Do you match the mode of travel to your trip?

transport modes

How flexible are you about how you travel? What mode of transport would you choose for a trip to the local shops? The commute to work? A holiday in France? An expedition to Senegal?

The appetite for large 4×4 cars is as keen as ever. However, while these cars are sold on the promise of adventure, how often do they venture away from tarmac, and does a two-ton car make the best adventure vehicle anyway?

| ‘The perception that cars, or even bicycles, need be heavy to tackle off-road terrain is a triumph of marketing over reality’

In 1980, the Range Rover was still considered a work vehicle, fitted as it was with utilitarian, pressed-steel wheels and vinyl seats designed to be washed down with a hose. It had yet to become the £80,000 luxury vehicle it is today.

At a time when the Range Rover was still more tractor than limousine, people appeared more flexible in what they considered a potential off-road vehicle. In the same year, two riders completed the gruelling Paris Dakar having ridden their Vespa scooters across 7 countries and 10,000 km of brutal terrain. The perception that cars, motorcycles or even bicycles need to be big and heavy to tackle off-road terrain is a triumph of marketing over reality.

vespa electric scooter

In contrast with many 4×4 cars, the humble Vespa is capable of far more than its image suggests

Going back further still, designers at Citroen after the war were asked to design from scratch a low-cost, simple to use and maintain, reliable and economical off-roader. The brief also required that the car deliver 78 mpg and be capable of carrying four farm workers across a muddy field carrying 50 kg of luggage and a tray of fresh eggs. Which were not to break. So was born the 2CV, a car so well-suited to its purpose that it remained in production for 42 years.


Versatile: The engine crank handle on a 1948 2CV could also be used to operate the car’s jack and remove the wheel nuts.

As far as its off-road credentials were concerned , they more than surpassed the original brief. In 1958–1959, two young Frenchmen left Paris in a 2CV and headed south to traverse the African continent before crossing America and finally returning home via Yokohama. They used a little over 1,000 gallons of fuel and 9 sets of tyres to complete the 100,000-kilometre trip.

The standard car works remarkably well off road, but can be further improved by adding drive to the rear wheels. A 2CV modified in this way appeared on an edition of Top Gear in the late 1990s and went head to head with a Land Rover Defender – an off-road vehicle used by armed forces around the world. The 2CV won.

| ‘The bikes were unremarkable in every respect – it was the riders that showed extraordinary endurance and skill’

A fashion for over-engineered off-roaders could be said to apply as much to bicycles as it does to cars. Bikes with sturdy frames, heavy suspended forks and balloon tyres are popular with leisure cyclists and commuters alike. However, the pioneer adventure cyclists of the 1890s took to the snowy wilds of northern Canada 80 years before the advent of mountain bikes. The bikes they used were unremarkable in every respect – it was the riders that showed extraordinary endurance and skill.

cyclist winter circa 1900

Hardy soul: The cover of Terrence Cole’s account of Alaskan cycling at the turn of the twentieth century, Wheels on Ice.

Making rationale choices over how and when to travel is vital if we are to safeguard the environment. But even if image is a deciding factor, when you open your newspaper this Sunday to be greeted by an ad for the latest gleaming SUV, consider for a moment the vehicles that truly define the spirit of adventure; the plucky little Vespas that conquered the Paris Dakar, the continent-conquering Citroen 2CV and the arctic cycling pioneers of the 1890s who thought nothing of setting off across the Canadian arctic on a bog-standard bicycle.

Get on your bike with ETA cycle insurance

For over 26 years the ETA has been working hard to encourage healthy and sustainable ways to travel. It’s the reason we developed ETA cycle insurance. In contrast with other providers, we offer a sympathetic policy on storage. As long as a shed door is locked, the bicycles stored within do not require any further security. In addition, the policy covers stolen quick-release components and for added peace of mind, claims are handled in-house. Furthermore, bikes are never devalued, no matter their age. Hardly surprising that The Good Shopping Guide rated us ethical in Britain.

Travel green in 2017

GoEuro packs Europe’s diverse and complex transport system into a simple app that compares European flights with coach and rail prices for the same journey. Results can be filtered to show the cheapest and fastest options, while a third filter takes into account price, duration and departure time.

The app draws on data from more than 150 companies to allow you to plan a trip search from anywhere to anywhere in Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It will be of particular interest to those wishing to reduce the environmental impact of their travel. The average person in Britain already travels 10,400 km each year, a figure that does not include flights abroad. Rail and coach travel produces less damaging emissions than flying, but it can be complicated to compare different modes of transport alongside one another.

rail travel

Mile-for-mile, air travel is the most environmentally damaging form of transport there is  – so the simplest way to travel in a ‘green’ way is to avoid it altogether.

There are plenty of alternatives. Loco2 is a recently launched web tool which allows you to plan and book rail travel from any British station to anywhere in Europe. Taking the train may be slower, but you’ll travel guilt-free and have a rich travel experience before you even arrive at your destination (not to mention getting an early start on that holiday reading).

The much-loved InterRail scheme takes the concept of train travel itself as an adventure to the next level, allowing near-unlimited rail travel across 30 European countries across a set number of days. Adults can get passes for 10 days (under 25s travel at a reduced rate) and embrace the freedom to go where they please on an unforgettable transcontinental adventure.

rail travel in Europe

For those of us who prefer a more rewarding, low-stress alternative to flying, which brings us closer to the world we live in and reduces our contribution to climate change, there is The Man in Seat Sixty-One, a site explaining how to travel comfortably & affordably by train or ferry.

Finally, travel provider Bike Express makes European cycle touring holidays a breeze. Their coach-and-trailer set up whisks you and your bike to a variety of departure points on the continent.

Once you’ve decided where to go, another consideration for anyone wanting to make their break as ethical as possible is spending. Tourist pounds spent on independent businesses, markets and operators can bring benefits to people at your destination. Use a guide like the Ethical Travel Guide published by Tourism Concern to find out how to benefit your host community through your stay.

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