“Armchair Cycling Doesn’t Get Better Than This!”

Graham Thompson writes on

“Andrew Sykes is a language teacher, an admirable profession that to do well, I assume, must have some empathy with the countries and people who live and speak those languages. If this is the case then a tour across Europe should come as no surprise. But it was as a result of him watching the cyclists at the Beijing Olympics that the seed of this journey was sown. The idea of doing a long distance tour on a bike is very different to the Olympian cyclists but that is of no matter, the idea was there and two years later, taking advantage of the long summer holiday, the ride to Brindisi, southern Italy started.

Andrews journey took inspiration, and indeed some of the actual route of the Via Francigena, an ancient Pilgrims route and the Eurovelo 5 cycle route, an inspired use of the old and new.

Now, this did not just happen. Andrew describes in detail the two years between the idea and the reality in which route planning and information sourcing took place using an online blog. But happen it did despite little information being available on cycle routes (Eurovelo) in Europe, a situation that is now changing as more information is collated on the internet.

This book certainly goes the extra mile in detailing how the ride was planned and executed. However, it is not dry as some overly detailed books can be. The whole point of a journey like this has to be the pleasure of actually doing it as much as the achievement of something special. It is the pleasure of the ride that comes across so well, even the times when `pleasure’ would probably have been said through gritted teeth.

No journey of this distance can be all plain sailing. Andrew and Reggie have their individual highs and lows, sometimes they coincide! No matter what the joys or pains though, the humour and great writing keep you willing them on. With a knack for great descriptions of the terrain, history, people and events along the route we, as readers can feel part of the journey and get a great sense of occasion.

One of the recurring comments I read about this book is “inspirational” and it is. Many tour books come over as a little clinical about how it all came about, a bit macho but, and here I beg the authors understanding, this book refreshingly comes across as an ordinary guy facing the worry, uncertainty but above all, excitement of setting off on an adventure. For me, that is one of the endearing things about this book, the fact that anyone reading it can admire the adventure but feel that maybe even they could do it to.

I cannot recommend this book too much and the icing on the cake is that Andrew is planning the 2013 ride right now with the hope of a another book coming out in 2014. To paraphrase MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace, Armchair cycling doesn’t get better than this.”


What do you think?