Life as a bicycle courier in London is challenging. Julian Sayarer doesn't hold back in his honest and sometimes brutal portrayal of the world of bicycle messengers. We learn what it's really like to work in one of London's most poorly paid jobs. We meet a cast of fascinating characters who work as couriers and we experience a lesser-known side to the city. The book is often cynical, sometimes depressing but also rich in detail, observation and social commentary.
Julian Sayarer had just completed a record breaking cycle around the world. He wrote about this in Life Cycles, which I thought was one of the best cycling travel books I've read. Messengers sees the author return to London, somewhat reluctant to write a book about couriering, but his agent believes it is a great subject for a book.
I found this book less thrilling than Life Cycles, but still highly captivating for how honest and realistic it is. It draws you into the subculture of the bicycle courier. A world where couriers call each other by their radio call signs, instead of their real names. It's a world of hard work for low pay and very little respect. There are some moments of joy, like a romantic relationship with another courier which is much needed relief in the tough life of a messenger. There's a euphoria he feels when getting a package delivered on time, when nobody expected him to be able to. He recalls an incident of name calling over the courier radios that's hard not to laugh out loud at.
This is a job that brings you into contact with all of London society. The people who work alongside the author all have a story to tell about how they ended up in this job. Sayarer has interesting encounters with bankers, secretaries, the super rich, the homeless and the police. He tells of the dangers of the road, the daily conflicts between motor vehicles and bicycles for space on congested streets. You learn about a different side to London, often only known to those doing jobs like couriering.
This is another great book by Julian Sayarer. It's a realistic and devastatingly honest look at London through the eyes of a bicycle courier.
What goes around by Emily Chappell is another great book about London bicycle couriers.
The Weights We Carry. Poems from a solo bike-packing journey around the Scottish Highlands and the Orkney Islands by C.D.Seventeen
I want to leave this world behind, jump on a bike, go on a journey without others, dive deep into the self, and let the weight of my human identity dissolve into the wind."
C.D Seventeen embarked on a 46-day, 658 mile journey in the Scottish Highlands. This experience inspired her to write poems. This book is a collection of 22 poems, each paired with photographs from the journey.
The combination of photography, using a film with a purple-hued character, and the poems makes for a beautiful book. The poems are thought-provoking. The author explains that writing them helped her on a journey of self-redemption. There's a theme of facing fear, creating freedom and expressing emotions.
Travelling in Scotland by bicycle is an emotive experience. It impacts us in different ways and for C.D. Seventeen it has inspired this work of art. Each poem and photograph records an intimate moment in the journey and the pages are decorated with beautiful watercolour patterns. I liked picking up the book and opening it at a random page and letting the words and photography take me to that moment on this cycling journey.
This is a unique book that illustrates the creativity that bicycle travel can inspire.
Steve Silk cycles the route of Britain's most prestigious road, the London to Edinburgh road. It is now called the A1, but until 1921 it was called the Great North Road. With each pedal stroke the author experiences more of the towns, landscapes and remarkable history of this route.
The journey is around 500 miles over 11 days and Steve wonderfully describes the sense of adventure when heading north:
"For reasons that I can't quite explain, the compass point is important. Which proper traveller can resist a road sign with a crisp, white arrow pointing to "The North" in no-nonsense sans-serif?"
Steve came across the books of Charles G. Harper who wrote about doing the same journey over 100 years ago. Throughout the book Steve reflects on Harper's experiences of places along the way, nicely weaving this with modern day comparisons. In honour of Harper, Steve buys an old fashioned bike, a Jamis Aurora, to do the journey on the 100th anniversary of the A1.
The adventure begins in a cool London bike cafe called Look Mum No Hands. Steve's description of travelling through busy London is brilliant and really captures the atmosphere and sights of the capital. I love that he records that sudden moment when London ends, the buzz is replaced with greenery and tranquility at a place called Hadley Green. I imagine that this is the kind of detail that you are more likely to notice travelling by bicycle and miss if you are driving.
The heyday of the Great North Road was when stagecoaches raced up and down it. For me this was the most fascinating aspect of the journey and the book is interspersed with tales of the romance of the coaching era. The most visible legacy of that time is the coaching inn and Steve visits many of them along the way and there is a lovely round up of his favourite ones at the end of the book. I found that his writing about this period was very evocative and it really felt like I was stepping back in time.
