Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie - It's been a while...

On the 15th of September, the EuroVelo 5- Via Romea Francigena App was launched. On this occasion we had the opportunity to interview Andrew Sykes, who cycled the EuroVelo 5- Via Romea (Francigena) a few years priorin 2010 and shared his impressions and experiences on his past trip with us. Read more…

EuroVelo: Hi Andrew. In 2010, you already cycled from the UK to southern Italy along the EuroVelo 5- Via Romea (Francigena). How was that like?

Andrew Sykes: Well, it was the first long- distance cycle what I’ve ever done. So, I was a real novice in terms of cycle touring and there were certain things what I was worried about. I was worried about, for example, not finding accommodation at the end of the day,about being lonely or that there would be any mechanical disasters. In the end whose were not the things, I should have been really worried about. I think that I should have rather been worried about other things such as the weather. Suprisingly,  finding my way was not the problem. Nowadays, there is a lot of GPS and mapping technology available and it’s not difficult to find the way and with the new EuroVelo map and website, people have access to the routes even as they cycle.

What were the highlights or your favorite places on the trip?
Well, I had many favourite places for different reasons. Luxembourg, for instance, was a favourite place, because it was completely different from what I expected it to be. I expected it to be a bit of an administrative city with lots of tower blocks and offices but actually it was a really attractive, pretty, interesting city with lots of history and culture, located  in a spectacular setting. It was a real highlight! Another highlight was obviously crossing the Alps. Camping in the valleys and then climbing over the Alps, more precisely over the Gotthard Pass, then down to Ticino and then down to Italy.


Did you visit many Points of Interest along the way or did you not know much about them? With the new app, you can even collect Points of Interest as you cycle but back then you were maybe not aware of that many POI’s?

One of the nice things about the EuroVelo 5 is that it goes through some very very interesting places.Places of which people are probably already aware of, such as Canterbury, Lille, Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Luzerne, the Gotthard Pass, Milan, Pavilla, Rome, Matera and Brindisi. So there are lots of beautiful places along the route and it was not difficult to find interesting things to do. I took six days off cycling. I cycled for 30 days and I didn’t cycle for 6 days, which gave me plenty of opportunities to go and discover my surroundings. Usually, I spend the 6 cycle-free days in big cities such as Lucca, Roma and Luxembourg. Where I could go off and be a normal tourist for some time. 

Did you find many EuroVelo signposts?

Well I found only one EuroVelo sign, and it wasn’t for the EuroVelo 5- Via Romea (Francigena), but for the EuroVelo 3- Pilgrims Route. But I think, that this has now changed. When I did the cycle it was 2010, we are now in 2017, so that’s 7 years ago and I think that things have changed by now.



What was the most challenging stage of the route? Probably crossing the Alps?
Probably. Well, the biggest physical challenge was not actually the Gotthard Pass. Going from the Andermatt pass was a climb but the biggest climb came before Andermatt, when I had to cycle from the valley which leads on to Lucern.This valley and the following climb up to Andermatt were probably the most challenging cycling experiences I ever had. But once I’ve arrived in Andermatt it was a nice normal, gentle climb to the pass in the morning for a couple of hours and then down to the Ticino valley. In terms of other aspects, Pisa was not pleasant because it  was build in a march and there were plenty of moscitos. So Pisa, Lucca and Sienna, when I think of them, I think of all the beautiful buildings and beautiful architecture and the fact that its very sunny and nice and warm there, but I also remember the moscitos, which were very very bad. 

Are there any things you would do differently, if you would cycle the EuroVelo 5- Via Romea (Francigena again)? Do you have any recommendations for other people who would like to cycle the route?
Well my version of the EuroVelo 5 involved not cycling through Belgium. I have cycled through Belgium since, then I cycled the EuroVelo 3 and I think it’s a great place to cycle in. Next time, I would certainly not avoid Belgium because it would also give me the opportunity to cycle more in Luxembourg. Luxembourg city was great but actually I didn’t get the opportunity to cycle much in Luxembourg, because I came in from the west and then headed south. If I came in from the north, where is a whole chunk of Luxembourg I could have cycled through. Apart from that, I think that most of what I did, I would probably do again. I think I chose pretty good routes. However, I also think that it would be nice to spend more time doing the cycle- I did the route in 5 weeks, to do it in 2 months would be nice in order to drink more Italian red wine and eat more good food.

As you might know, we launched a new EuroVelo 5 App. Do you think that this would have been useful to you back in 2010?
Yes, I think it would have been useful. I would have certainly used it! I would have certainly used the website and the app, before embarking on my trip. One of the beauties of having the app is the fact that it is possible to consult it on your phone and you can carry your phone with you obviously and see that is out there.I think that nowadays people don’t take paper maps with them. I’m a great fan of paper maps, because paper maps allow you to see not just where you’re going but also what is where on the left and on the right or what’s ahead of you. And I think that if people don’t take paper maps but do take an app like the EuroVelo 5 app it kind of replicates the paper map, because it gives you the information you don’t necessarily see if you’re looking just on a line, which is the route you should be following.

Would you like to cycle the EuroVelo 5 again, or do you already have any other future plans?
After cycling the EuroVelo 5, I then (in 2013), cycled along the EuroVelo 8, which was about 5000 km long. After this,  in 2015, I cycled from the Southern tip of Tarifa to the Northcap, on the EuroVelos 1 and 3. So, I've kind of done 3-4 of the EuroVelos. There are 15 of them, so I could get going and I certainly will do more of them in the future. What I would like to do and this is more the writing of the book side, I’d like to go off to Japan and cycle the length of Japan, because I think that the culture where, is clearly very very different from the culture that we find in Europe and I think that would make it very interesting. But in terms of the EuroVelo routes ,yes, if I would have the time, the money and the energy I would just spend my time cycling along.






If you want to find out more about Andrew and his long- distance cycle trips across Europe, visit his website.

Andrew also shares his experiences about the EuroVelo project and cycling in Brussels in his latest podcast

Are you interested in his book " Crossing Europe on a Bike called Reggie"? It can be purchased in English and Italian and is available here.