21st Century Bicycle Travelers

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

The world is changing… and so is the way people travel by bike.

For the past few months I’ve been sharing my ideas on what I believe could be a new form of bicycle touring. In my efforts to introduce this new form of travel, I talked about the way bicycle tourists are perceived by the public; I shared my ideas on how bicycle tourists could look good, be respected by the non-cycling world and still be hard-core world travelers all at the same time; and I revealed some information about the snowboarding industry that could help bicycle touring evolve and grow over the next few years.

But even after all of that, some people still have no idea what I’m talking about when I refer to “the new generation of bicycle travelers.” And frankly, its completely my fault that there’s been so much confusion.

Its my fault because I haven’t defined this new breed of bicycle touring… and I haven’t been much of an example myself. I’ve been living this new type of bicycle touring for over three years, and I’ve barely even mentioned it up until now. But that’s all about to change!

So, instead of leading you on any longer and writing more articles that just plain confuse you, I’ve decided to define this new form of bicycle travel for you now. So, here it is…

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While many bicycle tourists of the past saw their trips by bike as a break from work and family, this new generation of bicycle travelers see their adventures more as a way of life. This isn’t “bicycle touring.” This is a lifestyle that revolves around traveling with your bike.

What Characteristics Set Bicycle Travelers Apart From The Tourists Of The Past?

  • This new generation of bicycle traveler values time and experiences more than they value money and social standing. While many who tour by bike save up and wait until retirement to live out their bicycle touring dreams, this new generation wants to have their adventures now. They are less concerned with buying a big house, driving a fancy car or living in style once they turn 70. They’re putting off their future retirement to take mini-retirements now.
  • This new kind of bicycle traveler wear clothes, rides bikes, and uses gear that blends in more with the people and places they are visiting. There’s no more need for fancy breatheable jerseys. No more tight, revealing lycra shorts. And no more neon colored clothes. This new generation of bicycle traveler isn’t out to win any competitions, fit in with the rest of the cycling world, or look like a bum. They’re doing their own thing, both on the bike and with the clothes they choose to wear. They may be bicyclists… and they may be travelers… but they look good and do their best to blend in with the people and places they are visiting.
  • Many of these new cyclists do not work traditional 9 to 5 jobs. Instead, they prefer to have flexible hours, using their off time to travel and see the world. Many of these people work from home via a laptop or personal computer. Others work seasonal/part time jobs that allow them to travel when they aren’t at work.
  • This new breed of bicycle traveler is more interested in creating their own experiences than following the routes others have traveled in the past. While many find following established routes to be safe, easy, and enjoyable, this new kind of traveling cyclist could care less about pre-established bicycle routes and signs. Don’t get me wrong, having a nice bike lane is a welcome luxury, but the lack of signed routes isn’t gonna stop these people from seeing the world. Besides, they’re much more interested in the road less traveled anyway. Heck, they don’t even care if there is a road! They’ll figure out how to get to there one way or another.
  • These people are technologically proficient and make no apologese for being so well-versed in the digitial world. They travel with GPS devices, computers, digital cameras, cellular phones, video cameras, and solar panels. They document their travels and share their experiences with people from around the world via social networking sites, blogs, email newsletters and other technological networking tools. Many of these people use the Internet as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family back home, as well as a means of actually making money from their travels. Global Internet access is enabling this new breed of cyclist to travel the world, work from anywhere, and actually produce a positive cash flow while on their journeys.
  • And finally, this new generation of bicycle traveler sees bicycle touring more as a way of life, not as something you do just once in your life. These people are in it for the long haul. Many of them started bicycling at a young age, found bicycle touring, and have gone on to this new type of bicycle travel as the years progressed. Even when they aren’t traveling by bike, the lessons these people have learned while on their travels play an important part in the way they live their lives today. To this new generation, bicycle travel isn’t just a retreat from the office, its a new way of living!

The Progression Of Bicycle Travel

In the past, there were five main type of bike tours and they progressed in the following way:

THE LONG DAY TRIP: This type of tour is usually conducted by an organization which brings bicycle riders together in a single location and these people ride their bikes for a relatively long distance in a single day. Typical rides of this type can range from 60-100+ miles in a single day. While “bicycle touring” is typically an overnight activity, these large events will often times call themselves “bicycle tours.”

THE SUPPORTED TOUR: The supported bicycle tour is a tour where your gear (food, clothes, camping equipment, etc.) is carried in a vehicle that meets you at various checkpoints along your route. Some of these tours require you to pay to be a part of them and in this case, the tour leaders typically drive a van or truck of some sort, while you get to ride your bike. Other times, groups of individuals will simply get together and take turns driving the chase vehicle while the others in the group get to ride their bikes.

THE CREDIT CARD TOUR: Credit card touring is when you travel by bike and pack almost nothing but the clothes on your back and a credit card to buy things along the way. Instead of carrying a tent, you pay to sleep in a hotel. Instead of cooking your own food, you buy food along the way. Credit card tours are typically less than a week in length and are usually not supported by a touring company.

THE GUIDED SELF-SUPPORTED TOUR: Then there are tours where you carry everything you need to survive on your bicycle (food, clothes, tent, stove, etc.), but a guide from a touring company leads you along a specific route. With these types of tours, you ride with a small group of people and are then escorted on a daily basis by an experienced bicycle touring guide.

THE FULLY SELF-SUPPORTED TOUR: Finally, there is the self-supported bicycle tour. A self-supported bicycle tour is when you travel alone, carrying all the clothes, tools, and gear needed to survive on your own for days, weeks, or months on end. This is the type of bicycle touring I did for the first five years of my bicycle travels… and it’s one of the most popular ways to travel by bike.

