“Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps” book review: The most unexpectedly brilliant travel guide

Over the Christmas break I decided to have a clearout of all of my books. I’m not one for reading books twice, or for reading much at all to be honest. The ones that survived the cull tended to be the lovely coffee table ones, or the recipe books that make you look like you could whip up a three course meal like it was nothing; I love flicking through these over a cheese on toast.

Of the survivors, my two favourites are the photo archives of the Rough Stuff Fellowship, the world’s oldest off-road cycling club (of which I am a proud member). Between their covers you’ll find a wondrous collection of images from as far back as the 1950s of men and women riding their bikes in the most unlikely places; think pushing a three-speed steel bike up Snowdon, or winching a tandem onto a Norwegian ferry. There is absolutely no chance of spotting today’s best gravel bikes, or anything that could be remotely described as ‘gravel specific’. I regularly lose hours to these books, and they’re a fantastic antidote to the mindset that you need the latest bit of tech in order to cycle in the wild places.

On a whim, because I enjoyed the photo archives so much, I treated myself to “Rough Stuff Cycling in the Alps”, without much thought as to what the contents would be. Maybe I’d get a few more lovely film photos to look at, perhaps a trip report? No, what landed on the doormat is the most beautifully comprehensive, and in places unhinged, guide to off-road ‘cycling’ in the alps. Given that it’s Travel Week here at Cyclingnews I decided to take you through why I love this book so much, You’ll find out shortly why ‘cycling’ as a term is used rather loosely; the club motto is, unofficially, “I never go for a walk without my bike”.

rough stuff guidebook

A small, but perfectly formed guide to doing silly things in the high mountains (Image credit: Will Jones)

“We have no report of this part of the route, because our description is from someone who followed the obvious path up the R side of the glacier, and then had to cross the glacier (where he fell into several crevasses)”

 What is the Rough Stuff Fellowship?