In the four years since it was first published, the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook has become a must-read for cyclists dreaming of long-distance journeys to remote corners of the globe.
With its mix of practical advice, route outlines and tales from the saddle, it has plenty of inspiration for future tours.
The next edition will hit the shelves mid-May and we can’t wait to see what it looks like (not least because we wrote the chapter on Central Asia). In the meantime, we caught up with author Stephen Lord and asked a few questions about how he got into bike touring, his favourite places and some of the things he’s learned along the way.
Do you remember when you first discovered bicycle touring?
Of course I can remember – I’m not that old! I had forgotten bicycling for a few years when I started work but then I saw a mountain bike for the first time in 1986. You looked at the bike and you saw this incredible potential to go anywhere and do anything. I bought one in New York and took it to Japan, where I worked for 6 years. It wasn’t long before I thought, I’m going to get racks on that and go somewhere with it. I was plotting my escape from the banking world at that time and it was obvious the bike was going to be a big part of it.
Has your style of touring changed over the years?
I’ve tried lots of things, touring on mountain bikes, then a few drop-bar tourers and cyclocross bikes and gradually moved towards getting tough frames and gear because I broke everything else. I think when you’re older you want more comfort. You forget that when you first toured you didn’t even have a mattress or you forgot the sleeping bag or the tent had holes in it. When you’re older, that’s just not a fun trip. I’ve found through the years my mattresses are getting thicker. The bag is getting warmer. It’s a shame in a way, but that’s the way it goes.
What bike are you riding at the moment?
I just built a mountain bike from the wheels up – chromoly frame, oil’n’coil shock, SLX groupset, cable disc brakes and downhill, disc-only rims. No braze-ons. I’ll use it for pub-to-pub touring or get an Extrawheel Voyager if I want to carry a tent. I’ve still got my Roberts Roughstuff. I bought it secondhand but it fits me perfectly. It’s a very traditional custom-build with fillet-brazing, British racing green and it came with drop bars, which I took off after a few tours. The frame-builder was horrified when he saw that and said he hoped I’d clean it if I was going to use photos of it in the book.
The Roberts Roughstuff is a very expensive bike. Do you think you need an expensive bike to go on a tour?
No, not at all. You could go with something around £500 (about $750 U.S.), if you’re looking at a new bike. Don’t go lower because you want a good groupset and you don’t want rubbish wheels. The mid-range is where to look. The Marin Muirwoods was ideal but now it’s an alu frame. The 29er is still steel though, and has cable discs. Great as long as you don’t mind 700c wheels. I don’t – but my trips are only a couple of months so I don’t worry about replacing wheels while on tour.
Can you remember one great day on the road?
There were too many of them! I think the greatest time would be the greatest place: Big Sur, California – I rode it three times. It’s absolute heaven: ozone coming off the ocean, wildflowers, the smell of the redwoods. It’s a protected area and not commercialised at all. It’s really quite hard riding but usually you’ve got a tailwind if anything. My most hilarious moments were the zany trips in Japan – you never knew where you’d end up and that made it always exciting. People seem much more obliging overseas than they do at home.
What about a few challenging moments?
Here are the things that get increasingly difficult for me: smoke, traffic and bad food. I always lose weight when I travel. I just can’t get enough calories. It’s a problem for anybody. If you ride mountains, it’s like the Tour de France every day. You’re heavily loaded, you’re going 50 miles +, you need 4,000 calories and you’re getting 3,000 if you’re lucky. And if you’re eating in Central Asia you’re eating 3,000 calories and regurgitating 2,000 of them! Getting good nutrition is a big problem for me.
Where will your next tour be?
My next tour, having built this mountain bike, is to do the South Downs Way. It’s only 100 miles. It’s a two day tour but we could probably spin it out to 3 nights. The whole thing is off road. It’s bridleway and it goes from Winchester to Eastbourne. It’s a perfect practice tour for anyone who wants to do rough touring. You have public transport at either end and there’ll be pubs each night (and maybe lunchtime too…). After that I’d like to do the TransAndalus Trail. I’m trying to get the adventure-touring feel, but closer to home. I think in Europe or North America or Australia and New Zealand you have to go off-road for that same sense of space and wildness and rural friendliness that you get touring the Third World.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other bike tourists?
The hardest thing is to let go of everything – to slip the surly bonds (that poem is well worth googling). No matter when in life you start, this really is the big one, the great unknown, a huge physical, emotional and psychological or spiritual challenge and adventure. Everyone goes through it; just be yourself and make it your trip and not someone else’s. Life is only fun when it’s the life you choose. That’s what I like about cycling, it’s infinitely individualistic and customisable.
Thanks to Stephen Lord for the interview and the photos. The 2nd edition of his Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, published by Trailblazer, will be released in May.
31st March 2010 at 6:51 am #
Some of the wisest words I’ve read on cycle touring.