I learned so much about parts of Britain that I am unfamiliar with. For example, the commuter town of Stevenage had been planned as cycle-friendly in the 1950s and 60s with 26 miles of cycle lanes. Then there is the Bedfordshire clanger- a pastry with meat filling at one end and a sweet filling at the other!
That was one of the great joys of this book, discovering new things about Britain. On his route Steve visited the birthplace of Newton that still has the famous apple tree in the grounds. He even visited inside Margaret Thatcher's childhood home. I am ashamed to say that I had no knowledge of these places before reading this book. The lesson I have learned is that a cycle touring adventure in Britain can be just as revealing and as exciting as any journey that you might take overseas.
The Scotland section of the road is mostly in East Lothian. Steve uses routes familiar to me and his writing captures the landscapes and sights of the area really well.
The Great North Road is a captivating read. Here is an adventure that we can do in our own country, with so much to see and experience along the way. I loved how the book beautifully combined the past and present stories of the road, in particular transporting the reader back to the era of stagecoaches. Reading this book made me want to book some nights in historic coaching inns and jump on my bike to get there.
Mark Gallagher was a Glasgow bike messenger in the 1990s and he has put together his collection of anecdotes in this amusing and engaging book. It is much more than the story of a bike messenger, more of an autobiography. It begins with Mark's childhood and takes us through his adult life, beyond the bike messenger days. He has an impressive collection of varied and often remarkable experiences that fill the pages of this book.
The book opens with Mark on his bike being chased by mounted police through the streets of Glasgow. This exhilarating opener sets the scene for a book full of extraordinary situations that Mark has experienced in his life.
The first 60 or so pages are about the author's childhood. I really enjoyed reading his very personal insight into his upbringing, his parents and his school years. It is an interesting commentary on a Scottish childhood of the 70s and 80s, particularly the failings of the school system. Mark developed a talent for computer game programming, but the school failed to nurture this or help Mark to pursue a career. He had to find his own way and the turning point in his life, the boost to his confidence, was his job as a bike messenger.
"I certainly wouldn't be the person I am now without having been a bike messenger and I wouldn't have it any other way, it gave me some of the happiest, most carefree times of my adult life." Mark Gallagher
The book provides a great insight into the job of a bike messenger. Mark's love of the job shines through and it made me somewhat envious. One of the ways that bike messengers try to get up more speed is 'skitching', the art of holding on to the back of a moving vehicle to get pulled along. Glasgow buses were a particular favourite of Mark's, but it was not this that resulted in his most serious accident. Mucking about and crashing into another courier caused a serious head injury that ended his bike courier days.
It is clear that the turning point of the bike messenger job gave Mark the confidence to pursue his many other interests in life. This included drama, karaoke, IT contracting in Bermuda, and appearing on a TV game show. There is even a chapter about Mark dressing up as a Star Wars Stormtropper and wandering the streets of Glasgow! For me the most fascinating aspect of the author's eventful life was the legal battle he went through with a computer game giant. He had co-created a game that was ripped off by them and became one of the biggest selling games in the world. Mark could not use the real name of the game in the book and calls it 'Armed Deft Mano'.
Although this book is not purely about a bike messenger the other aspects of Mark's life are certainly interesting, often funny and sometimes fascinating. This made it a joy to read and getting to know Mark through his words was a pleasure.
This book can be purchased on Amazon:
Stephen Fabes is a doctor and this brings a unique aspect to the adventure cycling genre because he visits health care settings as he travels. This is a much deeper journey than just a bike ride. This is a 6 year, 53,000 mile, cycle around the world full of thoughtful insights about people and places. It is a fascinating, moving and inspirational travel book.
This is one of the best travel books I have read. The author is incredibly observant and brings something new and fresh to travel writing. He has a great way with words and really brings a place to life. Here is one of my favourite examples of how wonderful the writing is, when he has to replace his pedals in India:
"they'd cost 15 rupees a pop (around 18 pence- rust already included) and each weighed more than a kilogram. It was like cycling with A Suitable Boy nailed to the soles of my shoes."
It feels like an incredible amount of work went into crafting each sentence in this book as it reads so beautifully. Unlike many other books of this type the focus is very much on a sense of place and not all about the author and what he is going through. For instance, when he cycles past huge palm plantations in Malaysia he shares his thoughts about the palm oil industry and its impact on the environment.
