Bicycle Touring

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Redhead Irish tourer Conor Ahern burns across Highway 16, B.C.

“If continuous cycling is productive of a superfluity of exhilaration, and said exhilaration bubbles over occasionally, plainly the bicycle is to blame.” ~Thomas Stevens

High on bikes

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Thomas Stevens

Thomas Stevens, born at Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, England, December 24, 1854, was the first person to bicycle around the world.

Setting out from Oakland, California in April 1884, on his Columbia Standard, he spent 103 days cajoling his penny farthing across the continent, over rutted wagon roads, railway lines and rocky trails.

Along with a record of his adventures, peppered with prejudices common to the age, the pioneering pedaler compiled a “long and eventful list of headers on the way.”

After a winter in New York, Stevens hopped a steamer to England, re-mounted his “high wheeler” and continued his two-wheel caper, riding for another 2 years through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The resulting two-volume travelogue Around the World on a Bicycle has entertained legions of armchair adventurers and inspired more than a few globetrotting cyclists after him.

Cycling suffrage

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Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky

Ten years later, Bostonian Annie Kopchovsky defied the social conventions of her day to become the first woman to circle the world by bicycle.

Using a machine less likely than a penny-farthing to launch her over the handlebars, her “safety” bicycle,” with its single fixed gear, was no less physically demanding.

In what might have been the first case of a sponsored tour, the diminutive mother of 3 crossed continents on a donated lightweight bike and, anticipating today’s corporate-backed expeditions and races, advertised bottled spring water—going as far as adopting the company’s name—Londonderry—as her own.

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Ian Hibbel crosses the Sahara

Life in the saddle

Ian Hibell first made headlines with his audacious Trans-Americas Expedition of 1971-3, which included a gruelling slog through the steaming Panamanian bog known as the Darian Gap. The odyssey is chronicled in his classic and much-coveted 1984 book, Into the Remote Places.

Hibbel went on to cycle the Sahara and complete a hundred other bicycle traverses, covering the equivalent of ten times round the equator, during four decades of epic touring. Tragically, he was killed in August, 2008 by a hit-and-run motorist, during a short tour in Greece.

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John Hathaway, 1986
(photo: Harold Bridge)

Another biking Brit

John Hathaway emigrated from his native England to Canada, in 1952 and wasted no time exploring his adopted country by bicycle. His 1957 Halifax to Vancouver record of 24 days 13 hours stood for 20 years. His exploits inspired my first long-distance Canadian forays.

He completed a transglobal ride in 1974, covering 80,000 kilometres in 100 weeks and set out again in 1986, at the age of 61, to conquer the highest roads in the Andes. In 1992, he toured 48 US states.

Hathaway was also a member of the first foursome from BC to enter the renowned 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris cycling marathon, in 1979.

Near or far, big or small, we love them all

Pedaling poets like Dervla Murphy, Brian Hall and Bernard Magnouloux sing the praises of bicycle travel, inspiring us to pack our panniers, jump on our bikes and set out on the open road.

Thinking of cycle touring, maybe we dream of following in the cleats of round-the-world wonders, like Stevens, Londonderry, Hibbel and Hathaway. Perhaps we’d just like to see what it’s like to pedal over to the next county or province. Maybe a Saturday jaunt out to the countryside is your desire, or a minimalist overnighter following a nearby forestry trail.

Every journey by bike brings its own special rewards, and are all worthy ambitions for the velo adventurer.

“Every so often a bird gets up and flies some place that it’s drawn to. I don’t suppose it could tell you why, but it does it anyway.” ~Ian Hibell

External Resources (open in new window)

Thomas Stevens’ Around the World on a BicycleThe Gutenburg Project:

Annie Londonderry.com A tribute by great-grandnephew, Peter Zheutlin

Water Sand & Ice (PDF) by Ian Hibell @ Adventure Cycling Assoc.

John Hathaway: A Retrospective by Harold Bridge @ BC Randonneurs

Conor Ahern November 7, 2010 at 10:07 am

Good Evening Ray and Greetings from Ireland.

I was doing some messing around on the web when I found your site and
got a bit of a surprise to see my photo on your site. The redhead has
a of lot of grey hair in it now.

I went back to Canada in 2004 and did quick 56 day ride of only 5,600
Km I had a saddle sore for 52 days, but I still enjoyed it. It was a
make it up as I went along route from Regina to Montreal River,
Ontario, taking in Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I haven’t
got back on the bike since I finished that.

I’m delighted to see that you are still alive and well and still
riding the bike.

Thanks for the photo it bought back a lot of memories, it might even
be my incentive to get back on the bike.

Keep on Biking!!!

Raymond Parker November 7, 2010 at 11:10 pm

How great to have reconnected!

I remember those few days crossing B.C. as some of my best days on a bike. Perhaps the tailwind had something to do with that.

Let’s stay in touch. BTW: at least you have hair! :-)

Conor Ahern November 8, 2010 at 9:14 am

Those were the days!! Five months in the saddle and 10,500 miles, temperatures from -45C to +40C along with snow, hail, rain and wind. Not to mention the frostbite on the feet and face, the nerve damage still affects me today. As they say, it was all good character building stuff.

Happy times spent seeing Canada and the USA from a bicycle saddle. I can still remember the various people I met along the way and eventually I became reacquainted with two of them when I moved to Colorado in 1995.

I never knew where or when it would end, but it finally did on the border of Pennsylvania and New York. One phone call to my brother in Connecticut and he came to get me. I couldn’t go on much longer, autumn was coming, and the money had run out, so it felt like the right time to stop. I needed a change of routine too; just sleeping, riding a bike and eating everyday eventually took it’s toll and I was glad to stop. Then the next week it was back to work building houses and dreaming of the next adventure.

In the spring of 1995 one of my brothers came over from Ireland for a visit. He had spent 2 years travelling around the world with a bicycle a few years beforehand. We went for dinner one night and we got talking about the previous year’s journey and he said “You have done something nobody else in the world has done”. Amazingly as the years passed I met people who said the same thing. Some even suggested writing a book about my little trip, but still no book. Maybe someday I will get around to it.

Well that is enough reminiscing for now. If I ever get around to writing the book I will let you know.

Bernard Magnouloux January 6, 2011 at 9:39 am

Wow, calling me a poet! Nobody had ever done me such a compliment. Thank you very much. I’m showing it to all my english-speaking friends, especially as I am NOT.

Raymond Parker January 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

Ah, but your prose is pithy, if I may say so, Bernard. I picked up a copy of your book, Travels with Rosinante, in the late ’90s. Glad I found it. I regard it as one of the best of the genre.

Bonne route!

Bernard Magnouloux February 9, 2011 at 10:18 am

Sorry, my comment was ambiguous. I didn’t mean I was not a poet, I meant I was not a native speaker of English. :-D