"This was the lair of a man who knew all I needed to know, who could do everything that needed doing. He put down his hammer, walked over, stooped down by the Hirondelle and said 'What the fuck have you done to those cotter pins?'"
though i'd prefer not to mention the name on the downtube, a new brand of bicycle has been tempting the cognoscenti over the past few months with subliminal and enticing advertisements in the cycling monthlies. using the periodic table symbol of au (gold) as part of this enticement, we were confidently led to believe that, on release, this would be the very bicycle for which most of us had been waiting.
this month, the two magazines that have so far come into my possession have included advertisements for the fully-formed velocipede which contains, apparently, all the right elements. except, to my perhaps overly critical eye, it looks no different from much of the other carbon that inhabits many a colour page in the selfsame magazines. it is, i agree, an unfair assertion, for i have not ridden the bicycle in question; it may indeed be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but i'd prefer to reserve judgment.
of course, it would be iniquitous of me to contend that this ubiquity of machinery is a new phenomenon. many a steel or aluminium frame would struggle to separate itself from the competition, but at the risk of entering the realm of nostalgia, somehow or other, a lugged steel frame seemed to own a greater depth of character. many of the more elderly models owned more than just character; if you or i were to find ourselves aboard the cycles of yesteryear we would probably be brought to our knees by the weight, scarcely within several kilos of the uci's current lower limit of 6.85kg.
knowledge of this is a world away from actually riding such a velocipede in anger over a whole series of mountainous roads, devoid of any meaningful gears or freewheel and blissfully devoid of vertical compliance and lateral stiffness. in fact, almost exactly as on the vintage hirondelle assembled by author tim moore (french revolutions) on which even the wheelrims were made of wood.
for reasons best known to himself, mr moore decided it would be a wizard wheeze to purchase and reconstruct an almost authentic replica of a bicycle originally constituted in the early part of the last century, and follow the route of what is considered to be the toughest edition of the giro d'italia in living memory; that of 1914.
the race was won by over one hour by alfonso calzolari riding for the stucchi team, finishing ahead of globo's pierino albini. as the basis for this undertaking, tim moore enrolled in a business italian course enabling him to translate enough of paolo facchinetti's account of the race. "The Giro d'Italia was exactly the sort of epic challenge I was after: a hard race for proper heroes, which you could win on guts alone without ever looking the part..."
those of us made of less stern and perhaps more perspicacious stuff would have baulked at the prospect of recreating calzolari's 1914 victory in the first place. i confess i'd have been far more likely to have googled the easiest giro in living memory before equipping myself with a state of the art carbon colnago and a following mavic car. moore, however, opted to coerce a recalcitrant period hirondelle into some semblance of life, encouraged by the portent of some authenticity. this latter feature extended to the wearing of a wool jersey, wool shorts, ancient leather shoes, a white cap and a pair of goggles.
"So where are the other Rubettes?"
though the cycling would be serious, the vision of such was likely to be somewhat on the humorous side, a disposition already confirmed by tim's previous authorial outing french revolutions. so far, so good, but though the book's introductory pages are liberally peppered with mirth and humour, the prospect of those remaining cataloguing the efforts of a 48 year-old man riding a dubious, 100 year-old bicycle across 3,162 kilometres would surely scrape the depths of anyone's writing abilities. which is why it is very much in our favour that the trip was undertaken and recounted by tim moore.
described by the independent newspaper as bill bryson on two wheels, what transpires in the italian hinterlands resulted in a great deal of laughing out loud. the ride may have been purgatory at the time, and in many cases his difficulties traversing the italian terrain on a bicycle that had seen considerably better days, come across as precisely that. but in the manner of one who plainly had little idea of just what he'd dropped himself in from a great height, an endearing degree of apparent naivety makes this one of the most entertaining books you will read this, or any other year.
it seems highly appropriate that, while attempting to follow in the tyre tracks of calzolari, moore would allow himself moments of reverie, somewhat akin to our own occasional belief that we are the solo breakaway, being hounded by a chasing pack. in tim moore's case, these moments of temporal displacement were not always period correct. contemplating the words of fausto coppi's masseur, biagio cavanna "A strong heart and the tendons of a buffalo. Fausto, you will be a great champion." these words translated into moore's own thoughts of comparison with the campionissimo.
"I imagined Biagio running those appraising digits of his over the torso in my hotel mirror, then turning his sightless eyes to the gaunt figure behind him. 'Hey, Fausto, check out the moobs on this fucker!'"
his tardiness covering the route in a time even close to that of calzolari occupies much of the book's ostensible purpose, offering greater credibility to the strength of character and downright obstinacy that brought alfonso to the finish line in milan well ahead of his rivals. without any following vehicles, now as then, moore often experienced the misfortune of possessing insufficient food for the stage, frequently exaggerated by the lack of suitable accommodation and healthy repast at the end of the day. "A far greater test was working up any appetite for the big bag of raisins that was all I had to fuel myself (Raisins offer the endurance athlete an unbeatable balance of yumminess and calories per gram, or so I'd read on some website - I think it was liesaboutraisins.com."
i have no desire to preview each and every twist and humorous turn of moore's race, for that would simply spoil your own enjoyment of a book you'd be foolish not to acquire. moore is a far better narrator than i, with a more finely honed sense of humour, and there ought to be a more fitting reward for having ridden over 3,000km on a disaster of a bicycle than having me give away the answers. my review copy has a couple of dozen page corners folded to signify pertinent passages from which i might quote, but if i'd done so with them all, this review would be a darned sight longer and more entertaining than it is.
order a copy and you'll see what i mean.
gironimo by tim moore is published on 1 may by yellow jersey press who have generously provided two copies to give away in the following competition. simply e-mail (email@example.com) and let me know the year of the giro route followed by tim moore. the first two names drawn at random will be deemed the winners. please include a full postal address. closing date is monday 5 may.
monday 28 april 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................