I particularly enjoyed reading about the adventures of cycle tourists from history. Stephen has uncovered some wonderful travellers tails and used these to add colour to his own journey. In 1923 a group of Indian weightlifters spent four years cycling around the world and had incredible adventures- they even managed to acquire an autograph from Mussolini to help ease passage when faced with corrupt officials!
Stephen even gets to meet the person who has spent the longest time cycling around the world. Heinz has been doing it for 51 years! Their meeting is fascinating with some interesting reflection on whether cycling the world really does make you more worldly.
This book is full of the excitement and adrenaline of adventure cycling. Meeting people, exhaustion, things going wrong with the bike and illness, not to mention incredible parts of the planet that you may never have heard of before. I was particularly fascinated by Chin State in Myanmar, an area of cloud forest, landslides and leeches falling from above.
Stephen's contacts within the medical profession allowed him to gain an insight into healthcare around the world. He visits several settings, including mental health in India and the migrant camp in Calais. These encounters provide a richer world view than you would expect from a cycling travel book and Stephen provides plenty of thoughts on what he experiences. The most moving account was his visit to a TB field hospital in Thailand and it had me in tears.
Interestingly, this book does not end with the finishing line, but with Stephen recalling the challenges he had in returning to his normal life in the UK. This is quite unusual in cycling books and it is refreshing to have an adventure cyclist reflect on this in such detail.
This book is not only one of the most enjoyable cycle travel books I have read, but one of the best travel books. It is written beautifully and by the end you really feel like you have learned something about the world.
This book is about the epic, 6000 mile, cycle trip from New York City to Seattle and then to the Mexican border undertaken by adventurer Leon McCarron. His route takes the reader through a less touristy USA of small towns, general stores and farms. This journey is not about speed and setting records; it is about the places and people of America. It is a nicely detailed and highly readable book for anyone inspired by the idea of crossing America by bike.
Leon McCarron has done some pretty amazing things in his life. He walked across China and trekked 1000 miles through the Empty Quarter. His first experience of adventure was this bicycle trip across America, inspired, like so many others by not wanting to settle for a desk job. Leon's mind was also full of the adventures of Lewis and Clark, the men who led the first expedition across the western part of the USA in the early 1800s.
The author comes across as someone you would enjoy being friends with, a nice guy, and a great companion for a long bike trip. This is one of the things that makes this book so enjoyable because the friendly and laid back tone makes you care about Leon's journey. It is also that he is very aware of his shortcomings and not afraid to admit them, such as knowing little about how to fix bikes and carrying too much luggage. He misses his girlfriend and goes through the emotional dilemma of wanting to do the trip, but also wanting a life with her.
The other strength of the book is that the pace is slower than many similar books; there is no race against time. That means there is more detail in the descriptions of the landscapes, encounters with people and what these parts of America are really like. You get quite a vivid picture of a USA that you might not be as familiar with, largely away from the big tourist attractions. For example, Leon was quite taken by the General Stores in upstate New York. These shops are old fashioned icons in small town America. He recalls sitting on the porch of one for hours with a coffee, talking to locals. Leon even rides in the boxcar of a freight train just because it seemed like fun and it was the classic American hobo experience.
As you would expect he meets a lot of people on this journey. Although he set off on his own he spends a lot of time with other long distance cyclists. There are many interesting encounters with locals. I loved when he stopped at an Irish bar in Shipton where he was bought drinks all night because it was the first time that a real Irish person had ever been in the bar!
There is one particularly shocking encounter with locals that is written so brilliantly that it had my heart racing to find out how it was going to play out. I am not going to ruin it for you by saying anything more, but it is a superb piece of dramatic travel writing.
Leon also experiences a tornado, an encounter with a bear and comes close to wild buffalo. This book pretty much covers all the possible adventures you could imagine on an American cycle trip!
This is another classic of adventure cycle writing, made all the better for the author's likability, attention to detail and good story telling.
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Juliana Buhring became the first and fastest woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle. This book follows her journey. It is an incredible adventure, particularly as the author had no background in cycling and was spurred into doing the ride after her boyfriend was killed by a crocodile. Buhring's background as a former member of the cult of The Children of God provides a fascinating backdrop to the journey.
