Blogging from the road is something I’ve done since the beginning of my travels. The stories that follow have been written and published from the road itself over several years of bicycle adventuring – from roads in Arctic Scandinavia, Canada & the USA, Europe, and most recently my home country, England, which is perhaps the most unusual tale of the lot.
To make reading them in sequence easier, you’ll find navigation buttons after the end of each instalment (just after the sharing buttons – hint!), which will take you directly to the next part.
Arctic Scandinavia By Bicycle In Midwinter (2011)
I decided to post a series of short daily dispatches from my tent on a one-month journey I made in 2011 from Oslo, Norway, up past the Arctic Circle to Bodo, by way of Swedish Lapland. The twist? It was the middle of winter. I wanted to see if it was possible to travel by bike in extreme cold, and if so, what the experience would be like.
Find out by reading the dispatches, starting with Day 1.
Cycling The U.S. West Coast from Vancouver to San Francisco (2012)
The USA wasn’t a place I expected to push the boundaries of adventure. But that wasn’t really the point of this two-month ride. My younger brother Ben had emigrated to Vancouver years before, and this shared journey to San Francisco would be a way of getting to know each other again as adults.
Plus – the USA did surprise me after all, in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Start reading here.
A Recumbent Microadventure Home From The Netherlands (2013)
This journey came about thanks to a wonderfully random and generous offer from a blog reader in the Netherlands. He wanted to give me his spare recumbent bicycle, on one condition: that I collect it from him in person so he could give me a crash-course in riding it.
Obviously it made sense to practice riding recumbent by cycling home to England. Here’s the first in the four-part series telling the story of that very laid-back and strangely retrospective bike trip.
#freeLEJOG – A No-Budget Bike Tour The Length Of Britain (2014)
Bored with hearing people tell me they could never afford to do a big bike trip, I decided to prove the opposite by cycling the length of Britain on the lowest budget imaginable: zero. Not a penny. No credit card as backup. Nothing. And on a bike I rescued from the scrapyard.
It was the scariest and most memorable three weeks of riding I’ve ever done, and by far the steepest learning curve I’ve ever climbed. Read all about it, starting here.
It’s really quite lovely being a self-published author.
I can do absolutely anything I like with the words that have emanated from my fingertips, without restriction from contractual obligations to publishers or agents, without the pressure to squeeze sales out of my readers in the hope of a royalty cheque that’ll do more than just pay for next week’s food shopping.
I am grateful for this luxurious freedom to do anything at all with what I create.
Such as, for example, serialising the entirety of my first book, Janapar, here on TomsBikeTrip.com.
The book tells the story of the time I spent on the road and off between 2007 and 2011 – my introduction to cycle touring, if you will.
It’s extremely personal. There’s much in it that my proud and childish side doesn’t want known to anyone. But it turns out that quite a few people think it’s a decent enough story. So, now it’s been a few years since it was published, I’d like to share it here in full.
There will be no strings attached. I will not be requiring you to sign up to my newsletter to read the last chapter or something dastardly like that.
(As the festive season nears, I may suggest that – if you like what you’re reading – you gift a signed copy to someone you know for Christmas. But that’ll just be a suggestion. Anyway, you might hate it.)
I simply hope you enjoy the pleasure of reading it, and that the story gives you a glimpse of what those years meant to me, and why the after-effects of the experience as a whole continue to drive everything I do today.
The serialisation will be starting on Monday next week. There’ll be a new section every weekday morning.
If you’ve not got round to reading it yet, you’re going to get to do so for free over the next few weeks and months, in nice little coffee-break-sized chunks.
And if you have already read it, well – either you can read it again if you fancy it (I won’t blame you if you don’t), or you can ignore it and watch out for posts on other topics, of which there will still be plenty.
If you want to get the serialisation delivered directly to you during this time, there’s an email delivery widget for it below. Pop your email address into the form and you’ll get each new article instantly sent to your inbox:
Today, I’d like to take a break from Iran and Patagonia to talk again about Janapar, my previous adventure film and book project, with which which some of you may be (for me) uncomfortably familiar.
It’s been more than two years since James and I released the film to the world on DVD and as a download via iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere. This, unfortunately, is a long time in the film and book industry, and sales have been steadily declining since the release. Yet we still have not recouped our costs for the project, and our accountant is getting increasingly ratty about it.
Over the last few months, then, I’ve been dreaming up clever ways to stimulate renewed interest in the weird story of my unorthodox love-life.
