04 September 2012

A Hosteler

How many of you have gone on a hostelling trip?

As I anticipated my first bike trip abroad, I told people I was going to stay in hostels, at least for part of my trip. In those days, most Americans--at least those I knew--had no idea of what a hostel was.  What's really funny, in retrospect, is that some of the grown-ups in my life (I thought I was one; now I know I wasn't!) were actually more worried about that than about my plan to camp on nights when I didn't stay in hostels. 

Actually, I didn't bring camping equipment with me, save for a sleeping bag and Swiss Army knife.  On those nights when I "camped", I slept under bridges, overhangs or the stars (or clouds).  

In the months leading up to that trip, I pored over hostel guides.  In one of them, I found out that there was actually such a thing as a hosteling bike.  In fact, the French bike company Gitane actually made a model called "The Hosteler."

When hosteling, one doesn't have to carry quite as much equipment as is necessary for camping. So, a hosteler probably can get away with riding a lighter bike with a somewhat shorter wheelbase-- and, while he or she would need sturdy pannier racks, they probably wouldn't have to be quite as strong as a camper would need.

At least, that's what I surmised when I saw the one and only Gitane Hosteler I ever saw.  It looked like a nice bike, and I expect that it would be, as Gitane made some well-designed and crafted bikes.  (However, you never knew what components you'd get on your Gitane:  They had a reputation for using whatever they had on hand.  So, as an example, one model came with Huret Allvit, Simplex Prestige, Huret Svelto and Campagnolo Valentino rear deraileurs--all within the same model year!)

Anyway, I indulged in a few memories on coming across the photo I've included in this post. The owner of the Gitane Hosteler had just had it restored.  However, I don't think there are any original parts on it!  Still, it's a fine bike for hosteling.  If anything, the modern drivetrain components made it even better.


  1. Nice. Wonder if Hosteler was just supposed to be a nice sounding name for them?

    And I guess if you wanted to make it more period-correct for a 70's hostel bike, at least in the US, you'd have to throw a bunch of Kirtland bags on it.

  2. Adventure!--Good point about the name. And you're right about the Kirtland bags: It seemed everyone who did Bikecentennial, or anything related to or inspired by it, used Kirtlands. Every once in a while, they show up on eBay and fetch high prices.

    Funny, how nobody (at least in the US) wanted Carradice or Karrimor saddlebags, or classical French bags in those days. Now they're "retro."

  3. Not that I was around in the 70's (well, I was, for half the decade), but I think I figured out the two main reasons why Kirtland bags were so popular: AYH (before it became HI-USA) sold bike touring gear, and they carried Kirtland. Plus, Kirtlands were synthetic, which meant "lighter" than all that old Carradice stuff. (If any decade loved synthetic fibers, it would be the 70s.) Nevermind the fact that a lot of that old nylon didn't age well. I'd rather have a 40 year old waxed canvas bag than a 40 year old nylon bag any day!

  4. Adventure!--I was around for the '70's, and you are right on all points. Late in the '70's, Carradice stuff became all but unavailable in the US, and even Karrimor--Carradice's main rival in the market for traditional bike bags--switched to nylon from canvas for most of their bags.

    AYH indeed sold Kirtland products. They also sold their own brand of panniers, which were made in the US by Camp Trails. They didn't have some of the Kirtland's conveniences or color choices (They came in "international orange," ostensibly for visibility/safety reasons.) but they were well-made and an excellent value. I know: They were my first set of panniers.

    As I understand, until the early '70's or so, AYH's own brand of bags were canvas and made in England. I'd like to see them, but I bet there are still a few out there: Waxed canvas does indeed age better than nylon!

  5. You just made me smile :) ! I still have an old pair of AYH panniers, "international orange"! I used them when I went on a couple of trips with the NYC AYH to England & France, when AYH had a store in downtown Manhattan. Those were great trips and not too expensive! Wish they were still around!

  6. Ray--Those were the days! I never took an organized AYH trip but I stayed in many hostels while biking through Europe.

    I had a set of those orange AYH panniers. If I'm not mistaken, Camp Trails made them. They were pretty good stuff and, of course, you couldn't miss them.

    Camp Trails also made Boy Scout packs. (I know; I had one.) They and the AYH bags were made in the USA!