For anyone with even a passing interest in bikes, the life of Bicycle Touring Pro creator Darren Alff is something to be a little envious of. All through college he dreamed of his ideal job – exploring the world by bike. It’s a dream many cycling obsessives will be familiar with; turning it into a reality is a whole other matter. But that’s exactly what he managed to do.
It was 2001 when the then 17-year-old Darren first caught the touring bug on a trek from Oregon to Mexico on his dad’s old mountain bike, and he's spent the intervening 10 years learning about the world from his saddle. He took time out from his latest adventure deep in the jungles of Peru to talk to BikeRadar about his inspirations for the site, how he manages to keep on going, and his ultimate tip for anyone weighing up a long-term tour.
A fresh-faced 17-year-old Darren on his first tour along the California coastline
Darren's idea for Bicycle Touring Pro cane in the autumn of 2007 after a call from an old college roommate. “During college I'd been trying to get him to join me on tour but I could never get him to make the commitment,” he said. “But about three years after graduation, I got this random phonecall from him saying he desperately wanted to go on a bike tour.”
They talked for several hours about all the things he would need to get started, and it was this conversation that flicked a switch in his head. “If I can help one person plan a bike tour over the phone, I wonder how many people I could help if I could publish everything I know about touring online?” he wondered. That night, Darren bought the domain name and he posted his first article a few days later. From his one and only reader – the old college roommate – he now has more than 30,000 monthly hits.
Since launching the site four years ago, Darren's idea of cycle touring has gone from something he used to do in the holidays to a complete shift in lifestyle. He does at least one long-distance trek a year; the longest being a nine-month journey through Europe. He supports himself during such lengthy spells on the road by taking his work with him – he runs a small internet marketing firm. It was during the stint in Europe he realised that as long as he could find a half decent web connection – which extends to the Peruvian jungle, evidently – he was more or less free to travel whenever, and wherever, he wanted. “In college I dreamt of ‘getting paid to be me’ and less than 10 years later, that’s exactly what I do!” he said.
Darren Alff and one of his touring bikes
The thing that's really exciting Darren at the moment is the travel scholarship he’s offering through the website. Designed to help young, first-time bike travellers finance their touring adventures, it ran for the first time last year in cahoots with a network of bike bloggers. This year, however, he’s striking out on his own. Funded jointly through sales of his book – The Bicycle Traveller’s Blueprint (essentially his website, condensed) – and donations from his site’s readers, it aims to encourage more young people to take up cycle touring.
“I know how a little money can go a long way when put in the right hands,” he said. “I did my first bike tours on a budget of $3 to $5 per day, and that’s kind of what the travel scholarship is all about – encouraging young people to travel by bike and giving them small micro grants to help finance their incredible adventures.”
Hearing from people who were encouraged by the tips offered on the site is one of the main motivations for Darren to keep the site, and himself, moving. “It’s kind of cyclical in a way,” he said. “I work to motivate my readers, and in doing so my readers motivate me! When you run a website about bicycle travel, you tend to hear about a lot of amazing adventures taking place all over the world. It’s incredibly motivating to hear and it makes me want to continue on my own adventures as well.”
He isn’t resting on his laurels either, and has an ambitious plan to turn Bicycle Touring Pro into the definitive bike touring resource on the internet. He intends to ramp up the volume of free and valuable information for first-time and experienced travellers, and to grow his fledgling travel scholarship into a programme that would benefit thousands.
Darren says the site stands out because he practises what he preaches. “I really do try to lead by example,” he said. “I actually do the stuff I talk about, unlike others out there run by people who went on a bicycle tour several decades ago and haven’t been on one since (or even worse – have never been on one at all!). I have years of experience to back up everything that I do, say and share. And I’m pretty proud of that.”
The Bicycle Touring Pro and his Bike Friday touring bike
So, what's the one piece of advice he'd offer a first-time touring cyclist? “Slow down!” he said. “A lot of first-time travellers think the one and only goal is to ride as many miles in as short a time as possible. While true in some instances, that isn’t what bike touring has to be about.”
During his first six years of touring, Darren adhered to the accepted standard of 50-60 miles per day, but things have changed in recent times. “I’ve been breaking a lot of rules,” he said. “I’ve been cycling a whole lot less and spending a lot more time off the bike. And you know what? I’m enjoying my travel experiences so much more! So my one piece of advice would be this: slow down, ditch the odometer, break a few rules… and enjoy the ride!”
To read more about Darren’s adventures and touring tips, visit www.bicycletouringpro.com.