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 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