Meet Adam Balfour: pannier maker, bike racer, and one of our 2015 Young Adult Bike Travel Scholarship winners

October 7, 2015

Copenhagen, Denmark

With such a long list of cycling experience to his name, it’s surprising that Adam Balfour’s twenty-fourth birthday was just last week.

When he applied for our Young Adult Bike Travel Scholarship, he did so from Wales while hopscotching from wifi to wifi on a year-long European bicycle tour and artist research project.

And though he spent part of his childhood living on a boat, he’s logged some serious miles on land via bike. He’s cycled from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast, raced with the University of North Carolina's cycling team, fixed bikes to raise money for the non-profit Bike and Build, and currently runs DFL Stitchworks—a one-man cycle-bag sewing business.

DFL Stitchwork products

As part of the Young Adult Scholarship application, we asked applicants how they would promote bicycle touring in their community after their leadership training experience with Adventure Cycling. Adam’s creative approach won us over. He wrote he would lead a pannier-sewing workshop through his local bike collective.

He said:

"The idea behind the workshop is simple, and was also my original impetus for bicycle touring some six years ago—self sufficiency. Prospective bicycle tourists seem overwhelmed with information and opinions on all aspects of touring. Gear selections, routes, food, etc. Which is why I believe that teaching pannier sewing could be incredibly effective in fostering a support system for bicycle travel. Realizing the limited space available for touring is scary, exciting, and motivating. Using that momentum to help someone physically create what they need to tour can be incredibly empowering, and not just for travel by bike. A culture of repairing-­vs-­replacing and making-­not­-having has always been an integral part of my community involvement, and my bicycle tours."

As one of two scholarship winners, Adam took the Leadership Training Course in Eugene, Oregon.

"I feel that this training would help to further develop myself as a leader and member not only on cycle tours but also within the cycling advocacy community. Spending four days immersed in Adventure Cycling Association leadership styles with current tour leaders would help me develop a toolkit for handling common situations and build confidence to deal with unusual ones."

Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina

We caught up with him after the course and asked him a few questions.

 

What two words best describe your Leadership Training experience?

Short and sweet. The four days we spent in Eugene with the instructors were packed with information on keeping a group going on road, ranging from the day-to-day practices of the Adventure Cycling Association, to hypothetical, and sometimes rather philosophical, situations that people encounter while traveling by bicycle.

How would you describe the group you cycled with?

Diverse: Our group spanned at least a couple generations in age and had a nation-wide geographic spread. The diversity in hobbies, politics, and lifestyles seemed just as large. The common fiber of bicycle travel worked, as it does, to unify the group to the point of lasting friendships in four days.

What is one skill you learned?

I gained an appreciation of individual autonomy within a group while traveling, especially concerning personal shortcomings. The phrase "allowing the dignity of your own failure," or something like it, was bounced around several times during the training course. The ability to refrain from intervening at a perceived mistake as a leader was probably the most important skill I took from the class.

What is something you learned about yourself?

I learned that I have a tendency to oversimplify logistics for a group. The diversity of a group can make some seemingly simple challenges into major points of contention within a group. An example put forward to us was the sleeping habits in a campsite, where some folks stay up late and keep others up. Learning different common approaches and tools to balance the wants and needs of different sub-groups within a tour was incredibly helpful to me.

What did you learn about group dynamics that surprised you?

Good group dynamics seem to be the most important aspect of any tour. The ability of a good guide to lead from within a group, not from above it, was especially interesting and unique to me. Coaxing a democratic group with knowledge of a situation and past experience seemed a much more effective approach than any type of directive leadership styles. 

What new skills did you acquire that will help you carry out your community project?

I gained the ability to lead from within a group rather than from a pedestal. Instructing a group of peers on a subject that they know little about is a challenge, but the ability to approach each task as a group, rather than as an instructor and students, makes gaining skills much easier.

Favorite part of the course?

I enjoyed speaking frankly with the instructors about past experiences and challenges on the road. The wealth of information they have gained from years of leading tours is incredible.

North Sea Cycle Route, Denmark

We’re excited to see the results of Adam’s workshop. Check out his work here: DFL Stitchworks.

Here's an interview with Jocelyn Munoz, our other scholarship winner.

Interested in applying for the 2016 Young Adult Scholarship, or know someone who might be? Applications open November 2nd. We have some exciting changes in the works. Look for a blog post later this month with the details!

Rite of Spring

Photos 1, 4, 5, 6 by Whitney Ford-Terry, Photos 2 & 3 by Adam Balfour

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The Thomas Stevens Fan Club is brought to you by the development team, Annette, April, and Michelle. They share an office with a classic Parisian Metropole bicycle. Want to know more about how you can support Adventure Cycling and all the amazing work they do? Call them at 406-532-2760 or email them at development@adventurecycling.org

 

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