31st March 2010 at 1:45 pm #
Great article….. this book is the closest thing to a cycle touring bible i’ve found. Read it cover to cover several times and looking forward to the updates in the second edition
9th April 2010 at 7:52 pm #
Amazon cancelled my order for the book today. I assume that is just an automated thing because I ordered so far in advance, and that it is still coming out.
If Stephen is following this thread, I’d love to know more about his top tube bottle cage.
(Clearer picture at http://www.pbase.com/canyonlands/image/109391924)
It’s quite unique. I see from his blog that he uses the Sigg bottles in Minoura cages, but I want to know how he attaches the cage to the tube, whether it swings around while riding, and if it interfers with the brake cable at all. I’d love to copy what he’s done there for my fuel bottle if possible.
13th April 2010 at 2:07 pm #
Hi, thanks for the comments. Sorry Amazon is bouncing the orders. Both Amazon and my publisher get a little too optimistic about delivery dates for the book so it gets its own order page far too early. I know for a fact the book is almost printed but will then take a couple more weeks to come by ship to the UK – and whether they’re clever enough to ship direct from the printer in Singapore to North America and places like Australia and New Zealand (practically every other country in the world must be closer than the UK to Singapore…) or drop books off en route, well I doubt that. My apologies for the delay, I think you’ll be pleased when you see the results though.
About the bottle cage attachment, that is a Minoura accessory. It only has one attachment point on the frame so it wouldn’t last long if not supported at both ends with plastic cable clips and an extra strap through the Sigg bottle top. That setup was the best I’ve had, though the 1.5L bottle is a bit too wide really. 1L bottles are easier to fit and your knees are less likely to hit them. On a later trip I used some plastic clip attachments made by Elite to attach the bottle cage, but they didn’t work as well. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve really cracked the issue of carrying lots of water on the bike, I’ve yet to see a really great solution for carrying 4-4.5L on the frame.
17th April 2010 at 1:27 pm #
Thanks Stephen. I loved the first edition, and I’m keen to get the 2nd. Very inspiring.
I’m going to have a go at the cage attachment – thanks for your help.
29th May 2010 at 9:18 pm #
Sorry to read that your book is not yet available as having just read about you on here I am another who will definitely be buying a copy.Can I take it you are based in the South East given you planned to ride the SDW. Why I ask is if you are or indeed if you are not based in the South East have you given or considering giving any presentations 0f your travels as I am sure that there are many of us that would like to hear about them. It would of cause help in book sales as well. Why I ask is that I recently attended a Mark Beaumont presentation and it was brilliant and also inspirational at the same time. Having never set off on a cycling adventure at the age of 59 I need all the inspiration that I can get.
30th May 2010 at 11:13 am #
Hi Ted, the book’s now out and it’s certainly on Amazon UK and should be in the shops.
I haven’t ridden the SDW yet but just rode the Lôn Las Cymru with a fair few offroad sections. I live in Bromley, Kent and would be glad to give talks. It never occurred to me that anyone would want to hear me but I’m always happy to talk bikes and touring.
31st May 2010 at 9:54 pm #
Thanks for replying I will order it on Amazon and then once I receive it I will let you know and if it is ok with you I will bring it over to you to get it signed.
Or if you have copies I could always come over and buy it off of you.
Given you live in Bromley and I live in Selsdon that will not be too much of an adventure for me to come over to get it.
I am surprised to learn that you had not thought of giving presentations as it must be a good way of selling the books as many of us cyclists love to hear about those that have travelled stories.
I mentioned Mark Beaumont’s presentation to you but I suppose that was on a grand scale as he was appearing at theatres all around the country and it coincided with the BBC 2 programme being aired, but before that I also attended an evening arranged by Addiscombe C.C.in a room of a pub in Croydon where Clive Parker talked about his travels.It was a great evening and all those that attended just had to give the club a donation.
Clives reward was to sell a few of his books, Pedalling to Panama http://www.cliveparker.co.uk
More recently in fact last week I went to another presentation given by John Surtees ex world champion in cars and motorcycles and that was another great evening. That was held in a photographers gallery in Edenbridge and that cost me £10 which given John spoke for a couple of hours was in my mind great value.
Thinking about it Clive also spoke for about two hours so that might be a good measure if you should decide to do it.
If you do fancy doing it I will give you the photographic gallery’s telephone number for you to contact when I meet with you to either buy the book or get a copy signed.
Given hopefully we are heading into Summer you might want to consider giving talks during the Winter as it may guarantee a better response but either way let me know if I can help in any way.
17th July 2010 at 2:27 pm #
What a superb book. Absolutely crammed full of essential tips and information.
I picked up a copy from my local library yesterday evening and immediately realised it is bound to be a book I’ll read time and time again so promptly ordered my own copy from Amazon.
12th February 2012 at 6:21 pm #
We are reading the book right now (thank you for borrowing it to us Travelingtwo!) and it’s a great way to prepare for shorter or longer trips. A compact guide with all the essentials around bicycle touring the world 😉
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