Craft & DIY Personal Updates

What Name Would You Give A Heavy-Duty World Touring Bike?

After last week’s rather vocal debate on the ethics of commercialism in adventure, I figured it was time to get firmly back to what we all love: travelling the world on two wheels. (Less talk, more action, and all that.)

Now, as long-term readers will know, I’ve never had any particular fascination with touring bikes themselves. Though I’ve written the odd blog post on the topic, this has mainly been in order to get people here via search engines so that I can talk to them about how getting on a bike and going somewhere is a far better use of their time than endlessly googling touring bikes. (This works pretty well.)

But in the years since I started this blog, I’ve inevitably accumulating a certain amount of wisdom — both from first hand experience on the road in 40+ countries and from literally hundreds of other equally experienced riders — on what it is that distinguishes the ‘ideal’ world travel bicycle from… not just other bikes in general, but other touring bikes too. For not all touring bikes are created equal. Not by a long shot.

(Ironically, my lack of interest in equipment led me to write an entire handbook on choosing gear for cycle touring — the theory being, of course, that by doing so I would never have to answer another question on cycle touring equipment ever again. This has largely worked.)

Since relocating to Bristol earlier this year, I’ve also discovered something else, which is that I actually really enjoy working on bicycles. I enjoy getting my hands dirty. I enjoy the process of taking something that’s falling to pieces and — with just my hands and a selection of basic tools and parts — intuit and experiment with how to bring it back to that state of mechanical equilibrium in which everything just works.

It’s also slightly reminiscent of long-term touring. Everyone who’s done such a tour will know of the evolving mental to-do list of bicycle maintenance jobs. The rear derailleur could do with a tweak on the second sprocket down. There’s too much slack in that barrel adjuster. What’s that tick on the drive-side downstroke — pedal bearing, chainring bolt, bottom bracket or loose shoelace? Without wanting to get too Pirsig, there’s a certain zen to the art of bicycle maintenance.

I’ve rediscovered the simple yet therapeutic nature of bicycle rebuilding by volunteering at the Bristol Bike Project, spending one afternoon a week taking donated rust-heaps that’ve been sitting in people’s garden sheds for god knows how long and making them roadworthy again. These bicycles are often museum pieces. Not a day goes by at the Bike Project when I don’t learn something new about some long-forgotten piece of bicycle engineering technology.

Anyway. It got me thinking: if I were to build another bicycle from the ground up for the specific intention of travelling the planet, ultra long term, wanting insane levels of durability, maximum versatility in where I could take it, ultimate ease of maintenance, the greatest possible chance of finding compatible parts, and with comfort under load as a top priority… what would such a bike look like? What parts would I choose? What would my priorities be for the build, with all that experience to draw from? And how would it be put together?

It would certainly differ greatly from my first attempt at building an expedition bike. While certainly unique, that bike only really came into its own in Outer Mongolia and the most challenging parts of Africa. It was massively overbuilt for long-distance touring, slowed me down immeasurably, and in retrospect was a bit like taking a sledgehammer to a picturehook. It got me where I was going, of course. But there’s a lot I’d want to change.

Well, I’m excited to announce that I have now designed and built such a bike.


While the chances of me attempting to cycle round the world in one go (again) are slim, being happily married and having otherwise got it out of my system, this bike is the one I’d like to think I’ll spend the remainder of my touring days riding, wherever in the world I choose to go.

Vast amounts of thought and research have gone into its design, and I’ll be sharing the complete build process on this blog in the next couple of weeks.

But for now, I could use some help. Because the bike still doesn’t have a name.

So here’s the point of today’s post:

If you were building the ultimate heavy-duty world touring bicycle, what name would you give it?

(Ideally, something other than ‘Tom’s Expedition Bike’ — though that is a fairly accurate description!)

Answers in the comments. Whoever comes up with the name I choose gets a mystery prize. Just for fun 🙂

To get your creative juices flowing, here are some of the suggestions that have come through on Twitter and Facebook so far:

Go nuts! No name too silly.

