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The Cyclist’s Pistol

Posted April 4th, 2013

We’d never recommend packing a gun for a bike tour, but back in the early days of bike touring a pistol was commonly carried by adventurous cyclists such as the McIlraths.

Today (thanks to an article from the Fietsersbond) we stumbled across an advertisement from 1913, promoting a gun built especially for cyclists.

Cyclist's Pistol

The advertisement is for a cork pistol, costing just 45 cents. The main use of the pistol, according to the ad, is to scare away aggressive dogs.

Thankfully we have other ways to deal with dogs, and don’t have to carry guns anymore!

Posted in Bicycle History

Gear? It’s The Spirit That Counts.

Posted March 30th, 2012

Earlier this year, we were contacted by an anxious would-be bike tourist. He bombarded us with questions about gear.

From the bigger pieces of equipment such as the bike and the tent down to the tiny details of bottle cages and bar ends, he wanted everything to be perfect. The equipment, he said, should solve all his problems and never fail.

We had to disappoint him. This graph (spotted in a mountain bike magazine) sums up our view very well.

The more you ride, the less the equipment seems to matter – or at least that’s been true for us.

Good gear helps. Certainly it does. But it’s not the magic answer to a perfect bike tour and believing that the ‘perfect’ gear will ensure a ‘perfect’ trip will only lead to disappointment. No matter what the quality, bikes can break down, waterproof jackets sometimes leak and certain challenges – like fighting a headwind – can’t be helped by equipment at all. In tough situations, a good attitude will get you further than equipment ever will.

We also don’t have all the equipment answers. What works for us, might not work for you. What we like might not be your cup of tea. We list our favourite bits of gear in our free Bike Touring Basics book but every cyclist has to make their own decision. Finding out is half the fun!

We’d also argue that the ‘perfect’ trip is a rather boring one. Some of our best memories come from the toughest moments on the road, when everything seemed to be going wrong. Why go so far to avoid failure and challenges, when we have so much to gain from those experiences?

Back to gear, we recently posted this photo on our Facebook page. It’s from 1898. There’s not a waterproof pannier or high-tech tent in sight.

Bikes & Mountains (circa 1898)

Fast forward to 1961, where we find this lovely image of two boys out for a bike tour from the Dutch National Archives. Didn’t anyone ever tell them that you’re not supposed to ride a bike while wearing a backpack? Apparently they just wanted to have fun…

Trekkers op de fiets met tent en rugzak, 1961.

At least their panniers appear to be in better shape (and less overstuffed) than the bags that this Japanese cyclist is carrying. The year is 1974 and he’s on an 84,000km trip around the world. How he doesn’t topple over is beyond us…

Doofstomme Japanner maakt per fiets reis om de wereld van 84.00 km; Hirayaura in…

Back to Dutch cyclists, here’s a family, going on holiday with their self-built touring bike… including sidecar.

Vakantie, trekkers per fiets. Zelfgebouwde vakantie-familiefiets. Vader,  moeder…

Ladies from the 1950s on a 6-month tour of Europe.

Vakantie, trekkers per fiets, Londen (Engeland). Drie vrouwen met fietsen, volge…

A dapper young man, ready for his summer holidays (the photo is from the 1930s).

Trekkers per fiets. Een jongeman met zijn fiets bepakt en klaar voor zijn fietsv…

Two young women, returning to Illinois after a bike trip.

Vakantie ten einde. Amerikaanse meisjes op de fiets terug naar Ilinois

And finally, there’s Frances Birtles, who rode around Australia several times in the early 1900s.

Frances Birtles

So, to the cyclist who wanted to perfect his touring setup before leaving home, we have just this to say. Go ride. Have fun. The rest doesn’t really matter so much.

A Bike That Can Cross Oceans (and other amazing 1930s bikes)

Posted February 16th, 2011

Digging through old magazines the other day, we came across this gem of a photo that answers the question all long-distance bike tourists have to deal with: “How do you cross the ocean?”

It’s a question we’ve personally been asked so many times that it drives us bonkers to hear it. “With a plane, of course!” we want to scream. Some bike tourists even make up ridiculous answers to the water-crossing question.

But did you know that someone thought of the answer to this very dilemma way back in 1932? Oh yes they did… and here it is.


Perfect! Now where can we get a couple for our next world bike tour? And can you get luggage racks for that? (Source: Popular Mechanics, December 1932 and Popular Science, December 1932)

Of course this piqued our interest, so we did a little more searching and discovered something else equally amazing: a trailer that is, uh, shall we say a little on the big side.

Big Bicycle Trailer

It doesn’t surprise us that the two people who went bike touring with this are from Holland. After all, some Dutch people currently bike tour on huge cargo bicycles (big enough to hold a full-size bed). What is amazing is that these friends in the 1930s went to France with their larger-than-life trailer! We doubt it was level cycling all the way to France, let alone around the country. What a shame that we don’t know their names. That would surely be a story worth telling. (Source: Popular Mechanics, March 1935)

The deeper we dug, the more fun and interesting things turned up. There was a story entitled ‘The Amazing Return Of The Bikes’ with pictures of bicycle basketball and a description of the newest “gadgets” of the day.

“Other ‘gadgets’ are a speedometer which shows both the speed at which the bicycle is traveling and the total mileage covered, a streamlined saddle, balloon tires, rims of chrome-plated steel in place of wood, a combination headlamp and horn unit, the lamp equipped with an automotive type lens, and a ‘pencil-type’ tire gauge.” (Source: Popular Mechanics, January 1935)

bicycle basketball

Finally, we give you an image of a 12-year-old inventor who created a bike that might be suitable for arctic expeditions or commuting during harsh winters. (Source: Popular Mechanics, May 1931)

Ice Bicycle

We wonder what ever happened to Billy Bataille. Did he go on to invent other bicycles? How well did his invention work? It seems unlikely we’ll ever find out but if anyone has a lead, do let us know!