But this is where the progression of things used to end. Self-supported touring was seen as the ultimate adventure for bicycle tourists. But now that I’ve been traveling with my bike for almost 10 years straight, I’m starting to see more and more people breaking away in what I believe to be a new kind of “bicycle tour.”

THE BICYCLE TRAVELER: This is the new breed of bicycle touring. It goes beyond self-supported touring because it’s so much longer, more technologically advanced, and a whole lot slower than the traditional bicycle tours of the past. This new form of bicycle touring is not a short term stint. It’s a new form of travel… and a new way of living.

The difference between the bikes tours of the past and this new form of bicycle travel is that “tourists” travel with an end date. Whether their trip by bike is a week, a month, or a year in length, the trip eventually comes to an end and they ultimately return to their normal lives. The bicycle traveler, on the otherhand, has no end date. He just keeps going. One trip leads into the next and the adventure continues indefinately.

So Who Exactly Are These New Bicycle Travelers?

I’ve been trying to highlight a few of these people on BicycleTouringPro.com over the past couple years, but let me share a few of them with you now:
  • The Pattersons are a great example to start with. This couple from Oxnard, California spent four years riding their bicycles around the world, updating their website as they went, and inspiring thousands of people to live more active lifestyles. Now they’re doing it again with a new Asian bicycle touring adventure and a new website aimed at the boomer population. Plus, they’ve got a book deal in the works and a whole lot more in store, I’m sure!
  • 22-year-old, Derek Gytenbeek is doing it too. He started riding his bike from Canada with the intention of stopping once he reached the Mexican border. But once he got there, he just kept on going! And that’s where he crossed from being a self-supported bicycle tourist into a bicycle traveler. Plus, he’s still out there, cycling in a giant loop around North America. While on his travels he’s been to a number of incredible places, met some fasinating people, and is at the same time producing one of the funniest, most well-written email newsletters about bicycle travel I have ever read.
  • Alastair Humphreys is a great example as well. Alastair has cycled around the world, written three books about his travels, and is quickly building a reputation as one of the most original, inspiring young motivational speakers in the world. He’s taken his trips by bike and transformed the lessons he learned on the road into a business that supports his future travels and allows him to live a lifestyle few people will ever have the opportunity to lead themselves.
  • Even Erika DeLeo is on her way to living the bicycle traveler lifestyle. She’s a young college student who had her first taste of bicycle touring in 2008 and was instantly hooked. Now she has plans of eventually riding her bike around the perimter of Australia. But before she does that, she’s planned a series of long distance bike tours in the United States that will build her up to her ultimate Outback adventure. This summer she’s taking off on her second bicycle touring adventure, riding over a thousand miles through the Northeast portion of the United States, blogging about her journey along the way, and raising money for Alzheimers disease to boot!
  • Tom Kevill-Davies (aka “The Hungry Cyclist“) is a great example too. After spending two-and-a-half years cycling around the Americas in search of the perfect meal, this journalist/author has turned his passion for food, travel, and writing into a career. With a new book just released and plans for another bicycle adventure underway, Tom is a prime example of the lifestyle being created by those who choose to travel by bike.
  • Finally, this list of bicycle travelers wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Tim and Cindie Travis. This seemingly ordinary American couple saved up their money, sold their possessions, quit their jobs and set off in 2002 to travel around the world on their bicycles. They’ve been traveling ever since… and in that time they’ve managed to write two books, build a popular website, and create a number of additional revenue streams that are actually paying for their bicycle lifestyle. Having been on the road for more than seven years now, the Travis’ are loving life as bicycle travelers and they have no intention of stopping any time soon.
So you see, this new breed of rider is out there. You may think they look very much like the traditional bicycle tourists of the past, but what they’re doing is something entirely different. It’s longer, slower, more technologically advanced, and built around a lifestyle rather than a short term stint.
While technology, clothes, and mindset are a huge factor in what sets these riders apart from the bicycle tourists of the past, the main difference is that while traditional bicycle tourists see their trips by bike simply as something they’re doing, the 21st century bicycle traveler sees what they’re doing as a part of who they are.

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0 Comments

  1. Al

    May 12, 2009 at 4:31 am

    A really interesting piece, and I think you’re spot on. The age of grey-beards and being complete dorks is passing!

  2. Robert Gillespie

    May 19, 2009 at 7:32 am

    I’m a grey-beard (actually white now) and I find that the most exciting vacations have two characteristics: (1) accompanied by wife and companion of 46 years
    (2) it is a biking vacation. My two grandsons both bicycle to school and we could not be more proud of having passed along this part of us to our grandboys.

  3. dexey

    May 19, 2009 at 8:00 am

    I’m 61 and prefer self supported, short tours in areas where I am familiar with the history, certain of the language and accompanied by a like minded friend, or two, or three. I am very committed to modern technology from bike (recumbent) to electronics (iPhone and solar power) but carry much over from the past as well. When I was younger I couldn’t afford these toys :0)
    I guess many of us travel across two or more of your categories, Darren.

  4. The Hungry Cyclist

    May 25, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Great post Darren and thanks for the leg up – did a book find you in Eastern Europe? I do hope so. All well here and busy planning more gastro pedal powered rides in Taiwan, Germany and France. Any tips?

    Ride save and loving your work.

    Tom

  5. Martin Thompson

    June 3, 2009 at 3:33 am

    Excellent Posting – book-marked it straight away! Nice synthesis of the four-hour-work-week. We offer all of the above, from fully escorted to straight up bike rental – with day-trips in between.

    Although I have been riding since I was 7, only recently have I actually taken up long-distance touring – and it’s simply the best! Will be in touch!

    Martin

  6. Tony

    August 29, 2009 at 9:07 am

    What a fantastic post – excellent observations… (ps 36 y/o tourer after working hard in IT since school!)

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