Cycle Touring Advice from the late, great Anne Mustoe

I have just finished reading the last of Anne Mustoe’s cycle touring books and thought it would be a good time to catch some lessons from how she organised her trips.  Here goes:

Choose a route that serves some purpose or explores a central theme.  Mustoe was a classics scholar and historian and chose to follow her heroes: the Roman roads to the east; Alexander the Great; the Pilgrims’ camino to Santiago de Compostela, the Lewis Clark trail to the West of America.  We tried this on our recent trip down through France, following local traces of The Resistance in World War Two and it worked well to give us a sense of focus.

Pick up some language before you set off.  Mustoe was a natural linguist, but still worked hard at it, learning Mandarin and Turkish.  She is right about this.  Touring without a grasp of the local language is isolating – as we found to our cost.

Plan to exploit prevailing winds where possible.  This is bang on: we suffered like dogs fighting into headwinds from the Southwest on our recent trip down through Spain and Portugal.  It was the worst downside of going in Autumn.

Choose a season when the climate and weather will work for you.  Yes, we know you can cycle in the wet and cold, but it is so much more enjoyable with the sun on your back.

Set a pace and range right for you.  Mustoe was a fan of 50 miles a day, 5 days a week, and so 1000 miles a month.  We think she has that just right.  You need time to recover and to explore and to reflect if you are going to get the most out of your tour.

Decide a realistic budget and stick to it.  Mustoe was no fan of camping: neither are we.  Old bones need to soak in a tub at the end of most days!

Work hard at managing weight.  Mustoe cut maps into strips, used postal services and left unwanted clothes behind in her fight against weight.  We did the same (we carried less than 9 kilos each) and like her came to love the liberty of living life with a minimum of stuff around us.

Take layers of thin, light clothing to manage temperature differences.  Most of the time this worked for us, but we were lucky most of the time and in truth we were inadequately prepared for soaking wet days.  We banked on sunny, dry days: we could keep warm when dry, but not in the wet. A lesson learned hard!

Don’t worry about mechanical matters – help will appear when you need it.  Mustoe boasted she could not fix a puncture.  On our last trip we cycled 2246km without needing to touch the bikes – but they were well prepared before we left and we were using them well within their capacities.

Travel with an open heart and mind. Mustoe believed, ‘travel for me has been a change of soul’. She is right.  We learned to travel each day optimistically and we were met with nothing but kindness.

Aim for tranquility and balance.  On the bike and off.  Remember Mustoe’s final rule – a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the ride is always a good way to close a day in the saddle.  Cheers to that!



My Top 5 Cycle Touring Books

Thinking of giving a pressie of a cycle touring book this Christmas?  These would be the top five titles from my wish list – if I didn’t already have them!

Number 5:
Barbara Savage, Miles from Nowhere.
savage1 This is full of wit and good fun and makes light of a pretty fantastic world tour. There is a nice balance of, ‘how we did it’ and wonder at the adventure as it unfolds.  It’s a read made sadder by the knowledge that Barbara was killed on her bike on her return home and before the book came out.

Number 4:

Josie Dew, The Wind in my Wheels

DewI think this was Dew’s first book and while her writing improves in the later titles, this one has a brightness and verve that is very appealing.  It’s nice to track back to her first adventures in cycling and catch her enthusiasm from the start.  It’s infectious.

Number 3:
Anne Mustoe, A Bike Ride
Mustoe_CoverThis was Anne Mustoe’s first book and the result of her first round the world tour: in fact her first tour of any sort. In my view its a gem.  It’s a real page turner and with each new page you gasp at her pluck and vitality and strength of character. Each of her trips followed some historical route, but she never crowds out her own adventure with tales of the past.

Number 2:
Dervla Murphy, Full Tilt

MurphyI suppose Dervla Murphy might have filled all five positions.  I certainly would have liked to include her autobiography, but ruled it out as it’s not strictly a cycle touring book. In some ways Full Tilt set the benchmark for others: epic voyage, courage and endurance, brilliant writing and a dash of humour – what’s not to like?

Number 1:
Anne Mustoe, Lone Traveller
LoneTravellerThere is no rule to say that an author can’t have more than one entry!  This was Anne Mustoe’s second book, following her second round the world trip and as she said, she wanted to make it a bit different from her first. She says she steeled herself to reveal more of ‘how she did things’ and ‘how she felt doing them’ and I think this makes for an even better book.

I am a bit surprised to find that it’s an all woman list.  Not even a token man!  Well, I have called them as I see them,  What attracts me in cycle tour writing is:

  1. Writing that takes me along on the adventure
  2. Good humour and not too much ego
  3. An epic journey well described
  4. A balance of how to and why to themes
  5. Not too much straight journalling.

Reviews of the individual titles are available via the Book Review tag to the right of this page.

I’d welcome any suggestions for other titles to consider.

Book Review: A Bike Ride by Anne Mustoe

Anne Mustoe, A Bike Ride:  12000 miles around the world, 1992, Virgin Books, London.

I have just finished my umpteenth reading of Anne Mustoe’s book, A Bike Ride: 12000 miles around the world.  If I am ever on Desert Island Discs and Kirsty asks which book I will want to take, this will be it.  For all sorts of reasons.

First, it is so well written.  She hits just the right balance of travel lore, cycling detail, history and adventure.  The pages zip by as if she is hurtling down a long, exciting descent.  Her style is nicely captured in the book’s title: no nonsense, never a wasted word and a delight to read.  Her idea of choosing routes to match her interests in ancient and modern history ensured from the start that the reader gets more than the usual diet of travelling trivia.
Second, she is an inspiration for we mortal cyclists of a certain age.  Starting cycling at the age of 54 or her early retirement, she built herself up to a regime of 50 miles a day, 5 days a week, 1000 miles a month.  Now, that’s a regime most of us can aspire to and it leaves plenty of time for sight seeing, reflection and writing on the road.
Third, she is so positive throughout.  Nothing and nobody is allowed to get her down – at least not for long.  Intrepid might have been invented to describe her.
I am sorry to say, Anne is no longer with us, but as long as her books are in print, I am sure she will have her admirers to keep her memory warm.

  Anne Mustoe, A Bike Ride:  12000 miles around the world, 1992, Virgin Books, London. Recommended with 5 stars.