These long distance cycle rides tend to be done by men and when Juliana Buhring became inspired by Mark Beaumont's around the world cycle she discovered that no woman had ever done the record attempt. Buhring was searching for something amazing to do in the aftermath of the death of her boyfriend, killed by a crocodile in Congo. The bike ride becomes the emotional release from this tragic event.
The first part of the book is set in Naples, Italy. This is where the author enlists the help of Professor Perno who has a background in cycling training. Buhring outlines the details of her training regime and learning how to maintain a bicycle at a friendly cycle shop.
Once the record attempt beings the book takes on a diary format, with short sections for each day of the adventure. This makes the book very easy to read and gives it a good pace, reflecting the time pressure of this ride. Europe flashes by and America is over in under a month. As you would expect this journey is full of highs and lows.
The highs are captured beautifully by the author in this quotation:
"On a bicycle, you are inside the movie, an essential part of it. Completely reliant upon your environment, you observe and absorb every sensation around you. You feel every change in terrain, the texture of the road, the direction of the wind, every ascent and descent, the constantly shifting weather. You smell every plant and flower, every rotting roadkill carcass. You hear every birdcall, every insect and animal. You take in the country, and the country takes you in. If you really want to experience the world, get on a bicycle."
There is a heart stopping moment when Buhring is cycling uphill through mountains in New Zealand when temperatures drop, hypothermia is setting in, it is getting dark and the GPS is not working. By chance she spots a camper van by the side of the road and the couple take her in for the night. The kindness of people is a common theme in the book. Crossing the Nullarbor Plain in Australia there is great camaraderie among travellers and Buhring experiences tooting horns and is given money to buy food.
Despite the speed of the journey the author is able to give a vivid flavour of the countries that she travels through. For example, there is a wonderful encounter with a family in Thailand who invite the author to eat with them at a place where there are prawns swimming in buckets and you simply choose however many you want for the cook to prepare and have them with rice and beer.
India proves particularly challenging for a cyclist- the roads are a mix of rubbish, mud and human waste as people just squat by the side of the road. Buhring and the bike are covered in it by the end of each day. Crowds of staring men gather each time she stops in India and she is often followed by men on motorbikes making rude comments.
This wouldn't happen to a male cyclist. Another point that Buhring makes is that she must find and stop at public toilets, something that male cyclists don’t need to do. The toilet stops add 10 minutes, precious time when you are trying to set a world record. She has to get the balance right between getting enough hydration and avoiding the toilet time wastage.
Despite these challenges you get the feeling that Buhring took all of this in her stride, that it came natural to her. This is because of her nomadic background, raised in The Children of God cult. In many ways the most fascinating aspect of this book is reading of the author's cult background.
Buhring has 17 siblings and her father had multiple partners. The cult leaders separated her from her parents when she was 4 and she was moved around the world so there was no country that she could call 'home'. The cult had training centres around the world where food and sleep deprivation, beatings and humiliation were used. These centres were disguised as international schools. Buhring escaped the cult and found it difficult to relate to mainstream life, particularly when people asked where she was from and she was unable to answer this. She did not know things, like how to open a bank account. That adjustment and leaving behind parents and friends provided her with the mental preparation for undertaking something as challenging as a cycle ride around the world.
This book is a great read. It provides a fresh perspective to add to the many other books about around the world cycle challenges. You can buy it from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
This is an exciting account of James McLaren's attempt to beat the world record for the fastest cycle across Europe. The journey begins in Ufa, Russia and proceeds through 9 countries to reach the coast in Portugal. The focus of the book is the incredible human effort required to undertake this feat. It is a race against time so there is little insight into the culture and people of the countries, but you feel like you are right there with James. His fast paced and personable writing style draws you into this world of emotion, physical pain and sheer joy.
The book begins with a great opening that perfectly captures the nerves at the start of such a journey:
"What am I doing? I thought to myself, as I sat in a room on the ninth floor in a nice hotel in Ufa, Russia, staring at my bike all boxed-up in cardboard."
From that moment I was hooked on this book, wanting to find out how this journey will progress, what will happen along the way and if James will beat the record.
Chapter two is where we learn of James' background, his life in Devon, his interest in cycling and why he wanted to attempt the record. There is nothing particularly unusual here and I was desperate to get stuck into the record attempt. Likewise, I was keen to get past chapter three which is about James' training regime, although it does give you a good idea of the amount of effort that is required to embark upon such a project.
