12 months in the saddle by john deering and phil ashley. carlton publishing hardback. 224pp illus. £25

12 months in the saddle

i am a man comfortable with his lack of intrepidness, a recalcitrant reluctance to stray too far from home and mostly happy to convince myself that 100 miles round islay is every bit as much of a struggle as the same distance from oppedette to the summit of mont ventoux and back. it helps me sleep at night.

but thankfully, even in the inadvertant service of cycling's panoply of legend and mythology, others are less constrained by their location. cycling's bookshelves are awash with the tales of fellows and fellowesses who survived a round the world trip on a raleigh chopper and carrying naught but a toothbrush. such tales of travel and derring do can serve as inspiration for others to do likewise, or more likely for timid souls such as myself to sit comfortably in a leather armchair nodding off after only a couple of chapters.

such adventures occasionally enter the annals of 'you had to be there.' dependent principally on the ability of the adventurer to string a series of competent sentences together. one or two seem not to have considered that an overweening ability to pedal 100 miles per day in all manner of unseemly conditions is rarely considered a pertinent qualification for a degree in literature. thankfully, such occasions are rare, and in the case of the volume under discussion, not even a consideration.

john deering first met the cycling world's literary expectations via his excellent 2003 'team on the run', a clever play on the title of a paul mccartney album, offering an appreciation of the rise and fall of the linda mccartney cycling team. one can easily join the dots at this point to figure out how sean yates came to write the foreword. yates makes a second cameo appearance in the chapter concerning deering's and ashley's riding of the paris-roubaix sportive.

"Ride along the crown of the road."

phil ashley's contribution to the venture is by way of some particularly effective photography and as a foil to deering's humour. though the majority of the text is taken care of by john deering, there are italicised interjections by ashley; the two together make for a particularly entertaining read. "The thing about Belgium is you're never really anywhere, but you're never in the middle of nowhere."

deering is keen to explain that neither of them actually rode their (giant provided) bicycles for the whole twelve months, but in fact rode the included excursions over a period of twelve months. an excellent allusion to the light-heartedness contained within. the contents show precisely the tenacity displayed by both, beginning at the outset of the year with the coast to coast, from whitehaven on the cumbrian coast to tynemouth on the east. ashley's photographs pay more than adequate testament to the substantial deposits of snow that framed their journey. rather them than me.

sandwiched between this january opener and riding scotland's west highland way in december is a veritable delight of strenuous rides (if you're into that sort of thing) including the aforementioned paris-roubaix sportive, its best friend, the tour of flanders sportive, the fred whitton challenge, wales' dragon ride, a further visit to scotland to ride the bealach na ba, and even a saturday night, sunday morning in london come august.

i am marginally jealous that the two adventurers completed the summit of mont ventoux in provence, given that my recent trip in that direction was curtailed due to the same inclement weather that prevented the mighty dave t and i from partaking of a sunday morning ride (a guy can suffer just so much rain before the point of it all disappears in the mist), but considerably less concerned that i have not ridden the west highland way.

though many of these rides will have been undertaken and completed by blokes and ladies in your own cycle club, deering's literary style makes it sound as if he had chinned you on a club night, taking great delight in reiterating his velocipedinal exploits. a masterpiece of textual conversation.

however, i see cracks in the firmament as regards the production of this substantially sized volume. it is, to enter the colloquial, a coffee table book, encased in large hard covers and with acres of substantially sized images. and while i mean no disrespect to the photographic talents of mr ashley, i'm not entirely sure they needed such a large degree of real estate. in other words, this book might even have benefitted from a more compact and bijou production. if i had to constrain my observations to a single word, it would be 'overblown'.

that, however, is more likely to be the province of the publishers, the marketing department of which presumably knows its market better than i. time and sales figures will likely reveal all. meantime, if you think you'd enjoy a confident, intelligent and humorous meander along some of the more adventurous routes that europe has to offer in the company of two utterly unpretentious riders, you'll enjoy each and every chapter. you may not, however, be too keen on the price of admission.

tuesday 14th may 2013