And today, I’m really excited to be able to share with you a brand new range of merchandise from the film and book!
Let’s begin with the limited-edition men’s and women’s T‑shirts in a range of sizes and colours and shapes.
These unique T‑shirts are emblazoned with inspirational quotes from the film. Men’s tees sport Tom’s classic opener, “I really don’t know… what I’m doing”, whereas women’s tees proudly feature Tenny’s all-time show-stopper, “The public?!?”.
Made from 100% organic sun-bleached cotton, and pre-sweated-into by Tom and Tenny themselves for a truly authentic look, these T‑shirts are hand-stitched in real Armenian orphanages – so you’ll be supporting a corrupt former-Soviet republic with every purchase.
Next up is the all-new Tom Allen failed-round-the-world-cyclist action figure!
Constructed entirely from recycled 1.5‑litre mineral water bottles, the figure cycles round and round in circles, wearing a stupid hat and asking, “What the f*** am I doing here?” over and over again before face-planting into the concrete.
Suitable for kids of all ages. (It’s a wind-up; no batteries needed.)
The final item of merchandise is pretty special – a replica of the actual bicycle Tom rode in Janapar, with a free turbo-trainer thrown in so you can re-enact the entire movie from the comfort of your own home!
The bike is, in fact, entirely unsuited to touring. You too can spend four months slogging across Europe when it should only take you two. For the ultimate in authenticity we’ve arbitrarily spray-painted bits of it orange, pre-broken the frame at the rear dropout, and had it fixed by a Middle Eastern back-street welder who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.
Comes with a free Tom Allen waterproof face mask and a free inflatable globe!
Well! This competition has been something of a revelation. Mainly in terms of the sheer variety of trip ideas submitted.
Who’d have thought that there were folk out there planning to tour the breweries of the world, explore countries while researching historical-mythological novels, use bike touring to find a new home, and string lectures along the route of pedal-powered journeys?
There’s something really reassuring about all of this. There’s an abundance of imagination and passion out there. It’s inspirational to get an glimpse of it through this giveaway, this tiny cross-section of the adventurous journeys that are taking shape right now, not just here in the UK but all across the planet.
Unfortunately I only have a single bicycle to give away. I wish I had one for everyone who entered! Before revealing the ‘winner’, though, I’d like to go into a little more detail about what I was looking for — what kind of a trip plan I considered appropriate and in keeping with the ethos of the #freeLEJOG experiment:
More than anything else, this project arose from the sheer spirit of adventure; the spirit of saying bollocks to institutionalised thinking, throwing oneself wholeheartedly at the unknown, putting one’s fate in the hands of the universe. A scary thing to do, a grand départ from the comfort zone, and an experience guaranteed to be valuable, memorable and absolutely worthwhile.
I was looking primarily for trip plans formed along these lines. There were lots to choose from!
Space to reap the true rewards of adventure is provided by keeping things simple and flexible, allowing for failures, lessons, changes of direction, departures from pre-planned itineraries, departures from expectations. This ruled out trip plans built on tight schedules and complicated concepts; trips whose success depended on being in certain places at certain times.
There is nothing whatsoever wrong with plans like this. But it is not quite what I wanted to get at with this project — especially when a less-than-100%-reliable bike is concerned. A shortlist began to form.
“A life without risk is not worth living,” said someone significantly wiser than me. The strongest learning experiences come out of the greatest hardships, and doing something involving a complete paradigm shift and a move to a totally unfamiliar environment is a sure recipe for challenges of that kind.
This swung the balance in favour of people with less travelling experience who were pushing the boat all the way out.
There was no shortage whatsoever of imaginative trip plans submitted for this competition. However, some entrants took this on board for the actual entries themselves, going to considerable pains to convince us that their idea should be chosen. Someone who demonstrated imagination this early on would surely have little trouble innovating solutions to the inevitable hurdles and challenges of touring on a no-budget bike.
This consideration had the effect of elevating a few particularly compelling efforts above the remainder of briefer, vaguer entries.
Finally, I was looking for a trip that was not overplanned or overthought; for someone who’d see the opportunity to take off on an adventure, find the next available space in their calendar (or make one) and go. On that note, trip plans that were ready to roll within days or weeks took precedence over those slated for departure months into the future.
The bike is begging to be ridden somewhere. Summer won’t last forever. So the sooner, the better!
