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Cycling Home From Siberia by Rob Lilwall

Cycling Home From Siberia by Rob Lilwall

Cycling Home From Siberia

Most “adventure cycling” books tell the story of some brave cyclist as they travel through a foreign county while on summer vacation. Very few cycling adventures start in the dead of winter, and especially not leaving from Magadan, Siberia—one of the coldest inhabited places in the world! Cycling Home From Siberia tells the story of Rob Lilwall’s bike trip from Siberia back to his home in London, England three years later. This 30,000 mile journey took him through some of the most remote places on the globe and allowed him to see the world as few very other people ever will.

Lilwall’s journey began in 2004 and by the time it was over he had cycled through Russia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium and England (I hope I didn’t miss anyone).

During the first leg of his journey Lilwall was accompanied by an old school friend, Al Humphreys, but when they got to Japan they decided to part ways. Lilwall made this journey on a ten-year old steel-framed mountain bike he named Alanis. By the time he loaded the bike up with four panniers, a bar bag, and two canoe bags it weighed 130 pounds! On the second day of their trip the paved roads stopped and they would not see them again for nearly 3,000 more miles. On the fourth day, having traveled less than 300 miles, the snow started to fall and they quickly learned what slipping and sliding on the ice was like—and daytime temperatures of -30C were common. I enjoy riding in such conditions, but only for a few hours at a time! Lilwall and Humphreys seldom had a chance to warm up during this leg of their journey. Lilwall had to stick a glove down his crotch just to keep his private parts warm! To make matters worse, they even got robbed at gunpoint while in Russia.

By the time Lilwall finished the Siberian leg of his journey he had cycled over 3,300 miles, consumed 189 chocolate bars and over 100 packets of instant noodles. When Lilwall finished his trip he had repaired a total of 157 tire punctures (not a record I wish to ever break).

I had thought about writing a very long review for this book, but decided just to give you a glimpse of the first couple of chapters. I always read books with a yellow highlighter at hand so I can mark the sections of a book  I find interesting. However, by the time I finished reading this book I think about a third of the pages had sections highlighted. If you love adventure cycling books this one will not leave you disappointed!

Cycling Home From Siberia is over 400 pages long and once you get started it will be had to put down. This book is published by Howard Books, a division Simon and Schuster. I mention the publisher only because this book is a model for the way adventure cycling books should to be printed. The book has an easy-to-read typeface, numerous photographs and good maps so you won’t feel lost along the way.

The paperback version of Cycling Home From Siberia retails for $15, but you can order it from Amazon.com for $13. This book is also available in a Kindle edition for $12.

 
17 Comments

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Eat, Sleep, Ride by Paul Howard

Eat, Sleep, Ride by Paul Howard - Ride the Tour Divide

Eat, Sleep, Ride by Paul Howard

For the past few years I’ve followed the Tour Divide, a self-supported bike race that follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route—over 2,700 miles of mountains, snow, gravel roads, logging trails and muddy paths. Sometimes the trails are so bad that instead of riding it becomes a “hike-a-bike” session. The race starts each June in Banff, Alberta, Canada and ends at the border of Mexico in Antelope Wells, New Mexico (USA). I recently read Paul Howard’s account of his experiences during the 2009 Tour Divide. His book, Eat, Sleep, Ride: How I Braved Bears, Badlands and Big Breakfasts in My Quest to Cycle the Tour Divide, is definitely worth your time!

Howard, a British citizen from southern England, never owned a mountain bike until he decided to race in the Tour Divide. His brief training for this ride was rather unorthodox—it appears as though he was willing to “wing it” and “learn by doing” (fortunately, he was a quick learner). In the Tour Divide riders are not allowed any planned support, nor are riders allowed to assist each other. Some riders sleep outside every night, while others are sometimes willing to pay for a hotel room for a few hours of rest and an opportunity to wash their clothes. Unlike many riders, Howard decided to travel the route without a camp stove or water filter, but did take a tent (instead of a bivvy bag).

Except for a few tire punctures, Howard’s bike apparently held up well during the ride. As is common in races like this, other cyclists were not so fortunate. Rugged mountain roads and bikes loaded down with gear are not a good combination—cyclists often have trouble keeping their wheels trued. Even if you are out in the woods truing a wheel is not that difficult if you have a spoke tool (they are found on most bicycle mini-tools). However, it seems that some tour riders never took the time to learn how to make simple repairs to their own bikes!

Howard has a rather dry sense of humor and his perspective on American customs and society is fun to read. Until this race he had never been in a Walmart before (what a lucky guy). On more than one occasion he made snide comments about how fat many Americans are—I’m just glad he didn’t visit a Walmart in Wisconsin!

Eat, Sleep, Ride is very well written and a joy to read. Instead of providing professional maps, this book has maps that look like they were drawn by a bored high school student—this is actually a compliment! Though the maps are hand-drawn and not to scale, I actually liked them better than in any other adventure cycling book I’ve ever read.

