It gives us immense pleasure to introduce and bring forth another passionate cyclist. Continuing with the #IamLivingIt Series, Rachana from Livingit connected with Priyanka Dalal, and loved every bit of her enthusiasm and zeal for cycling. A creative genius and introvert, Priyanka Dalal is a passionate cyclist who loves her space and solitude. However, at the same time, she loves meeting new people, understanding their culture and what makes them tick. Priyanka loves cycle touring. For her, cycle touring isn’t exactly the same as an endurance cycle ride. She loves to take as many stops as she likes, and she prefers camping at one place for at least a few days to explore the area.
RJ: What do you like about cycling?
Priyanka: As a kid in India, the cycle is the first ‘vehicle’ that we get and at a young age we can start zooming around on our own. I remember spending quiet time by myself when I was really young cycling around the colony I lived in.
RJ: Tell us something – A childhood cycling memory!
Priyanka: The first cycle I rode was a yellow BMX when I was about 9 years old. Earlier I had a blue Indian Hero but it didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t learn to ride it and kept falling. But the yellow BMX did it for me. I started riding from the first moment on. You can call it Love at first sight! We spent many years together – my BMX & I, but then I grew older while the BMX remained a kid’s bike.
RJ: Did anyone specifically inspire you to take your first cycle trip or was it a spontaneous decision?
Priyanka: I was looking out for a safe and solo way of exploring the European countryside. That’s when I came across cycle touring, and I took a fancy to it. But at the time I had too many questions and wasn’t sure if I can pull this off. But I spoke to the only person who I know had done something similar – a guy called Kunal Mithrill from Mumbai. I heard his cycling adventure stories at a Barcamp talk. So, I got in touch with him, and he made it sound very simple, and only then did I took the idea up seriously.
RJ: Why do you prefer to travel solo?
Priyanka: It deepens my spiritual quest. A lot of my solo travels are spent in solitude and silence. Not a formal retreat but just on my own, while I am exploring the world. I do make many friends on the road and usually, I remain in touch with them online. I also find it very empowering to know that a girl can travel alone in a lot of places in India (& world). Any misconduct or nasty experiences are an aberration, not the norm. As per media splashes and common beliefs – women around me consider the world much more unsafe than it is.
RJ: What are the most important aspects of a cycling trip, with respect to planning?
Priyanka: There are many different aspects while planning. But the most important, I would recommend is to research the weather well. Carry relevant gear for the weather. Any extreme weather would affect you very strongly on the cycle. Winds, rains, cold, heat – all of it will directly affect your cycling. And if you are camping at nights then you need to be even more prepared. Also if you have special considerations then you must prepare for it. I am a strict vegetarian (including no egg) so I ensure that I am carrying cooking gear and food packets. It adds to the weight of my luggage but this is the only way I don’t *ahem* die of hunger.
RJ: Tell us more about the Berlin to Copenhagen trip.
Priyanka: This was my first ever cycle touring experience in August 2015. In fact, it was also my first long distance cycle attempt, first camping experience and my first time in Europe. So, it was pretty crazy. I had planned 17 days of cycling to cover the 700km route. For the first 15 days, I was overwhelmed by the entire experience – of just being out on the road on my own and free to go just anywhere I want. But on my 15th day, I felt I would want to do this for much longer. It was really heart breaking for me when it came to an end. The experience was absolutely brilliant. Traveling a country via cycle is an amazing way to experience it. It is a slow and deep experience. And I didn’t imagine it could be so easy and so friendly. Read my route and adventures here.
RJ: For your trip from Berlin to Copenhagen you bought a bicycle in Germany just for the ride, and sold it once your trip was over. How did you plan for that?
Priyanka: I started my trip in Berlin – which is an amazing place for cyclists. Finding the bike wasn’t too difficult as I had 12 days in the city just to buy my bike and gear. The bike was the easy part. In Copenhagen on the other hand, I had only 3 days to sell my bike. And most stores didn’t buy second-hand bikes. So finally I got a buyer from a Facebook group (about buying and selling) and he bid a good amount, so I sold it to him. I have written a blog about Buying (& Selling) my gear which is relevant for anyone in a new city.
