The Best Books on Bicycle Travel (Part II)

In Part I of this story, we spoke about some of the best books on bicycle travel. There was Rob Lilwall, who cycled home from Siberia, Dervla Murphy, who cycled all the way from Ireland to India and Mark Beaumont, who cycled around the world and then, in a separate trip, across the Americas. There was also Alastair Humphreys who cycled around the world and wrote two books about his journey, and Tom Kevill-Davies, who set out on his bicycle in search of… food! Read on to find out what is the cast of characters in this, part II of our list of best books on bicycle travel.

50 Shades Of The USA, by Anna McNuff

‘Disillusioned with corporate London life and with no previous experience as a long-distance cyclist, Anna decides to clamber atop a beautiful pink bicycle (named Boudica) and set out on an 11,000-mile journey on her own, through each and every state of the USA. Dodging floods, blizzards and electrical storms, she pedals side by side with mustangs of the Wild West, through towering redwood forests, past the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains and on to the volcanos of Hawaii. Along the way, she meets record-breaking grandmas, sings with Al Green at a gospel service and does her best to avoid becoming a grizzly bear’s dinner. 50 Shades of the USA is a down-to-earth, heartfelt and hilarious account of an adventure through a country well-known, but far less well-understood. It is a stunning tale of self-discovery told through the eyes of a woman who couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to life, and more to America too,’ says the publisher’s note.

50 Shades of the USA is an honest and compelling read, flooded with vivid impressions of the land and urbanscapes that Anna rides through. Battling injuries and ‘dream dumpers,’ navigating city streets, dodging trucks that come within a hair of her and getting bombarded by a full suite of horrendous weather conditions, Anna methodically keeps her wheels turning, displaying a tenacity to overcome whatever physical, emotional and logistical challenges are thrown her way. Any way you look at it, Anna’s journey is inspirational,’ says An Ethical Yarn.

Africa Solo: My World Record Race from Cairo to Cape Town, by Mark Beaumont

He’s cycled around the world and across the Americas, but Beaumont isn’t hanging up his helmet just yet. He’s off again and this time, it’s Africa. ‘Mark Beaumont set out from the bustling heart of Cairo on his latest world record attempt – solo, the length of Africa, intending to ride to Cape Town in under 50 days. Seven years since he smashed the world record for cycling round the world, this would be his toughest trip yet. And he would set a new mark that would simply break the limits of endurance. Despite illness, mechanical faults, attempted robbery and stone-throwing children, as well as dehydration in the deserts and unprecedented levels of exhaustion, Mark completed the journey in just 41 days, 10 hours and 22 minutes, after cycling 6,762 miles, spending 439 hours in the saddle (sometimes up to 16 hours a day) and climbing 190,355 feet through 8 countries. It was an astonishing journey, and one that will fascinate and grip the reader. From the obvious dangers of Egypt, Sudan and Kenya, over the unpaved, muddy, mountainous roads of Ethiopia, through the beautiful grasslands of Tanzania and Zambia, to riding at night in Botswana in the company of elephants and giraffes, Mark brings Africa to life in all its complex glory, friendship and curiosity, while inspiring us all to question the bounds of what is possible,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘I have always been a fan of Mark Beaumont’s past documentaries and books [The Man Who Cycled The World and The Man Who Cycled The Americas]. Africa Solo is an equally interesting story, but in many ways a quite different sequel. Mark makes it clear early on in Africa Solo that the attempt at the World Record from Cairo to Cape Town will be about speed, big miles, and racing the clock. The focus on culture, content creation, and storytelling will be pushed back to second place. I found this rearranged focus to slightly mar what I am sure could be a beautiful story of exploration of the African continent. Mark’s previous tales of solo unsupported tours of the Americas and the World were a real immersion in the civilisations seen and experienced; I felt Africa Solo was diluted in this romantic respect – the focus more on calories than culture, pain than passion, and speed rather than scenery. [However] I am not saying this is not a great read [and] it did leave me yearning to go on another bicycle adventure,’ says Life in the Saddle.

Cycling the Earth: A Life-changing Race Around the World, by Sean Conway

‘Sean Conway was stuck in a life dead end of his own making when he heard about a round the world cycling race. He was immediately inspired – but it was a huge undertaking and he’d hardly been on a bike in years. Could he really cycle all the way round the world, solo and unsupported? Six months later, after completing a punishing training schedule and packing up everything he owned into boxes, Sean was in Greenwich Park on the start line of the adventure of a lifetime. Soon he was way ahead of schedule, averaging 180 miles per day, and on course to break the round the world cycling record. But then disaster struck, and Sean was forced to confront the possibility that he may not be able to complete the race. In the course of his 16,000-mile journey, Sean travelled the famous pan-American highway across the Atacama Desert, outran tornados, relied on fellow travellers to ferry water across the Australian outback, and inadvertently joined a cycle club in Mumbai. He learnt things about himself he didn’t know and rediscovered a spirit of adventure that changed everything. This is a book about an amazing and sometimes incredibly difficult journey, but it’s also a book about never giving up when there’s an opportunity to follow your dreams,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Conway opens the book with a tale of an unfulfilling career, being dumped by his girlfriend and a feeling that he was wasting his life. He tried to work out what he should do to change this situation and remembered being inspired by Mark Beaumont who broke the record for cycling around the world in 2010. He decided that this was the answer and signed up to do the around the world cycle race. As this is a race against the clock you get fleeting impressions of the countries, rather than an in-depth exploration of culture, people and landscapes. Conway must focus on mileage and how to do that mileage and also how to get enough calories. You do get a brilliant sense of adventure from this book,’ says The Cycling Scot.

