The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles

Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Portland, Oregon

Cycling in Print :: National Geographic, 1973

1973 was quite a turning point for bicycles in America as the May issue of National Geographic carried not one, but two multi-paged spreads on the subject.

The second of the two articles is titled, Backpacking Across Alaska and Canada and featured 12 pages describing how a group of four individuals lived for months in toe clips, slowly making their way, by bicycle, from Anchorage, Alaska, to Missoula, Montana.

Cycling in Print :: IV

National Geographic – May, 1973; Slogging through the thick, Canadian mud.

The 3,103-mile journey was part of Dan and Lys Burden, Greg and June Siple’s ultimate goal of a 20,000-mile trip beginning in Anchorage and terminating at the southern tip of Argentina, South America.

Cycling in Print :: IV

Cycling in Print :: IV

The “Pedaling Vagabonds” include (L to R) June and Greg Siple, Dan and Lys Burden

Sloppy, wheel clogging mud, pessimistic local advice, pothole riddled gravel roads and 50+ pounds of heavy camping supplies, now considered ancient, pulled down on heavily their steel framed bicycles. These were just some of the numerous challenges encountered by the crew as they bravely pioneered their way down the west coast. Unexpected events inevitably cropped up withing the article. Problems such as frame failure (which was welded back together in a small down) and a robbery in which bandits stole spare bike parts, specialized tools, film, cooking utensils, a week’s worth of food and even their dirty dishes. Supple pavement, that we have come to expect in this era, came at a premium during those early days of bicycle touring. Coarse gravel, loosely packed was found treacherous at first, “like negotiating a sand beach littered with golf balls.” Luckily, only one serious spill occurred causing painful scrapes and a black eye. However, “after several days we learned to pick a way through the fickle surface almost instinctively.”

Cycling in Print :: IV

Moose, bears, coyotes, foxes, deer and lynx were common site and humans were not, sometimes the group would ride for hours without sighting another human being.

Cycling in Print :: IV

Greg and his customized Gitane

What was gained was rambling coarse, which sought points of interest and intimate knowledge of the countryside from an open-air vantage point all through thousands of feet of lung crushing elevation gain and loss. But there was more gained during that 3,000+ mile stretch which took 84 days to complete. Something that, to this very day, is sought after and can not be found through a website or as an iPhone App. Physical exertion and some small discomforts found this crew something wonderful. They found freedom. “We felt the landscape belonged to us, just as the early trappers and mountain men must have felt it belonged to them.”

Cycling in Print :: IV

June shows the best way to pass the hours while in the saddle

Did the crew ever make it to South America? What ever became of them? These questions and more about these fascinating couples are answered here on the Adventure Cycling Association website. The Adventure Cycling Association is a national cycling association, based in Missoula, Montana which provides services for cycle-tourists, publishes maps and campaigns for better cycling facilities.

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10 comments on “Cycling in Print :: National Geographic, 1973

  1. adventurepdx
    November 1, 2012

    It’s a great article! I met Greg when I visited the Adventure Cycling offices in Missoula, Montana when we went through on tour in 2011.

    One interesting thing to note about their bikes is that they didn’t use either 27″ or 700C wheels, they instead had custom built 650A (26″ x 1 3/8″ or 590mm) wheels built. The thinking was that the first two sizes were still exotic in the early 70’s, the 26″ x 1 3/8″ much more common, which would come in handy when they needed new tires and tubes. (No FedEx back then!)

    • Josh C.
      November 1, 2012

      I would not have considered wheel size being such an issue until recently.
      I was at a bicycle shop, killing time, perusing the new bikes when I noticed the Surly Long Haul Trucker came with a 26″ or 700c wheel option. The salesperson said that this was beneficial because if you are touring in, let’s say, Argentina, you are much more likely to find a tire that would fit 26″ rather than 700c. Apparently, 26″ wheels are fairly standard around the world whereas 700c are not.

      That was smart thinking on the Pedaling Vagabonds part to consider wheels, tires and tubes then put in fail-safes so it would not be an issue. With a catastrophic failure on any of the three components, without a replacement, you are stuck.

      Very interesting and worthwhile addition to the story. Thank you for sharing!

      • adventurepdx
        November 1, 2012

        Yeah, that’s why you see a lot of expedition style touring rigs with 26″ wheels. 26″ has become the world-standard thanks to mountain bikes. In the 60’s and 70’s, the 650A was the world-standard due to it being the British three-speed size.

        Of course, for the Pedaling Vagabonds, some of the areas they went through were so remote (Yukon, anyone), that getting parts would be problematic no matter what.

  2. Don Pollack
    March 22, 2013

    The May 1973 article ‘Bikepacking Across Alaska and Canada’ by Dan Burden had a great impact on me as a youth growing up interested in cycling. I wrote them a letter to find out more information and they kindly responded. I still have it.

    I have been a life long cyclist ever since. I am also a visual artist and painter. Recently, I exhibited my work celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Since then, I focused on a project of bicycling Lincoln’s 2000 mile inaugural train route from Springfield, Illinois to Washington D.C.

    On April, 19, 2013, my Lincoln-Bicycle art project titled, “34 Days to Washington” will open at Perimeter Gallery Chicago. [You can see journey images and logbook at http://donpollack.blogspot.com%5D

    The exhibit will consists of, paintings, maps, writings, my gear, bicycle, and bicycle related themes focusing on the current American landscape and my experiences on the trek. The work explores the notion of cycling as an art form as well as the idea of how we actively create our landscapes. Or in other words,- The expedition is seen as a fundamental aspect of the American perspective

    All of this began with this simple inspiring National Geographic article 40 years ago!

    • Josh C.
      March 22, 2013

      Don,

      As you mention, this is an incredible inspiring, and for some, life altering article. Hearing the impact it has had on you and the actions you took are equally inspiring. The exhibit you are being featured in sounds fascinating and an essential piece of American history. Thank you for sharing your connection to this article and what it means to you. I encourage all who are in Chicago to check out the exhibit!

    • adventurepdx
      March 22, 2013

      Cool! I am definitely checking out your blog. Though the weblink you provided doesn’t work because of that %5D at the end. I got to it via:
      http://donpollack.blogspot.com/

  3. Beverly Stephenson
    August 26, 2013

    The May 1973 article ‘Bikepacking Across Alaska and Canada’ by Dan Burden was also an inspiration for me, Beverly Stephenson, to venture at age 15 camp bicycling with my bf 400 miles from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska June 1973. We saw the near setting sun June 21st. I used a Stephenson’s Warmlite tent and sleeping bag as they did as shown in the article and even mentioned by name. Our family owned and made their tents and bags. I later made the Family Co. products too as well as showed them to customers and at exhibits. The most fun was using the camping gear hiking or bicycling or wherever!

    • Josh C.
      August 26, 2013

      It is truly incredible to hear how others reacted when this, now decades old, National Geographic write-up hit the shelves. The bicycle has such an amazing ability to inspire.

      Thank you for sharing your story, Beverly.

  4. Pingback: Bikepacking | latino.bike

  5. Pingback: Central Negev Loop with Ilan and Danny, Israel | gypsy by trade

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