Bicycle Journeys

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Bicycle Journeys

Epic adventures on two wheels

Are you a metro-area bicycle commuter who dreams of strapping a set of panniers onto your bike and heading far from the madding crowd? One needn’t be a cyclist to enjoy a tale of long-distance cycling – experience perhaps doesn’t even help the enjoyment. The books below are a combination of first-person narratives of explorations of undiscovered territories, both external and internal, and well-researched histories of epic journeys across continents.

This Road I Ride: Sometimes it Takes Losing Everything to Find Yourself by Juliana Buhring
 “I have decided to cycle the world to push my existence to its limit, to see what I am capable of, both physically and mentally.” In 2012, Juliana Buhring rode for 152 days and 18,000 miles – at the time the fastest circumnavigation of the world (as established by Guinness World Record authorities) by bicycle. What’s more, she had never previously done any serious long-distance bike riding, and she had no corporate sponsors but had to rely on piecemeal fundraising efforts (and the generosity of friends, family and strangers along the way) to finance her ride. This book offers her day-by-day account of crashes, flayed skin, flat tires, the joys of a strong tailwind, the anxiety of riding on a shoestring budget, and the many characters she met along the way – mostly generous, only occasionally hostile. But most of all it’s about the deep meaning of her adventure cycling around the world and the abiding inspiration she finds from the conversations she had with her late boyfriend. The journey – and the freedom it bestows upon the traveler – is the destination, and her first-person account is engrossing and leaves the reader with the sense that adventure is to be found – if we embrace possibility – just as much in the everyday aspects of life as it is in the epic.

Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride by Peter Zheutlin
In 1894-1895 a young woman called Annie Londonderry began pedaling from Boston, heading west, with the stated aim of riding around the world – on a single-speed bicycle that weighed 42 pounds, dressed in a long skirt, having only just learned to ride a bicycle. If that sounds like the beginning of a most unlikely and wondrous story, you’re right. The rider was, in fact, Annie Kopchovsky, a wife and mother of three small children (she rode under the name Londonderry to hide her Jewish identity) who had ostensibly accepted a wealthy businessman’s challenge that a woman was unable to ride a bicycle around the world. Over fifteen months, she zigzagged her way around the world, lecturing about her trip to earn money to continue. The book includes many contemporary accounts of her and her journey and Kopchovsky’s own written account of her trip as published in 1895 in the Sunday World of New York. A truly remarkable story and a wonderful read.

Africa Solo: My World Record Race from Cairo to Cape Town by Mark Beaumont
In 2015, Beaumont, a well-known adventure athlete who had previously ridden around the world and throughout North and South America, set out to ride south through Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. After 41 days of intense riding through eight countries he completed his journey, and this book, in diary format, recounts the trip. He details his training program, the logistical challenges, the mechanical failures (from flat tires to broken pedals), the idiosyncrasies of border crossings and customs checks... and adds many vivid descriptions of the landscapes and people he met – and the food he ate – along the way. 

Off the Map: Bicycling across Siberia by Mark Jenkins
As the author writes, ”Visit one Soviet city and you know everything you ever wanted to know about the Soviet Union. And nothing about Russia.” This is the tale of a bicycle tour of Siberia undertaken in 1991, immediately after the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and before the establishment of new institutions, told vividly and engagingly, full of humor and tragicomedy (and tragedy) unique to Russia and Russians. The author convincingly communicates the physical strain, hunger, and fatigue of the journey, but this account is less about the bike and more about a seldom-seen region and culture, the wonder of travel through wilderness, and the camaraderie of a group of riders attained through shared experience.

Tour de Oz by Bret Harris
Australia is approximately the size of the continental United States, but, although flatter, it is far less hospitable with its hot and dry climate. Nevertheless, at the end of the 19th century there was a small coterie of foolhardy souls eager to become known as the first to ride around the continent’s perimeter. Cycling on roads and horse tracks through tall tussock grass, marshes, and desert; enduring tremendous heat (“1,000 degrees in the shade”), thirst, sickness, mechanical malfunctions, and the attentions of Aboriginal warriors and hostile wildlife, two parties set out in the summer of 1899 to attempt the feat. In addition to recounting their respective journeys, the book also provides a prolonged glimpse into life in turn-of-the-century Australia, when modern infrastructure was scarce and the car had yet to appear on the scene.

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
Most of the books in this list necessarily entail copious amounts of sweat, dirt and sore muscles – but not this volume. Although in his book Byrne (also known as David Byrne, the frontman for Talking Heads) covers thousands of miles by bike, these are more accounts of what can be seen while riding a bicycle (“faster than a walk, slower than a train”) through various urban landscapes – the view of the everyday from the saddle of a bike. He meditates on topics far and wide, such as the fate of urban spaces in the United States, the weight of history in Europe, wildlife in Australia and the tightness of young women’s jeans in Buenos Aires.