Categories
Books Philosophy Of Travel Product Launches Touring Advice

There Is No Better Time To Be Planning Your Next Dream Cycling Adventure

Now is obviously not the time to be setting off on a globetrotting bike trip.

But as we’ve all been discovering over the last few weeks, disruptions create space for thinking… differently.

Amid much uncertainty and, yes, real hardship and trauma, we also have a priceless opportunity to reimagine the path we’ve been travelling through life, and to redirect those parts of our futures we can control towards newly-reconsidered destinations.

That’s why – even if our departure dates remain to-be-confirmed, and even if the places we’re thinking of going are closer to home – I would argue that there is no better time to be planning a dream bicycle-mounted adventure.

If you’ve been sitting on such a dream for some time, it’s likely it and others have recently resurfaced with a new sense of urgency.

So why not start laying the groundwork? Why not get some of those big decisions made, those big questions answered, those big obstacles overcome?

Why not commit, right now, to beginning your journey to the starting line?

I am willing to bet that you have, over the last few weeks, overcome a challenge you never imagined you’d have to face, or solved a problem you previously considered unsolvable. Whether financial, existential, philosophical, or spiritual; the details don’t matter. What matters is that you have experienced the necessity of thinking in a way you’ve never had to think before.

Your mind is primed for doing it again – but this time for something you’ve chosen to do.

What is happening right now should be a source of empowerment; a reminder – if you needed it – that we are all more resourceful and adaptable than the routines of just a couple of months ago might have suggested.

It should be a lesson that whatever rationalisations or excuses or pain points have been standing in the way of that dream can be overcome, so long as you make doing so a condition of necessity.

The easiest way to achieve that necessity is to commit. Make a promise to yourself. Ignore those tropes about publicising your goals and having an audience hold you to account. Social media parted ways with reality a long time ago. This should be a deal you make quietly with your soul.

There has never been a better time to do so.

Because you’ve finally remembered that the best time is always now.


Every morning during the last six weeks of lockdown I have got up at 6am and spent several hours rewriting and updating my newcomers’ guide to cycling adventures.

Titled How To Hit The Road: A Beginners’ Guide To Cycle Touring & Bikepacking, it’s no coincidence I’ve chosen this moment to publish the second edition of my most popular book to date.

Spring is usually the time to be planning summer travels, but this year we’re suddenly thinking further ahead. I decided it was more important than ever I do all I can to help the adventure cycling community – and most of all those who’ve just discovered it – to travel the long road towards realising their ambitious dreams.

How To Hit The Road is now available as a Kindle ebook on all Amazon platforms. (A much-requested paperback edition will follow shortly.)

You can head straight to the Kindle store to download the free sample, or check out this page for more information about what you’ll find inside – and I’d be more than happy to answer any questions about the book in the comments below!

Header photo by Carl-David Granbäck. Used with permission.

Categories
Janapar Just For Fun Product Launches

‘Janapar: The Game’ Is Now Available. Download It For Free Today!

For the last few weeks I’ve been putting the finishing touches to a project I’ve been working on for many years – and with so many of us in isolation and looking for things to do, the timing could not be better!

Yes, that’s right – the story of my award-winning documentary Janapar: Love on a Bike has finally been adapted for video game format!

Mixing both role-playing and action genres, Janapar: The Game will take you on a failed journey around the world by bicycle, teaching you tough lessons about life and love in the process.

You’ll start Level 1 by riding your bicycle around the rolling country lanes of the English Midlands, in search of the answers to a series of existential questions. Every answer you find scores you valuable Enlightenment Points, depending on how well it supports your conviction that you should just burn all your bridges and hit the road forever.

Once you’ve collected enough Enlightenment Points, you’ll be able to upgrade your bicycle and advance to Level 2! Your objective will be to pedal across Europe to Istanbul before winter arrives. But life on the road isn’t that simple – you’ll face a series of obstacles, including fixing mechanical problems on the roadside against the clock, being distracted by beautiful women in every city you pass through, and winning childish arguments with your riding partners via a series of Monkey Island-style multiple-choice questions.

The difficulty really ramps up in Level 3, where you will be fighting to keep your Morale-O-Meter above zero in the face of rain and snow, steep hills, vicious dogs, and the complete breakdown of your relationship with your riding partner. Every Turkish tea shop you reach will replenish your Morale-O-Meter to 100% – but you can get up to 200% in bonus morale by convincing the tea-shop owner that you’re too poor to pay your bill!

In Level 4, you’ll be presented with your biggest challenge yet – overcoming lifelong social awkwardness in order to persuade a beautiful Armenian girl to join you on your big life-changing bicycle adventure. Don’t say the wrong thing, or else she’ll leave the bar and the game will be over!

Level 5 is another race against time to reach your girlfriend’s hometown of Tehran on your bicycle before your her Morale-O-Meter reaches zero and she goes back to the perfectly decent life she had before she met you. As every aspect of life on the road is revealed to be utterly shit, you’ll have to come up with ever-more-ingenious things to say to keep her going, before facing up against the first big boss of Janapar: The Game – the Angry Father-In-Law.

