it has long been offered up as a truism that america and britain are two countries separated by a common language. possibly correct, but this idea of being separated by a common interest is not something limited to countries or language. if recent letters to the cycling press, idle observation and the occasional forum are anything to go by, we might be guilty of a division or two ourselves. face it people, those of us who are so-called racing or sportive cyclists are rarely dyed-in-the-wool touring cyclists; would any of you be happily seen wearing open-toed sandals, toe-clips (or not) no helmet, baseball cap, baggy shorts and anything less than the current style du jour in the way of softshell jackets?
i'll take that as a no then, shall i?
this probably says as much about one flavour of cyclist as the other; different peer groups. i have this theory (in which self is included), that many of us ride the latest and lightest in carbon because it says good things about us; that we have enough faith in our abilities, that we take ourselves and our cycling seriously enough not to pedal rubbish, and that we are aware of which particular peer group in which we have been pigeon-holed, even if we're the ones doing the pigeon-holing. it's a fair cop, but society is to blame.
there is obviously a crossover amongst cycling needs and wants: perhaps lance, bertie and cadel will meet up after their careers have ended at each other's summit, and decide how cool it would be to see france at a lower power threshold, bestowed with panniers on those specially modified trek madones. this would categorise them as touring cyclists jim, but not as we know them.
to the born and bred cycle-tourist, the bicycle is a means to an end. i don't mind admitting that i see a colnago in a somewhat different light, sometimes very much as an end in itself. to tour more than just for a weekend, it is an astute choice to be riding a bicycle fit for purpose: very definitely not a bicycle shaped object. thus when opening one of cicerone's excellent touring guides, no matter how much you think you already know, read through the chapter and paragraphs that elucidate the less than experienced on the type of machine and accoutrements that the author deems important. there is a large library of these guides, written and verified by folks who have ridden extensively in the countries or areas of which they write. and in order to write those chapters, they and velocipede have likely come out the other end pretty much intact. humility is a wonderful thing.
ireland is the part of the world nearest to me that is not scotland, and unlike all the other volumes in this series that i have reviewed, this is the only country in which i have turned a pedal. fortunately for all concerned, i have not attempted to write a book for the education of others, but we should likely be well-chuffed that tom cooper has done so. inspired in the manner of so many, that a fitting guide to the country seemed unavailable, he decided to complete his own.
comprehensive is a word that seems woefully inadequate to describe the depth and breadth of content presented here. it does worry me greatly that mr cooper sees it as fitting to place his bicycle inside a well taped, clear plastic bag in order to transport it by air from the uk to the emerald isle, but i think that brings us back to the separation of sentiment between the differing strata of cyclists. i'd have mine in a bikebox at the very least, and all the insurance available. but that's me (and probably you).
'the trials and tribulations of transporting a bicycle by air are often exaggerated', is not an opinion i'd be keen to share if my bike were in a big polybag.
that aside, mr cooper knows ireland very well, both from an historical point of view, and a getting about on a bicycle point of view. there is comprehensive info on the geology of the country, an historical timeline, the driving habits of the locals, the stuff that no self-respecting touriste routier should safely ignore: items such as the type of appropriate bicycle, optimal tyre width, wheels, tools, camping gear (should that be your preferred accommodatory option), the ever necessary access to cash, etc., etc.
there are copious numbers of relevant and colour photographs, cue sheets for every step of the way, maps, all interspersed with facts of interest accompanying the routes. by the time i was half-way through the 250 pages, it had become all too clear that cicerone guides in general, and most certainly this one in particular, lend themselves as entertaining bed-time reading without a wheel being turned. and that, to me, is the mark of a good book and a fine author. were there to be one criticism it is aimed at cicerone rather than any of their guidebook authors: please, please do something about those covers. i can appreciate the desire to remain faithful to an identifying theme, but we are now one decade into the 21st century and books such as these deserve something a touch more contemporary. graphic design has moved on.
this is probably as good a time as any to consider the summer ahead and those miles (or kilometres if you're taking in southern ireland) that might be had in the fresh open air with fresh open toed sandals, a couple of panniers and a bar bag. i'm not knocking it; other than the sandals, it sounds like a great way to spend holiday time. my difficulty is the month of july: could i really miss all those hours of tour hype?
posted monday 8 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................