What made me really warm to James and to care about his journey was his honesty about the highs and lows. There is no ego here and you just get the impression of a normal guy wanting to do something amazing with his life. He knows that a month long cycle trip is insignificant compared to what many sports people have done, but he choose it as something that he thought was personally achievable. He had read about the previous record and the daily mileage was something that he felt he was capable of exceeding.
The relentless pace of 8 or 9 hours cycling each day, broken only with short rest stops to eat and then sleep at night, made it difficult to put the book down. I found myself routing for James and wanting him to reach his daily target of 120 miles. At the end of each day's cycling the book displays a statistics summary showing the mileage and average speed. I was cheering inside when the daily target was exceeded on particularly challenging days and James has quite a few of these. In particular, his journey across Poland was marred with horrendous knee pain.
I found it fascinating to read about the logistics of a trip like this. For example, although James travels with a tent it is sometimes a dilemma for him to choose the tent or a hotel for a night. The advantage of hotels is that it saves time in the morning as there is no need to pack up the tent and gear and allows an opportunity to dry out soaking wet clothes using a hairdryer. However, the disadvantage is that hotels can restrict the route and mean that James might have to stop short of his mileage target. The record attempt requires meticulous record keeping, such as photos, stats from a cycle computer, a log book and witness signatures. Despite being exhausted in the evening James must spend time on this paperwork. Food is simply fuel on this journey, so you will learn nothing of the wonderful foods of Europe. Fast food, kebabs and whatever can be found in petrol stations end up being a mainstay of James' diet, although he does describe the joy of French patisserie.
I liked the inclusion of James' photographs of the journey, appearing every few pages- camping spots, hotel rooms, the open road. They add to the pace of the book, brief impressions of places, just passing through, life on the road.
With a record attempt it inevitably means that there is simply no time to enjoy the sites of the countries that James powers through. There are very few encounters with local people; this is very much a solo affair. There are some short interactions with other cyclists. There are some descriptions of pretty towns and scenery, but nothing too detailed. If you are looking for more of a cycle travelogue you will not find it here, but that's not what this book is about. If you have ever wondered about taking on a long distance cycling record then this book will give you a very honest account of what it involves and it is no vacation, that's for sure! The final few pages of the book are an amazing adrenaline rush as James reaches the end of the journey, it's great writing.
I really enjoyed this book and if you would like to buy it on Amazon just click on the image below:
A true story of cycling incredible distances for a purpose; not to break a record or to escape a boring job. Pradyumna Kumar (known at 'PK') cycles from India to Sweden to marry his wife because he cannot afford the plane ticket. This book is much more than a cycling story- it is a harrowing tale of the cruelties of the Indian caste system. Don't expect too much detail on the cycling part of the story as the focus is very much on the childhood and later life of PK, but it is a fascinating tale and provides the important backdrop to the cycling journey.
A word of warning: this is not purely a cycling travel book. If you are hoping for a tale of a bike ride that begins from page one then you might be disappointed. The bicycle ride does not actually begin until page 175! This perhaps makes the title of the book somewhat misleading, but the bike ride is simply the conclusion to an incredible story about a boy growing up in India.
Due to PKs position in the caste system (the Indian class system, but much more complicated than a western class system) he has a very cruel childhood. He is an 'untouchable' and that means when he goes to school he is not allowed in the classroom with the rest of the children. He has to stand outside on the veranda and observe the lesson from there. During playtime he is relegated to a corner of the school yard and not allowed to play with the other children. It is a heartbreaking beginning to PKs journey in life.
Luckily PKs talent as an artist helps to save him from poverty and this leads to some incredible circumstances, such as meeting the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. He has a lucrative business painting portraits at a fountain in Delhi. This is where he meets his future wife, Lotta, a Swedish backpacker on the hippie trail. Lotta must return home and PK remains in India, but this is the woman that he wants to marry so he decides he must go to Sweden to make this happen.
And so the bike ride begins, although PK also uses planes and trains for part of the way thanks to kind gestures from strangers. PK has a way with people and everyone warms to him, so is not short of help. Although the bike journey is lacking in the detail that you would get from a true cycle travel book it is clearly an incredible achievement. In fact, it is more impressive than many of the rides that have been written about by people who want to break a record or do something adventurous because PK has done no preparation and has very little money. He begins the journey on a very cheap women's Raleigh bike. He has no specialist equipment, no bicycle clothing and no fitness training. He is using a bicycle for what it was invented for- cheap and efficient transport.