Though it would also be good if someone came up with one I’d actually want to plaster across the top tube of the bicycle…

Craft & DIY Films Personal Updates

Some thoughts, as the Beer Can Stove video goes viral

As of right now, the video above has been played 1,311,131 times. (Check it.)

Needless to say, when Armen and I popped out to buy a couple of cans of Kozel for this film, we were not expecting this to happen.

It’s been fun to watch the statistics over the last few days. It’s also been interesting to ruminate on why content ‘goes viral’ — internet shorthand for a shedload of people seeing something online in a short space of time.

What it boils down to, I think, is simple, resonant ideas put into easily shareable form, plus a dice-roll. The dice roll is whether anyone with the reach of Lifehacker, TrueActivist or RealFarmacy will pick up on it. But in the words of someone cleverer than me, “you miss 100% of the shots you never take”. 

We’ve all handled drinks cans in our lives, used scissors, and come across surgical spirit. The delight comes from the combination and reinvention of these every day things to serve a basic human need.

This genuine utility value was demonstrated by a comment from Noel Carual of the Philippines. 

“I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for sharing this very informative video especially during these times that my country is recently ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan [ Yolanda ].”

Who’d have thought this would end up cooking food and sterilizing water after a natural disaster?

Another thing worth mentioning is that there’s no particular credit due or fame bestowed upon any individual. All I did was splice together some video of what I thought was a genuinely awesome idea. All Armen did was practice hard and spend time demonstrating a revolutionary concept he’d come across. What’s spread like wildfire over the last few days is the idea, which doesn’t belong to anyone.

It may not be as amusing as the Ultimate Dog Tease. But it’s a damn sight more useful.

Got an idea you think the world needs to know about? If two blokes in Armenia with a camera and a beer-can can put it in front of 1,313,232 people (and counting), who can’t?

Craft & DIY

How To Turn A Beer Can Into The Only Camping Stove You’ll Ever Need [VIDEO]

The best gift I’ve ever received on the road is this; a stove made from nothing but a discarded drinks can. In this video we’re going to learn how to make it (with a little help from my friend Armen).

You can get your raw materials from the trashcan, make it in 10 minutes with a pocket knife, and get fuel from any pharmacy or hardware store. Oh, and it costs a hundred bucks less than the Whisperlite. What’s not to like?

The beer-can stove in action

I’ve been using these stoves for years now. Here are a few ideas for getting more out of them:

  • Arrange several stoves in a pretty pattern and cook a big pot of food for your friends
  • If windy, use your camping mattress (especially the cheap foam ones) as a wrap-around windshield
  • Hunt down more efficient fuels than medical alcohol
  • Try making giant stoves out of those oversized cans
  • Make them in campsites and hostels to give away as gifts, to trade for other useful stuff, in exchange for beer money, or simply to attract potential partners

This video is part of my ongoing mission to bring cycle touring back to its roots, which lie in simplicity and spontaneity over grand plans and fancy kit. Click here for a full list of related posts.

Cooked anything tasty on one of these stoves? Please share your stories, recipes, etc in the comments below.

Craft & DIY Equipment Gear Reviews

The DIY Beer Can Stove Is The Best Camping Stove You’ll Never Buy

Jetboil? Trangia? Primus? I laugh in your faces!

The lightest, cleverest and most practical camping stove I’ve ever seen can be made by hand from a single empty drinks can.

The beer-can stove in action

Craft & DIY Equipment

How To: Build A Bicycle Wheel In Ten Easy Steps

People fear wheel-building. None more so than touring cyclists. Nobody, apart from a tiny elite of skilled craftsmen in scattered bike shops across the world, should dare impinge on this secretive world of mechanical artistry.

But we all have a capacity for art, don’t we? Could it really be all that difficult? I had a new rim to fit to Tenny’s bike, which would involve taking apart the rear wheel in its entirety and rebuilding it from scratch. So I decided to find out what this wheel-building malarkey was all about. After four and a half hours of careful labour, I held in my hands what appeared to be a nice straight new wheel.