I recently received an exasperated comment from a wound-up-sounding man called Rob on an article I published about trip sponsorship.
‘This is really annoying’, wrote Rob, referring to the fact that I’d got a 50% discount on an Extrawheel trailer five years ago. ‘Who needs celebrity bike tourers anyway?’
It’s not often that I find myself on the receiving end of an angry rant. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve dealt a fair few of these in my younger and more obnoxious days, so it’s probably a case of “what goes around comes around”, as my mum would say.
But I was a bit stuck for a response, so I emailed Rob. I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know why he was angry. I asked if he was open to dialogue. Evidently not, as the rhetoric continued:
‘Why should professional tourists expect to pay 50% of RRP while average cycling numpties pay anywhere between 70 and 100% of RRP? … No, I don’t buy the whole ‘sponsored professional adventurer’ model of travelling. It is indeed aggravating.’
At that point, I realised that Rob probably wasn’t interested in listening. He seemed content to read a single article from my advice section, assume from it that I represented his personal pet peeve (“self promoting adventurers” as he put it), lambast me in public on my own blog, and disappear.
(For the record: I’m not bankrolled by anyone. I don’t wear branded clothing. I fund all my journeys from my own pocket, and do these journeys simply because I want to. But, even though I could buy it all myself, I’ve asked a couple of manufacturers to supply a few specific items of equipment, because I value a certain kind of small-scale product sponsorship, for reasons explained in the original article.)
So I replied one last time, saying that he was most welcome to his own opinion, and that I’d be leaving it at that. I didn’t expect a response, and I didn’t get one.
The exchange was quite hurtful in the end, because I constantly try to help and encourage people to get started on their own journeys. I write dozens of emails each month to people requesting bike touring advice, and publish everything I know on the topic, here, for free. Yet Rob had concluded that I deserved to be told that my very existence was a source of aggravation and that I was making cycle touring inaccessible.
Why bother following up with a blog post? After all, it’s just one guy with a bone to pick. I’m probably being over-sensitive and should develop a thicker skin if I’m going to put my thoughts and opinions up for public scrutiny.
Well, Rob made points that I’ve long been making, though he didn’t read around enough to realise it. The most important of these is that ‘bike touring is accessible to everybody, even with very limited means’. This seems like a good opportunity to reiterate that point.
My favourite example is the story of Maria. (I hope she won’t mind me recounting it here.) When I met Maria, she was slightly disillusioned with the backpacking trail she’d been following around Europe. ‘Well, why not give bike touring a go?’ I suggested.
Maybe it was the beer, or the lateness of the hour in that rooftop bar in Budapest, but Maria decided to take my words at face value. Twenty-four hours later, she’d bought an old single-speed shopping bike for fifteen Euros from a local scrapyard, strapped her cheap backpack to the rear rack, Gaffa-taped a bottle of water to the frame, cashed in her Interrail ticket, and was ready to go.
Over the next few weeks, Maria rode that bike across the Hungarian Great Plains, off-road through the Faragas Mountains of Romania, along the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria, and to Istanbul at the far end of Europe in time for the last of the summer sun. (Not just that, but she got there first.)
Hers was of the most spontaneous and raw kind of adventure; one that would bear none of the typical excuses: ‘I’m not ready’ – ‘I’m not fit enough’ – ‘I can’t afford it’ – ‘I don’t have a bike’.
Her confidence and lack of fear were inspiring, as was the proof of the pudding: ‘I did it anyway!’
Adventures like Maria’s don’t get written about much. But the truth is that most bicycle travellers out on the road are not writing a blog, and don’t have all the latest gizmos.
You will never hear of much of this kind of spontaneity by browsing the web, because the web is increasingly about selling you shit you don’t need to the exclusion of all else. Product reviews, planning how-tos, preparation guides – these are strictly optional elements of a bicycle adventure.
Rob, I’m guessing, won’t read this post. He’d decided I’m a corporate frontman; a “professional sponsored adventurer”, out to make cycle-touring seem inaccessible. So he probably won’t come back.
But if he does, I hope this post gives him a better idea of where I actually stand.
Still feel that the adventure is inaccessible? I followed this post with an experiment in getting all the gear I needed for a bike tour for £25.17 and then cycling the length of England with no money whatsoever.