I read Tim Moore’s book, ‘French Revolutions’ when it came out 10 years ago and liked it. In the book, Moore details his attempts to cycle the route of the Tour de France on his own in his ill-prepared fashion, with a charmingly wry wit.
I liked it, I think, because I like travel books and I like travel, and manage to do so as regularly as I can, always in a wry and ill-prepared fashion and without any of the insouciance and sang froid that I would like to imagine that I possess. So, I liked his work. But I didn’t remember it as especially memorable and I’d lost track of his work subsequently.
I picked up this book for a friend’s birthday gift. A thought process no more complex than; ‘he likes cycling and we both love Italy. What could go wrong?’
This time, Tim Moore cycles the route of a race, on his own, recording his observations about his lack of preparation in a charmingly wry fashion. Seeing a pattern here?
In this case, he retraces the route of the 1914 Giro d’Italia, known as one of the most difficult races in cycling history. A nice addition is that this time he decides to undertake this madcap scheme on a reconditioned original – or as original as can be sourced – century old bicycle and dons woollen riding kit to boot.
And, here’s the thing: I loved it. It is one of the most genuinely laugh out loud books I’ve read, ever. I was not prepared for the sheer range of laughs the writing provoked, ranging from childish sniggers as he brakes and catapults his genitals onto the exposed rusted bolt where the front of his saddle should be, to the screamingly funny story of the cyclist who had enough in the original race and proceeded to savagely beat an unfortunately officious customs official who got in the way.
Moore manages to convey all of this with grace and no little use of simile. “‘To ride is to work,’ I said to my knees. ‘Each turn of the pedals is like the click of the freelance writer’s mouse’ or “‘It was as if my intimate parts now belonged to someone else: someone who was dead, and had died a virgin.’”
There are lags in the book, for sure. Any travel book will, at some stage, encounter the problem that, after a while, the writer must move and conveying regular movement – unless something extreme is happening – can be quite dull.
Moore’s solution when he doesn’t have a homemade wine bottle cork brake block repair anecdote to convey is two-fold. He either simply dips into the official history of the original tour and finds another tale of riders falling asleep in barns from hypothermia or drinking red wine from their panniers or keeps track of his own progress along the course against the times and distances of the original riders.
This book is a triumph of the genre and fully deserved its place on the Radio 4 Book of the Week list. It is so good I’m off to re-read ‘French Revolutions’ to check that I didn’t miss something a decade ago.
Moore is an approachable guide and its light, amusing, tone is the perfect complement to the guilt that comes from reading about someone else’s adventures while you’re slobbing at home.
I’m glad there are men out there prepared to do things to push themselves physically to the limits. I’m glad it’s not me that has to and I’m especially glad when they have Tim Moore’s ability to document these feats of ill-prepared carnage in charmingly wry observations.
Gironimo! in Five Words: Laughing to the Finish Line
You can follow the author on Twitter @MrTimMoore and the publishers, Yellow Jersey Press @YellowJersey_ed