Stage One of a bike journey across Eurasia from Dumfriesshire (Scotland) to the Pacific Coast.
Josh started travelling by bike at the ripe old age of 16 when he and a good friend made the most of a their college summer holiday to cycle to Italy from their homes in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. Following a successful journey, the idea of a long distance tour began to take root – his eyes had been opened to the possibilities that cycle touring offered.
However, soon after, he became heavily involved in racing bikes and put his grand ideas on hold while spending 4 years as a full-time rider living and competing in Belgium. Recently, with his racing days coming to an end, it was time to research, plan and prepare to pedal off on the long journey he had craved. He is now on the road, riding across Eurasia to the Pacific Coast…
We met up with him a couple of days before he set off; his bike build was finished and he was collating his last few items of kit.
The mindset required for racing is different from that of a cycle tourist, and after years of speeding around the roads of Europe without time to observe and to reflect, the prospect of taking a more relaxed approach, with no fixed daily destination and no schedule, really appealed to me again. Bicycles are the perfect remedy for the curious but occasionally impatient traveller – not too fast, not too slow…
Eurasia is the world’s biggest land mass, the so-called ‘World Island’, holding roughly 65% of total world population and 32% of its total land area and the place I deemed to have the most diverse cross-section of the world that could also be crossed with minimal amounts of air or sea travel. Between its western Atlantic coast and its Pacific eastern flank lay most imaginable types of terrestrial frontier: mountains; deserts; rainforests; rivers; and seas, and an equally numerous amount of anthropological ones too: religions; races; creeds; and cultures. Sure there will be places that are simply impassable, and my intended route through Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent will undoubtedly change along the way, but regardless, I saw it as the perfect route to cycle.
..."the mindset required for racing is different from that of the cycle tourist...the prospect of taking a more relaxed approach, with no fixed daily destination and no schedule, was highly appealing."
Despite having years to mull over the possibilities, my planning didn’t begin in earnest until the months preceding my departure date – January 2015. I started collating my touring equipment: a camping stove here, a sleeping bag or tent there. Then it was a case of waiting for the Christmas and New Year sales to equip myself with a few lesser-essentials, like camera paraphernalia and a small laptop with which to try and document my travels.
Of course I still had to build my bike too, and so after sourcing most items individually according to my own research and ideals, I went about putting it together. The result is a Surly CrossCheck, with a largely Shimano Deore touring group set, Hope bb and headset, DT Swiss wheels, complete Ortlieb pannier set, Tubus front and rear racks and a Brooks B-17 Special saddle. It’s simplistic and high-quality, and will
hopefully serve me well throughout my journey.
Most of my planning was based around potential routes, their plausibility in terms of visa restrictions, remoteness, any civil unrest, and then general research pertaining to those places; history, language, must-see sites. I am a member of the Royal Geographical Society in London, and regularly attended talks and get-togethers in order to glean information and speak to others who have made similar adventures. All this of course only made me increasingly restless though, and I knew that the only way to cure the itch was to leave.
I left from my Dad’s house up in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, primarily in order to test my setup on home soil, but also as a sort of ritualistic exercise, as travelling through England, my home country, was something I really wanted to do.
Since then – I have made it through a bitterly cold UK, over to Belgium and the cobbled climbs of Flanders, through the driving sleet and snow of Luxembourg, the majestic winter wonderland of Germany’s Black Forest and into the dizzying granite peaks of the Alps proper, amid the skiing pistes of Austria and the and limestone monuments of Italy’s Dolomites.
I’ve had long and hard days on the bike, and seemingly longer and harder nights in the tent, but the warmth I’ve received from the dozens of kind-hearted people I’ve met along the way – be it by coincidence, concern, intrigue, or via organised online platforms – has more than made up for it.
And for the riding; well it may be cold, but the snow has certainly made for a breathtaking spectacle.
Josh's Touring Equipment List
BIKE & COMPONENTS
Surly Cross Check
Tubus Tara front rack
Tubus Logo rear rack
Brooks B-17 Special
Hope Threadless Headset and Threaded Bottom Bracket
Pro Handlebar (42cm) and Stem (90cm)
Cane Creek SCR-5 Brake Levers
DT Swiss TK 540 Rims, DT Swiss Alpine III Spokes, Shimano XT Hubs
Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres (700×35c)
Shimano Deore Front & Rear Derailleur, Chainset (22/32/44), Chain, Cassette (11-34)
Shimano Dura Ace Down Tube Shifters
Shimano Ultegra Cantilever Brakes
Shimano M324 pedals
Ortlieb Sport Packer Classic front panniers
Ortlieb Bike Packer Classic rear panniers
Ortlieb Rackpack (Camping Kit)
Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Bar Bag (Regular Items)
Saddle Bag (Tools & Spares)
TOOLS & SPARES
Puncture Repair Kit
Spare Foldable Tyre
Spare: Brake and Gear Cables; Chain; Nuts and Bolts; Brake Pads; Inner Tubes
Cassette Removal Tool
Brooks saddle spanner
Down Sleeping Bag
Silk Sleeping Bag Liner
EATING – DRINKING
MSR Whisperlite Stove
1 Person Cooking Set
Sparking Fire stick, waterproof matches, mini lighter
SteriPen Water Purifier
MSR 6L Water Bag
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f.4-5.6 Lens
Canon 50mm f/1.8 II Lens
Headphones and Speaker
Worldwide Tuner Radio
Maps – Large scale European, then more detailed variants for the Caucasus and Asia
Distance Roller – a Trundle Wheel for Maps
Packable Day Bag
Pens and Pencils
Zipties and Duct Tape
First Aid Kit