A FRENCH teacher has quit his job at a Henley school to cycle 5,000 miles across Europe.
The trek from Spain to Norway in Easter will be Andrew Sykes’ third European trip on his Ridgeback Panorama touring bike, named Reggie.
He will start at Tarifa, at the southern tip of Spain, and travel through France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Sweden before finishing at North Cape, the most northerly point of Norway.
Mr Sykes was head of languages at Gillotts School in Henley for eight years but left the role at the end of last term.
He now hopes to live off the earnings from self-published books about his cycling adventures.
In 2010 he rode more than 3,000 miles from Reading to Brindisi in Italy and in 2013 he cycled from Cape Sounio in Greece to Cape St Vincent in Portugal.
Mr Sykes, 45, who lives in Reading, said: “There is security in a teaching job — you could stay there for 30 years because we always need teachers — but I left because of my desire to do something different before it was too late.
“I wanted to do a final third trip on the Continent. I can’t keep cycling across Europe forever but I wanted to go from north to south, the longest possible route without falling into the sea.
“The first ride was a challenge but not beyond what I think most people would be capable of if they put their mind to it.
“The challenge with this one is crossing areas with very different climates. It will be hot in France and Germany but as you get further north it will get very cold.
“The finish is well into the Arctic Circle so the plan is to start just after Easter and hopefully finish by July or August.
“And this time I don’t have the deadline of having to be back by September 1!”
Mr Sykes, who used to cycle about 14 miles to and from work every day, was born in Yorkshire and graduated from York University with a maths degree in 1990.
He worked as an accountant in London and at campsites in France before retraining as a teacher in Reading. He joined Gillotts in 2006.
He has cycled since he was 10 and didn’t own a car until he moved to Reading in 2001.
Mr Sykes said: “I’d say I’m fit but not hyper-fit and the biggest thing going for me is that I cycle on a regular basis. My main training is just years of cycling from Reading to Henley every day.
“I’ve always lived and worked in places where I can cycle. I went to university in York, which is a big cycling city, and lived in London where you don’t need a car.
“A colleague once asked me if I was still cycling and in response I asked him if he was still driving. I’m not doing it as a fad, it’s just the most practical way of getting around.”
Mr Sykes has already written two books based on his adventures, Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie in 2011 and Along the Med on a Bike Called Reggie last year.
These began life as a running blog of his cycle trips but have now sold more than 10,000 copies between them.
A third book, which has yet to be given a title, will follow his latest challenge and will be released next year.
Mr Sykes said he didn’t set out on the first trip intending to write a book but was persuaded by a friend who had been reading his online blog.
He said: “She was pregnant during my first trip and had been reading the blog every day. She said I should turn it into a book but I said I’m a teacher not a writer.
“The following Easter she told me again that I should do it and because I had two weeks off I started putting together bits and pieces from the blog. I finished the book three or four months later and after failing to find a publisher I self-published it as a paperback and e-book.
“I would have been delighted if I sold 200 copies, I never imagined it would sell thousands.”
Following the success of the first book, Mr Sykes went into the second challenge on the lookout for interesting anecdotes for a follow-up.
He said: “The second trip was done from the perspective of wanting to write a book so I was always keeping an eye out for things that would make interesting stories.
“For example, in Athens I met a woman who was leading a group fighting for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece who took me on a tour of the Parthenon.
“It was more of a challenge writing the second book because it was a different journey and the book was longer. It went on sale on August and has been doing pretty well.”
Mr Sykes said it was strange balancing his day job as a teacher and his burgeoning literary career.
He said: “That’s something I found quite bizarre because I’m a normal bloke who taught French at a school in South Oxfordshire but others see me as an explorer, adventurer and book writer.
“It’s interesting having these two personas. The students knew me as their teacher before the books came out but as the years went by they became aware.
“They found it strange that I gave my bike a name but it’s much easier to write about an inanimate object if you give it a personality. Gillotts headteacher Catharine Darnton was also extremely supportive in giving me the time off to do what I wanted. She never turned around and said ‘you can’t do this, we need you here’.”
Mr Sykes estimates that Reggie, who was bought from AW Cycles in Caversham in 2010, has already racked up almost 20,000 miles ahead of the latest journey.
He said: “Reggie’s still going strong. He’s recently had a refit and is looking brand new again, though the only bits left from the original bike are the frame and brake mechanisms.
“I’m hoping the cycling will continue. I’m looking forward to this trip and I’ve got some vague plans after that.
“I’ve done Europe to death and I’m no Ranulph Fiennes but I’d like to visit somewhere like Japan.”