From multi-country bike touring to his daily bike commute, John Shell enjoys a wide range of cycling adventures. Learn more about his story and how he uses the Burley Nomad to do more by bike in this Q & A blog post.
Q: Could you share a bit about yourself and your interest in biking?
A: I’m a very young looking 50 years old. I worked in education for 20 years but it’s time for a change. I’ve just taken a year out to do my MSc in Project Management, specifically in Active Travel. I had to do my Viva (presentation) whilst cycling in Portugal a few weeks ago.
Q: Tell us about your travels. What made you decide to get into bike touring?
A: It’s a long story, but when you reach a certain age and get injured every week playing 5-a- side football (soccer) you tend to look elsewhere to keep the weight down and not feel guilty having a few beers. So I took up cycling, a bit more seriously than usual! I ended up getting further and further from my hometown. A couple of hours turned to all day trips. That meant planning more, getting a new lighting kit and bigger rucksacks. Then that led to rear racks and panniers, then front racks and more panniers…and then the Burley Nomad. It was a natural progression! What I like about cycle-touring and bikepacking is the sense of achievement and solitude – I always travel alone. I love the planning and mapping and any chance to buy new gear!
Q: What was your favorite trip? Least favorite?
A: This year I covered the Portuguese Silver Coast and the Camino into Spain. Absolutely spellbinding, easily the most picturesque trip I’ve taken (see shellytours Instagram). But the best was Sunderland to Lisbon, badged as SOL2SOL – Stadium of Light to the Stadium of Light (the football stadiums in each city). That took place in July and August 2015 and I cycled 1677 miles for charity. I wasn’t really into Garmin and all the gps stuff – I was all about maps and highlighters, bits of paper stuck to my front bar bag. I’d print out routes at work and put little notes on like, “Don’t forget sharp left” and “Turn right after petrol station”. The base of the Nomad was basically 4 inches of maps! I had a cycle computer that basically told me my mileage and my HTC phone when I got stuck, but each day was an adventure!
The heat was unbearable – in France it hit me, really badly. I was exhausted, hot and cold, thirsty then not, hungry but couldn’t eat anything but I remember being mentally drained and a bit concerned. I stayed in the wings of a chateaux in Grand-Rullecourt and there was literally NOTHING for miles – again I remember being full of worry that I had messed up with my calculations. Someone from the chateaux was concerned about my wellbeing so they took me to a supermarket in the next town. I walked out of the supermarket with a french stick, a packet of crisps and a crate of beer. The guy was astonished – he expected me to come out with a ton of carbs / protein and 6 litres of water. It worked because (…checks Hemingway style notes…) I knocked off 93, 90 and 80 miles the next days to get back on track. That may not sound like much but at altitude and in the heat it was decent.
Salamanca in Spain was unbearable. I noticed that everyone really did minimize as much time as possible in the sun. When crossing the road, they would dart out from shop canopies and doorways to press the “walk” button then run back under cover like human lizards. Then when the “walk” sign appeared they RAN across the street into the shadows on the other side. I was in the hotel bar that night watching Spanish TV while a forest fire was in full blaze nearby; really scary stuff. It dawned on me that I was heading that way the very next day. The waiter checked on a laptop and I was told it was “passable with care” – yeah in a car!
So, the next day I set off, again absolutely boiling to death and aware of the helicopters and aeroplanes overhead en route to scoop up water to extinguish the blaze in the Sierra de Gata. That day was 105 miles from Salamanca to Moraleja, via the fire. I wish I had better photos, it was a missed opportunity.
My worst trip was in 2018 when I went to Prague in the Czech Republic to see my friend. It rained every single day. I was cycling through Germany, which is fantastic for cyclists, but when it rains…it rains.
Q: What do you think of the Nomad?
A: Amazing! Bikepacking to me usually means bags and buckles, on and off – a bit disorganized. This might look cool but to me, there’s nothing simpler than whipping back the cover and finding all your gear in your Nomad. There’s the carry vs pull debate of course, but with the Nomad you do forget it’s there. You can compartmentalize things upright, and with the Nomad Cargo Rack you’ve got quick access to supplies. The hitch is great and can be transferred to any bike. When I’m in training I can pack the Nomad with loads of books or bottles of water for some really grueling rides.
Q: Would you recommend this trailer to other bikepackers?
A: The Nomad is for the dedicated long distance tourer in my opinion. But yes, it is the king!
Q: Can you share a bit about the role biking plays in your daily life (when not traveling)?
A: It keeps me fit, healthy, and happy! I cycled to work for 10 years, 30 miles a day. I’ve got 5 bikes. I try to get out every day even for an hour. I’m lucky I live by the sea and it’s awesome in every weather.
To follow along on John’s biking adventures, find him on Instagram @shellytours