I do have two criticisms of the book. First, there is not a single photograph in the book! Second, though it is not absolutely necessary, I prefer adventure cycling books to include a detailed gear checklist (I like to know exactly what distance cyclists take with them on their journeys).

Eat, Sleep, Ride is available as a paperback book (272 pages) and retails for $17, but you can find it on Amazon.com for under $12. It is also available in the Kindle edition for $10.

 
18 Comments

Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across The Great Divide, by Jill Homer

Be Brave, Be Strong - A Journey Across The Great Divide, by Jill Homer

Be Brave, Be Strong

Every sports fan can give you a list of the heroes, icons and living legends of their favorite sport. I suppose most American cycling fans dream about going out for a long ride with great athletes like Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie or Levi Leipheimer. While I truly admire these men, if I had the chance to spend an afternoon cycling with anyone in America I would choose endurance cyclist Jill Homer. You will never see Jill Homer in the Tour de France, but her athletic ability makes those guys look like a bunch of wimps. I’ve read her blog, Jill Outside, for several years and a few months I reviewed Ghost Trails, a book about her 350 mile race along Alaska’s Iditarod Trail in 2008. I just finished reading her latest book, Be Brave, Be Strong, which tells the story of her record-breaking ride across the Great Divide.

The 2009 Tour Divide was a race that began in Alberta, Canada and ended on the border of Mexico at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The 2,740 mile course went through some of the roughest paths, trails and logging roads in the United States. Homer finished this harsh course unassisted (but with a little “trail magic”) in twenty-four days, seven hours and twenty-four minutes (the female course record). During the race the riders crossed the Continental Divide of the Americas (the Great Divide) on numerous occasions and they seldom had a chance to ride on a decent road since the race organizers apparently take a great deal of pleasure in making race participants suffer. In just a little over three weeks Homer did over 200,000 feet of climbing through some of the most deserted tracks and trails in the United States. Along the way she often slept in a sleeping bag near the side of the road, but was also the recipient of random acts of kindness by total strangers.

The first third of Be Brave, Be Strong sets the stage by telling the story of Homer getting a serious case of frostbite on the Iditarod Trail and then dealing with her break-up with Geoff, her boyfriend of eight years, and the emotional turmoil that followed. Normally, this is the type of stuff I would totally ignore in book about a bike race. However, in this case the story is told in such a way that you can see how human emotions impact athletic ability—and as any cyclist knows, one of the best ways to solve a problem is out on a long ride.

The story of the Tour Divide race itself begins on page 111 when a group of forty-two riders leave Banff, Alberta, which is about 270 miles north of Canada’s border with the United States. I think most professional athletes would consider Homer’s training program and cycling style unorthodox, but it obviously works for her. Throughout the book she refers to Sour Patch Kids, one of her favorite sources of carbohydrates—I cringed every time she mentioned them. And as careful as she was about most things, she somehow manged to lose seven pair of sunglasses during the race!

Out of all the adventure cycling books I’ve ever read this one is the best—once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down! This book is a model of what adventure cycling books ought to be. The story is well written, the photos are crisp, and it has a good map so you can follow her progress. It also has one item that most cycling books forget about, i.e., a detailed gear checklist. I’m sure some people wouldn’t care, but I always like to know exactly what distance cyclists take with them on their journey (not just a general list, but brand names).

Be Brave, Be Strong is available in paperback from Amazon.com for around $15. It is also available in several other formats, including editions for the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, B & N Nook, Sony eReader and as a PDF download. I bought the paperback version because I can’t read a book like this without a yellow highlighter (old habits die hard).

 
19 Comments

Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Distance Cycling, Your Complete Guide For Long-Distance Rides

Distance Cycling by Hughes and Kehlenbach

Distance Cycling

How long is your average bike ride? Are you satisfied with your current distance or would you like to be able to ride a lot farther? My average bike ride is a metric century (60 miles) and I don’t think it is any big deal. However, I’ve met a lot of cyclists who think a 20 mile bike ride is major accomplishment. In my opinion anyone who can comfortably ride 20 miles is capable of raising that to 60 or 70 miles with just a few weeks of preparation. If you want to learn how to become a long-distance cyclist then you need to get a copy of Distance Cycling, a new book by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach.

The main focus of the book is preparing cyclists to ride a century (100 miles). Like nearly every other person who has read this book has lamented, I wish a book like this had been available when I started cycling. Everything I know about distance cycling I had to learn the hard way. In fact, one of the reasons I started this blog was to keep people from making the same mistakes I’ve made over the years.

Distance Cycling starts by helping you define your goals and offers practical guidance for baseline conditioning. It also introduces you to the concept of prehabilitation, i.e., “recognizing the potential for injury and implementing specific exercises to prevent problems rather than trying to repair the damage afterward.” This section alone is worth the price of the book!

