What Is Adventure Cycle Touring?

Climbing aboard a bicycle is perhaps the most accessible way to have an adventure.

It doesn’t have to involve quitting your job, spending years planning, or embarking upon a long-winded odyssey of self discovery. It doesn’t have to be heroic. It need not involve ‘epic’ days in the saddle, or energy gels, or lycra. Nor does such a journey necessitate physical hardship, heavy traffic, mountain ranges and continental crossings on £5 a day and with nothing but pasta and stock-cubes for sustenance.

It can involve all of these things, of course. But sometimes it can simply mean going somewhere new, nosing around for long enough to unwind from daily life, and coming home refreshed. That could describe a weekend as well as a year on the road.

Cycle touring is whatever you want it to be. And you can call it whatever you like – cycle touring, adventure cycling, bikepacking, even simply travelling by bicycle; these are all nuanced terms for the act of getting on a bike and going on a journey with it.

While a short trip is enough for many, some choose to take things further. The number of people who have cycled round the world could be easily estimated to be in the thousands. Still more have made unique adaptations to the basic formula. Joff Summerfield has so far made three attempts to encircle the planet on a penny farthing. Tom Kevill-Davies based a transcontinental trip entirely on sampling and recording local recipes. Emily Chappell got her adventuring rocks off by cycling across Alaska in the depths of winter on a ‘fatbike’.

Even these are conservative examples. Delve deeper into the stories out there and you’ll find dudes building custom surfboard carriers for their tourers and riding sandy coastlines in search of the perfect break. You’ll find people taking ultralight bikepacking rigs and charting the unmapped dirt trails of South America, riding tall bikes the length of Africa, and forming bands and roaming Europe on busking bike trips. You’ll find families cycling across continents with children of all ages, homeschooling in their tents by night and taking them on the best field trips imaginable by day.

You’ll find people recreating traditional rite-of-passage journeys in full costume, people earning a living on the road by selling hand-made jewellery on exotic beaches, people riding from farm to farm as they work their way around the world. You’ll find cyclist photographers who spend months exploring on the proceeds of roadside postcard sales. You’ll hear of people dishing out bicycle-powered smoothies, not for money but just because they could. You’ll find people who travel money-free and barter, dumpster-dive and volunteer their way across countries and continents. Whatever kind of eccentricity you might imagine, be sure that someone is out there doing it on a bicycle.

Yes, you’re allowed to have fun with cycle touring. Not the type of fun you later convince yourself you had. Actual, real fun. Sit by the riverside and read your favourite book. Wallow in a state of post-lunch, post-beer tranquility for hours every afternoon. Cook elaborate meals. Eat ice cream. Brew coffee. Occasionally, do some cycling.

Sleep in wonderful, wild places that only you will ever know. Sleep in terrible, ill-advised places where no-one would dream of looking. Meet new people every day. Ride across deserts in a state of utter solitude. Ignore everything except what’s happening right here, right now. Daydream until you can’t remember where you are.

Leave your phone and laptop at home. I dare you. I double-dare you. Throw out your calendar. Spontaneously change your plans, your flights, your future. Cycle touring can feel like the closest thing to freedom you’ll ever experience. Embrace it.

(Header photo courtesy of Jamie Bowlby-Whiting.)

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This is an excerpt from The TomsBikeTrip.com Guide to Adventure Cycle Touring, which is out now as a Kindle edition, priced at £4.99 in the UK, and also available from all international Kindle Stores. Click here to find out more and order your copy.

2 Responses to “What Is Adventure Cycle Touring?”

  1. Jamie

    Hi Tom,

    Last year, I found your website and quickly consumed its content only to start dreaming and planning my travelling adventures. At first it was, Europe, Canada (West to East), South America (Maybe Chile, no wait Bolivia) then I started reading about something called the GDMBR. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking but I basically thought, why not? So I took my 1996 mountain bike and configured it into a steel road touring machine. Little did I know, my plan to attack an off-route mountain bike route might prove daunting for a first go at bicycle touring.

    However, there I was in July with a ticket to fly to Banff, AB (Canada) setting my sights on covering 2600 miles to New Mexico. I bought the tires, the Arkel panniers and the maps for the trip. I searched out the gear and read your blog for advice. It was time to make it happen or so I thought… Upon arriving, all I could see were these monster truck bikes with plus tires and soft bags attached to their frames. I felt out of my element – a rookie amongst experts. The trip lasted a week due to a busted ankle and some really sore knees and a bike setup that felt all wrong for the undertaking. Here I am a year later with all this wealth of knowledge – realizing that bike packing and touring are the same but very different all at once. Which brings me to my question for you Tom, why do you continue to tour with that traditional pannier setup rather than take on the wild places with a more rugged setup? I’m curious…what keeps you going towards those roads rather than the wilderness or the wild?

    Great blog…it inspired me and continues to do so.

    Jamie

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      The simple answer is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Touring satisfies me mainly because of the cultural/human element, for which the standard setup works fine. I enjoy mountain biking but it’s not my focus and I’m quite happy with day-long offroad rides with no luggage.

      But do take a look at my blog from Iran in January – it’s not that black and white…

      Reply

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