A Place To Cycle, Rob Penn (2005)

A lavishly illustrated catalogue of 25 suggested ‘amazing cycle tours’ around the world that is as potently inspiring as it is practically threadbare

Conran Octopus 1 84091 391 7 Quarto 160 pp £16.99

This book is the product of a ‘publishing concept’. One of five ‘A Place’ to offerings from the publisher (Stay, Spa, Walk and Cook) being the others, it is squarely aimed at the aspirational, wealthy young professional who wants a magazine-style selection box from which to make their holiday plans.

It outlines a series of tours, lasting from five to twenty days across a breathtaking range of landscapes: Chile, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Wales, Guatemala, Iceland and India among them. Some will be known to devotees of mountain bicycle magazines or US titles such as Outside. Many were new to me.

Start following any of the chapters closely, however, and the lack of detail becomes stark. An eight-day tour of the outer Hebrides, starts thus: “Day 1: Arrival in Stornoway. Arrive at Inverness airport and transfer to Skye…” That is a journey of 121 miles – just what does ‘transfer’ mean? A schedule is suggested day-by-day, but there is no real information on how to find you way from, say, Stornoway to Tarbet, nor where you might stay, nor where the ‘lunch’ for which the schedule makes time might be procured.

Skip back to the introduction, and the author explains that each chapter ends with the web address of a cycle-tour operator who will help with all the pesky trivia like routes, accommodation, sustenance and, indeed, bicycles – in return for a consideration, of course. Once you have this in focus, it is clear that, for the most part, this is an assemblage of packaged opportunities

It would be easy to criticise. You have to burrow into the book before its real nature becomes clear. And once it is, the fault line that divides the egalitarian everyman’s pursuit from the sport of the monied elite is laid bare. These are holidays for people for whom a cycle tour has far more in common with a lavish skiing trip than a CTC club run.

However, Penn – a sometime city lawyer who threw it all in for adventure cycling and travel writing – does opine with the authority of someone with an awful lot of kilometres on his clock. He also has an eye for an evocative scene. Indeed, his writing elsewhere is worth seeking out.

The best case for this book was made when I showed it to utility cycling friend who had never considered a holiday awheel. After five minutes flicking through its pages she was making plans a year hence to tackle one of its routes. It would be impossible to embark on such a venture without considerable further reading – but you can’t start a fire without a spark.

PS April 09


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