The section on “Fueling the Distance Cyclist” will probably change the way you eat on a bike forever. Too many people take up cycling “to lose weight” and starve themselves while out on the bike—then come home and “pig out.” Once you learn to properly fuel up you will find longer rides a lot easier to handle.

In addition to the proper nutrition you also need the right equipment, and this book will help you select the perfect gear for the type of ride you are planning for. Cycling-specific clothing can be expensive, so it is best to have some knowledge of what you need before you walk into a bike shop to try on clothing.

The training schedules suggested in this book are excellent, and they spend of good deal of time explaining the need to take plan time off the bike to help with muscle recovery. Near the end of the book they offer additional information for randonneuring and ultradistance riding.

While I highly recommend this book, there is one point that I do disagree with, i.e., the single paragraph dealing with vitamin supplements. Hughes and Kehlenbach are opposed to taking supplements, and even though they are experts in distance cycling I respectfully disagree with them on this point. Do the research yourself and see what works for you. If you are want to find out if your supplements are worthwhile, based upon current medical research, I would suggest you look at ConsumerLabs.com, an independent laboratory that tests the potency and quality of nutritional supplements.

Distance Cycling is a 259 page paperback book and retails for $20, but you can find it on Amazon.com for around $13. This book is published by Human Kinetics and was printed in the United States. I put this book in the “must buy” category for anyone who wants to tackle distance cycling.

 
 

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Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie

Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie

Good Vibrations

I’ve always wanted to go on a month-long cycling trip, but until I can find the time to do so I have to settle on reading the adventures of other cyclists. A few weeks ago Andrew P. Sykes sent me a copy of his new book, Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie, and asked me to review it. The book is about his 2010 journey from his home in the south of England to a villa in the heel of Italy—a trip of over 1,800 miles (3,000km) that was completed in 37 days.

Sykes was not exactly an experienced distance-cyclist before this trip. In fact, he describes himself as “a fat middle-aged bloke” who teaches French at a secondary school in southern England. After two years of planning Sykes loaded up his panniers with clothing, maps, a few guide books, a sleeping bag, a camping mat, a medical kit and a repair kit for his bike. Sykes called his bike Reggie, which is short for Reggie Ridgeback Panorama (if you don’t have a nickname for each of your bikes you’re not much of a cyclist). In case you were wondering, Ridgeback Panorama is the name of a moderately priced British Cro Moly touring bike.

The adventure begins with Sykes wondering if he was going to be lonely on the trip since he was traveling alone. However, this appears to have never been the case—he found friendly and talkative people all the way from England to Italy. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is his description of sleeping in a tent in small campgrounds. I don’t think I would have any trouble cycling the miles (or kilometers) that Sykes did on a daily basis, but sleeping in a tent after a ride would definitely wear me down. He also devotes a few paragraphs to describe what it is like to share your tent with hungry mosquitoes—something I would rather avoid.

Since I cycle in all weather conditions I really hadn’t given touring cyclists much credit for spending hours in the rain—I do it all the time. However, after I’ve spent a few hours riding in the rain I come home to a nice dry house, grab a warm shower and my sweet wife launders my dirty clothing. When you are riding across several countries by bike and sleeping in a tent washing your clothing is rather difficult and there are times your washed clothing just doesn’t want to dry out.

My favorite part of the book was his time in Switzerland, and especially his approach to the St. Gotthard Pass and the crossing of the Swiss Alps. While I am no longer a Clydesdale, I am still not the lightest cyclist and hills are my least favorite part of cycling—we don’t have any mountains in my part of the world, so anyone who can cross the Alps on a bike really impresses me!

Every time a read a book about adventure cycling I try to learn from the mistakes of others. Sykes had the misfortune of breaking spokes on Reggie twice while on his journey—and neither time was he near a bicycle repair shop. If he had taken a few extra spokes with him he could have saved himself a lot of time and trouble. Spare spokes weight next to nothing and you can usually carry them in the seat tube of your bike. Even a basic bicycle multitool will often have a small device for repairing spokes—all you have to do is turn your bicycle upside down and use the brake pads as improvised calipers and the bike fork as a makeshift truing stand.

Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie is available as a paperback book for around $18 from Amazon.com, and in a Kindle edition for under $4. Sykes employs a relaxed writing style throughout the book and I am certain anyone interested in adventure cycling would really enjoy it.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, there are a couple of things I would suggest Sykes change before the second edition. First, the photographs in the book are rather small and a book like this just begs for larger photos. Second, while there is a small map at the beginning of the book I think a few more detailed maps would really help those of us who don’t live in Europe. Lastly, Sykes uses several foreign (to me) phrases and I really would have appreciated a translation of the words—I could usually make out the intended thought by looking at the context, but that slows the reading down a bit.

Sykes is already planning a trip from Athens, Greece to Cadiz, Spain for the summer of 2013. You can follow his adventures by visiting his Website, CyclingEurope.org.

 
17 Comments

Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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