interview by Marmatzakos Konstantinos
Short CV: “Andrew P. Sykes was born and grew up in the small town of Elland, in the foothills of the Pennines in West Yorkshire. He studied for a degree in mathematics at the University of York and immediately after graduation, went to work in London for a firm of city accountants. The world of auditing was not, however, for him and in 1993, he left the UK to go and work in France, initially in the tourist industry and then for four years teaching English in the Loire Valley city of Tours. He returned to the UK in 1999 to train as a secondary school teacher of French at the University of Reading. He still lives in the town and can currently be found working as the Head of Modern Languages at a secondary school in South Oxfordshire. You may well spot him each morning and evening during term time, cycling to work through the picturesque countryside that lies between the Thames Valley towns of Reading and Henley-on-Thames.”
- When did you start travelling?
On a bike? Back in 2009 when I decided to take my then bicycle (not Reggie) to the north of England and cycle along the Pennine Cycleway. It was a test to see if I enjoyed travelling by bike; I did!
- What was the motive to start travelling by bike?
I have always used a bike although prior to 2009 it was always as a practical means of transport – I have only owned a car for a few years of my life and I never got into the habit of using one – but the motivation for embarking upon a long-distance cycle was the Olympics of 2008. I was watching the cyclists at the Great Wall of Chine and I thought to myself ‘it must be really exciting to do something like that’ so I resolved to do just that…
- Where have you been so far?
After the UK trip in 2009, in 2010 I cycled from my home in 2010 to southern Italy along the route of the Eurovelo 5 (‘Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie’) and then in 2013 I embarked upon the Eurovelo 8 from southern Greece to southern Portugal (‘Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie’).
- Which of the countries you visited so far, you liked the most and why?
I have now cycled through most of the countries in Western Europe – all those apart from Germany and Scandinavia (perhaps next year!). The most enjoyable countries are probably France, Switzerland and Italy as they are beautiful and are geared up to cater for long-distance cyclists. That said, I do like the challenge of going to countries like Albania where things are not so easy; it gives me more to write about!
- How was your trip in Greece? Which places did you visit?
I flew to Athens and then to the bike on a bus to Cape Sounio. My journey started officially at the Temple of Poseidon. From there I returned to Athens before continuing with overnight stops in Corinth, Levidi, Olympia, Nafpaktos, Mitikas, Kanali and then Ioannina.
- Did you encounter any problems during your trips?
Not any serious problems, just the ordinary ‘problems’ of life on the road. I was apprehensive about cycling through the countries that border the Adriatic as I had never visited them before either with or without a bike but in the end, things went to plan. There were no big disasters, just lots of interesting things to write about in the book!
- Are you travelling alone?
Yes. I prefer to travel alone on the bike. It’s easier when it comes to the decision-making. I can decide whether to turn left, right or go straight on and I live with the consequences. I don’t have to worry about whether what I am doing is what someone else wants to do. In addition, it’s far easier to get to know other people if you do travel alone as you either interact with them or become very lonely indeed…
- What is the reaction of the people you meet? Do you have a funny story?
People nowadays are used to seeing people travelling on a bike. It’s not an unusual sight! I can’t think of a ‘funny story’ but I can look back and smile at all the interesting conversations that I have had with countless people during the trips. I remember chatting to one guy one morning at a campsite in France; it was like we had been friends for years!
- …on a Bike Called Reggie? How did you come up with this title?
The original title for the first book was ‘Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie’. I chose the second bit of the title to make people aware of the fact that it was a book about travelling by bike. Amazon later took exception to the use of ‘Good Vibrations’ for copyright reasons and so I was left with ‘Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie’. It stuck and it has now become what people recognise so when it came to naming the second book, it was obvious that ‘…on a Bike Called Reggie’ would have to be in there somewhere!
- How difficult it is to finance your travels? Do you have any sponsors?
No sponsors. Just me. I’m a teacher and that pays for the trips. The sales of the book help but as yet, I’m more of a teacher that a writer when it comes to earning money! I’m not sure if I would want a ‘sponsor’ as such. I’m happy doing things myself without having to do what others want me to do which might be the case if someone else was paying the bills.
- Tell me a few words about your books.
Here is the ‘blurb’ from the books:
Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie: “The academic year must have been a difficult one as when the summer holidays arrived, secondary school teacher Andrew Sykes was happy to do as little as possible. But while sitting on his sofa watching the exploits of the cyclists at the Great Wall of China at the Beijing Olympics, he realised the error of his ways and resolved to put a bit more adventure into his life. Two years later, accompanied by his faithful companion Reggie (his bike) but only a rudimentary plan, Andrew set off for a trans-continental cycling adventure that would take him along the route of the Via Francigena and the EuroVelo 5 all the way from his home in southern England to Brindisi in the south of Italy. There were highs and lows, rain and shine, joy and despair and they are all recounted here in a light-hearted, brisk style.Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie: “1 continent, 6000 kilometres, 10 countries, 9 weeks, 4 pannier bags, 1 man, no detailed plan… and a bike called Reggie. Secondary school teacher Andrew Sykes moves out of the classroom, climbs onto his bicycle and sets off along the route of the EuroVelo 8, from the southern tip of Greece to the Atlantic coast of Portugal. However, this is more than just a cycling tale of border crossings and big hills, as our would-be adventurer perspires his way through a hot and sticky mix of Mediterranean landscapes, life and culture.Join Andrew as he travels Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie: an inspirational and light-hearted travelogue for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.
- What is the one thing you always carry with you?
A Swiss army knife. Very useful. And toilet roll.
- Do you have any plans for the future? Are you planning to visit Greece again?
My next ride will hopefully be from Santiago de Compostela in Spain to Trondheim in Norway – the Eurovelo 3 – although if I have the time, I’d love to extend the trip to travel all the way to North Cape and see the midnight sun. Perhaps next year but if depends upon other factors as well as the trip would take at least three months and it would require me to give up working for a while so we will see… No plans to visit Greece cycling again although I would love to return to see more of the temples and perhaps visit a few of the beaches!
- Any thoughts you would like to share?
Thanks for asking the questions. Here’s a request / thought for the Greeks: pick up your litter, especially in the countryside! You have a beautiful country but it was sometimes ruined by the piles of rubbish by the side of the road. And slow down when you are driving, especially when you see a cyclist!