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There was one entry in particular that demonstrated all of the above qualities really well. And I think we’ll all agree that Tegan Phillips is a deserving ‘winner’ of the temporary stewardship of this set of adventure-enabling tools and the opportunity to use them for a truly enviable adventure. Just check out her fantastic video entry:
Who wouldn’t want to see that happen?!?
I’ll be encouraging Tegan to pass on the bike and kit in the same spirit, putting her in touch with other deserving entrants whose plans for a little later in the year might match up with the end of her own trip.
As I said before — in true clichéd manner — everyone who entered this competition is a winner, really. All these plans are out there. Commitments have been made, dates have been set! And I have no doubt that each of these entrants will, as a result of vocalising their plans, feel a renewed impetus to make them happen, with or without a pile of free gear (which is really nothing more than a brief head-start).
I’m hoping many of them will be good enough to share their tales from the road in future editions of this blog.
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A special mention to Will, whose awesome idea to ‘relay’ this bike around the world has really got me thinking.
It occurred to me that there are plenty of veteran cycle tourers in this community with cupboards of kit and garages of bikes all woefully under-used and gathering dust… perhaps we could get these bikes out on the road and adventuring again?
Imagine: you pass on a bike, a tent, a stove, or a pair of panniers (or all of the above). It gets handed from person to person; they use it for as long as is relevant; they pass it on in trust that the new user and keeper will do likewise.
The resulting series of stories that might emerge, as the bikes and gear passed from one person to the next, would hardly be making it ‘about the bike ‘, as was suggested in one comment — rather, it’d continue to demonstrate that cycle touring isn’t about possessions or notions of ownership, nor the ability to choose the perfect gear.
Instead, it’d show that it’s possible to make these journeys with and on whatever bike and gear comes to hand — regardless of where it came from and how you came across it. In other words… it’s not about the bike. (Am I even allowed to say that any more?)
Come on, ye who profess to be about inspiring future adventurers — now’s the chance to prove it! Who’s in?
Seriously. If you’ve got a working touring bike and/or touring gear gathering dust (no matter how basic), and you’d be up for pooling it for generations of future bicycle travellers to ride and share their stories, get in touch!
Over the last few weeks I’ve been blogging about my biggest challenge yet. It has nothing to do with distance, speed, mileage, or any other kind of challenge we traditionally construct for ourselves. No; the challenge was to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats without any money whatsoever.
What I hoped to achieve was an insight into the world of free travel. People have been wandering pennilessly for as long as journeys have existed, but nowadays the perceived barriers to travelling — or doing anything — if you don’t have much money are bigger than ever. I wanted to see if those barriers were real or imagined, and how you might not just overcome them but enjoy yourself in the process too.
If you haven’t read the blog series and want to know what happened, start here and follow the journey from start to finish (or get on the mailing list for the forthcoming ebook version, which subscribers will get for free).
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In the meantime, I want to give the bicycle I did it on and all of the gear to another adventurous soul — someone who’s up for taking the reins and heading off on an adventurous bicycle journey this summer.
The bike and gear cost less than the price of a round of drinks (that’s another story), and I’ve proven it’s capable of taking you across a country. And if it can cross one country, it can cross a great many more.
It’s a simple machine, a steel frame with basic parts you’ll be able to fix and replace anywhere very cheaply — which makes it a fantastic choice for taking off into the great unknown.
Panniers & rain covers
Beer-can stove and tin mug
Basic tools & spares (inc. Gaffa Tape and cable ties)
Various other useful bits and bobs
As much help and advice from me (in person, phone, Skype, email, etc) as you like.
What’s not included
Spirit of adventure (bring your own)
Any guarantee about what will happen!
Because I have just the one bike, I’m obliged to run a competition of sorts to choose who gets it. The rules are very simple:
Just tell me and the rest of the community here about the plans you’ve got for it. Anything at all.
Do this by posting your ideas in the comments section of this post.
Finally, share this article (social media buttons below) to spread the word and make things fair.
The terms and conditions are equally simple:
You’ll send me a write-up and photos of your trip (to be published here),
You’ll pass on all the gear to somebody else (for free) when you no longer need it,
You’ll ideally collect the bike from me in either Bristol or London, but if you can’t, I’ll pay for it to be couriered anywhere in mainland Britain.
Lastly, the bike will suit a bloke of average height, with a bit of room for adjustment. Don’t enter if you won’t be able to ride it!
Coolest plan submitted before midnight on Sunday 13th July 2014 wins everything. (Not sure what’s appropriate? Read the #freeLEJOG blog series — I’m looking for plans made in a similar spirit!)