TELLING TALES

Some bike books are by naive new­com­ers. Hooray for that, says Rob Ains­ley

Cycling Plus - - THE HUB -

An old col­lege friend has just got into cy­cling. His road bike cost more than I earn, his jer­sey is more ex­pen­sive than my bike and he daily Face­book brags about how he’s KOM for his age range on some Strava seg­ment. As an ev­ery­day cy­clist, I pre­fer well-pock­eted M&S shorts to Ly­cra ones, be­ing more mar­su­pial than MAMIL. And I’m still the fastest for my age on sev­eral seg­ments, if I re­strict the range to my pre­cise birth­date.

An­other Face­book friend is a dif­fer­ent sort of cy­cling in­génue. She posted a pic­ture of her new town bike and asked her so­cial me­dia co­hort what she should call it and 200 peo­ple replied. Ev­i­dently bike names are more in­ter­est­ing than frame ge­om­e­try.

Sug­ges­tions came in two types: ‘cage fighter name’, usu­ally by men (‘The Beast’, ‘The Green God­dess’ and so on); and ‘Eal­ing Com­edy maiden aunt name’, usu­ally by women (‘Ma­bel’, ‘Flossie’). She set­tled on Matilda, af­ter a great-grand­par­ent.

Chris­ten­ing bikes is not my style. Just as well – I don’t know who most of my great-grand­par­ents were. But trav­el­ogue writer An­drew P. Sykes has made a se­ries out of it, most re­cently his ami­able Spain to Nor­way on a Bike Called Reg­gie. Writ­ing a de­cent bike travel book like this is hard work. It’s tough to es­cape the clichés: life in rut, crazy plan in pub, set­ting off, early doubts, re­mote-coun­try hos­pi­tal­ity, fi­nal ex­hausted tri­umph.

One prob­lem is that the more en­joy­able the ad­ven­ture, the less there is to write about. I’ve done more big trips than you could shake a selfie stick at, and once cy­cled to all the places in the world called Bath. (There were 23 of them.) But there was never a book, be­cause they were a pre­dictable suc­ces­sion of com­fort­able ac­com­mo­da­tion, good peo­ple, in­ter­est­ing food, ab­sorb­ing cul­ture, thrilling scenery and soul-nour­ish­ing con­tem­pla­tion. No hi­lar­i­ous tales of me­chan­i­cal fail­ure, armed con­flict or near­fa­tal ill­ness.

Like a de­railleur, a page-turner needs the right amount of ten­sion, or it doesn’t work. The read­able writer con­trives a chal­lenge, like the Iron Cur­tain on a shop­ping bike in win­ter (Tim Moore) or tak­ing a cricket bat to the Ashes in Aus­tralia (Oli Broom). Or per­haps there’s an all-con­sum­ing search for some­thing, and I don’t just mean enough sock­ets to charge all your de­vices, like rid­ing to, lit­er­ally, re­cover your san­ity (Bernie Friend).

Me, I just want a nice hol­i­day. I don’t need to find my­self. It’s clear where I am. Usu­ally in a Wether­spoon pub, with a post-ride pint.

Some travel lit­er­a­ture can be in­tim­i­dat­ing, with fe­ro­ciously driven in­di­vid­u­als do­ing dan­ger­ous things. By Kayak to Rock­all, Afghanistan on a Skate­board, Around the World Te­diously Quickly. Good reads, maybe, but give me a slow-bike trav­el­ogue for Christ­mas any time. Sykes may not be Proust, but A La Recherche du Temps Perdu never made me want to cy­cle France.

Even give me the clichéd, self-pub­lished ac­count of a first-time End-to-En­der, or clumsy web page of a naive char­ity rider. Such un­pre­ten­tious – but in­spir­ing – tales re­mind us all that we can cre­ate our own sto­ries. All we need is a bike and a plan, and per­haps a mul­ti­way adap­tor. We’re not scowl­ing, fo­cused pro­fes­sion­als. We’re am­a­teurs, in the true sense: do­ing it be­cause we love it. We prob­a­bly couldn’t get a book from it, just a blog for friends and fam­ily and the odd serendip­i­tous Googler, or sim­ply a din­ner-party yarn. But it’ll be life-en­hanc­ing.

Sim­i­larly, I won’t snig­ger at my old col­lege chum for be­ing the car­i­ca­ture allthe-gear ar­riv­iste, or roll my eyes at peo­ple who name their bike like a pet duck. It’s great to have them both join­ing us. Maybe soon we’ll be dis­cussing cy­cle things – com­pacts ver­sus triples, Cy­cle Su­per­high­ways or the best cafes on the Way of the Roses route and so on. (Pos­si­bly Wood­ies, at Crook o’Lune.) De­spite rant­ing me­dia colum­nists, ter­ri­ble in­fra­struc­ture and car-cen­tric cul­ture, peo­ple are still com­ing to cy­cling in dif­fer­ent ways. Let’s wel­come them all. Be their men­tor and you never know, you might see your­self men­tioned ap­prov­ingly in some wideeyed, en­thu­si­as­tic, self-pub­lished bike trav­el­ogue soon.

Like a de­railleur, a page-turner needs the right amount of ten­sion

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