes’s recently purchased Tourer bike has already been named Dale.
Sykes had got the long distance cycling bug and in the summer holiday of 2013 he set off on a second journey this time following the Mediterranean coastline from Portugal to Greece. “I like to cycle from A to B,” he explains. “On the second trip I also wanted to be guaranteed of some good weather as on the first trip in 2010 the weather was quite terrible.” The result was a second self-published book Along the Med on a Bike Called Reggie which again did well.
After the trip Sykes once again returned to his teaching job in Henley on Thames, but he felt there was one last long distance ride of Europe that he needed to do, and in order to do it it would mean leaving his job,
“I wanted to cycle from the southern most tip of Europe, Tarifa in Spain to the northern most point which is Nordkapp in Norway. I knew it was going to take me a lot longer than just the school summer holidays and so I handed in my notice and returned to Calderdale to get read for the trip.” He spent a month in Spain to learn the language before setting off on the nearly 8,000 km ride on April 8 which would take him through Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden ending in Norway on July 28.
“It was about as challenging as a long-distance cycle through Europe could get,” he says. “I worked out I would have to average 110k a day - factoring in some rests days but there were some days when I did less and others when I did more. I probably enjoyed about 60 per cent of, around 20 per cent is so so and then there is the last 20 per cent when you ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ That’s normally because the weather has been bad and the tent is soaking, or just down to waking up in a bad mood and that can just happen any time. The mental challenge is harder than the physical one.”
This time, impressed with how well his other books had gone, publisher Summersdale agreed to publish the final book in his trilogy.
“It has been very different to self-publishing,” he admits.
Sykes, who lives in Stainland near Halifax, now works as a French teacher at his old school in Elland when not promoting his new book published today.
He says he feels he has exhausted long distance cycling in Europe although he is now looking further afield, possibly at Japan.
“Although I don’t think Reggie will make it this time,” says Sykes.
‘Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie’, published in paperback by Summersdale (£9.99) is launched tonight at Waterstones, Butts Lane, Leeds at 6.30pm. Tickets are free but must be reserved by calling 0113 244 4588
Read more on Andrew’s blog cyclingeurope.org