Every Inch of the Way: My Bike Ride Around the World, by Tom Bruce

‘This was the journey that changed my life. I had dreamed about it for so long, but I never actually thought I’d complete a trip around the globe by bike. It started off as seed in the back of my mind, that grew and grew until the idea consumed me. In March 2011 I set off on the adventure of a lifetime, from my front door, across Europe, Asia and finally the USA. I spent nights in people’s houses all over the world, slept in Yurts, camped with nomads, ate delicious food ranging from Tibetan stew to alligator meat, drunk home-made Georgian wine, was given clothes, partied with Kazakhs on the Caspian Sea ferry, saw photos of USSR soldiers in front of statues of Lenin, saw Stalin’s house the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall. I cycled through sweltering deserts and over huge mountains. I overcame mechanical problems with the help of an Azerbaijani mechanic and illness due to the kindness of a Tajik Pamiri doctor. On the way I cycled with local people and friends, both old and new,’ says Bruce, about Every Inch of the Way. ‘I’ve written this book to share my story and the amazing experiences that I had. It’s not a book full of arty descriptions about beautiful places, it doesn’t have any clever metaphors; it’s just my story. It tells the story of a normal person spending nine months experiencing the world from the saddle of a bike. I’ve included bits of history, observations about people’s daily life, comparisons of countries and my own opinions as my story is told. I only had one rule; I had to make it round the world on a bike: every inch of the way,’ he adds.

Every Inch of the Way is a great adventure, which is as close as you can get without actually saddling up and pedalling yourself into the unknown. It takes real magic to turn a great adventure into a great book. For one thing, most people can’t relate to the mindset of the long distance cyclist and I found myself laughing along to Tom’s thoughts and observations, wondering if they were ‘in’ jokes, shared by those who had seen the world at the speed of a bike. But his anecdotes have a great balance of the cultures and places, as opposed to just inward reflections, so I am sure would be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in travel and human experience. A lovely story, written from the heart,’ says Mark Beaumont, who, of course, is an intrepid long-distance bike rider himself.

One Man and His Bike: A Life-Changing Journey All the Way Around the Coast of Britain, by Mike Carter

‘Mike Carter needed a change. Fed up with a Britain rife with crime and sliding into economic downturn, one day he decided to cycle straight past the office to find out for himself what was going on. He would follow the Thames to the sea and then ride around the entire coastline, a journey of 5,000 miles, the equivalent of London to Calcutta. If he completed it, he would end up exactly where he started. Physically, at least. Camping or relying on the hospitality of strangers, Mike met an array of brilliant characters and experienced innumerable random acts of kindness. He encountered drunken priests and drag queens, gnome sanctuaries and hippy communities, fellow travellers and people building for a different type of future. He also found a spirit of unbelievable kindness, generosity and hope that convinced him that Britain was anything but broken. During the five month journey, cycling the byways of the nation, he became…happy,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘The tagline is simple enough (‘what would happen if you were cycling to the office and just kept on pedalling?’), but it’s the execution that makes it fantastic. You can almost see it – a man desperate for escape, for change; he’s cycling to work and reaches a junction. One way, towards work, is traffic jams, road works, blowing horns and exhaust fumes. The other runs alongside the Thames, and onwards out to the sea. Who wouldn’t be intrigued at the possibility, the promise? It’s almost poetic. Carter decided to load up the bike and follow that road to the sea, and the result is an amazing, epic travelogue, 5,000 miles around the coast. You will find 350 pages of the most wonderful snapshots, of places, landscapes, history, cycling, beer, cakes, camping, and most of all, people. Mike will clearly speak to anyone, and it’s his encounters with the broadest variety of the populace that really bring the book to life,’ says Cycling Shorts.

Two Wheels on my Wagon: A Bicycle Adventure in the Wild West, by Paul Howard

‘As bicycle races go, the attractions of the Tour Divide are not immediately apparent. For a start, it is the longest mountain-bike race in the world, running nearly 3,000 miles down the Rockies from Canada to Mexico. But the distance is not the only challenge – the total ascent of 200,000 ft is the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest nearly seven times. Then there are the dangerous animals likely to be encountered on the route: grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves, not to mention rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Worse, the rewards for all this effort are strictly limited. Unlike in the Tour de France, there is no fabled yellow jersey and no prize money. Yet, undaunted, and in spite of never having owned a mountain bike, Paul Howard signed up. Battling the worst weather for generations, drinking whiskey with a cowboy and singing karaoke with the locals, Howard’s journey turned into more than just a race – it became the adventure of a lifetime,’ says the publisher’s note.

Two Wheels on my Wagon may be the last book on this list but it certainly isn’t the ‘least.’ It’s as well-written as any other book on this list and is as enjoyable a read. The thing with these books – all the books mentioned here – is that even if you can’t find the time, resources or even the sheer courage to get a set of wheels and hit the road, here you will find some inspiration. At best, these books will inspire you to set out on your own adventure on two wheels. But even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll still live all these adventures vicariously and there’s something to be said for that.

Also see: Part I of this story

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