Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: Bike Touring - The Sierra Club Guide to Travel on Two Wheels

Bike Touring - The Sierra Club Guide to Travel on Two Wheels
by, Raymond Bridge
Sierra Club Books, San Francisco

Raymond Bridge has been writing about bicycle touring since I was born, quite literally. His first book, Freewheeling - the Bicycle Camping Book, was printed in 1974, the same year I was born. I happen to own the original, so when I was asked to review the new publication, I was quite excited! Oh, and for the record, here is his first book:

The core of the original is certainly alive and well in his new book, but the execution is significantly different.

With that, we can all agree that Bridge has had a while to contemplate cyclotouring, and to gain experience as an author on the subject. As one might expect, some things like equipment, ease of planning trips and availability of local information has changed significantly. The internet has revolutionized trip planning and the ability to find pertinent information en route. The average production bicycle that most people will tour on is a quantam leap from that of 30-something years ago. The spirit of cyclotouring however, hasn't changed very much.

Bridge covers all sorts of touring styles, from inn-to-inn (or roof-to-roof) touring, to weekenders and overnighters, to supported tours and cross-country journeys. He ties them all together before explaining any of them though, with the following:
"The underlying motivation for this book is to inspire readers to experience some of the remarkable rewards that cycling can provide to anyone with an adventurous nature who enjoys physical activity, the experience of the natural world, and the process of overcoming challenges that are both unique and personal."
Closest to me due to my busy schedule, his coverage of short weekend trips resonates loudly. The following paragraph certainly makes me think of ways to squeeze more of these types of trips in this summer and fall:
"A lot of touring consists of one or two-day weekend rides that cover a circuit fairly close to the cyclist's home, perhaps with longer trips on holiday weekends or vacations. The variety of touring that can be enjoyed even close to home is amazing. Since good cyclists are quite likely to cover 50 or 100 miles on a day's trip, there' is a wide range of possibilities starting from your own doorstep."
Aside from touring styles and planning, Bridge also goes into a surprising (to me) amount of detail with regards to touring bicycle handling, (such as subtleties of trail/caster), frame materials and geometry. The bike geek in me was pleased to see all of these topics covered. And where it makes sense in order to stay on topic, Bridge provides pointers to web sites and news lists. Phreds are mentioned several times in this book. You know who you are. :-)

A list worth noting here is his production road touring bike short list:

• Cannondale Touring 1 and 2
• Cannondale T800, T2000 (older models)
• Trek 520
• Fuji Touring
• Specialized Sequoia & Sequoia Elite
• Specialized Tricross Sport
• Novara Randonee (from REI)
• Bianchi Volpe (up to 2007)
• Jamis Aurora
• Raleigh Sojourn
• Kona Sutra
• Terry Valkyrie Tour (women)

I don't think that list would be complete without adding the Surly Cross Check and Long Haul Trucker. Likewise, I'd consider the SOMA Double Cross as a must-have in that list.

Several custom builders and higher-end makers are also mentioned including Rivendell, Bruce Gordon, Waterford, Kogswell, Co-Motion and others, but given the current explosion of framebuilders in the United States, one would have a hard time listing all the good ones.

The book is paperback, and filled with illustrations (but no photos). At over 460 pages, there is almost certainly useful information for most people with an interest in bicycle camping, touring, mountain touring, and just about any other kind of two-wheeled adventure travel.

Lastly, given that I tend to get "pointy" when it comes to the Sierra Club's stance on certain, but certainly not all, topics, I feel it important to mention that Bridge does an excellent job of keeping politics out of his book. This is a book about cyclotouring, and a thorough one at that. If I had to rate this book on a five star scale, I'd rate it 5 for completeness, 4 for production quality, 3 for design, and 4.5 for editing. There were some typos and extra words that weren't spotted by the editors, but eh, I don't really care. I was inspired to go touring, and that's ultimately what counts with a book like this: the author meets his goal, which is to get people on the bike.


Unknown said...

I think the publishers should have got you to do the "blurb" for the book! Excellent review, made all the better by you having a copy of the original from 1974 - times have certainly changed!

Pondero said...

Thanks for the review and referral. I thought it was interesting to note the difference in the two covers. The former emphasizing the experience with a photo of a campsite...and the later emphasizing stuff with a photo of gear. Based on that I might try to find a copy of the first book.

Or would the old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover" be more appropriate?

Gino Zahnd said...

If you're only going to hunt down one of the two, get the new one. The list of internet resources for equipment and planning alone make it a better choice. Emphasis on the experience is still there, without a doubt, so perhaps you can't judge this one by its cover.

I do agree though; the old cover is beautiful, and I alluded to that in the review. :-)

If you can find them both though, do that. I found the original on fleabay on the order of about $2 (sorry Ray).

blackmountaincycles said...

Another bike/frameset to add to the list will be the, soon to be available, Bruce Gordon BLT.

bbtouring said...

Thanks for the review Gino! This sounds like a good book. I'm going to pick it up to review. Wanted to suggest you consider the Specialized Tricross Sport Triple for light "credit-card" or "inn-to-inn" touring, as Bridge refers to it. Seems like it would be fine for short trips — 20-40 miles — between bed & breakfast inns, which is how I like to tour the countryside.

Take care

Anonymous said...

Knowing Ray, I am surprised that he didn't include the LHT as a suggested touring bike since that it what he rides and he is an active contributor to the Surly LHT/CC list.