Category Archives: Review

Every Inch of the Way: My Bike Ride Around the World by Tom Bruce – Review

We featured some of Tom Bruce’s writing in our reading list back in March, so when we heard his book was ready, we leapt at the chance to get hold of it.

Every Inch of the Way is Tom’s account of his 2011 bike ride around the world. As the title suggests, he made a pledge to travel the entire journey under his own pedal power. His trek starts in England and bears south-east through Europe, eventually following the Danube. From Turkey, he rides into Central Asia by way of the former Soviet republics, and across China. His trip concludes with a traverse of the southern states of the USA. The book is divided into four sections that reflect his journey – Europe; Turkey, the Caucasus and Central Asia; China; America – and each includes great photographs taken along the way. The book also features a brief introduction, and several appendices.

In his introduction, Tom explains he is just a normal person who spent nine months cycling around the world, and that this is his story. The style of the book reflects this. He uses straightforward and unpretentious language to express himself, which makes the book very easy to read. The narrative is fast-paced, rattling from one adventure to the next, which holds the reader’s attention. Tom claims to be just an ordinary guy who cycled round the world, but I’m not so sure; he did some quite extraordinary things on his journey. I especially enjoyed reading about Tom’s crossing of the Karakalpakstan desert, where temperatures passed forty degrees Celsius, so he had to carry twenty-three litres of water at once. I thought his high-speed dash across Kazahkstan, forced upon him by ludicrous visa restrictions, was also remarkable, as was the night he spent out drinking with his police escort in China. I was struck by Tom’s lack of fear when facing dangerous situations. Camping in drainage tunnels and dried-out riverbeds didn’t faze him at all. Riding along the motorway as a shortcut until the police throw you off it is, in Tom’s eyes, normal behaviour. On encountering a bear, he ran back to his tent and fetched his torch to get a better look at it. Tom’s boldness sets him aside from the ordinary person he professes to be. This combination of an easy style, a fast-paced narrative, and a series of extraordinary events make the book difficult to put down. I sped through it in a couple of evenings.

Such a fast-paced telling of the story offers few opportunities for reflection. Rarely does the narrative pause from the immediacy of describing the ride to offer a perspective on how Tom feels now about what was happening then. This focus on the immediate gives the book a very definite ‘blog’ feel. The story is very entertaining from moment to moment, but as a whole the book feels a little unbalanced. The brief introduction explains who Tom is, and why he is making his journey, but there isn’t really a satisfying conclusion to say how he felt ride after the ride. Has it changed him in any way? Everything just ends suddenly in Florida. More space in the Appendices is dedicated to funny things that American people said than to Tom’s thoughts on finishing his amazing journey. I can’t help but think that something trivial has been included at the expense of something important that’s missing. A more thorough conclusion would help the reader to appreciate the effect that the journey had on Tom, and to understand his story more fully.

Tom Bruce tells the story of remarkable journey in his book Every Inch of the Way. It is fast-paced, easy to read, and very difficult to put down. He shares his experience of travelling through a wide variety of countries and cultures, whilst always coming across as a normal and likeable guy. Recommended.

Every Inch of the Way is available on Amazon Kindle, or as a paperback. For more details, see Tom’s website here.


Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie, by Andrew P. Sykes – review

This book tells the tale of the author Andrew’s bicycle expedition from Berkshire to Brindisi, in southern Italy. He broadly follows the Eurovelo route 5 along the old Via Francesiga pilgrims’ path. Broadly, because there isn’t actually a defined route mapped out as Eurovelo 5. As Andrew and his faithful steed Reggie experience good and bad on their travels, the book reflects their emotional journey as much as it describes the kilometres covered.

The book is deliciously readable. Its style is unpretentious and relaxed, and is not cursed with the excessive use of figurative speech that afflicts some travel writers. The gentle informality of its tone is welcoming, especially to those who are not particularly familiar with cycle touring jargon. You’ll enjoy this book, even if you can’t tell the difference between a rear sprocket and a bottom bracket. Indeed, if you’re looking for a technical review of how various components perform on a long tour, this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the story is human, the pace is sharp, and the commentary lively. It’s a such a pleasant and easy read that, if this book was a bike ride, it’d be a long, gradual downhill on a sunny spring afternoon with a decent pub at the end.

And what about for those who are more saddle-savvy? It offers an excellent example of the kind of emotions that the solo cyclist can face on a typical tour, so it’s instructive in that respect. It isn’t a guidebook for Eurovelo 5, but then again, it doesn’t claim to be. And anyway, there isn’t a guidebook for Eurovelo 5 – as demonstrated when Andrew explains that he cobbled together his own guidebook by butchering three different Lonely Planets. It also offers a balanced appraisal of his experience of contemporary cycling resources like the hospitality exchange network Warm Showers, or asking blog followers for advice in a tight spot.

I would have enjoyed a fuller conclusion to the story. Some of the crazyguyonabike blogs that I’ve read recently end with the final leg of the journey, and don’t look back and reflect on the trip as a whole. Part of what’s great about cycle touring – and about travelling in general – is enjoying the memories that you’ve made. For me, a short epilogue describing the post-tour afterglow would have made the book even better.

This book is a delight. It’s effortlessly funny on one line, and emotionally direct on the next, whilst never ceasing to be entertaining. It’s easy to read, and has something to offer everybody, whether a hardened touring veteran or a total bicycle beginner. Highly recommended.

Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie is available as an ebook and a paperback. Check the author’s website or Twitter for more details.

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