In Level 6 you’ll be back on your own, having lost your fight against the boss of Level 5. Your mission is to pedal into a constant sandy headwind for six months as you cross the Middle East and the Sahara Desert. As you do, you’ll have to negotiate corrupt traffic police, undercover Syrian intelligence agents, and a hellish wild-goose-chase from embassy to embassy to apply for visas, all the while accompanied by a voice in your head repeatedly asking ‘what the actual fuck are you doing here?’.

Level 7 is an action-packed rollercoaster of a ride across the highlands of Ethiopia. In each mountain village, you’ll get a special speed boost power-up if you find a way through without being seen – a tough challenge for a white bloke on a bicycle. But if you don’t, you’ll get pelted with rocks by huge gangs of barefooted children. Don’t get brain damage!

Level 8 is a mystery-solving level, in which you have to find a way to cross the Gulf of Aden without simply getting on a short-haul flight like everyone else. Which Arabian dhow captain will take you across these pirated waters for the least amount of money? How will you survive the nights when you’re too tight-fisted to pay for a hotel room? Only one way to find out!

In Level 9, your mission is simple: cross the entire southern Arabian peninsular in high summer while avoiding the outbreak of civil war in Yemen, dying of dehydration in the Empty Quarter, or your bicycle breaking catastrophically in the middle of the Omani desert. Replenish your Morale-O-Meter by finding air-conditioned petrol stations with fridges full of ice-cold orange Mirinda. Earn bonus points for convincing the owner to let you stay the whole day!

In the final level of Janapar: The Game you’ll face your toughest adversary yet – the Iranian secret police! You’ve arrived in the middle of a massive political demonstration and they’re convinced you’re a British spy. Answer one question incorrectly and both you and your father-in-law will be thrown in jail and the game will be over – but get through the interrogation successfully and they’ll give you a cup of tea and send you off to be reunited with your girlfriend, with whom you’ll live happily ever after. You win!

The end credits feature loveable scenes of you and your girlfriend cycling back across Europe to your parents’ house in England, before those existential questions show up once more – and the whole game starts all over again.

Click here to download the Janapar: The Game right now for Android or iOS devices – its free!

Categories
Armenia 2018 Books

Researching Armenia’s Most Comprehensive Travel Guidebook – By Bicycle

There’s another purpose to my in-depth bicycle tour of Armenia, which is also a nice development for my occasional career as an author:

I’ve been greatly honoured with the task of researching and writing the next edition of the Bradt Travel Guide to Armenia.

This British publication is the only dedicated English-language guidebook to Armenia currently in print. The original book was put together by a husband-and-wife team who first came to Armenia in 2001 and have been revising and updating it for three further editions since. But Bradt needed a new author for the 5th edition, and the commissioning editor just happened to be in the audience for my lecture at the RGS last February.

The current edition of the book is impressively thorough and meticulously researched, particularly on the many historical sites embedded in the mountains of Armenia. My task is to broaden out its appeal to include all that’s new in terms of outdoor & adventure tourism (and that’s a lot of things), while delicately maintaining the book’s heritage.

Given the tight schedule – the book will be on the shelves in December – this will certainly be a challenge! But it’s proving be a fantastic way to continue my mission to showcase Armenia, especially in the wake of the globally reported Velvet Revolution, which yesterday took a second big step forward when the leader of the movement, Nikol Pashinyan, was elected Prime Minister of Armenia by a 59–42 parliamentary majority – an incredible display of the power of direct action, given that most seats belong to the party targeted by the protest movement.

What’s nice about the role of a guidebook author and updater is that it magically opens doors.

A random tourist might not be able to easily secure meetings with the directors of National Parks, town mayors, ecotourism NGO directors, volunteers in far-flung villages, etc; nor might they want to. But all that is now part of the journey, and it’s making the ride all the more interesting – not least because of the industry’s still-embryonic status and the consequent enthusiasm for anything that might help drag it out of obscurity.

So my increasingly weathered copy of the current edition of the Bradt Travel Guide to Armenia* now counts for a good 50% of the weight of my bar-bag; I’ve got a half-decent shirt and a stack of business cards so I can just about make myself look professional; and the stories that come out of these encounters will also form part of the narrative of this increasingly unusual bike trip.

Follow the ride on Instagram (and stay tuned for step three of Armenia’s Velvet Revolution).

Categories
Janapar Grant Other People's Adventures

Safe roads & tailwinds to Janapar Grant winner Jess Hargreaves!

A little over a year ago, I was having a chat with a small group of friends who all made a living – one way or another – from adventure.

We’d been having these irregular meetings for a couple of years. Ideally they took place down the pub, but often – the lifestyle of the nomadic self-unemployed adventurer being what it is – they’d be conducted via Skype or somesuch technology, all dialling in from a constantly changing series of locations worldwide.

The reason for these group chats was to soundboard new ideas, figure out if they had the potential to become anything more than fleeting whimsies, and then to hold each other accountable for following through with them.

On this occasion I put two such ideas to the group for mirth and demolition.

