Published by Lyn on 6 December 2011
This one's for anyone seriously – or fleetingly – toying with the idea of an independent bike tour in France or elsewhere in the world.
In the world of bike touring, it's almost impossible not to either know or know of Friedel Grant and her partner Andrew, given they run one of cycle touring's most popular and trusted websites.
The Bike Touring Survival Guide is an extension of their Travelling Two website; 241 pages of information – some of it garnished from the website but most of it new content – that will prove of value to cyclists embarking on their first lengthy bike tour. It'll also be of use to existing bike tourers looking for tips and advice to make life on the road easier, smoother and/or cheaper.
The book has advice on every aspect of cycle touring – from where to stay and what to eat through to arranging visas, breaking cultural and language barriers, and bike maintenance and repair. There's even advice on how on how to avoid being chased by dogs (there's a seven-step plan) and how to pee in privacy (thankfully there's no need for these two to be dealt with concurrently).
It's a well-presented book that's simple in design and easy to navigate, and one that uses photographs and diagrams to full effect. It's also well-written and professionally edited, something that can't be said for all self-published books. And while cost really shouldn't be a factor in judging how good a book is, the price – just €5 to get it on your Kindle or for an old-fashioned downloadable PDF – is hard to ignore. It's an excellent investment because the tips and advice within its (electronic) covers are likely to save the average cyclist more than the cover price over the duration of a cycle tour. Also, the content of this book would sit comfortably in a traditional guidebook released by a mainstream publisher (and costing a whole lot more).
While much of the information – and certainly the core content – derives from the more than 60,000km Friedel and Andrew have pedalled, dozens of other experienced cyclists have contributed supplementary information, recounted experiences, offered quotes, and donated photographs. It's a testament to the combined knowledge of the cycling community – and to the vision of Friedel and Andrew for inviting and accepting this input. It's a similar collaborative approach to the one they adopt on their Travelling Two website; it's worked so well online, it's little wonder they've so successfully translated it into book format. (And just like their website, the book carries dozens of links to other relevant sites and blogs, opening up an endless stream of additional research tools.)
The book is aimed at the long-distance tourer (especially with sections such as 'How do I keep shoes from falling apart?', and with pages dealing with returning home and settling back into 'normal' life), but anyone embarking on independent (ie not tour company led or supported) ride of more than a few days at a time should find it of interest.
My only quibble is that the book seems to assume that long or adventurous cycling tours by their very nature must involve more obscure destinations. The Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Africa all feature in the famous/suggested routes section, but there's no sign of European destinations or routes. Whether it's because the authors (and many of their readers/contributors) are based in Europe, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's that European countries are seen as training or test grounds for intercontinental riding, or perhaps the cultural boundaries or the technical challenges of riding in Europe aren't perceived to be so great. Whatever it is, the Francophile in me just wants to point out that there are some pretty decent long-distance routes both within France and stretching out beyond her borders. And The Bike Touring Survival Guide should be just as relevant to cycle tourers heading to France as to those heading farther afield.