The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook has become somewhat of a bible for travelling cyclists: a comprehensive manual brimming with information on everything from sourcing the best touring bike, components and cycle camping equipment, to route-planning and even conversing in Far-East Asia.
Originally compiled by Stephen Lord in 2006, the recently released third edition (2015) has been updated and expanded by Neil and Harriet Pike, with the help and contributions of a whole host of experienced travelling cyclists. They have added 50ish extra pages of practical preparation and route information, and photos / stories from the road…
The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook (ACTH) has always had a spot on our touring bookshelf. In fact, alongside an ever-growing map collection, there is a chance that the ACTH might be the only cycle travel book you ever own – as key as a good sleeping mat for anyone looking to start out travelling by bike, and especially for those planning to take their bike on a long-distance adventure.
"The ACTH...aims to give you a broad overview of the adventure cycling world, to show some of the possibilities out there and give a sense of what it is like to cycle in each country or region."
As we also try to communicate on Pannier, “almost anyone can embark on a cycle tour…The only prerequisites are a thirst for adventure, the ability to ride a bike, and the strength of mind to convert your desire for a big trip into actually setting off”. Flicking through the ACTH and reading the Trip Reports, Tales from the Saddle and Route Outlines is likely to convert any crazy thoughts you had of riding the length of the Americas to actually facing the crosswinds along the Carretera Austral on a loaded touring bike.
It has to be said early on, that apart from the excellent practical and preparation advice in the opening three sections, the ACTH is very much aimed at cyclists looking to head off on longer, far flung tours – the Adventure Cycle Touring World Map above is testament to this. As Neil and Harriet say “Europe is ideal for a shakedown or short practice tour to test the waters…you don’t need a guidebook.” There has to be a limit – how do you fit everything cycle touring into one book?
The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook is organised into eight sections:
Where and when to go.
Visas, money, insurance etc.
Touring companions | travelling in groups, solo (as a woman), and with kids.
2. BIKES, CLOTHING & CAMPING
Choosing a touring bike | category of bike, frame material, componentry.
Cycle touring equipment | racks, panniers, bikepacking setups.
Tools & spares.
Loading a touring bike | light-heavyweight options, kitlists, bikepacking setup (below).
Camping | tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, stoves, treating water, other useful kit.
3. ON THE ROAD
Transporting your bike | packing and boxing a bike up (below).
Navigation on a cycle tour | maps, gps, smartphone options.
Health on the road | sun, altitude, insects, hygiene, diet.
Safety | avoiding accidents, theft, dogs.
Touring techniques | off-road riding, winter riding (below).
"Our biggest headache...was buying alcohol to burn in our Trangia stove. Moroccans frown on alcohol in general and even though it's not for drinking it's hard to come by."
Throughout the book, there is a series of ‘Trip Reports’ for tours in various of parts of the world. They are useful for getting an idea of the type of touring to expect, budgets, and picking up a few insightful tips. This example above is by Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill, specifically on their bikepacking trip in Morocco.
4. ROUTES OUTLINES: (EUROPE) ASIA
5. ROUTES OUTLINES: AFRICA
6. ROUTES OUTLINES: AMERICAS
In this section of the ACTH, the main, most common cycle touring routes are highlighted with key information on: practicalities; bureaucracy; when to go; sleeping and eating; and language and conversing. So, this is perfect for getting a few ideas on where to go, and some background information on the classic long-distance trans-continental routes for crossing each continent. However, as Neil and Harriet point out, this is only meant as an overview on journey possibilities – once / if you have a particular route in mind, you will need to move onto other “detailed maps, blogs, forums and guidebooks. A number of mountain roads, such as the Great Divide or the Pamir Highway are so well known as cycling routes that each is covered in some detail, but otherwise we believe that adventurers like to find their own road”.
..."the most common route across Asia goes through Turkey and Iran, then up into the Central Asian 'Stans. Deserts await in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan before the heavenly mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyszstan..."
"Having a plan doesn't take the spontaneity out of things..."
7. TALES FROM THE SADDLE
Seven stories from the road | from Emily Chappell’s “Kidnapped by Comedians” account of her time in Northern Japan during winter, to Charlie Walker’s “Now or Never” adventure in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
8. APPENDIX: BIKE MAINTENANCE
Maintenance | derailleurs, oil, brakes and rims, chains, headsets.
The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook is a bible written by travellers who have toured across the world: reading through it will definitely help convert any niggling thoughts of a long-distance cycle adventure into reality. The recently updated third edition is an ideal book for cyclists planning to head off on their first adventures, and is equally as useful for more experienced travelling cyclists to dip into for snippets of information on everything from Helen Lloyd’s tips on cold weather cycling, to Neil’s explanations on fixing sleeping mats, riding off-road on sand and corrugations, or crossing borders in Western China.
Route planning wise, the ACTH provides a good overview of the possible trans-continental routes around the world but to fully plan and prepare, you will need to delve deeper into other resources; plenty of which are included in the book.
Where will your bike take you?
If you live in or around Bristol, Harriet and Neil will hand-deliver the book for you, most probably by fat bike…
Logan Watts – “In Morocco with a 29+ Surly ECR”
Helen Lloyd – “Cold Weather Riding”
Amaya Williams – “Stormy skies and endless vistas: Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China”
Mike Howarth – “Flying down from a 5000m pass in Peru”