Touring bikes have come and gone as frequently as my reasons for travelling by bicycle. So here you’ll find a ‘bikeography’ – a list of the bikes I’ve used during my bicycle adventuring career.
As well as being a bit of fun, I hope it’ll help you discern which of the many approaches to equipping yourself is most relevant to you, and hopefully avoid some of the (many) mistakes I’ve made along the way.
2003–2005: The hardtail mountain bike
Having spent a typical British university fresher’s year getting fat, I bought a second hand mountain bike from the now defunct Sidwell Cycles in Exeter in order to burn it all off.
My purchase of the blue Trek 4300, for which I paid £200, was inspired by my housemate Mark, and together we took delight in chucking ourselves down the trails of the nearby woods.
Feeling limited by how far it was possible to cycle in a day and return home before dark, we started dreaming up longer and more ambitious mountain bike trips. But they never happened. We were students. We were too lazy.
2005–2006: The full-suspension mountain bike
It was only after graduating and really having nothing to do that plans became reality. Convinced that the Trek was unfit for a ride across the Scottish Highlands, I sold it and bought a Mongoose Teocali Comp. It was was a great mountain bike – and it couldn’t have been less suited to touring.
I hadn’t heard of panniers or racks. So the three of us embarked – me wearing a British Army backpack, combat fatigues and a pair of SPD shoes – on what would be the most miserable and painful week of our lives.
At the end of the trip, of course, we all decided we’d had so much fun that a much longer and more ambitious trip was in order for the following year.
2007–2011: The complete-and-utter-overkill expedition bike
From cycling across Scotland, the next logical step was to attempt to cycle round the world. High on the success of our Scottish adventure, we decided that to do it mainly off-road would be fun too.
We scoured the mountain bike industry for the most durable components on the market. We’d also noticed lots of off-road tourers using cargo trailers. So we got some of those as well. Then we built our own bikes. The resulting three-wheeled Frankenstein’s monsters were about as nimble as an elephant.
Then we discovered that cycling on road was by far the best way to meet people and thus actually have fun. I spent the next three years dragging this beast a good fifteen thousand miles at a speed at which I calculated would take me eight years to cycle round the world.
2012: The classic road tourer
I got sidetracked from riding the planet, acquired citizenship of a former-Soviet republic, gave up all hope of ever getting a real job, and ended up in Canada. Here I paid a visit to the nice people at Kona Bikes, who gave me one of their flagship Sutra road tourers.
It was a beautiful bike; the 2012 model especially so, and I rode it down the U.S. West Coast to California, wishing I’d ridden a bike like this across Europe five years ago rather than that ridiculous beast I’d gone and built.
For road-based touring in the developed world, that 2012 Sutra wasn’t far short of perfection.
2013: The ‘bent
Leaving the Sutra at my new second home in Armenia, I found myself back in Europe without a touring bike at all. Then a nice bloke from the Netherlands offered me his recumbent, which was going spare. I’d always wanted to try a recumbent.
The only condition was that I pick it up from his house. So I hacked enough credit card signup bonuses to get a free business class flight to Amsterdam, whereupon the Dutchman shook my hand and gave me a Challenge Hurricane and a set of luggage to go with it.
Since I was in the world’s most cycle-friendly country, I figured the best way to learn to actually ride the recumbent would be to pedal it back to England, rather than fly home. So that’s what I did.
2014: The no-budget touring bike
Taking up residence in Bristol and volunteering in a bike recycling workshop, I began work on an idea I’d been discussing with an Irishman on an uninhabited island the previous summer.
The idea was to put together a touring bike and a full set of equipment for as little money as possible. As little money as possible turned out to be £25.17. The goal was to prove – really prove – that you don’t need lots of money to go on a cycling adventure.
To further hammer this point home, I then rode my salvaged Ridgeback Adventure the length of England, and most of Midlothian for good measure, on a total budget of 25p.
2015: The last touring bike I’ll ever need?
Having given away the Ridgeback to a South African student who rode it to Spain and gave it to another South African to ride around Portugal practising blacksmithing, I found myself grabbing the Kona Frankenstein again on my way to ride around Central Europe.
While I rode, I found myself dreaming up a recipe for the ‘ultimate world touring bike’. It would incorporate all I’d learned (and avoid all the mistakes I’d made) in the 8 years since that first adventure across Scotland.
Unlike most vanilla touring bikes, it would be designed for touring literally anywhere in the world for an indefinite amount of time. Serendipitously, I happened across a bike builder who agreed not only to build said dream bike, but also start building them for other people too!
* * *
Will it be the last touring bike I’ll ever need? I’d like to think so – I designed it that way. But only time will tell…