Lost Lanes, Jack Thurston (2013)

An irresistibly evocative guide to cycle touring in southern England

Wild Things Publishing 9780957157316 15cm x 20 cm 256pp £14.99

As the current cycling craze has gained momentum, there has been much rooting through the pastime’s back catalog in search of recoverable twists and tweaks. So it is that fixed wheels, tweed ware and bicycle polo have re-emerged. Vintage bicycle events are crowded out by hipsters, learned books appear celebrating all-but-forgotten frame builders and apparel makers fall over themselves to give their garments a hint of Edwardian styling.
Surely then, the time has come to confidently rediscover cycling’s most accessible and complete joy – touring?

Some might argue that this has already happened. Sportive participants kid themselves that they are in some kind of competition. In truth, they are enjoying the countryside on two wheels as have six or seven generations before them – albeit sportive riders kit themselves out in a rather uniform fancy dress for the purpose.

But for cycle touring to hold up its head and proclaim that it is the most fabulous way to enjoy the countryside without risk of arrest, it surly needs re-imagining in some way?
Step forward then, Jack Thurston, who in his nine years presenting Resonance FM’s The Bike Show, has carved himself a deserved reputation as the poster boy for cool, cultured cyclists. He mixes his passion for life on two wheels, with an enthusiasm for nature, art and architecture. All enrich his work without ever sounding remotely stuffy.

With this book, he can only enhance his reputation. Ostensibly, it joins the plethora of route guides that form a mainstay of cycle publishing. Between its covers, however, is a rich evocation of cycle touring, Thurston-style.

He favours free, unencumbered cycling and seeking out unknown routes – for him, even a B road is a busy thoroughfare best avoided.

There are introductory chapters on getting a feel for his philosophy of cycling, understanding the underlying geography of southern England and the appeal of wild camping. He then describes riding his thirty-six routes. The associated route guides necessary to follow in his tracks are available on line, to be downloaded onto a smart phone or GPS.

Well-researched, beautifully written and deliciously designed, his book is an unmitigated delight. The lavish and luminous photography is nearly all Thurston’s own.

Is it enough, however, to make bicycle touring cool? It might well be, save for one serious omission. Cultural reinvention typically requires subtle renaming. By way of example, I didn’t trouble to even describe my enthusiasm for swimming outdoors, until 2006 when it was rebranded ‘wild swimming’. Thereafter national newspapers couldn’t print enough guides to the best rivers in which to immerse. ‘Wild cycling’ is not quite right – but surely there is an apposite moniker out there awaiting appropriation? And once we alight on the right title, the sunny uplands of modishness can only be a few short pedal stokes away for cycle touring.

TD June 13

For probity’s sake, I should declare that I am an occaisional guest on The Bike Show, co-edit The Bicycle Reader with Jack Thuston.

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