Let me make it clear I have no intention of riding across the country or the world on a bike if there isn’t a support vehicle or a warm bed and flush toilet involved. But it is a guilty pleasure of mine that I like to read about others who have. I can’t really explain my fascination with long distance cycling because it is a hard, uncomfortable way to see the world with a few moments of wonder from the landscape or encounters with kind people interspersed with lots of drudgery, hardship, danger, and bad weather. But learning about those moments of wonder and figuring out the motivation and perseverance of those who take on the challenge of a multiday long distance bike trip is an opportunity to live vicariously.
One of the characteristics of people who do multiday long-distance bike trips appears to be that they like to tell people about it. If this is true, it must be why there are so many books on the subject. If you are overwhelmed where to start there is a website that lists 64 books on the subject that you can browse--or you can read about a few that I have personally read below and see if any of these premises interests you. It is worth getting on the road, either on the seat of a bicycle or through the pages of a book.
The Lost Cyclist: The Eric Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance by David Herling
Publication date: May 4, 2011
This is one of the earliest accounts of long-distance bicycle touring around the world since it takes place in the 1800s. At this time there was a transition from the high wheel bike to the two even wheel safety bikes that we recognize today, pneumatic tires (filled with air), and there were no smooth, paved roads, GPS navigation, cell phones, and riders ofter encountered isolated, often lawless populations. There were only slow boats to accomplish the connections between continents and no trails, high speed ships, autos, or airplanes. So it is fascinating to hear how these gentlemen planned and accomplished a trip around the world and what they experienced along the way. The author pieces together the story based on historical research.
The bonus here was that in addition to a travel log, it is a mystery story. The cyclist that the title refers to, Frank Lentz, rode solo and got lost somewhere along his trip in Turkey, where his last letter was posted. After a year with no word, there was another expedition formed to determine what exactly happened to him, to try to bring his remains back home, and with proof of death, to seek retributions from the Turkish government.
You should read this book if you want:
Miles from Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle Adventure by Barbara Savage
Publication date: Jan. 31, 1985
Miles from Nowhere is also a story of a bicycle trip around the world, only it takes place 100 years after the story of the Lost Cyclist. It is interesting to compare and contrast the two journeys and how they are reported. In the Lost Cyclist the author did research to write the account of what happened 100 years before whereas with Miles from Nowhere the memoir was written by the cyclist who actually made the journey herself.
Barbara and Larry Savage did their 23,000-mile self-supported bicycle trip to 25 countries over two years in the late 1970s on ten-speed bikes. They started out their large-scale adventure as cycling beginners and along the way they developed their cycling legs. Barbara tells incredible tales about the people (and animals!) they encountered from different cultures all over the world. Even though their experiences are from 30 years ago and many things have changed with bicycles, technology, and the geo-political situation, Barbara’s words still manage to inspire with her stories of wonder and the power of the bicycle to bring people together.
You should read this book if you want:
Life Is a Wheel: Memoirs of a Bike-Riding Obituarist by Bruce Weber
Publication date: March 18, 2014
Bruce Weber was a reporter for the New York Times whose job at the time he took off on this cycling adventure was to write obituaries for the newspaper. He took a solo bicycle trip across country at the age of fifty-seven, riding west to east from Oregon to New York City. Along the way he recounted his observations about cycling, the land, the people he met, his motivation to undertake the trip and reminisced about his life and family, past and present. The road was difficult but he describes a view of America only available from the saddle of a bike. It is beautifully written and thought provoking. This is a narrative about an epic journey that can be enjoyed even by people who are not cyclists.
You should read this book if:
Coast to Coast on a Tandem by Tracy and Peter Flucke
Publication date: Nov. 1, 2017
This is a contemporary account of a long distance trip on one continent—the United States. Tracy and Peter Flucke, a couple from Wisconsin, rode across the country on a tandem bicycle. They made their way to the west coast and cycled east, dipping their bike wheels in the ocean at each end as is the tradition. They recount the beauty of the United States and the kindness of strangers and friends along the way. They are brutally honest about the trials, whether fatigue, weather, difficult terrain, or a tension between them. The book is unique in that not only are there two cyclists making the trip in super close proximity (on one bike) but in the book each of them provides their own perspective which sometimes is a very different take on the same experience. Not only did they manage to stay together after their 4,362-mile adventure across the northern tier of the county in 2014 over 72 days but they did additional unsupported long-distance trips after this one.
You should read this book if:
The Metal Cowboy and Momentum is Your Friend: The Metal Cowboy and his Pint-Sized Posse Take on America by Joe Kurmaskie
Joe Kurmaskie has his own web site where he identifies as a father, author, performer, cyclist, and troublemaker. These are just two of the books he has written but the web site lists seven books.
Metal Cowboy was written in 1999 and there is an updated version released 10 years that has additional material. He got the nickname “Metal Cowboy” from a blind rancher in Pocatello, Idaho and the name stuck. The book features forty stories of people and places he encountered on his bike rides starting at age five when he borrowed his sister’s bike without permission and his five subsequent bike tours across the country. The stories are not connected except that they all recount experiences that occurred while cycling. The author has a gift for storytelling in a heartful and amusing way and since he glosses over some of the mundane and tedious aspects of bicycle touring, he leaves you feeling either optimistic, joyful or sad, but always in awe of the power of the bicycle.
Momentum is Your Friend is an account, in chronological order, of his ride across the country from west to east towing two of his kids. The premise alone is amazing, not only biking across the country self supported carrying all their gear but also pulling a trailer and trail cycle and entertaining two boys age five and seven. He exposes them to the adventure of their life.
You should read these books if:
Sharon Kaminecki and others comment on adventures in bicycling and other stories