Brake the Cycle is a cycle touring company with a difference. Organised as a social enterprise, the goal is to explore sustainable living through cycling, adventure and community. London Cyclist interviewed Joe Red, the founder of the organisation, to find out more and to discover what someone can expect from one of their tours.
Joe manages seven tours that take place across Europe a few weeks at a time, each calling in at eco projects, sustainability centres and permaculture projects. It’s inevitable that friendships are formed along the way and the groups become communities themselves.
The seven tours are: Lands End to John O’Groats; Lisbon to Seville; Seville to Murica; Barcelona to Bilbao; Amsterdam to Berlin; Berlin to Munich; and Milan to Barcelona.
Which tour would you recommend for a first timer who has been cycling for a while but hasn’t taken part in this kind of thing before?
Most of the people who come on our tours aren’t regular cyclists.
We’ve graded the rides based on distance, climbing and gradient to try and make them as accessible to people as possible. We don’t want the actual cycling to be the thing that puts you off from having an incredible experience.
The Amsterdam to Berlin and Berlin to Munich trips are pretty flat, crossing Europe’s ‘Great Plain’, so I’d recommend those for beginners. The Lisbon to Seville is a great first ride too. For those looking for a bit more climbing, the Milan to Barcelona will be more your cup of tea, taking in the lower Alps and Pyrenees with a bit of French Riviera in the middle.
What support is there for people who find it tough during the tour?
Although we won’t be pushing you up the hills handing out Mars Bars from the van, we are here to support you. Our bespoke vehicle will carry all your luggage each day, making you as lightweight as possible on your bike. It can also be a rescue anyone who is in need.
We believe that communication is key. We split into cycling groups each morning, so there is always a speed to suit your mood that day and no one will get left behind, or frustrated with a slow pace. We have a bike mechanic on the tour, to help with any bike issues and teach you little technical maintenance bits along the way and help you get the most from your bike.
We also do a huge pre-order of organic food before the trip and top up along the way with fresh produce from the projects and farms we visit.
What kind of things have you been doing on the current tour?
We’re just off the back of the Lisbon to Seville ride and things have really started to warm up down there. Fortunately, most days we were able to jump in the sea at lunch or find a lake or river to dowse and refresh our sweaty bodies.
Staying at eco villages and land restoration projects is a big part of Brake the Cycle. We stayed at Tamera in Portugal, one of the most established eco-villages in Europe, which combines personal development work with restoration of the ecosystem. The communities are always a fascinating aspect to the trips and fuel discussion for days.
Wild swimming is taken at every opportunity, as is the necessary ‘second breakfast’ coffee and croissant stop through rambling stone walled towns, castles and plazas.
Can you share any personal highlights of past tours?
The kindness of strangers always stands out to me. People just seem to be more open to you when you’re on a bike and want to help you.
Here’s an example – we were in the Pyrenees on the Bilbao to Barcelona ride, it was a hot day’s climb and we needed to stop for water but the fountain at the last village had dried up. So one of the girls knocked on a nearby house, out hobbles an old woman and we greet her with our best Spanish; ‘agua por favor?’. We were hoping she’d fill our water bottles but she had different idea. Before we knew it, we were invited in, given water, sat down to eat a huge fresh salad (with buffalo tomatoes fresh from her garden) and invited to cool down in her pool! Incredible.
The friendships formed on the trips are always pretty special too, you get a real sense of camaraderie through the shared experience of an adventure, seeing and supporting each other to push to their limits. I remember one chap came on the End to End without any training and on a bike he’d just borrowed from a friend. Needless to say, the Cornish hills were a baptism of fire and he was really wondering if he was going to be able to continue. But everyone was so supportive, taking it in turns to ride with him, resting when he needed and really encouraging him up every hill. By the end of the second week he was fit as a fiddle and really able to enjoy the experience.
What kinds of people do you get signing up?
People sign up for different reasons: some love cycling, some are into sustainability and really want to visit the eco villages we stay at on route, and some undertake it as a personal challenge. We’ve had a right mix of ages from environmental science students on their uni breaks, to pensioners recently retired, looking for a new direction.
Whatever the reason for wanting to come on the ride we’d love for you to have a really transformative experience and will support you in any way we can.
You can find out more information on Brake the Cycle tours on their website.