it's many a long year since i undertook any form of cycle touring, and even then most bona-fide tourists would hardly have recognised my adventurousness as what most would call touring. the bicycle was an original muddy fox courier with a pair of handbuilt wheels and a very long, steel quill stem to allow the randonneur bars to be set at an appropriate height. i popped a blackburn rack on the back, a blackburn low-rider on the front and festooned the hapless courier with panniers and a bar bag. this would have been all the more impressive if i had ridden anywhere impressive.
but i'm way too timid to cycle anywhere meaningful; too much of a mummy's boy to stray far from the apron strings. the extent of my travels stretched only from islay to the ayrshire coast via arran and ardrossan with several tonnes of entirely unnecessary stuff, little of which made it out of the panniers at any point of the journey. but it did look very impressive.
if truth be told, the longest journey undertaken by bicycle was in 1998, when i took the ferry to scotland, rode to campbeltown and joined a friend on a tour from ballycastle on ireland's antrim coast all the way to dublin for the tour de france start. plus, of course, the return trip. by this time i had learned some lessons by having ditched the front panniers. i did, however, carry half a bike workshop on the back for which my friend was extremely grateful, as he was the only one who suffered from more than one mechanical misfortune. his riding tubular tyres wasn't the most pragmatic of choices either.
my learning curve for all these brief adventures into the great known was a sharp one, coloured by too much reading of round the world trips and a narcissistic tendency to need to appear competent when stopping off at the occasional bakery for some much needed sticky buns. i enjoyed my brief sorties into what remains of western civilisation, but you'd have laughed at the sight. i've not placed a rack on any of my bicycles since, though i'm still a sucker for a good cycle-touring book. i think i might well be classed as a couch tourist.
however, though it may form a small part of a niche market, cycle touring is still an important part of the fabric of our universe. it's a means of travelling almost every part of the world that not only makes perfect sense but is a particularly practical way to see our home planet with time to stop and stare. but i'd be willing to bet the bikeshed door that if were to do it all again, i'd get it every bit as wrong as first time round. well, let me qualify that; were it not for tom allen's superb guide to the sometimes obscure touring universe, i'm pretty sure i'd have as little idea of what to do as was the case some twenty years ago.
i recall being impressed by a dawes galaxy, principally on the basis that it sported an rather cool tan coloured brooks saddle. so if my eureka moment suddenly brought me to the brink of the touring abyss, ought i to be looking at the dawes' website? or maybe thorn? or maybe i should ask ira ryan to build me a custom tourer? then there's the more than trivial thought of how many panniers, what brand, which make of rack? jeez, this is beginning to get complicated and i've not even figured out where i'm going yet.
tom allen (of janapar fame), on the other hand, is a touring cyclist of great experience, having cycled to places i've scarcely even heard of. he is impressively unimpressed by the so-called standard model, willing to look at cheap-as-chips if he thinks it will fulfil a necessary designated role. his criteria errs far more towards substance over style.
"Will this tent, on an average night, allow me a chance of getting a half-decent nightÕs sleep?
If you ever feel like youÕre getting bogged down with tent-choice- related conundrums, come back to this question, because it's the only one youÕll be asking with any regularity when youÕre actually out on a tour."
perhaps because he owns such a wealth of practical experience and enjoys the independence of the self-publisher, allen owes no allegiance to any of the myriad of touring kit suppliers. he is, in essence, more than happy to call a spade an excavating implement, and he does so with literary panache. "At the upper end of the rack market there stand a few brands of considerable repute. With the rather boring purpose of a rack at this level simply being not to break with heavy luggage bouncing around on it for tens of thousands of miles, recommendations are based almost exclusively on performance in the durability department, and the brands here are concerned with that quality. As always, IÕll do my best to make the topic of bent metal tubes an interesting one."
making excellent use of adobe's portable document format (pdf) allen has offered brief dissertations on purchaseable items he figures will not only do the job, but save you the time struggling to do your own research. each features a clickable link to the product or manufacturer's website. choosing that which might fit within your extensive or limited budget suddenly became a whole lot simpler.
there are a considerable number of books on the market that describe specific touring routes; there are those describing deeds of derring do and there are others that offer advice on where you might conceivably wish to travel. bearing all that in mind, tom allen has made no attempt to occupy any of these specific spaces. the veteran's guide to gearing up for your ride concerns itself solely, impressively and humorously with what kind of bike, clothing and pretty much every form of associated paraphernalia you could think of. the major thrust of his narrative is this: rather than fret about the suitability and cost of everything you think you'll need, just get on your bike and go ride somewhere far, far away.
doubtless there is still a whole club of purportedly wannabe cycle-tourists like me, for whom the gathering of unnecessary kit and woeful over-thinking of each and every aspect assumes a greater importance than the pedalling bit. we are probably beyond saving. for everyone else, this is as compulsory as the bicycle.
wednesday 14 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................