The five best cycle touring books for an armchair adventure
I came to cycling literature in a back to front fashion. I’d already made a handful of adventurous journeys by bike before I’d read any of the books I’m about to recommend.
I was introduced to cycle touring my best friend, Adrian. He invited me along on a coast to coast ride – Barrow in Furness to Whitby – in 2008 and I never looked back. I guess that says something about how I learn new things and step into new realities.
A Charity Cycling Challenge
After Adrian and I completed our 2011 charity challenge to cycle 20 countries in 100 days I found that books about cycle touring became an important part of the planning stages of my next journey. I was plotting a solo trip which meant I would have to plan the route and logistics for myself.
The books* about cycle touring that I’ve most loved are stories and adventures that I’ve enjoyed in the years since I returned from my own bike journey from Vietnam to the UK.
I read these stories to reminisce and to remember the feeling of being out on the road. It’s an important ritual for me. The bond of connection through shared experience is something I value.
My top five books about cycle touring that will inspire your next adventure:
- Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook – Neil & Harriet Pike
- Eat, Sleep, Cycle – Anna Hughes
- Full Tilt – Dervla Murphy
- Janapar – Tom Allen
- Moods of Future Joys – Al Humphreys
The number one book about bicycle touring
My first recommendation is of a practical nature. The Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook is a must-read for anyone planning a long-distance bicycle journey. Originally written in 2006 by Stephen Lord, this comprehensive handbook is now in its third edition. I bought a copy after my most recent trip as a way to help me reintegrate to ‘normal’ life.
I guess the idea of a big adventure was a kind of tonic to stave off the blues that my journey had ended – I started to look at possible routes for Africa. This delaying tactic helped me mitigate the feeling of sadness I experienced when I finally parked my bike up after nearly 20,000km.
Pikes On Bikes
The latest incarnation of the Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook has been written by Neil and Harriet Pike, perhaps best known as Pikes on Bikes, the handbook shares practical information, route guides and stories of past journeys. This is the go-to resource for anyone planning an adventurous bike expedition of any length.
The handbook is divided into easy to navigate continent sections with country sub-sections. The proposed route itineraries for classic overland journeys are accessible and straightforward including details of seasonality, distance and duration. Perfect for planning a big trip of your very own.
The definitive adventure cycling handbook
Buy this book* if you have even the smallest of aspirations to do a cycle tour of any kind – you’ll realise fairly early on that the hardest thing is leaving.
With the help of the handbook, you’ll feel more confident about the practicalities leading up to that point. It’ll help you answer the questions of interested family members and to dismiss the naysayers who try to steer you off course. Once you’re on the road, it’s easy.
A top book about cycle touring #2
I love this book for its daring simplicity. The story is about a circumnavigation of the British Isles by a female solo cyclist, Anna Hughes. The format of the book is a daily journal entry of the ride as it happened. This style of day by day account appealed to me in that I could pick up the book, read a few pages and be moved by the immediacy of the geography.
Places were at once familiar yet unknown. The action moving steadily at 15kph through a landscape I understood but hadn’t seen. The perspective of Anna’s daily challenge echoed my own experiences cycling through Europe. The scope of the journey was refreshingly local, easy to relate to and inspiring to unfold.
Eat, sleep, cycle, repeat
As I read the book I began to plan for regional rides to enjoy sections of coastline in bitesized chunks that would accumulate to traverse the whole coastline.
I also loved the fact that Anna had friends join along on the ride; her sister tagged along, colleagues from Sustrans hosted and strangers pedalled for a day or two; these alliances make the days move along with ease and grace.
I found that company was a welcome break from my own inner dialogue on the long days in the saddle. These short breaks from the solitary mission offer an insight into the psyche of the long-distance cyclist. Eat, Sleep Cycle* is a classic journey in the British cycle touring tradition.
The best book about bicycle touring #3
Dervla Murphy is a cycle touring heavyweight. Ireland to India by bicycle was her most well-known journey and subsequent best selling book. As an ex-pat living in India, this story resonated a lot. I often hear about the original hippies in the 60’s and 70’s travelling overland with full psychedelics through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan on a magic bus. Dervla’s adventure is the stuff of legend.
Wheels Within Wheels
The context of this journey is important; solo female travellers crossing continents was incredibly rare; a woman alone riding a bicycle was unheard of.
Famously, Dervla travelled with a revolver and her bike Roz, short for Rozinante, in allusion to Don Quixote’s steed. Full Tilt* is a beautiful account of an iconic route. This daring escapade along the ‘Hippie Trail’ set the standard for two-wheeled travel back when bikes, kit and currency were hard to come by. The enduring legacy of this enigmatic adventurer lives on in this marvellous book. Highly recommended.
Best cycle touring books #4
Janapar*, meaning journey in Armenian, is the love on a bike story of a self-unemployed creative nomad, Tom Allen. The journey begins in the ashes of the failed Ride Earth project, an off-road around the world attempt with two friends. As relations sour and the project crumbles, Tom discovers a new mission when he meets Tenny, an Armenian graphic designer.
The action unfolds as Tom begins his round the world bike ride once again only to realise that he’s met the love of his life.
The book shares the story of the pair as they navigate the intricacies of cultural differences, companionship and cycling heavy bicycles long distances. It’s an uplifting story of a very personal journey.
Best books about cycle touring #5
Moods of Future Joys is British adventurer Alastair Humphreys first book about his legendary four year-round the world bike ride. This book was in many ways the inspiration for my own really big bike ride. I read this book between my European and Eurasia trips and it sparked my imagination with the many possibilities that lay ahead.
There’s lots of practical insight about what it’s like to ride a bike for more than four years, it includes lots of countries and possible route itineraries but most of all the book shares the personal story that unfolds as Al grapples with the excitement, frustrations, challenges and joy of an epic adventure.
Four years around the world by bike
Read this book if you’re planning any kind of bike adventure. It’ll help you get a feel for the type of trip you’ll make and it’ll shape your attitudes – are you a traveller with a bike or a cyclist adventurer?
Moods of Future Joys* is full of humour, honesty and warmth. The anecdotes are wonderfully self-deprecating and written with a Yorkshire charm that makes this an easy book to love.
Book, bike, brew. Grand.
What books about cycle touring do you love? Share your favourites in the comments.
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