Vicarious Cycling

OK, I’m going to admit it. I have broken my pledge to cycle every day in April. It has been too darned wet for this fair weather cyclist.

The Bike Less Ridden


But I have spent time on Wiggle, looking at expensive bikes I shall never buy. I am thinking about a basket for my bike and have looked at lots, and even bid for one on eBay. I didn’t get it. I have bought a cover for my cycle helmet so when I do ride in the rain, the water won’t come through the slits and drip down my neck or into my eyes.

It isn’t so much the getting wet I mind, though dripping through a day at work is obviously far from ideal. It’s the puddles of unknown depth and hidden dangers that spool out from blocked drains; the soaking by joyful and mindless drivers who surge through those same puddles, throwing enough water into the air to fill a bath; the pedestrians who step out wielding umbrellas like sabres and who run murderously into my path.

So, I’ve settled for cycling vicariously. I am reading Andrew Sykes book Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie. I bought the Kindle version. Now I have my smartphone, I’ve downloaded the Kindle app, which makes for handy reading in the bus.

Andrew is a modern languages teacher, so one of my tribe. Not that I think I’ll ever be one of his. Long distance cycling is something I am far happier about from my sofa than in the saddle.

The book recounts his journey from his home in Reading to friends in the heel of Italy. It has been said more than once that teaching is a job with a vacation, and Andrew certainly makes the most of the long summer break. Of course if Michael Gove reads this, he’ll simply see it as proof that teachers have too much time on their hands, so I am glad Andrew starts with a comment about the demands of teaching.

So far, I have reached Day Ten, ten days further than than this book would be had I undertaken the journey. Andrew, Reggie, with me riding pillion, are en route to Strasbourg. The book is based on Andrew’s blog entries, posted via his iPhone. Who says technology has stifled literacy. The style is more Bill Bryson than Paul Theroux, and I am particularly enjoying the vignettes of places I’ve never visited, or quite often even heard of. I now know where Rimbaud was born, escaped from and buried.

Luxembourg ought to be actively promoting this book as in a few paragraphs it has made me want to visit. I am also recognising the frustrations of the francophone in France who is relentlessly addressed in English. I had a ludicrous conversation in a Paris restaurant once with a waiter whose English was incomprehensible, but who persisted in trying to take my order in a language he patently didn’t understand.

I am enjoying the book very much, and have already decided it is the perfect gift for a cycling colleague who dreams of spending summers freewheeling in Europe. I am intrigued to know where in the Puglia Andrew ends up. The journey officially stops at Brindisi. Maybe he’ll hop on a ferry to Greece, or pop down to Lecce where I have friends. There have a been a few laugh out loud moments, and I hope Andrew writes more. Sometimes, I feel Bryson’s influences are too apparent, but there are paragraphs where you can see the writer he could become, where enthusiasm and sheer enjoyment lift the writing. There’s a sense of fun and adventure; a delight in what he is doing that bounces off the page. It’s infectious stuff. I have even started to imagine myself cycling those voies vertes in northern France.

I’d like to take a blue pencil and edit out most of the exclamation marks. Too often I can feel when they are coming, and the quality of the prose usually makes them unnecessary. So far the court is out on the school masterly perorations.

I can’t imagine what it could have felt like to come back to England and the start of a new school year after five weeks in the saddle. When I have been away walking for ten days, or even less, the period of adjustment when home has been quite strange.

But as the rain is lashing down again today, my own, unnamed bike is going to remain unridden, so it’s time for a cup of coffee and another day of cycling by proxy.

Andrew Sykes, Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie

29 thoughts on “Vicarious Cycling

  1. Lovely blog, Isobel. I’m on the turbo today – so gusty out there I might get blown under a lorry!

    I like the sound of that book. It’s perfect for me (anticipating a certain reluctance from a third party when I pitch my brilliant idea of cycling 50 miles to Hay on Wye…) Have you read French Revolutions by Tim Moore? I really enjoyed that.

    Bill Bryson caused me to burst out laughing in a bookshop for the first time ever. I was browsing through “The Lost Continent” just lost control. I bought the book – and so did the woman who was standing next to me in the shop and asked me what was so funny. I loved it so much I wrote to him in the States and invited him to come over to Chelt Lit Fest – which he subsequently did and signed all my books. Sweet man. 🙂

    • Great story Jan! If you read my book and want me to do the same thing I’ll happily do so. Reading to Cheltenham is a bit easier than Bill’s trip probably was from the States, but then again, on First Great Western… I see from your Twitter feed that you are a cycling fan so if you like, I’d happily send you a complimentary copy. Tweet me your postal address.
      Happy cycling
      Andrew

    • Which paragraph was it? The one that still makes me giggle was when he drew up alongside the member of the National Guard. An ex-neighbour used to work with him on The Times and mused he wasn’t that funny then…
      He’s back in the UK now, I think. Norfolk, if I remember correctly.
      I don’t know Tim Moore. I’ll check him out. I went to the library in one of the lulls from the downpours today. I was looking for something by David Park. They didn’t have it, but told me I could go to Peckham. I could of course, but I don’t like Peckham and I don’t like its library. Grrrr.

      • I’ll look it out and get back to you. It concerned memories of his father taking them on road trips and catatonically driving past every single roadside attraction that might have been of interest.

        Bill isn’t “funny” in person – really quietly spoken and thoughtful but with a twinkly grin. I’ll look for my Tim Moore book. It’s around her somewhere. So is the sequel.

  2. Isobel your last three posts have not shown up in my email and I have been following you since I started blogging but my stats page shows that I am not following. I guess I will hit the follow button again.

      • It makes mw wonder who else is missing! I was thinking to myself that you hadn’t posted in a bit so I clicked over from my bookmarks. I have had to sign in on a new sign in screen and all it does is just sit and spin. Yesterday when I couldn’t find you on the list I found out on the new sign in that we have a reader. Had no idea! So that’s your bike! It has been raining here for days making me befuddled and a little down. We need some sun.

  3. A brilliant post Isobel. I used to own a bike and did plenty of cycling by proxy. With the same hope that buying vitamin pills would make me feel vibrant without remembering to take them, I hoped that having a bike in garage would be enough to make me fitter. My excuse was that I didn’t have a bike as a child so I had to learn at a great age and was frightened of traffic!I did use it on a few flat cycle paths though and always ended up with back ache. I hope you receive your signed book, it will be much nicer than reading it on your kindle 🙂

  4. I think I would like this book. I wish I could ride a bike more, but I hate city traffic and I live in a city. When I would ride to and from work in Colorado rain made my life much harder than it needed to be. And on several occasions I almost had nasty spills. Fortunately I survived and was never hurt seriously. So I totally understand your not wanting to risk it.

  5. Pingback: “Infectious Stuff”! Oh Dear…(!) | CyclingEurope.org

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