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Friday, 28 March 2014

Bicycle Touring Resources for Newbies Like Me!


By Jack Hawkins
Photos: Pico Triano or sourced by Jack Hawkins

It’s Spring time in New Brunswick, and that means that most of us are by now dusting off our touring bikes!

And for those of you who are just getting into bicycle touring, like me, then you’ll be looking for all the assistance you can get! Like me, before I started spending hours and hours researching bicycle touring, I was pretty clueless. All I knew is that I had a dream - to ride across Canada, and maybe keep going around-the-world. Who knows?

Well, I suppose the first thing you need, is a bike! When they tell you that you need to buy a touring bike, they’re wrong. As thousands of bicycle tourists travelled without these ultra-expensive touring machines like the Surly’s Long Haul Trucker ($1000), or Koga’s Miyata ($2500). However, were you ask me whether I’d say that having something purpose-built is better? Of course. However, you don’t need a touring bike, it’s the journey that really matters. Right?

Once you’ve got the bike - then you only need a tent, some pannier bags (or a trailer), and a destination! And you’re all set to go off and cycle around the world… Or across town, or across a country - wherever you want to go.

If you’re like me, and do your research before heading off on these tours, then you’re in luck! There are so many resources available to you, in every facet of bicycle touring. I will cover just a few of these in the next few paragraphs.

CrazyGuyOnABike

CrazyGuyOnABike is Neil Gunton’s baby. Neil conducted a cross-country tour across America in 1998, why, he says: “Motivation? It was a cool thing to do, I thought. Cycling from coast to coast, seeing America for the first time. An adventure. Seemed like it would make a good story.”

I was able to speak to Neil and ask him some questions about his baby!

When I did my original trip back in 1998, I wasn't planning a website, I was actually thinking about maybe writing the journey up as a book. But when I got home, it seemed that getting a book published was a lot more hassle than I realised, so then I started thinking about maybe just putting it up as a personal website.”

Since 2000, the website has grown massively. And - for me, it remains one of the first things I look at in the morning when I log on to my computer. Not only is CGOAB a wealth of information and knowledge - but perhaps most importantly, it’s all “crowd-funded”.

Not necessarily monetarily-funded by the users, but the site is built upon the community who visit it - they are the main contributors. There is a “Journals” section, where anyone can join up for free - although, Neil asks for a small donation if it is possible. These Journals offer all of the “newbies” to bicycle touring, literally hours of interesting reading and exciting material, often times complemented by breathtaking photography. There is also a Forum section. Where users can post any questions they may have about bicycle touring. It’s well thought out, well-structured, and it offers dozens of categories for the user to choose from which cover almost every aspect of bicycle touring.

There is a “Classifieds” section, this offers users the ability to buy and sell things through the website, but it’s more than just a simple transaction platform, the “Classifieds” also allows users to post “Companion” ads, for those users seeking riding partners for their own bicycle tours.

Personally, the site has been an incredible resource, one where I have felt incredibly welcomed, despite my limited experience - it has also been invaluable in offering me avenues into the bicycle touring world - for example, I met my winter-cycling interviewee - Iohan Gueorgiuev, on CrazyGuyonaBike. And I hope to meet many others on the road, using CGOAB as a gateway.

I tip my hat to Neil Gunton on creating such an incredible platform for bicycle tourists to gather upon - people from all over the world, coming together and uniting to spread their passion to others. Well done, Sir.



WarmShowers



Have you been trapped in a rainstorm, and had to put your tent up in a hurry? You do it in record-time. However, you get a terrible night’s sleep due to the rain, you awake the next morning, sore back, stiffness, miserable…

Well, there’s a neat little service called WarmShowers that offers touring cyclists’ just that - a warm shower and a bed for the night.

The concept of WarmShowers is fairly simple, it’s a community-based service that’s built upon the kindness of strangers and the reciprocation of goodwill. WarmShowers was founded first in 1993, it began with a list - a list that went unkept for three years before a man by the name of Roger Gravel undertook the upkeeping of the list. In 2005, Randy Fay turned that list into a database and map-enabled website, and has assumed the role of Registrar from 2009 to present. The community is currently kept running by a small group of volunteers.

