Published by Lyn on 15 March 2013
Guest reviewer Julia Stagg joins Andrew Sykes for his ride across Europe in Good Vibrations.
Reading accounts of other people's travels is always a precarious pursuit. Just like riding a bike, it’s essential to get a good fit; you need a degree of empathy with the author and it helps if you have some interest in the journey they have undertaken. When I came across Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie, I was confident that both of those boxes could be firmly ticked. Describing Andrew Sykes’ travels with his bike, Reggie, along the EuroVelo 5 from southern England to Brindisi in the heel of Italy, the book involves cycling, a fair amount of time spent in France and was written by a former teacher of English as a Foreign Language and passionate linguist (like me): the omens were looking good. But I have to admit that the beginning was a bit rocky!
In the same way that Reggie hit cobbles on the journey across the Alps, so Good Vibrations jarred at the outset. A heavy use of italics, an over-reliance on verbatim reporting of blog posts, a sprinkling of typos and some punctuation hiccups all made for a difficult start. None of it is major and it’s nothing that a few tweaks from a sharp-eyed editor wouldn’t sort, but it’s the reading equivalent of a broken spoke, enough to jolt the reader out of the book. Once Andrew actually sets off on his expedition, however, he finds his cadence as a narrator, and when I reached his wry reflections on the lunchtime news on French TV’s TF1 – you have to have endured it to truly appreciate Andrew’s accurate portrayal of it! – I knew I was going to enjoy the ride.
And what a ride it is. Covering over 3,000km in 30 cycling days, the book carries the reader down the EuroVelo 5, meandering through villages in France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Italy along the way. Interspersed with details of Andrew’s cycling – helpful stats on daily distance, time in the saddle and comments on the route – are quirky facts about the areas he is passing through, all delivered with the passion that the author clearly has for Europe, for cycling and for his fellow travellers. We get lovely insights into the others that share his road: the people who help him when he hits technical difficulties; the cyclists he meets in campsites; and the amazing generosity of the people who open their homes to him. By the time Andrew arrives south of Rome for what turns out to be an awkward couple of days with an Italian host, I was so immersed in his narrative that I was chafing at the constraints placed upon him and shared his longing to be back on Reggie and out on the open road.
For those wishing to replicate Andrew’s efforts on the EuroVelo 5, Good Vibrations is not a detailed account of every turn taken on the journey, and it isn’t a blow-by-blow description of the cycling conditions along the route. Instead, it is a delightful travelogue written by a cyclist who is at home on the road. At home in Europe. A man who, by the conclusion of his incredible pilgrimage, realises he has no need for the map that he was desperately searching for at the outset. He has become bien dans sa peau: at peace with himself. And his bike. And like many a cyclist, I suspect, when I reached the end of the book I immediately started contemplating a bike tour of my own. That, surely, is testimony enough?
Rumour has it that Andrew and Reggie are taking to the road once more in summer 2013, this time to tackle EuroVelo 8 from Athens to Cadiz, crossing southern France en route. Hopefully there will be another book to follow.
Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie is out now in paperback and for Kindle.
Julia Stagg writes fiction set in the Ariège region of the French Pyrénées, an area she discovered through her passion for cycling. Her first two novels are L’Auberge and The Parisian’s Return. Her latest novel, The French Postmistress – the third in the Fogas Chronicles – will be out in2013. All are published by Hodder and Stoughton.