"I was, after all, asking the (bike) to do something it had never been expected to do: work properly without immediately falling to bits."
over the past few years, i have frequently worked alongside an editor who, prior to assuming such a mantle, was principal english teacher at islay's secondary school. he is, truthfully, something of a wit and raconteur, a man with an endless vocabulary of jokes and one-liners, accompanied by a brain that sees the humour in the most diverse of situations. the gent educated both of my children and was ultimately responsible for my daughter gaining an appreciable pass in her higher english. yet both kids and many of their peer group were mostly wont to return from a day in the classroom, complaining that they had learned virtually nothing in english, other than an endless stream of jokes.
yet, his exam results said otherwise.
having worked with the fellow for quite some time, i can attest to the knowledge that he is one of those individuals with the gift of teaching others while appearing not to do so. a bit like tim moore, now that you come to mention it.
mr moore has been responsible for some gems of adventure cycle writing, beginning with 'french revolutions', continuing by way of 'gironimo' and preserving the trend with this latest, substantially sized travelogue entitled 'the cyclist who went out in the cold', a blow by humorous blow account of his 9000km ride along the iron curtain trail, less romantically named ev13. this particular route, only recently opened up as a result of the cooling of the disparity and border controls between east and west, begins in norway and ends in bulgaria, passing through eighteen other countries along the way.
however, as has become something of a moore trademark, while someone like mark beaumont would attempt to traverse all nineteen countries in just over a day and a half, riding a featherweight koga carbon road bike with only a smartphone for luggage, mr moore does things a tad differently. in this particular case, his mode of transport across all those thousands of kilometres was a mifa 900, essentially an east german built shopping bike that debuted at the leipzig trade fair in 1967.
"...you would note the odd shortcoming. For one, the bike had no gears whatsoever. [...] The startlingly shit 'spoon brake' was a throwback to the age of the penny farthing - an age when deceleration issues were the principal cause of 3,000 annual cycling deaths, and when about 3,012 people owned bikes."
this bicycle, which was manufactured in east germany up until the wall came down, now had need of safely transporting our hero through the vast quantities of snow and freezing temperatures that pervade norway, finland and russia. while the former two are regarded as western democratic countries, the latter has a distinctly communist background, hosting a seemingly endless parade of lookout towers along its borders.
it is mr moore's threading back and forward between east and west along his iron curtain route that provides not only the principal narrative interest woven throughout the book, but which anoints him with the ability to educate his readership in both localised history and geography, yet appearing to be nothing more than a humourist aboard a funny bike.
riding a shopping bike through countries bordering the arctic circle in midwinter is someway short of a cunning plan, moore having to contend with deep snow that threatened to subsume the small wheels on his mifa 900 along with the concomitant sub-zero temperatures. as if that were scarcely enough to make more than just a few of us have second thoughts, the relatively sparse population in such northern parts, meant substantial distances between each daily stopping point with little or nothing in between.
leaving the western safety of finland to pedal through the western reaches of russia "It would be two days before I encountered my first Russians, a couple in a spanking-new Range Rover. Their faces gave them away before their number plates: expressions of aghast disbelief [...] 'what the actual fuckski?'
there are many literary diversions from the task and humour at hand in order to recount moments from history relevant to the region through which moore was pedalling at the time. these are the educational factors of which i made previous mention; well researched, well related and, in my case at least, well learned. yet moore's narrative skills stretch as far as concealing this within his continually upbeat humour. several of the situations in which he finds himself must surely have been more troubling than his discourse would have us believe?
or perhaps not.
...Finland's strategic importance as a back-door land bridge from Europe to Russia made it a valued and much-swapped pawn in the Balic zone's imperial struggles. For the thick end of a millennium it was never more than an outpost of the Swedish, Danish or Russian Empires...
despite a substantial page count, 'the cyclist who went out in the cold' is compulsive reading, even if the reader is aware that not only was the ride successfully completed, but that nothing dangerously untoward punctuated one of the world's self-confessedly oddest bike rides. on entering the former east german republic, moore and his shopping bike were invited to visit the factory from which the bicycle originated, where the determined eccentricity of his velocipedinal undertaking was misunderstood by the factory's current owner who offered to replace a now flagging, though officially revitalised machine, with a brand, spanking new model. thankfully for the benefit of the reading public, tim moore maintained his stoic eccentricity in the face of gratuitous generosity.
on the back cover of my review copy, is a quote from an independent newspaper review of moore's previous escapades. "Bill Bryson on two wheels." it says.
i couldn't agree more.
"In twenty-five short years we've gone from an iron curtain to a blown-down garden fence."
thanks to the generosity of yellow jersey press, i have a copy of tim moore's the cyclist who went out in the cold to give away to the sender of the first correct answer to this question: through how many countries did tim moore ride his east german shopping bike? send your answers, with full postal address, to firstname.lastname@example.org. closing date is friday 14 october.
thursday 6 october 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................