WarmShowers is now very much an international community, with hosts on every continent, the largest numbers emanating from North America and Europe. However, it has members from over 150 countries. The community experienced a huge spike in 2013, when there were 15,787 new registered users.

In the organisation’s future, Randy Fay has largely opened up the site to suggestions from the community. However, he says, “We hope to make the organisation self-sustaining and get more people thoroughly invested in it so it doesn't depend on just one or two people.”

It truly is a proper community-experience. WarmShowers also has a Facebook group, where you can connect with even more people.

So, if you’re planning a trip - I wholly encourage you to join WarmShowers (it’s totally free!), and meet new people all over the world!

Bicycle Touring Pro



Darren Alff from BicycleTouringPro, was one of the first people I went to when I first started to research bicycle touring. He was my first “resource” if you will in my hunt for more knowledge and wisdom about the bike touring scene. I wrote a quick article on my website about him, and his website back in early October of 2013.

Darren’s website is impressive in it’s design. Sleek, slender, and easy-to-navigate. Darren’s site launched in 2007, after his eagerness to help a friend on his first long-distance bicycle tour. Darren’s readership took off, after he created BicycleTouringPro to help that friend. Since then, Darren’s travelled all over the world. From multiple cross-Country tours of the United States, to a European tour - including living in Poland for a few months!

As a further way to help others with their first bicycle tours, Darren started - in co-operation with Axiom, the BicycleTouring Pro Travel Scholarship, Darren’s way of giving support to those just starting out in the bicycle touring world. People such as I, and, if you’re reading this article, you!

Individual Inspirations!

We’ll move on now - from sites and communities - to the individuals that can inspire, and assist you on your bicycle tours.

Alastair Humphreys



I first discovered Alastair Humphreys in November of last year, while I was browsing the interwebs for cyclists’ who have gone on epic journeys. His jumped out at me. Here was this ordinary guy, fresh out of University with a passion for adventure. So, what did he decide to do?

Alastair cycled out of his front door, turned left, and headed for Cape Town. His journey took him four years, 46,000 miles and cost him just £7000. Since his incredible adventure of cycling around the World, Alastair has been on many, many adventures - he’s walked across India, rowed the Atlantic, he’s pioneered the “microadventure” and has written several books.

Two of his published books are about his round-the-world trip - “Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike: Part 1, and “Thunder and Sunshine(About the second part of his journey). Both are books that are on my to-read list, and both have received several glowing reviews from Amazon.

Tom Allen



Tom Allen is another round-the-world cyclist, and another Englishman!

Tom’s adventures by bicycle began in 2006, in Scotland, riding off-road… From there, he decided to set off around-the-world. The following year, setting off from his back door in England, throughout Europe and the Near East, before moving on in 2008 to the Caucasus, and Iran. In 2009, Tom cycled throughout the Middle East and Africa, before moving onto Mongolia in 2010. He then braved Scandinavian winters in Norway and Sweden the following year, and then he and his brother - Ben, cycled down the West Coast of the United States (and parts of Canada), from Vancouver to San Francisco.

In fact, Tom Allen met the woman he would later marry on his round-the-world journey. An Armenian woman. This love found on a bicycle inspired a film - an award winning film, titled “Janapar”.

What do these two have to say about their around-the-world trips? And adventure in general?

Tom and Alastair have both reiterated the same thing to me, when I contacted them initially regarding my own cycle-touring plans. They both told me to just do it. Just get out there on the bike, and BEGIN. (So, too did Darren Alff of BicycleTouringPro).

Alastair says, “Adventure will change your life.”


And, I’m beginning to feel it. I’m beginning to think he’s right. And, hopefully you too can find the inspiration, information and inner-strength (hopefully drawing some inspiration from this article), to do just that. Begin your own adventure. Feet on pedals, and turn.