Sunday, 6 March 2011

Bike touring, the new rules

Each of the last couple of years I have taken a week out for an extended trip on the bike. Once along the Sustrans Coast and Castles route from Newcastle to Edinburgh, and once down the west coast of Scotland from Fort William, via Mull and Arran and back to Glasgow. I have thoroughly enjoyed both trips. In their own way each was a bit of an adventure, and a pleasant break from the normal routine. I have happy memories of glorious scenery, and lovely people.

It's the time of year when I start thinking about where to go next, and there is an article in today's Sunday Times about bike touring. I thought it might help. What a fool I am.

It turns out that I've been doing this all wrong.

Firstly, I'm told that nobody with an ounce of style would be seen dead on a pushbike with canvas panniers. Well I wasn't seen dead on the last two trips, and hopefully won't be this year either. But I was certainly seen on a pushbike with canvas panniers. I'm well aware that I don't have an ounce of style, and as far as I know, I never did have. Sometimes I accidentally find myself in a situation where that matters, but I try to avoid them as far as possible. But it had never occurred to me that it might matter on a cycle touring holiday. However, I now know that bike touring is being reinvented for new generation. It's all about extreme off-road adventure riding, which requires special equipment such ultra-light handmade panniers that are designed for the most demanding harcore riders.

What I did wrongThe Sunday Times alternative universe
Visit parts of the country that I think I will like, and which I can't easily reach from home on a shorter ride. Choose a route and a pace that I can happily cope with, and enjoy.Undertake a challenge ride, where the rules are fairly relaxed. (Rules?!?)
Enjoy travelling at a speed where I could stop and look at things, leave time to take advantage of the unexpected, and have conversations with people I meet on the wayRide 100 miles a day, and aim to set new records for distance and time.
Wear clothing that means I can happily cope with unpredictable weather, and even if I get a bit  bedraggled, its no worse than when I set off.Style is all important. At all costs avoid looking like a retired geography teacher.
Carry everything I need in ordinary, practical, canvas panniers, available from any local bike shop, or widely on t'interweb Must have ultra-light hand-made panniers, that are almost impossible to obtain
Stay in cheap and comfortable B&B or convenient inns. Eat whatever local produce is available for lunch. Pack some nice chocolate to cheer myself up when things go awry.Overnight in super-technical bivouacs.

Don't eat cheese sandwiches. (Its not clear why this has become important, other than the fear of a journalist mocking).

Perhaps my best bet this year is to find the remote places where there will be nobody to laugh at my obvious lack of cool, or places that appeal to retired geography teachers where it seems I could fit in nicely. Any suggestions?


Martin said...

Follow Edward Thomas's route when he cycled from London to the Quantocks in 1913, described in his book 'In Pursuit of Spring', cycle from the Tabard Inn to Canterbury, or cross the channel and ride from Harfleur to Agincourt.

Steve said...

Hi, do you have the article link?

gom1 said...

It's behind the pay wall. Try in gear -> bikes.

gom1 said...

Martin - the Edward Thomas book looks particularly interesting. I'll be doing so more work on his route.

Paul said...

Normandy & Brittany?

But don't pedal with your ears.

townmouse said...

*ahem* South West Scotland *ahem*

tiny empty roads, rolling hills, few cars, fine grub and enough mist & fog to hide the worst fashion mistakes.

gom1 said...

townmouse - thanks for the suggestion, and bravo for sticking to your guns. However, for various reasons it's probably a good idea for me to head south / west this year, rather than northwards. SW Scotland is definitely on the list for the future though.

gom1 said...

"In pursuit of spring" can be downloaded here -

Martin said... is worth a look and the book is available if you want hard copy at Laurel Books;