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.