The first was to try and create a long-distance hiking & mountain-biking route the length of the Caucasus Mountains.

The second was to create an annual grant that would allow a young person from the UK to go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure by bicycle.

Much to my dismay, it was the opinion of all present that I could – and should – try to do both of these things.

So I tried.

And now, a year later, it would appear that I’ve succeeded – if you’ll excuse the pun – in putting all of those wheels in motion.

The Transcaucasian Trail, as it has become known, is fast becoming a reality. The core team now extends to 13 people from 8 nations, not to mention the dozens of part-time volunteers who’ve contributed their time and energy so far. Since April I’ve been leading a full-time expedition – supported by the Royal Geographical Society with the Land Rover Bursary – to explore and map possible routes for the trail in Georgia and Armenia; this enormous undertaking is the reason the blog has been quiet this year.

But more the more immediate news is that Jess Hargreaves – the recipient of the ‘Janapar Grant’ I set up and launched earlier this year – sets off today on what I have little doubt will be a once-in-a-lifetime bicycle journey.

I wrote on the grant website that my aim was to support the practice of open-minded exploration for its own sake, for it is this approach that I’ve always felt offers the greatest potential for personal growth through the experience of life on the road.

And when Jess’s first written dispatch landed in my inbox for publication a few days ago, I knew that we’d made a good choice. You can read her pre-departure thoughts right here.

Beyond the one successful recipient – who benefitted from equipment donated by Oxford Bike Works, Carradice, Polaris, and Porterlight Bikes – we made the last-minute decision to extend the mentorship component of the grant to all of the shortlisted individuals. The result is that several other applicants have already hit the road under their own initiative – which, if I’m honest, was my underlying hope all along. And I’d like to thank the mentors – Al, Emily, Tim and Leon – for volunteering their time to help these young people get out exploring.

Jess has a long and bumpy road ahead of her, of which today’s ride is only the beginning. And I look forward to hearing – just occasionally, for the journey is the reward, right? – all about how her adventure pans out.

Her future despatches will be published through the Janapar Grant website, as well as through the TomsBikeTrip.com Facebook page.

But today, let’s just all wish Jess Hargreaves – 2016’s Janapar Grant recipient – all the very best for her journey, wherever the winds of travel may take her. Safe roads & tailwinds!

Categories
Equipment Janapar Grant

What Does The Ideal Cycle Touring Clothing Collection Look Like?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel I’ve ever quite solved the cycle touring clothing quandry.

Walk into a bike shop or outdoor store and it isn’t quite as simple as finding the ‘cycle touring’ department and taking your pick. I inevitably end up wearing garments – such as trekking trousers, merino or bamboo T‑shirts, hand-made linen slacks, tailored cotton shirts, etc – that were never designed for cycling at all. These are generally supplemented with only a few cycle-specific accessories such as padded shorts, riding mitts, Buffs, waterproofs, and perhaps socks and shoes.

I get the impression that the market for clothing specific to the nuanced requirements of cycle touring must be so tiny – at least in the eyes of the manufacturers – as to not be worth bothering with. It’s a shame, because I really do feel that the industry is missing a trick. Most of us seem to get by with what we feel is sub-optimal clothing because we have no choice. It’s either functional but far too down the ‘sporty’ spectrum in appearance, or is more casual-looking but tends to fall apart once subjected to the rigours of the cycle touring lifestyle.

One British manufacturer bucking the trend is Janapar Grant sponsor Polaris, whose long-standing brand will be recognisable to many. Based on input and feedback from some well-known long distance riders, they’ve been developing a line of adventure cycle touring clothing, and this spring will be putting out the first of their new offerings, as well as outfitting the grant’s lucky recipient.

Their new lines will include a merino riding jersey and a windproof shell jacket designed specifically for touring use, as well as arm-warmers for nippy mornings, a Buff-style tube, and merino socks, with more to come for autumn/winter and for 2017. I’ve been trying out the jersey and jacket over the last few weeks and I’m pretty impressed with the balance they’ve struck between comfort, functionality and low-key appearance.

(These and future lines are available through their online store, which you can check out here.)

Traverse Jersey Lime - Background2

In the meantime, I really wanted to ask you what you’d like to see in an ideal clothing range for cycle touring.

Because the way I see it, there are some major gaps to be filled in this department. The most obvious example from my experience is a lack of trousers which are simultaneously comfortable and practical to ride in, socially acceptable to walk around in, and durable enough to last the long haul. I’ve lost count of how many pairs of ‘trekking’ trousers I’ve had either wear through on the backside or split at the crotch seams through the act of pedalling. The pockets empty their contents onto the asphalt with each pedal stroke, and there’s always a draught up my back because they’re not cut for the task at hand.

This hasn’t ever actually stopped me touring, of course. But if clothing designers such as those at Polaris are eyeing up the cycle touring community for size, fit and functionality, then to me it makes sense for us all to get together and let them know what we’re currently missing.

So let’s have a massive brainstorming session. Got ideas for the cycle tourist’s perfect wardrobe? Let’s have them in the comments, and I’ll pass them on to the people who can do something about it!