The bicycle journey is interesting to read because he travels through many countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Austria, Germany and Denmark. PK records his impressions of these lands and the people that he meets. It feels a little bit rushed, but that is simply because PK is not doing this journey for the pleasure of travel but to reach his future wife.
PKs motivations for undertaking a long-distance cycling journey are hard to top for storytelling- escaping the caste system and marrying the woman that he loves. It is a fascinating and moving tale. Don't buy this book to read about a cycling adventure as you will be disappointed, but buy it for this extraordinary story of love that happens to involve bicycle travel.
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This book, by Dominic Gill, records an epic cycling journey that starts in Alaska and ends in the southernmost city in South America. There are huge distances- 18,449 miles- beautiful landscapes and physical and mental challenges. Similar adventures have been written about, but this one has a key difference- it is done on a tandem bicycle. The author sets out alone on the tandem and picks up strangers along the way, 270 of them. It is a unique twist on the familiar tale of a man fed up with his job and yearning to do something different and finds the answer in a long distance bicycle trip.
"The attractiveness of bicycle travel struck me then more than ever before. No windows blocking out life's real accompaniment. No travel-induced sleep causing you to miss the small stand selling bright, shiny mandarins or mouth-watering fruity juice. From the seat of a bicycle, everybody and everything has a voice, a smell, an influence on your immediate future."
This quote perfectly illustrates the effectiveness of Gill's writing style in capturing the beauty of travel. It also demonstrates the author's love of cycle touring, but the book doesn't start out that way.
Gill has taken a very honest approach to the first chapter of this book and recalls the sense of dread and nervousness that overcame him in the first days of his journey. He paints a rather bleak picture and nothing you will read in these first few pages will inspire you to copy this trip. I thought that it perfectly captured those feelings of loneliness and despair that an adventurer is likely to experience and this immediately made the author likable and human. It made me want to read on and discover if things got better for him.
They did get better and his morale greatly improves as the journey progresses, largely as a result of the incredible hospitality of the people that he meets along the way. It takes a bit of time before he picks up his first passenger on the tandem, but they soon become a regular feature. I had assumed that he would be picking up locals looking to travel in the same direction. There are some locals, but it is mostly other travellers with time on their hands to take a turn as "stoker", the name given to the rear cyclist on a tandem.
I was slightly disappointed that I was not going to learn very much about the local people and their way of life from the type of passengers that he was carrying. He has more interactions with locals from his daily living like eating and arranging a place to sleep and these encounters paint a vivid picture of the cultures and countries that he passes through, more so than the majority of the tandem passengers. In fact, there is perhaps a lack of detail about the people that sit on the back of his bike, considering that this is the main premise of the book.
Not all of the tandem passengers prove to be worthy companions and Gill is upfront about the annoyance that some of them cause him. For example, the passengers that do not put in their fair share of effort so that he has to do all of the work and drag them along whilst they coast in the back seat. It is another honest portrayal of the realities of adventure cycle touring.
What I liked the best about this book is that there was more of a focus on what the author was seeing and experiencing in the 15 countries that he travels through than on the fine details of cycling. This made up for any feelings that the encounters with passengers lacked some punch.
The book is incredibly well-written and the author has a talent for making you feel like you are there. He is a great observer and uses all of his senses to perfectly capture a place in words. This quote is a great example of this:
"Latin America is a happy land generally but Colombia is up there on the podium. Even construction workers leaning on their shovels and watching us go by made the happiest clowns look like mere amateurs. "
This book was a joy to read and if you fancy giving it a go you can purchase it from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Andrew P. Sykes' third cycling travel book sees him tackle 7,700km across 8 countries, from Spain to Norway. It is a detailed account of the cycle route, the scenery, towns and people that he meets along the way. The writing style makes you feel that you are right there, doing the route with Andrew. There is plenty of humour and interesting experiences to make this book a great read.