RJ: What does your luggage consist of and how do you carry it?
Priyanka: For cycle touring – I carry my luggage in bags called Panniers. I was fortunate in Germany to get a lovely pair of Ortlieb panniers, considered one of the best brands. I keep my clothes, cooking gear, bike tools and other knick knacks in these panniers. I have another bag for my camping gear. And I have one day pack which is a small bag for supermarket shopping or just carrying small stuff for the road.
RJ: Where do you keep your valuables while travelling on a bicycle (money, passport, documents)?
Priyanka: Typically for any traveller, it is suggested that they carry their valuables on person – that is in a concealed waist belt or pouch. I usually also keep it on me, either in my pocket or in a separate pouch.
RJ: Did you ever have to deal with unexpected weather, and how did you manage to do that?
Priyanka: Mad winds – I have faced them twice. The first time I didn’t know such winds even existed – the urban creature that I was. We are always shuttered in buildings with glass windows. Now I was on a cycle with all my luggage in the middle of the Danish countryside and the wind was throwing me to the other side of the road! I struggled through it and managed a measly 25kms after a whole day of riding. It was an amazing experience to come face to face with nature’s fury. Really makes us appreciate the environment and the planet we take for granted in our urban lives. In Australia, I experienced winds, flooding, and unseasonal, heavy rains. I had to modify my cycling plans. I changed my cycling routes and stayed close to bigger towns. And I stayed more in AirBnbs rather than camping. Decisions have to be made in the middle of the trip as per weather.
RJ: You have cycled in India, Australia, Taiwan and Europe. Is there any difference in terms of cycling?
Priyanka: Well, yes. There is. I have cycled in Europe: Berlin to Copenhagen – 700km; Australia: Near Melbourne – 300km; Taiwan: Around Taipei plus Formosa900 bike event: 850km; and in India: Tamil Nadu to Thiruvannamalai: 200km. Apart from this have done some city cycling in Mumbai, Chennai, and Ahmedabad. To point out the differences –
Europe is easily the global leader in cycle infrastructure, with bike-friendly public transports, dedicated cycle lanes, long distance cycle routes, a lot of knowledgeable cycle shops and cyclists and so on. It is one of the easiest places to start a cycle tour. Taiwan is one hell of a surprise because in many places, it come’s very close to the level of European cycle infrastructure. It came to me as a complete surprise when I found dedicated cycle paths, cycle friendly trains and knowledgeable cyclists and cycle shops across the country.
Australia is getting there in terms of infrastructure. I spent most of my time in Melbourne and it is trying out many cycle-friendly facilities as of now. And hopefully, in another few years, it should be much more cycle friendly.
India is a complete enigma in terms of cycling. There is hardly any infrastructure here. Moreover, there are serious safety concerns and a very unruly traffic situation. However, depending on the route – if we take some rural, internal roads – it can also be a very enjoyable experience. There are additional safety concerns when solo cycle touring as a woman – but I know a couple of women who have done long solo stretches safely in South India. I also cycled about 200 km in two rides in Tamil Nadu (Chennai – Mahabalipuram – Kanchipuram; Kanchipuram – Thiruvannamalai) and it was a lovely experience. In rural areas where the vehicle traffic is less – cycling can be a very enriching and satisfying experience.
RJ: If you could cycle any route in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
Priyanka: Haha, this is so difficult. There are few different routes that come to mind – one is the Baja California in Mexico. I have read that it is a really wild stretch to explore. In South America, the Carretera Austral is said to be amazingly scenic. But I can’t cycle these tomorrow because they would need a lot of preparations in terms of gear and goods. 🙂 If I had to go off tomorrow, then I will say Thailand. It is nearby, the weather is comfortable, budget friendly and I have heard good things about its cycle infrastructure.
Well, ask her what’s next on her agenda and she wants to take off on travel adventures. Wishing Priyanka Dalal, all the very best in what she is best at – cycling!
Interested in reading a few more stories? Why not read: