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The Turkish section of EuroVelo 8: Alone, female and out of season

Dienstag, 5. März 2024
Cycle touring along EuroVelo 8 in Türkiye offers more than just incredible scenery, and while many women may be apprehensive about undertaking such a journey alone, taking the plunge pays off!

Türkiye has long intrigued me as a cycling destination. While it has a booming tourist industry, and many flock to its stunning coastal resorts, for cycling, it is not a renown destination for cycling. Over the last few years, more and more cycle tourers have headed there to discover the country’s incredible scenery, but cyclists remain a rare breed in most regions.

Camping in an orange grove
Camping in an orange grove

I had been working in Brussels for several years, but office life was becoming repetitive, and the allure of a long bicycle tour grew stronger. So, after much deliberation, I decided to depart; I sold my belongings, handed in my notice and hit the road.

I am currently cycling from southeastern Türkiye to England. As part of this route, I followed a section of EuroVelo 8, which (if heading northwards), begins in the beautiful town of Selçuk, snaking along the stunning Aegean coastline, hitting Çeşme and Izmir, before taking in Foça’s stunning coves. Ocean, mountains, metropolis – EuroVelo 8 has it all.

A family who hosted me in Cesme
A family who hosted me in Cesme

The January chill

Cycling here in January, I was distinctly out of season. Most people explore Anatolia and the coast in spring or autumn, when it is neither blisteringly hot or icy cold. Despite holding a Geography degree and contrary to advice from experienced cyclists, I decided to ignore seasonality. Further south in Antalya and Bodrum temperatures were around 20 degrees (practically tropical for a Brit), and the sea beautifully warm (well, for a Brit). However, as I hit Selçuk, the winter began to bite and the headwind got stronger, and I wrapped myself in hats (yes plural), gloves, and even overshoes. By Çanakkale, there was a thick layer of snow on the ground, and morning temperatures were well below freezing. In many of the villages, people would shake their head or laugh at me as I passed.

Izmir’s bike lanes.png
Izmir’s bike lanes.png

“What a fool!” they thought.

On those early mornings when my hands and feet were numb with cold, I often agreed.

Yet, despite the chill, the bright Turkish winter sun meant cycling remained glorious. It felt like that first spring day in Brussels, where after weeks - if not months - of rain and wind, the sun finally appears and you remember there are more colours than grey. In addition, with cafés selling cheap and delicious çay (tea) and coffee at every village, it was easy enough to keep warm along the way.

Indeed, it was in these establishments where I had some of the most memorable moments, meeting interesting and incredibly generous individuals, learning the true extent of Turkish hospitality. There were the café owners who plied me with endless refills then refused to let me pay, the families who invited me to share their breakfast, and even those who offered me a bed for the night!

Cycle touring alone and ensuring safety

Before I left, many queried my safety, challenging the prudence of a woman cycling alone. I have completed several solo cycle tours, but none on this scale, and I cannot pretend I was not nervous; indeed, I had been harassed on multiple occasions while cycling in London, Brussels, Paris, and many other cities, what might I encounter while on the road in Türkiye?

Mandatory maintenance.png
Mandatory maintenance.png

However, in all honesty, I was more worried about my ability to respond to mechanical issues. I am not the most dexterous individual when it comes to bike maintenance; I cannot change a break pad, I have never recalibrated my gears and I can barely repair a puncture. I am a fiercely feminist cyclist, however, I will be the first to admit that it was my partner who usually fixed my bike in times of crisis, while I stood at the side murmuring vaguely supportive, but probably unconstructive, comments. I wondered how I would fare alone.

So far (I still have many miles ahead of me before I reach England), I have never feared for my safety - except perhaps while pedalling Istanbul’s perilous highways- top tip, find an alternative route in and out of the city! I have in fact received unrelenting kindness and support from people along the way, including a mechanic who opened on a Sunday specially for me, a lorry driver who gave me a lift when my gear cable snapped, and the many hosts on platforms such as Warmshowers and Couchsurfing who provided accommodation, a much needed shower, and even an evening meal. Türkiye reminded me of the incredible humanity in this world, even between total strangers.

The people pioneering Turkish cycling

EuroVelo 8 is also an opportunity to observe the amazing work on cycling being conducted in Türkiye. Türkiye is not perhaps the first country which springs to mind when considering cycling innovation, it is usually the Netherlands, Germany or Denmark which gain accolades for pedal power. However, the work going on in Izmir, pioneered by local communities, exemplifies the progress many cities here are making, with many lessons for others. There is the Izmir Bicycle Association, which campaigns for safer, more integrated cycle routes, there is Espedal Dernegi, which facilitates cycling for the blind and partially sighted, and bicycle shops like Izmir Bisiklet, which are always eager to support local citizens as well as tourers- going above and beyond. Indeed, Nafiz, who owns Izmir Bisiklet, even hosted me for two nights while I sheltered from the storm!

So, would I recommend EuroVelo 8 and the rest of Türkiye for cycle touring? Without hesitation, yes. It does of course require a bit more navigation than other EuroVelo routes in central and northern Europe, often along lower quality roads, steeper terrain, and dodging some scary traffic. Nonetheless, the landscapes, people and of course weather, make it a fantastic experience, particularly for women cycling alone.

A local bicycle association who allowed me to stay in their club house
A local bicycle association who allowed me to stay in their club house

Author and pictures: Isobel Duxfield

Isobel’s first foray into the cycling world was studying women’s cycling clubs for her postgraduate thesis, after which she went to work for POLIS Network, supporting their work on gender equality in sustainable mobility. However, after talking about cycling for so long, she thought it was high time she tried out touring for herself! She is currently cycling from Türkiye to England, before the trip continues in Canada. You can find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.