This is the first of this author's cycling books that I have read. Most cycling travel books are one-offs where an author goes on a grand adventure, but Andrew P. Sykes has written about three different trips. If you like his writing style it means that you currently have three books to dig into. His writing is a mixture of factual details about the journey interspersed with dry wit and light humour. The jokes are not always laugh out loud, but they always brought a smile to my face. If you are planning to go on a similar trip from Spain to Norway then this book will prove invaluable for inspiration and practical tips and if you simply enjoy dreaming of taking these trips you are sure to love this book.
It is not just about the bike and the cycling, but also about the destinations. Andrew takes several rest days during his journey and uses these to explore some of the towns along the route, so the book gives a good idea of what these places are like from the author's sightseeing experiences. You also get a good impression of the differences in the countries that he passes through because he records his observations, including what the cycling infrastructure is like. This is also a book about people as Andrew meets many other cyclists and locals along the way. He stays in a mixture of campsites and hotels, the former giving more of an opportunity to engage with fellow travellers. He also uses the Warm Showers website, a resource for cyclists to find free accommodation offered by other cyclists.
I liked the honesty of the author. When he has a bad day he tells you about it, he is upfront about the fact that cycle touring is not always brilliant. That said, he does have an excellent time for most of the journey and it is hard not to want to repeat his journey when you read the descriptions of the landscapes and idyllic campsites. I thought his writing about the experience of cycling through Norwegian tunnels was excellent. He really captured how scary this can be and I could feel myself shudder at the thought of the passing trucks.
What really comes across is that Andrew is not one of these one-off around the world adventure cyclists, but someone who just loves to explore the world by bike and keep doing it. He doesn't pretend to be an adventurer and that's the kind of writing that is going to inspire the rest of us to try this because it comes across as accessible and something that we could all give a go.
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Book Review: Only In Edinburgh. A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects by Duncan J.D. Smith
When exploring Edinburgh by bicycle, foot, bus or any other means then this book is the ideal companion. It reveals many of Edinburgh's secrets and hidden gems, so is much more interesting than a standard guide. There is a lifetime of exploring contained within these pages. The text is highly engaging and full of fascinating facts.
My initial impression of this book was that it was quite text heavy compared to the usual guide book format of recommendations, listings and maps. However, the text is highly readable and full of riveting information about Edinburgh. It keeps you turning the pages and wanting to know more. What comes across is that there is so much more to Edinburgh than the castle, Princess Street Gardens and the art galleries. Even if you have lived in Edinburgh for many years there are things in this book that will be new to you.
The book has 103 experiences. It does cover some well-known attractions, like the castle, but it explores the lesser-known items, the hidden gems within these attractions. But the main focus of the book is on places and experiences that are more unusual and will take you off the beaten path. Some of my favourite experiences are the entry on Victorian swimming pools, the historic pub crawl, the tour of Edinburgh's independent bookshops, the story of Edinburgh' Jews and a visit to the home of the world's first millionaire (Lauriston Castle).
There is an almost endless number of adventures that this book will take you on, including a search for the replica of an American Wild West Street, seeking out a Cold War-era bunker on Corstorphine Hill or admiring 'Edinburgh's Sistine Chapel'. You could plan your weekends around discovering something different in the city and easily plot a cycle route to get there.
Each entry in the book will have you admiring the level of research that must have been involved and you will love sharing your newfound knowledge with friends and family.
Although this book is largely about places to see, I loved the fact that it also provides suggestions of places to enjoy food and drink. And these are not the standardised listings that you get in run-of-the-mill guidebooks, but, again, unusual and unique. For example, entry 14 is titled 'Sustenance in Strange Places' and informs the reader about a number of restaurants located in buildings with notable histories and/or interiors. Another entry gives the lowdown on the cafes that J.K. Rowling visited when writing Harry Potter. There is even a page about the former police boxes that have been turned into takeaway coffee outlets. Or how about going for a deep-fried haggis supper from Ian Rankin's favourite takeaway?
'Only in Edinburgh' is a great example of turning the guide book format on its head and making it into something much more readable and inspiring. The author (Duncan J.D.Smith) is The Urban Explorer and has given a similar treatment to books about many other cities, including Berlin, Paris and Prague.
For those who are exploring Edinburgh by bicycle the book brings a new twist to your journeys. You could pick a selection of the experiences and then use Google maps to plot your cycle route and don't forget to include one of the eating or drinking places so that you have somewhere for refreshments.
