Cycling to Syria – Back in the Saddle!

In 2016 I embarked on the somewhat ambitious target of cycling from London to Syria, reporting on the refugee ‘crisis’ from the saddle of my bicycle. In 46 days, I got as far as Vienna, before rushing back to work on Foiled at the Edinburgh Festival. It was a busy summer!

I always said that I’d carry on the cycle some day. Well, some day has arrived.

This August I’m joining up with the Thighs of Steel crew to cycle two legs of their seven-legged ride from London to Athens. My thighs will be steeling the mountains and forests of the Balkans from Ljubliana, through Hungary and Romania, to Sofia in Bulgaria.

Thighs of Steel is an epic annual ride that raises £50,000 for a refugee community project in Athens, Khora. It’s a pretty spectacular undertaking, made all the more spectacular for the fact that this will be its third consecutive year. Most people – myself included – struggle to ride so far just once in their lives, let alone every year.

As you may have noticed, however, Sofia in Bulgaria is not Syria. Well spotted. This is where the logistics get interesting.

The second series of Foiled is being recorded over my birthday weekend at the end of June, so I could go out cycling in July before Thighs of Steel. I could, in effect, do the second half of my London-Syria cycle backwards, cycling from Sofia to Syria before looping back to Ljubliana to fill in the missing segment.

That would be silly.

Another option is to take a bus out to Italy, cycle 1000km the length of Italy, before picking up ferries over to Greece and thence to the Aegean islands and Turkey. To me this seems to make a little more sense, for no better reason that gelato. But also from a story point of view I’d like to see the impact of migrations from North Africa that are landing in Italy and Sicily, as well as the migrations from Syria and points east.

Wherever I eventually decide to ride (and time is running short, and the bus places filling up) I hope you’ll join me on my little adventure and follow the stories I uncover and share along the way.

The 1600km ride from London to Vienna in 2016 was a very physical way to learn about the crisis of European leadership, the courage of refugees and the welcoming heroism of communities from Belgium to Bavaria. Here’s to more of the same!

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

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