nomad |’nomad | (n.)
a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.
Heinz Stucke is the definition of a nomad. After pedalling off from his hometown (Hovelhof in central Germany) in 1962 as a young guy, Heinz has only just returned for good following 50 years on the road; riding his bicycle(s) over 648,000km through 196 countries. How do we know that? Because he documented everything, and has 21 passports to prove it…
Thanks to Dutch travel writer Eric van den Berg, Bike Tech and the guys at Brompton, whose bike he has been riding (and testing) for his last measly 52,800km, we now have world cycle traveller Heinz Stucke’s story in a delightful and fascinating book – Home Is Elsewhere | Heinz Stucke: 50 Years Around The World By Bike. The book offers great insight into the mind of Heinz and goes some way to telling us “how” and “why” he has nowhere to really call “home”.
We went to the UK launch of the Home Is Elsewhere book at the Design Museum, London and then to meet Heinz the following day. This piece is about the book, and includes sound bites from the interesting and entertaining talk on the launch evening, which was hosted by Will Butler-Adams from Brompton…
"I am on a treasure hunt. I want to start each day not knowing what is coming. It is the bicycle that makes it all possible; the bike is my passport…”
“To go around the world in the late 50’s still had the aura of something nearly impossible to achieve for the average citizen. Well if they can, I can I told my colleagues. And they laughed.”
“Short journeys prepared me for more … I cycled around the Mediterranean, to Asia before coming back. Then, in 1962 I wanted to go through Africa to South Africa, then to North America. So, I said goodbye for 2 or 3 years … I thought that I’d be in Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics…”
“I arrived in 1971!”
“Of course, I had no idea that this journey would last a lifetime. I had a rough idea about the places I wanted to see … and I happily kept postponing the return journey again, and again – the urge to see another country was always stronger and I enjoyed the way of life. What is better than to follow a life that is fulfilled? The journey is my fulfilment … It took me 14 years to step back on European soil and when I did in 1978, the Sunday Times (London) wrote a piece about me entitled “The Man Who Wanted To See It All”…
“When I realised it took me so long to cover the distances, money became important … it was all about the money … I eventually arrived in Cape Town in 1964, instead of Tokyo. I made a booklet to give to people as a kind of business card – with a photo on the front. People asked if they could buy them, so in the main post office in Cape Town I started selling these booklets of my travels. Within a few hours I had sold them all – I thought, “shiiit this is cool!” So EVER since I made the money to get to South America, I used the same formula. I sold thousands in every country through South America and managed to keep going.”
“Some people now, doing the Pan-American Highway do it in one year – that is very good timing – but they are mainly concerned about making distance, not so much about meeting people. I am primarily about people – they are number one for me. Through people I have everything…”
“I have something like 3000 addresses of people around the world on record, written down…”
The book is beautifully laid out and organised very logically – not chronologically – but as erratic as Heinz himself is, and cycle touring can be – flicking between his thoughts on all aspects of his travels: the weather; money; the food; the danger etc. before recalling extracts from both his personal Journals and Booklets.
The photographs would work as a book themselves, telling Heinz’s stories from shaving at the Equator in Kenya (1963), to staying with tribal peoples in Papua New Guinea (1974), through to his more recent “fully loaded Brompton” travels (2010). Heinz has always enjoyed photography, but more importantly, taking pictures has provided him with income to maintain his intrepid, nomadic lifestyle. He has needed photography – not photos of grand impressive landscapes, but of him and his cycling adventures for people to relate to. Caps off to the team who sorted through his vast catalogue of journals and diary entries, photos and slides. In the credits, Onno Zaman is thanked “for spending countless days and weeks scanning in countless slides Heinz had taken.” I can imagine…
"Dental floss is the secret of all world travellers"
“In the sand, you need to release your tyre pressure. So, once in the Sahara, I let the air down. BIG BIG mistake. As I rode, the tubes started to move and suddenly – pssh pssh – both tyres at the same time! The valves had completely sheared off! I had one spare tube only, so I had to find a way. There is always a way. Things can always be fixed – I am a fixer. Electronics I can’t do, but if I can see something…”
“The valve was there, the tube was there. I put the valve back in place and then used dental floss. Dental floss is the secret of all world travellers! You wrap it round tightly and more and more. One layer, then a bit of superglue, and it hardens. Then one more layer and a bit more superglue. Then you put it on the bike, and it works!”
Home Is Elsewhere is a great read, and beautiful book. My only comment would be to say that the modern design of the book doesn’t quite reflect the analogue and old school world that Heinz lived, and still lives in. A picky point because once you’ve delved into the content, Heinz’s world on the road shines through. Don’t judge a book by its cover…
Taking a closer look at Heinz’s Brompton which he now uses for its lightness and practicality (efficiency) for transporting when not riding – “I think I’d need one of the kitchen steps you use to reach the cupboards to swing my leg over my main touring bike now!” – the folding bike has clearly been subject to the modifications of an experienced world bike traveller over its 52,800kms. He hasn’t put a second set of handlebars on like his signature bike but it’s the little touches, like the taped frame, the lace wrapped around the right pedal that tell the story of his pedals “wearing his sneakers out” for years and years. And his Brooks Professional saddle…
I knew about Heinz’s famous postcards that he sends out to his following around the world, so when I went to meet him, I was keen for him to fill out one of our Pannier Touring Cards. He was wearing his same trusty blue Globetrotter jumper from his photograph in Canada above (2010). I asked him to sketch his Brompton but he wasn’t interested in that; he drew two birds kissing instead…
We talked about our upcoming Pannier tour to Belgium for the UCI CX World Championships at the end of January – “get the daytime ferry, it’s cheaper” he said. Ah, the mindset of such a nomad; time is never the first or most practical thought.
I’ll let him know how we get on when I see him next.
Home Is Elsewhere is out now, published by Brompton. Get yourself a copy and enjoy finding out more about the travels of Heinz Stucke: a cycle touring legend. And, if you ever find yourself in Hovelhof, be sure to drop by and make use of his open door policy – the tide has turned!