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NEW FOR 2019! I'm currently in the process of updating this site after my 2018 ride across Europe. You can read more about that in my new book, Biking Broken Europe.

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What is UniCycling?

It's the idea of combining a long distance cycle tour, or in fact any type of travel, with a university education. Ever more universities offer online courses enabling you to study from anywhere. One of those places could be on the road.


Apart from the fact that you are whistling through the finest landscapes the world has to offer instead of being housed in grotty accommodation in a murky city, you could invent a tour that complements your studies. Imagine a cycling tour of the Iberian Penisula while studying Spanish, or visiting the world's greatest galleries while studying art history, or experiencing monuments and battlefields while studying history.


The original distance university was the UK's Open University. Now many others have followed suit. The OU is (mostly) ideal for travelling students, although this may be changing as they introduce many "online only" courses. While travelling it is not always possible to guarantee an internet connection - unless you're willing to pay a fortune - and so courses that require you to be online for the duration of your study time will be difficult to incorporate into a cycling tour. Better is the OU's older style presentation, where each course comes with course books and PDFs. Of course the course books have no place on a tour, but the PDFs are ideal. All you need is an e-reader.

Not all OU courses are equally practical while touring. English Literature courses would be a problem since the OU does not provide you with electronic versions of each course's chosen literature. You should be able to buy most of the course books electronically but there may be an occasion where the book, or one particular version of a book, is not available. This could also be true of any course that has set texts outside of the course material itself.

OU maths course are also a problem because of the bizarre and arcane requirement that all assignments have to be physically mailed to your tutor. Some tutors are aware of this inconvenience and allow you to email assignments but that is their own decision and you cannot guarantee it or demand it. Mailing assignments has two implications. First, you will need to be weeks ahead of your fellow students in order to complete assignments in time to compensate for the languid speed of snail mail. This means you'll rarely find anyone who's as far through the course as you are if you're struggling with something or what to discuss an idea. The other major issue is that your assignment will be returned to your home address and unless you have someone reliable there who can scan your tutor's comments and send them to you then you may find that you're making the same mistakes over and over again. Courses with electronic assignment submission - almost all courses - do not suffer from this problem.

How difficult is it?

When I first mentioned this ride, some people told me that I was crazy to try to cycle and study at the same time. It would be impossible! But these were the same people who had a full time job, often children, and a household to run and were also studying. Their task was a lot harder than mine. I would generally cycle between 4 and 6 hours a day (although sometimes it was 2 and at other times it was 11). There was plenty of time to study.

What you'll need

To read your course materials you'll need a Kindle (or other e-reader), preferably the older, non-colour Kindle whose fully charged battery can last up to a month.

You'll also need a netbook or tablet unless you plan to write out your assignments and mail them the old fashioned way. Obviously, your tablet could also be your e-reader but if you do this then you should take a pen drive with all your course materials backed up in case your tablet is broken or stolen.

The OU will let you take exams wherever there is an exam centre, although you may have to pay extra for it. I've taken exams in Britain, Spain, Austria and Latvia. If you're doing a maths course that has a handbook and plan to take your exam on the road you'll need to carry the handbook with you for use in the exam.

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