At GEN Europe, we're passionate about sharing the beauty of ecovillage living with new audiences, so when Brake the Cycle got in touch about collaborating on their ecovillage cycle tours, we knew this would be a match made in community heaven. Their cycle tours are a unique way to experience ecovillages while getting a hefty workout and making friends for life.
We called up Joe from Brake The Cycle to chat about ecovillages, cycle touring - and how working up a sweat can make us more open to change.
What made you first decide to connect ecovillages and cycle touring?
It first came about through my own interest in both. I’d recently completed an Introduction to Permaculture course and was fascinated by it all. I’d recently quit my job and was about to embark of a charity fundraising cycle challenge from London to Cape Town. Having said we’d raise £30,000 for charity during the trip I started to try and think of smaller events to help fundraise that kind of cash. I decided on a Lands End to John O’Groats ride and invited friends to join me and each raise £500 into the pot. This seemed a great opportunity to visit as many UK based ecovillages, permaculture projects, organic farms and transition town initiatives on the way. The narrative seemed to fit since cycling is a green way of transporting oneself over large distances, and the more we visited the more it all seemed to fit together.
What's the philosophy behind Brake the Cycle?
People live busy lives, and a lot of the time, the breaks that they do get are not often breaks at all, or rather they don’t provide a means to ‘break’ from wherever it is you are in your life right now. This is especially true for people who are at points of change, or at junctions in their life and looking for something new. Furthermore, the dominant systems that underpin where we are now (capitalism, urbanisation, commodification) are causing environmental breakdown and are increasingly not solving the issues that we face in our own lives. We are craving authentic connection, to nature and to other people. We know that buying more stuff doesn’t make us happy. But it’s a hard cycle to break out of.
Our tours are meant to be a deep dive into a new way of living, a means to seeing the exciting alternatives that are out there, and actually living these values too. We place a big emphasis on communication and sharing on our tours, and everyone chipping in to make it a positive experience for everyone else. The physical challenge is a key aspect too; when you are going beyond your previous limits you are confident, and more open to inspiration and hope.
Brake the Cycle is a social enterprise. What does that mean?
To us it means two things. Firstly, we think that there is a social benefit to our business, and that the better we do, the bigger the societal impact. In addition to improve the health and wellbeing of people who ride with us, we generate valuable income for the projects that we visit, as we make sure that they receive a fair rate for hosting us. Secondly, we are a not-for-profit organisation; we keep our tour prices very accessible within the ecotourism/cycle holidays market. Profits we make go back into the business to help us run more tours, get more people cycling, and share these amazing eco spaces with more people.
Who participates in your tours? How do they respond to the ecovillage experience?
When we started out we generally had people who you could say were already highly engaged with the ecovillage concept, if not actual members of one themselves. As we’ve grown however we’ve made a deliberate attempt to try and make the tours more open to a wider audience, as this is where there’s a big opportunity to leave a mark. It’s fair to say that most of the people who come on the trips are educated to a point that they understand about environmentalism and sustainability and are interested in what this means in practice in terms of alternative living. Most of our participants are first-time tourers, which we’re really happy about as we know that cycling in groups can be an intimidating experience. We have a really wide mix of ages, with people from 19-65 taking part, with about 65% of our participants women.
What kind of connection do you have with the ecovillages you visit - do you participate in activities, meet the residents, share stories with them?
Where possible we try to arrive in time to receive a short tour of the site an meet the key people available on the day. It often depends on the project’s capacity to host us; some are very well set up for it, others are less so. Our aim is to see as much as we can without disturbing their day-to-day existence there. We don’t want it to feel like a visit to the zoo. But we know that for the projects, our visit an amazing opportunity for them to showcase what they’ve created and talk to an engaged audience about why they’re doing it. Hosts have told us how much they’ve loved our visits as it’s an opportunity to all get together and share their hard work and creativity. We off all the communities and projects we stay with the opportunity to cater for us in the evening. The act of sitting together, breaking bread, and chatting informally is one of the best ways to integrate us all together, us telling stories from the road and them the delights and hardships of living on the land.
You've travelled a lot through sustainable communities, and taken many people with you on the way. For participants, it seems to be as much an inner journey as a physical one. What do you think the potential of this kind of journey is to change hearts and minds, and create a better world?
We know that for people on the tours, it can be a real turning point for them. It might not mean that they drop everything they’re doing and venture off to live in a community, but it is invaluable education, showing the viability and real spread of alternative living. Whilst on the road, as well as visiting communities we become a community together, cycling together, eating together, laughing together and sometimes crying together. It’s a real journey and the camaraderie built between participants has been really enduring over the years. Being immersed in a community on the road, living in the present, directly in nature most of the day, then staying with ecovillages, permaculture projects and intentional communities in the evening really does allow minds to be opens and gives plenty to be mulled over on the road the next day. For some they’d never cycled long distances before; now they’ve just cycled 500km+ and feel like anything is possible. We have a strong alumni network and have follow up calls after the trips with the participants from a professional life coach to help integrate these experiences and take the lessons from the road into the rest of their lives.
If ecovillages would like to welcome a cycle tour, what can they do?
We’d really love to connect with ecovillages who’d be keen to host us, or any group of cyclist for that matter. They don’t really need to do much more than what they’re already doing. We are set up so that we can camp on their site, and have all our own cooking facilities, so we’re self-sufficient. However having access to water, flat ground to camp on, compost loos we can use and shower are always incredibly welcome.
We always enquiry if the community are interested in catering for us. It’s a great way to meet everyone, have an informal chat about life at the community and get to eat the incredible organic food grown by theses places. It’s also an opportunity for us to give a bit more money to the communities we visit too, so it’s a win-win really. Anything additional such as a tour is amazing too.
Do you want to take part in a tour? Find out more - and if you sign up, use the code GEN5 and receive a 5% discount while supporting GEN Europe at the same time!
If your ecovillage would like to welcome a cycle tour, contact fran(at)gen-europe.org.