Kate Strong completes Climate Cycle: a 5,000km lap of Britain for the planet

The record-breaking cyclist from London attended almost 50 environmental projects and schools on her journey

Clock13:30, Tuesday 5th September 2023
Kate Strong enjoys the sunset during her lap of the United Kingdom

Courtesy of Kate Strong

Kate Strong enjoys the sunset during her lap of the United Kingdom

When she emerged from the pandemic, record-breaking cyclist and age-group champion triathlete Kate Strong was looking for some good news. From where she was sitting, the world was a dark place: the climate was changing irreversibly, and instead of uniting around the cause, Britain appeared divided.

Strong decided to seek out community for herself, and set out on a lap of the United Kingdom, planning to engage with local people as she went. In doing so, Strong hoped to understand how the climate crisis sat in the British consciousness, and sought to bring new vigour to the national conversation about our relationship with the environment. Handily for GCN, she undertook her journey on a bicycle, and so, a couple of days after she completed her circumnavigation, we caught up with her to find out more.

Strong's bikepacking "baptism of fire"

“The bike ride is called Climate Cycle,” she told GCN.

“It was 3,000 miles, but it was closer to 3,300, around mainland Britain on a handmade bamboo bike. I wanted to use sport as a vehicle to connect people, so I was trying to step away from competition more into the collaboration and community side of things.”

Strong is an experienced cyclist. She’s held the world title for age group triathlon, and holds a number of cycling world records – in one, 12 and 24 hours, she’s cycled further on an indoor bike than anyone else. Strong might have spent a lot of time on the saddle, but going from highly focused indoor training to a three-month slog around the perimeter of the UK was a leap into the deep end.

“Before this, I'd only slept one night overnight in the tent with my bicycle, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire.”

Sure enough, Strong had her fair share of Britain’s temperamental weather, including a full week of solid rain as she rode south towards the Lake District

“The roads were pretty busy, and it was just absolutely freezing. [...]  I couldn't do anything but just sort of be in the misery.”

Thankfully, the weather gave Strong another opportunity to make new connections and rebuild her faith in society. When the weather got too bad, she used WarmShowers, a network of cyclists hosting each other for free.

“Having complete strangers house me, put me up, sometimes feed me, it just really warmed my heart that, you know, we are good people out there and they just wanted to look after me.”

In spite of our particularly severe summer here in the UK, Strong is a bikepacking convert.

“I love it. I'm already planning, even just cycling to Brighton, cycling the south coast for a week. Yeah, a hundred percent – already planning the next trip to do it slow on the bike.”

Reaching communities across the UK

Of course, this wasn’t just a bikepacking jolly. Strong was setting out to stir hearts and minds, and engage with communities in the UK. Whilst keeping on top of her daily mileage – Strong averaged 60 heavily-laden touring kilometres for 90 days – she stopped off to lead almost 50 events in her 90-day journey. She took to school assemblies, town halls and environmental projects to address the most pressing issues of the day, from factory farming, to rising sea levels, to Britons’ right to roam. Sometimes, it was about getting like-minded people together to talk solutions – Strong visited renewable energy projects, communes, eco schools and sustainable brands.

Sometimes, though, it was about getting a better understanding of people who’ve been left out of the climate change debate. Strong spoke of her visit to north east England, where the discontinuation of steel and coal mining in the late 20th century has led to deprivation that many communities are still recovering from almost half a century on.

“In north east England, I got a tour of the closed down mines, the steel and the coal works. Obviously, we had a little clash around climate, but that's also why I was doing [the Climate Cycle] - to understand what's important to people. They just were saddened by the lack of jobs.”

Cycling's role in tackling climate change

In Strong’s view, cycling can play a crucial role in Britain’s response to the climate crisis, and not just because it’s better for the environment than driving.

“It connects us to nature. We feel the weather change; we feel the wind in our hair; we notice the trees that we're passing, and the smells and the buzz of the bees – or the lack thereof. So cycling really does bring home areas that we pass through so we can protect them more, as well as areas that we don't like, that we know we need to start supporting to step up and make either greener or, you know, cleaner.”

Of course, cycling isn’t without its issues. For Strong, our unhealthy consumerist streak is the worst part of cycling.

“Can we change n+1 as the default and start capping our number of bicycles? Because I think we’ve got producing bikes pretty much down pat. There's not much more we can do, so we need to stop buying and start repurposing or reusing the kit that we have, rather than always buying the next fad or another bike, et cetera.”

What's next for Strong?

To that end, Strong has started on her next mission: to get bikes to people who need them by tapping into the enormous number of bikes that have fallen to the wayside to fester in storage containers, bike shops and garden sheds.

“I’m now working with a company in El Salvador, as well as in less deprived areas in Britain to get access to children from schools to those bikes. So if anyone knows an area that they've got a surplus of bikes, I'm starting to make the connections to get them back on the roads and give them to the kids so they can start cycling to school.”

In addition, the next project in her pipeline is aimed at the next generation. When asked what’s next, Strong responded:

“A school sustainability project to get more kids connected to nature as well as green transport and cycling, and that's being launched imminently.”

It seems apparent that Strong puts her hope of change in the next generation, and in grassroots, small-scale action. Her hands-on, face-to-face approach ducks under the stone-wall ideologies of tribalism and brings some humanity to this prickly debate. In a time when environmental activism is being villainised, it’s essential work. As Strong puts it: “My job is to get to schools, engage more people in the conversation and to start cross-pollinating community ideas so we can learn en masse across the country, so we can do what needs to be done.”

Read more about Kate's journey on her website.

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