Bicycle touring

Bicycle touring means self-contained cycling trips for pleasure, adventure and autonomy rather than sport, commuting or exercise.

Touring can range from single to multi-day trips, even years. Tours may be planned by the participant or organised by a holiday business, a club, or a charity as a fund-raising venture.

Historian James McGurn speaks of bets being taken in London in the 19th century for riders of hobby-horses – machines pushed by the feet rather than pedaled – outspeeding stagecoaches. "One practitioner beat a four-horse coach to Brighton by half an hour," he says. "There are various accounts of 15 to 17-year-olds draisienne-touring around France in the 1820s. On 17 February 1869 John Mayall, Charles Spencer and Rowley Turner rode from Trafalgar Square, London, to Brighton in 15 hours for 53 miles. The Times, which had sent a reporter to follow them in a coach and pair, reported an "Extraordinary Velocipede Feat." Three riders set off from Liverpool to London, a journey of three days and so more akin to modern cycle-touring, in March that same year. A newspaper report said:

Their bicycles caused no little astonishment on the way, and the remarks passed by the natives were almost amusing. At some of the villages the boys clustered round the machines, and, where they could, caught hold of them and ran behind until they were tired out. Many enquiries were made as to the name of 'them queer horses', some called them 'whirligigs', 'menageries' and 'valparaisons'. Between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, attempts were made to upset the riders by throwing stones.

Enthusiasm extended to other countries. The New York Times spoke of "quantities of velocipedes flying like shuttles hither and thither". But while British interest had less frenzy than in the USA, it lasted longer.

The expansion from a machine that had to be pushed, or propelled through pedals on a small front wheel, made longer distances feasible. A rider calling himself "A Light Dragoon" told in 1870 or 1871 of a ride from Lewes to Salisbury, across southern England. The title of his book, Wheels and Woes, suggests a less than event-free ride but McGurn says "it seems to have been a delightful adventure, despite bad road surfaces, dust and lack of signposts.

Journeys grew more adventurous. Thomas Stevens, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, set off around the world April 22, 1884 on a 50-inch Columbia with a money belt, a revolver, two shirts and a rain cape, spending two years on the road and writing articles which became a two-volume 1,021-page book. John Foster Fraser and two friends set off round the world on safety bicycles in July 1896. He, Edward Lunn and F. H. Lowe rode 19,237 miles, through 17 countries, in two years and two months. By 1878, recreational cycling was enough established in Britain to lead to formation of the Bicycle Touring Club, later renamed Cyclists' Touring Club. It is the oldest national tourism organisation in the world. Members, like those of other clubs, often rode in uniform. The CTC appointed an official tailor. The uniform was a dark green Devonshire serge jacket, knickerbockers and a "Stanley helmet with a small peak". The colour changed to grey when green proved impractical because it showed the dirt. Groups often rode with a bugler at their head to sound changes of direction or to bring the group to a halt. Confusion could be caused when groups met and mistook each other's signals.

Membership of the CTC inspired the Frenchman, Paul de Vivie (b. April 29, 1853), to found what became the Fédération Française de Cyclotourisme, the world's largest cycling association, and to coin the French word cyclo-tourisme. The League of American Wheelmen in the USA was founded in Newport, Rhode Island on May 30, 1880. It shared an interest in leisure cycling with the administration of cycle racing. Membership peaked at 103,000 in 1898. The national cycle-touring organization in the USA is now the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). The ACA, then called Bikecentennial, organised a mass ride in 1976 from one side of the USA to the other to mark the nation's 200th anniversary. The Bikecentennial route is still in use as the TransAmerica Trail.