Some of the entries in this book feature in my blog: 10 Hidden Gems in Edinburgh
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Who takes a gun on a cycling trip? Dervla Murphy lists a .25 automatic pistol as part of her kit list for travelling by bicycle to India. And she ends up having to use it! This was the 1960s and she was making her way through countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This book is a beautifully written and gripping account of a cycling adventure that paints a gorgeous portrait of the landscapes and peoples of these regions.
I have read many books about cycling adventures and I find that many tend to focus on the cycling more than the experience of travelling because the author is more a cyclist than a travel writer. Dervla Murphy is clearly a travel writer with beautiful descriptions of the places and people she encounters. For her the bike is simply the mode of transport, although she has a lot of affection for her bicycle and gives it the name of 'Roz.'
Throughout this book you get an overwhelming sense of the author's total love of travel and experiencing everything and recording it in exquisite detail. Murphy has a great sense of humour that comes across in the writing:
"This is the part of Afghanistan I was most eager to see, but in my wildest imaginings I never thought any landscape could be so magnificent. If I am murdered en route it will have been well worth while!"
There are many dramatic situations during the author's adventure, including using her gun to fire a warning shot when she awoke to find an almost-naked Kurdish man standing over her bed. In Iran she had to fire another warning shot when a group tried to steal her bicycle. I was shocked to read this and wondered if the world was a more dangerous place back then than it is now. Then again, when you read about the hospitality and the stunning landscapes that Murphy experienced in Afghanistan you cannot help feeling sad that this country is now a place that most travellers would avoid.
I should mention that some of the descriptions of people use racial words. This is probably because these terms were acceptable back in the 60s and it is very clear that there is no racist intent and that Murphy has a very deep respect and admiration for the people of these lands and their religion. She writes positively and glowingly about the cultures she comes across and she develops a love for the people of Afghanistan.
Although bus travel, truck travel and horse riding (including a horse that the author christens 'Rob') sometimes are more prominent than cycle travel there is plenty of fun and hardship that the author has with her bicycle. This includes cycling uphill in Pakistan in 102 degrees Fahrenheit and drinking 24 pints of water. Murphy survives another day with nothing other than a tiny bowl of stewed clover to sustain her.
This is classic travel writing at its best. It is thoughtful, detailed and fascinating.
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This book celebrates the bicycle from its invention to Victorian trick cyclists and from BMX bandits to Le Tour de France. It is presented in an easily digestible format with plenty of photos and a well-written, chirpy text. Absolutely everything to do with bicycles is in here and it is a joy to leaf through the pages.
Just have a look at the contents of this book and you will see that nothing has been missed in the story of the bicycle. This includes the bike in art, film and books, the birth of the mountain bike, cycle racing and record attempts. There are also features on iconic bikes like The Chopper and the Dawes Galaxy. It is a chunky book, but presented beautifully with loads of interesting pictures and illustrations. There is even a guide to fixing punctures. If you love bicycles and want to know lots of interesting things about them then you will love this book.
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Lonely Planet have produced this utterly superb and inspiring collection of cycling routes around the world. For anybody who loves cycling, travel and dreaming of future adventures this book is essential reading. I devoured every single page and could not help my imagination racing with the possibilities of bike trips in numerous parts of our planet.
First off, the book is stunningly presented with breathtaking photography and a layout that makes you want to dive in. It is organised by continent with a travel writer describing their experiences on a particular cycling journey and then presenting a summary of similar journeys. The quality of the writing is exceptional. It is just the right length, not too long or too short, to grab your intention and spark your imagination. I found it impossible not to dream of going to these places.
Planning information extends to a map, distances, where to stay, how to get there and other essential tips. It may not be enough to seriously plot out your own route, but it points you in the right direction and this book is about inspiring you to do these rides, not to provide every single detail of the route.
About 30 countries and 200 route suggestions are contained within this book and I wanted to do all of them. There is something for everyone here. City cycling, mountain biking, family-friendly cycling, coast-to-coast cycling, cycling to breweries, cycling around lakes. You name it, all cycling tastes are covered.
Scotland is included in this book. There is one main feature on cycling the Outer Hebrides. It made me quite proud to see this alongside all of these other countries and that people will be inspired to come here as a result of seeing this book. There are also suggestions of some other cycle routes in Scotland, including Strathpuffer, a mountain bike endurance event.
I love this book and dipping into it whenever I want to dream of future adventures.
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