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Book Review: Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps (and book give-away)

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the original guide to adventuring by bike in the Alps, 

PLEASE SEE THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE FOR A CONTEST TO WIN A FREE COPY

Back in February, I told you I was excited about a Kickstarter project to finance the republishing of Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps - a guidebook of 300 unpaved alpine cycling routes.

Well time flies. The book has now been published. Exciting.

From the Kickstarter program:

Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps guidebook was compiled by Fred Wright and self-published in 2002.

It 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 icy climbs(!).

This was gravel biking before gravel bikes – mountain biking before mountain bikes, in some cases.

Only 100 copies of the original were published and are now impossible to find. The new book is an improved version including maps, photographs, and a few route additions.

The book is republished by British author Max Leonard (I wrote a positive review of his 2017 book Higher Calling - see here) and redesigned by Andy Edwards (the two have previously worked together on the Rapha City Cycling Europe guide.

Disclosure: I have played a tiny role in this project. A few routes from my website have been included in this updated version.

WHAT TYPE OF BOOK IS THIS?

This book is not for everyone. Frankly, it’s not for most people. The core of the book is roughly three hundred short (sometimes longer) descriptions of unpaved alpine routes, grouped geographically, with relatively simple overview maps. That’s it.

This book is a starting point for adventure cyclists. A gold mine of ideas. The next step for true fans of the guide will be to pull out paper maps, use modern online tools, search obscure cycling web forums, create gpx files, etc. In other words, start planning .... and dreaming.

James Olsen, founder of the Torino-Nice Rally (a popular, self-supported, unpaved alpine bike event/adventure), wrote an introduction and talks about using the original book:

Cross-referencing Fred’s book with inked IGN maps from past tours, and with a 3D relief map on my wall, and Google Earth became a rainy-day pastime. I built a dot-to-dot puzzle: yellow pins in a Google Earth map, that resulted in a week or more’s riding.

Exactly.

non-pro photo by me with book on floor :)

Each route description includes a “beauty” rating, and a difficulty rating:

Easy: Typically, a route which is largely or wholly feasible for jeeps or such vehicles, but also some easy and not-too-steep paths.
Moderate: Some hard work, possibly occasional lifting.
Difficult: Often hard work, some carrying.
Severe: Much carrying, some double carrying (bike, then luggage).
Very severe: Like severe but more so. ( I nervously laughed at this)

The message: These are tough, high altitude routes. Not necessarily well suited for bikes.

Info sheet:

THE ORIGINS OF THE BOOK

Fred Wright’s 2002 book was actually a summary of six alpine rough-stuff guides privately circulated in the 80’s and 90’s. A few of the route descriptions are from visits in the 1950s!

The publisher has plenty of sensible wisdom about using the guide. Of course, practicability has changed over the years (for better or worse). In summary, again, this is a jumping off point for more research.

PHOTOS

The book contains quite a few photos, all older. Not modern, hyper professional photos. But pictures from crazy places during crazy adventures. Lots of fun.

Fred’s bike at the Fenêtre de Ferret, on his adventures in the late ‘80s.

Appendix

A short appendix includes some rough-stuff touring tips as well as ideas for the best paper maps for route planning.

MY PERSONAL TAKE

As I wrote in February:

For years, I have been disappointed with people that first visit the Alps with the goal of cycling Alpe d’Huez. Don’t they understand there are so many much more interesting roads? More recently, I have had a similar feeling with Alps visitors when they tell me they only road bike. Don’t they understand there are so many beautiful, unpaved alpine roads/trails? High, beautiful, challenging, deserted, car-free.

I hope this book will motivate some of you to consider exploring this unpaved Alps. Personally, I expect to be in route-planning Nirvana.

Now that I have a copy of the book, I see many fantastic memories listed. But I see far more climbs that I know absolutely nothing about. I am head-over-heels excited to start planning/mapping/investigating some of them. I am a kid in a candy store.

BOOK GIVE-AWAY CONTEST

Max was kind enough to send me a couple of extra books. As I’ve tried to make clear, this guide is not for everyone. But it is a treasure for a few of us in the crowd.

To win a book, leave a comment explaining how you, or someone you know might use the book, and/or why you’re excited to read it. I’ll let Jens judge the best submissions so we can blame him if you don’t win.

HOW TO BUY THE BOOK

Here is the book’s official web site with purchase information.

https://www.roughstuffalps.com/

FINAL THOUGHTS

I love this book. I think Max would concede that it’s unlikely to be a bestseller as it has such a small target audience. But I’d like to congratulate him and thank Fred for this updated passion project of Fred’s original passion project.

And here’s a comment from the Kickstarter page:

This has certainly been one of the better KS campaigns I’ve backed, good updates and shipping on time, virtually unheard of. Chapeau!

Yes, chapeau!