Free eBooks About Great Bicycle Touring Journeys

canterburypilgrimageWe’ve packed our panniers and headed off to Denmark for a summer bike tour.

As we cruise the Danish bike paths by day, and pitch up in remote campsites at night, we’ve left the technology at home – much like the bike tourists of the late 1800s and early 1900s, who certainly didn’t have anything like laptops and mobile phones.

While we’re disconnecting and getting away from it all, why not read about some of these early bike tourists?

There are so many free eBooks that give a fascinating glimpse of what bike touring was like in earlier centuries. At that time, there was an explosion of adventurous bicycle tourists (many of them American), setting out to explore the world on two wheels.

Here are just a few to get you started:

Lonely Lands – Frances Birtles

Frances Birtles

The book Lonely Lands: through the heart of Australia tells the story of the trip Frances made in 1905 from Fremantle, Western Australia to Melbourne. This was a great trip for the age, and attracted a lot of public interest. Birtles continued to cycle intensively for a number of years. By 1912, he had circumnavigated Australia twice and crossed the continent seven times.

Round The World On A Wheel – John Foster Fraser

Round The World On A Wheel by John Foster Fraser

This is the story of a group of friends who set out around the world in 1896. The preface to their book always makes us smile. “We took this trip round the world on bicycles because we are more or less conceited, like to be talked about, and see our names in the newspapers.”

It goes on: “We were stoned by the Mohammedans because they alleged we were Christians, and we were pelted with mud in China because the Celestials were certain we were devils. We slept in wet clothes, subsisted on eggs, went hungry, and were enforced teetotalers. We had small-pox, fever, and other ailments. There were less than a dozen fights with Chinese mobs. We never shaved for five months, and only occasionally washed. Our adventures therefore were of a humdrum sort. If only one of us had been killed, or if we had ridden back into London each minus a limb, some excitement would have been caused. As it was we came home quietly.” (download book)

A Canterbury Pilgrimage and Over The Alps On A Bicycle – Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins

The adventures of this American couple would be impressive today, but they were all the more so in 1884, when Joseph & Elizabeth left the U.S. by steamship bound for England and Continental Europe. They had been commissioned by a magazine to sketch and write about life in Europe, and planned to research their articles from the seat of a tandem tricycle, to be purchased in England.

A Canterbury Pilgrimage records the test trip with their new tricycle, from London to Canterbury (download PDF). Over The Alps On A Bicycle records the journey that began in Italy, and made Elizabeth the first woman to cycle over many alpine passes (download book – some initial pages missing).

Around the world on wheels for the Inter ocean: the travels and adventures in foreign lands – Mr. and Mrs. H. Darwin McIlrath

Mr and Mrs McIlrath at Ching King

This husband-and-wife pair pedalled 28,000 miles on a world bike trip, making Hattie one of the first women to go around the world by bicycle (Annie Londonderry is often cited as the first). The 3-year voyage took them from their starting point in Chicago to San Francisco, then to Japan by ship, through Asia and Europe. The journey ended in 1898 and the resulting book details their packing list, including 3 guns!

“All of our luggage was carried in a leather case which neatly fitted the inside angles of the bicycle frames. Our personal apparel consisted merely of a change of underwear, as we depended upon the stores in towns along our route for new clothes whenever we should need them. The remainder of our luggage cases contained photograph films, medicines, repair outfits, etc. My “artillery,” for which there was great use as it afterward happened, consisted of two 3S-caliber and one 44-caliber revolvers.” (Download text version)

A Bicycle Tour in England and Wales: Made in 1879 – Alfred D. Chandler

Following a business trip to Europe, and with a month to spare before his trip back to America, Alfred set off on a bike tour around England and Wales with his friend. He describes the experiences of bicycle touring in wonderful detail, and some of them haven’t changed at all over the years:

“We developed enormous appetites, and I recall the immense relief we had oh coming up to the little Swing-Gate Inn, three miles or more out from Dover, where we ordered bread, cheese, and beer, about all the inn afforded, and which was served to us on a little balcony over the inn door, where we enjoyed the view over the fields, and were entertained by the arrival of a coach-load of passengers, many of whom got off to drink…” (Download text version)


Through the Adirondacks Awheel – Allan Eric

While this tour in the late 1890s through New York state, up to the Canadian border and back south was slightly narrower in scope than some other trips, the experiences of Allan and his friends are still interesting. Their book begins with their philosophy towards route planning:

“We had little difficulty in approximately laying out the route; but, concerning the roads that we might expect to encounter, we were unable to obtain any information. However, as tourists, we did not hesitate to set out, and we did so with a grim determination to adhere to the route, let come what might, and take things as they came, resolving to find pleasure in every incident which might be in store for us.” (Download text version)

Around The World On A Bicycle – Thomas Stevens

Thomas Stevens is one of the best known early bike tourists, and was the first person to go around the world by bicycle. His trip began in 1884, when he set off on a penny farthing built by the Pope Manufacturing Company of Chicago. He carried a handlebar bag with essentials like socks, a spare shirt and a rain jacket that was also his tent. His journey took him across Europe, through Iran and into Afghanistan, across India, China and Japan, before he returned by steamer to San Francisco. (download book)

Around the us by bicycle

Around The United States By Bicycle – Claude Murphy

The introduction to this book reads: “Clarence M. Darling and Claude C. Murphey, age 19 and 20 respectively, left Jackson, Michigan on May 2, 1904, to make a trip by bicycle through every state and territory within the boundary lines of the United States proper, namely, 45 states, 4 territories and the District of Colombia. The trip was the result of a wager. Upon the success of the tour, a purse of $5,000 U.S. would be won by the two contestants providing that they lived up to all the terms and stipulations of the wager. The conditions were that they were to start on this long journey penniless, while on the trip they were neither to beg, work, borrow, nor steal, all the expenses of the tour to be met by the profits resulting from the sale of an aluminum card-receiver or ash-tray.” (download book)


  1. Aimee
    24th August 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Those are some great finds. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thomas Arbs
    27th August 2010 at 10:41 am #

    My Great-grandfather was one of those early cyclists, though he was in a local racing club rather than doing such long-distant tours. Wow, are these stories interesting to read – showing once more how little different “them ole folks” were…

    I’d like to refer to this material on my German blog/forum site.

  3. Frank
    28th August 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Do you carry a e-book reader? They look interesting to me, instead of a pile of books you have one small gadget. Of course a book is more sturdy than a piece of electronics. What do you think?

  4. Grace Johnson
    9th September 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    Some great books from early bicycle travellers, thanks for posting the links to them!

    Adventure Cycling recently published an article over Thomas Stevens with photos of him standing next to his “high wheel” bicycle.

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