International Banking to Adventure Cycle Touring
This month we talk to Stephen Lord, author of The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook a must-read for cyclists dreaming of long-distance journeys. Adventure cycle touring is a long way from International Banking. How did it all begin?
I used to do a lot of walking and youth hostelling in Britain in my teens – I’ve always loved the outdoors. Then after college I worked in international banking, in the USA and then Japan for six years, giving me a chance to travel much of Asia – but only for short periods. I found cycling was an in-depth way to explore Japan and very adventurous in that I would meet people and discover places I would never have met if I were on a bus or train. I lived in New York after that for a year or two but left banking for California, where I did a lot of mountain biking and touring. Then I started doing longer tours in Asia and the high mountain regions. I’ve been living in Britain for the past 13 years and find it’s a great base for travelling from. To my surprise, I found a massive outdoors scene here – you know the cliché, it’s not the weather, it’s just about picking the right clothes! And there’s easy access to fantastic skiing in Europe, so there are things to do year-round.
What would be a good long distance ride for a beginner?
France is cycling heaven because it is uncrowded with many very quiet roads linking small villages, nearly all of them old and beautiful and having the vital things cyclists need, such as great bakeries and cafes. Nearly every small town in France has a municipal campsite. Take the ferry and make a circuit from any of the ports, or you could take the bus or train further inland, and you can’t fail to have a great time.
What do you consider to be the best long distance cycle touring route in the UK?
I rode the Coast to Coast route last year with friends, planning our own route near Wainwright’s walking route by using Google maps. People asked why it took us eight days to ride just 200 miles, but we wanted to camp near some of Britain’s finest pubs and took minor roads – we hardly saw any traffic and managed to include some off-road riding too. This year I rode Wales’ Lôn Las Cymru route, which also avoids traffic and shows the beauty of the country in a way you could never see from a car.
Whenever I see touring cyclists they always seem over burdened by gear, surely in this time of lightweight gear some of the bulk and weight could be reduced?
I’ve never figured out why they carry all that stuff either. It’s clothing mostly, people bring a choice of clothing when all they need is a fleece, rain gear, one change of underwear and to wash and dry’.
What about an Alpinist style cycle touring approach – quick – light – minimal?
If you’re staying in inns or hostels, you should be able to get it all in a saddlebag and skip the rack and panniers. Ultralight cycling brings back the thrill of cycling and that’s what people do in the alps. But round-the-worlders aren’t in a hurry and they carry everything, laptops and all, rather than just focusing on the specific needs of a shorter trip. I must say I prefer to camp so my bike is a bit heavy too.
What words of wisdom would you give to someone who would like to start cycle touring?
Take touring one day at a time, then it’s not overwhelming. Start out with what you’ve got and don’t buy too much gear till you know what works for you. Never buy or carry things you ‘might’ need, only things you WILL need, but rain gear is like insurance, you need it even if you don’t use it. For your first trip, you could just do an overnight camp out somewhere so you won’t need to worry about food en route, just carry dinner and snacks, a pot, stove, tent, mat and sleeping bag. Don’t feel you have to ride it all, let the train get you out of the city and start from there.
Is it possible to buy a good touring bike without spending a king’s ransom?
These days it’s much more common to see a pricey – £1500 or more – full-sus mountain bike than a touring bike for that price, because touring bikes don’t have expensive things like suspension. You need simplicity and not exotic frame materials. I would budget about £600 for a bike and look for a good mid-range hybrid bike, just make sure it’s got mounting points for a rear rack. £1000 gets you a really great touring bike such as the classic Dawes Galaxy or the Surly Long Haul Trucker, a great option if you want 26″ wheels or to use straight bars and not drops.
Helmet no helmet?
I don’t often wear one, I must admit, but I always take it on long overseas tours and wear it in the mountains and in cities. I wear a helmet for mountain biking, where you’re highly likely to come off.
Should there be mandatory insurance for cyclists in the UK?
I’m a member of CTC which means I’ve automatically got third party cover and legal aid, but much as I hate scofflaw cyclists, mandatory insurance would mean more bureaucracy such as registration and before long they’d be taxing us!
Have you ever considered touring on a fixie?
No way! I’d like more gears, not fewer. Actually, I don’t really get the fixie thing, but nor do I get racing bikes either. I like trying out different kinds of bike but the ones I like best are always the versatile types such as cross-country mountain bikes or hybrids.
What would you like to see in cycle touring clothing that is not available at the moment?
Clothing that functions as well as cycling gear but also looks good off the bike. Right now it’s mostly either functional but geeky gear or good-looking but less functional gear. I cycle in general purpose outdoor clothing such as trekking or travel trousers and lightweight hiking rain jackets, but I must admit top of the line cycling clothing is a treat to ride in. Also, outdoor clothing often comes in natural colours whereas I look for bright orange for cycling, just for the visibility, so that’s not easy to find either.
You can buy The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook from www.trailblazer-guides.com for £14.99 ( P&P is free anywhere in the world).
Now Closed – The lucky winner is Stuart from Somerset. Thank you to all who entered.
Check out our next great book prize Moroccan Atlas – the Trekking Guide by Alan Palmer