If you’re reading this you probably know as well as me that preparing for a bike trip can be as integral to the enjoyment as riding. Organising kit, planning, re-planning the route and things to see…
Riding in the mountains is a form of exploration, yes, but these days inspiration and help comes in many forms: guide books; paper maps; Google; Komoot; hiking websites; forums etc. But, it was in one of the far flung corners of the internet that I first found a reference to Fred Wright and his Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps, which I am now republishing via Kickstarter.
Published in 2002, Fred’s original book details nearly 300 routes, ranging from easy unsurfaced roads at little more than 1000m to steep footpaths above 3000m, and from the southern French Alps to Switzerland, the Dolomites and the Austrian Tirol. Fred, whoever he was, had preserved the collective wisdom of generations of riders who pioneered riding the ‘rough stuff’ – riders who headed into the high peaks armed only with touring bikes and canvas rucksacks, sandals and floppy hats, crossing mountain ranges and joining up towns and famous cols on little-known gravel tracks, dirt trails and even glacier climbs(!). It was gravel biking before gravel bikes existed – mountain biking before mountain bikes, in some cases.
“Fred’s original book was the collective wisdom of generations of riders who pioneered riding ‘rough stuff’ – riders who headed into the high peaks armed with touring bikes and canvas rucksacks, sandals and floppy hats, crossing mountain ranges and joining up towns and famous cols … This was gravel biking before gravel bikes, mountain biking before mountain bikes, in some cases…”
…it sounded like my kind of book. I write about mountains and I ride my bike in the mountains to the exclusion of most normal things. I spend a lot of time, from snow melt to snow fall, on road bikes and on gravel and touring in the Alps, and I have worked as a cycle guide with travel companies helping other people have these same experiences. But I could not find a copy anywhere. I made other books, such as Bunker Research exploring higher and further off the beaten track in the Alps, but in all that time researching I still could not find one.
Eventually, I decided the best thing to do was to try to find Fred, to go and ring his doorbell and ask him if I could re-publish it. Because if I wanted a copy, surely there were others who would too? Then I spoke to James Olsen of the Torino-Nice Rally. He had one, and he had used it to design the Rally route, so he put me in touch with Fred…
Fred is now 82 and lives in the south of England. He doesn’t ride much any more, but he grew up – as he explains in the new introduction he wrote for the new edition of his book – in Kashmir, before the partition of India and Pakistan, where his father had been sent as treatment for TB. There the family lived, in a tent on the banks of the river Sind, on a pass on the way to Ladakh, and it was there that his love of the mountains was born.
His first bike tour in the Alps was in 1953, and though Alps must have seemed tame after Kashmir he still got stuck riding a four-speed bike on the San Bernadino pass in a blizzard, and I think after that he was hooked on exploring rough stuff by bike. Fred’s routes are often tough going. There is a lot of hike-a-bike and some ladders, and the directions don’t pander to the lazy and non-ingenious.
Only self-starters need apply. But isn’t that what we want? Something beautiful and tough and rewarding, something that is not handed to us on a titanium plate. Isn’t that why we get on our bikes and go touring? Why we don’t just go to the pub, or stay in bed? Sometimes it is only when things are going wrong that you know they are truly going right.
“Fred is now 82 and lives in the south of England … it was in a tent on the banks of the river Sind, on a pass on the way to Ladakh … that his love of the mountains was born. His first bike tour in the Alps was in 1953, and though Alps must have seemed tame after Kashmir he still got stuck riding a four-speed bike on the San Bernadino pass in a blizzard…”
If you like the idea of the book, please come and take a look at our KICKSTARTER and support us. We’ve hit our target and the reprint will definitely happen, but with more support we can print more colour pages of Fred’s photos and increase the charitable donation per copy.
There are Pannier rewards on offer too – an exclusive cycling cap, a coffee kit with a limited edition dry bag, and a limited edition ‘Overview of the Alps‘ A3 print, that will feature in the book.
Buy this amazing book because you’re planning a trip, buy it for the incredible photos, buy it for inspiration; please help us bring Fred’s book back to life…