Good Touring Tales
For some people, the love of bicycling brings them to read
other riders' memoirs. For others, the vicarious thrill of
touring on paper is what brings them to try it in real life.
Either way, there's nothing like a good book about traveling by
bicycle to inspire vacation planning in the midst of a rainy
winter, to remind you of the fundamental joy of self-propelled
voyages at a pace that not only allows but forces you to
experience the lands you're passing through.
What follows is most definitely not a comprehensive
list of bicycle touring books. Instead, it's a listing of books
that I, personally, have read and enjoyed. If you see several
books on the list that you found insufferably boring, chances are
you and I have different literary tastes. If you see several
that you've enjoyed, maybe you'll like the rest. Or maybe not.
For convenience, I've linked titles to
though if you have a good local book store I
would certainly recommend keeping them in business. Book stores,
like bike shops, are part of the soul of a community, usually run
by underpaid devotees who find the fastest route to a small
fortune is to start business with a large one. Still, Amazon is
very fast, has excellent selection, and beats the pants off of chain
bookstores in the mall.
For the books that are out of print, you might want to try an on-line used
book search engine like
that links the inventories of many used book stores around the world -- if you
can't support your local book store, you can at least support someone else's.
I frequently get requests from people to add books to this list.
Sometimes authors, sometimes publishers, sometimes enthusiastic readers.
But this contains only books that I have read and enjoyed. So if you
think I'll like your book,
Email me, and if I haven't read
it I'll give it a try, I'm always looking for good new books!
The Books, In No Particular Order
Around the World on a Bicycle
by Thomas Stevens. The great-grandaddy of bicycle touring
books, both interesting and entertaining if you can get past
the author's character. Thomas Stevens was a man of his
times, and his book shows it -- he shoots vicious goslings
for fun, derides foreign cultures, indulges in racial and
ethnic stereotypes, etc.
On the other hand, he rode across the United
States, and then around the world, on a pennyfarthing,
beginning in 1884. And he wrote about it in quite
literate, perhaps even purple, prose. You don't have to
agree with his views of others to enjoy the saga of his
travels, any more than you have to approve of plunder and
pillage to enjoy stories of Vikings or pirates.
The current edition is missing two pages at the start
of Volume II. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of these
missing pages from Gary Young, and I've typed them in as
HTML, which you can find here.
Two Wheels North: Bicycling the West Coast in 1909
by Victor McDaniel, Ray Francisco, and Evelyn McDaniel Gibb.
Two decades after Thomas Stevens, bicycle travel was still a
risky endeavor, and hardly what most parents would want
their teenage sons to attempt. Yet that's just what
McDaniel and Francisco did, bicycling from California to the
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. Despite
injuries that would send most modern tourists to the ER and
then back home, and without enough money to take the train
home if their ride failed, these two boys grew up on that
ride, seeing more in one summer than most people do in a
lifetime. It surely puts today's paved Pacific Coast Route
in a different light.
As a third-generation Vashon Island resident, I first
bought this book because of its local connections, Victor
McDaniel and Evelyn McDaniel Gibb having been fellow
islanders. But it's now one of my favorite recommendations
for anyone looking for more adventurous touring stories.
Miles from Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle Adventure
by Barbara Savage. Inspired by the idea of bicycle touring but with
no experience, a young couple decide to put their professional
lives on hold, their belongings in storage, and take off around
the world. Too busy to even test ride their 10-speed bikes with
touring gear, they never rode their bikes with panniers until the
day they started their tour, grossly overloaded but charged with
enthusiasm that sees them through two years.
Sadly, having survived the hazards of two years of touring in
chaotic third-world traffic, Barbara Savage was killed by a
motorist in Santa Barbara shortly after returning home.
Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle
by Dervla Murphy.
is not your average woman by any means.
Eschewing fragile derailleur bikes for a trusty roadster,
packing a pistol for security (and she needed it), she set
off in the mid-1960s to ride from her home in Ireland to
visit India. Never put off by even the most hostile
encounters, she has a series of adventures that must be more
enjoyable to read than to have endured.
After this book she wrote a number of other good travel
tales, wandering through Transylvania, Madagascar, South
Africa, southern India, Nepal, and more.
Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman's Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia,
China, and Vietnam
by Erika Warmbrunn. Published by The Mountaineers,
and winner of their coveted Barbara Savage/Miles from Nowhere Memorial Award,
this chronicle follows eight months of riding far from the usual tourist
destinations. Unlike the Savages, Erika Warmbrunn travels solo, yet her
stories clearly dispel the image of solo touring as lonely, showing instead
how easily the solo tourist can join the society of any village she lands
Off the Map : Bicycling Across Siberia by Mark Jenkins. Unfortunately
out of print, this is a well written account of the cultural and emotional
as well as physical journey of a small group cycling through the then-potent
Soviet Union, from Vladivostok to Leningrad. Avoiding the worst American
stereotypes of the Soviet era, the author brings to life the remote regions
he passed through, including nearly a thousand interminable miles of mostly
walking through western Siberia, where there simply were no roads through
the swamp, only the railroad bed, too rough to ride on.
Spokesongs: Bicycle Adventures on Three Continents
by Willie Wier.
Listening to KUOW one afternoon several years ago, I heard
an announcer reading from a letter home from a Seattle-area
cyclist who was touring in India. The letter was wonderful,
bringing to life the culture I'd known when I lived in India
as an exchange student. The station mentioned this was one
of a series of letters they would be reading from Willie
Wier. I was hooked.
The letters from that trip were followed by reports from
two more trips, now collected in an excellent, entertaining
book. Willie Wier is now a cycling columnist, he's been on
the speaking circuit, and he still finds time to talk to
KUOW from time to time -- see more at
I will caution those of you who lend books to
friends, this is one you will not get back -- I have now
lost two copies because people felt the need to pass it on
to another reader who was supposed to give it back to me but
kept passing it on instead.
Metal Cowboy: Tales from the Road Less Pedaled
by Joe Kurmaskie. Not a report of any one ride, this series of
vignettes covers years of backroads touring, funny and
frightening incidents, character sketches of people met on
the road, etc.
If you've read Joe's writings on the
bicycle touring list, or the few times Buycicling magazine
actually let him write instead of spit out snippets,
then this book's tone will be quite familiar. And if you
ever get a chance to meet Joe in person, then buy him a cold
one, sit back, and listen.
The Lead Goat Veered Off : A Bicycling Adventure on Sardinia
, by Neil Anderson, published by
Cycle Logic Press. Canada's answer to Willie Wier and
Joe Kurmaskie, Neil Anderson combines beautiful rides with
social commentary, capturing the soul of touring -- meeting the
culture whose home you're riding through. The tale
ranges from serious cycling to anecdotes too improbable
to be made up. Cycle Logic, Anderson's own publishing
outfit set up to get the story in print, also includes more
book links and an excellent touring photo gallery.
A Crossing: A Cyclist's Journey Home, by Brian
Newhouse. An interesting and unsettling tale of a man
disconnected from himself, his family, and the woman he
loves, who sets out on a solo cross-country bicycle tour to
find himself. He takes the solo part seriously, avoiding
people who would want to ride with him, all the while
struggling with personal and religious questions that he can
never quite settle.
Far less cycling detail than most of the cycling books
I've mentioned, but still a fascinating story of one man's
life-changing bicycle journey.
Ride With the Wind
by Charlotte Hamlin. This is not your average touring
tale, it doesn't have much in the way of bicycle specifics or
details of the route. Instead, it's the tale of an Adventist
nurse and grandmother who rode across the U.S. to promote her
vegetarian, healthy-living lifestyle, and who enjoyed her trip
so much that she flew to Europe and turned it into a round-the-world
She makes all sorts of novice errors, rides on Interstates and
Autobahns that aren't open to cyclists, loses touch with her
support vehicle constantly, and barely understands how a bicycle
works. So why do I like the book anyway? Just her relentlessly
good humor and positive attitude in the face of all her mishaps and
misadventures. And her demonstration, time and again, that most
people are more than willing to assist a helpless stranger who isn't
isolated inside a steel and glass cage.
A bit preachy in places, in both religion and lifestyle, but
frankly I don't mind opinionated grannies with the energy to
ride around the world.
This page written by Josh Putnam.
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