Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook Review
The new edition of the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook landed on our doorstep last week and we’ve spent most of the last few days devouring it – even taking it along on a weekend bike ride so we could flip through it in a café.
With over 300 pages of bike touring advice, inspiration and stories, there’s a lot to absorb and it’s no surprise that this book has become the ‘must have’ reference guide for cycle tourists, since it was first published in 2006.
On the surface, the 2010 version seems fairly similar to its predecessor, at least in terms of structure. Just as last time, it starts with practical considerations like which bike to buy and what camping gear to get. Part 2 focuses on route outlines around the world and the last section inspires with entertaining stories from well known bike tourists, including Tom Kevill-Davis, Peter Gostelow and Edward Genochio.
Dig a little deeper though, and you soon discover just how much author Stephen Lord and his merry band of nearly 50 contributors (ourselves included) have added to this new edition.
MORE GEAR AND ROUTES
The gear section is noticeably bigger, with over 10 up-to-date recommendations for suitable and widely available touring bikes. Surly’s Long Haul Trucker, Thorn’s Raven Tour and the recumbent Street Machine from HP Velotechnik all get a mention. There’s also advice on adapting a used mountain bike for the job, for tourers on a budget. Other essentials like tents, racks and tires get similar in-depth attention, as do practicalities like vaccinations for international touring and how much to budget (the book’s contributors spent €10 a day on average).
We especially like the bit on how much stuff to bring, with profiles of an ultralight bike tourist, a middle-of-the-road cyclist and a heavyweight traveller. The differences between them are fascinating. Cameron Smith did a 6 month trip across China, including grueling Tibet, with a minimalistic 8kg of gear (his toiletry kit was just a toothbrush and paste, toilet paper and a hand towel). Alvaro Neil prefers to pack 3 stoves, 8 Ortlieb bags, an extra tire and food for 1-2 days onto his heavily loaded rig for a 10 year cycling odyssey.
Next up is the heart of the book – 144 pages of updated and expanded route descriptions. There’s barely a part of the world left unmentioned. Nothing is covered in the kind of extreme detail you’d get with a specific guide to a single region (don’t expect hotel recommendations or turn-by-turn directions) but there’s enough information to whet your appetite for the road ahead, including hints on the landscapes, cultures and foods you’ll encounter, all written from a cyclist’s perspective.
Specific tips are scattered throughout. You’ll learn to watch out for ticks in Russia, what to expect in the bathhouses of the Middle East (the cheapest and most interesting way for a scruffy cyclist to scrub up) and about the free camping possibilities in Japan.
Predictably, for a book with the word ‘adventure’ in its name, the focus is on touring in less developed countries. A large map clearly lays out the main trans-continental routes from Europe to Asia – invaluable if you’re still trying to figure out how roads like the Karakorum Highway through Pakistan might connect with more northerly trips through Russia and Central Asia.
There’s a large section on Tibet, including tips on travel permits and one of the hardest cycling routes in the world. The trip from Lhasa to Kashgar has 31 passes and 9 of them are over 5,000 meters. Africa also gets a significant chapter, with a route map, profiles of the main countries you’re likely to cycle through and answers to some of the more common questions about cycling there, like the state of the roads, availability of food and how much corruption you’re likely to find.
Less attention is paid to more familiar and well trodden bike touring territory in North America, Europe and Australia but there’s still space for the best known rides, like the Great Divide mountain bike trail from Canada to Mexico and the North Sea Cycle Route that traces the coastline of 7 countries in Northern Europe. New Zealand gets a mention as well, although we’re not sure about the suggestion that the North Island makes for quieter, less touristy riding than the South Island. This was at odds with our experience there.
The stories at the end make for some great bedtime reading and give a hint of the more colourful moments experienced while bike touring.
A dose of encouragement for new bike tourists comes from Tim Brewer, who tells about how he managed a ride from England to Australia, despite starting out overweight and with a habit of heavy drinking and smoking. He sheds over 50kg in weight before arriving at the other end.
The book finishes with footnotes on bicycle maintenance, staying in touch on the road and a glossary.
Overall, we think the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook makes an appealing package for nearly any bike tourist. It’s too heavy and bulky to put in your panniers, so you’ll have to master the maintenance skills in it before you go, but people setting out on tours can learn a lot as they prepare for a trip.
Newbies have the most to gain from the tips and advice. Experienced tourers will know a lot of the general how-to-tour stuff already but should still pick up a thing or two from the wide variety of anecdotes and styles of touring portrayed in the book.
It’s published by Trailblazer and sells for $21.95 U.S. or £14.95 in Britain.