Paul Jones’s End To End is a wonderful, sometimes frenetic and deeply honest book by a man bursting with passion for cycling, its cultures and lore, and people who do extraordinary things.
Ostensibly about chasing the Roads Records Association end-to-end record (riding ~850 miles along the length of Britain from Land’s End to John O’ Groats), the stories and people in the book are captivating, raw and very funny.
The record attracts both serious (with a capital S) cyclists as well as eccentrics at the fringes of both the sport and common decency.
The lengths people go to to take the record are absurd – superhuman, even – and Jones revels in this. You have condom catheters, suppurating saddle sores, “sexy bridges” and so much more to look forward to in this book. There’s also a very rude and very funny photo on page 104, which honestly makes the book worth buying alone.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t sincerely celebrate the unimaginable feats of endurance the record demands, he simply lays out each rider’s achievements without excessive flourish, leaving you in awe. This approach is so refreshing compared to the exaggerated faux heroism that defines most writing about cycling.
Jones also, crucially, focuses equal attention on the women’s record. From the fight to even attempt the record to the heroic rides of life-long amateurs who were unrelentingly committed to their sport, he celebrates these women who have done incredible things in the face of a shamefully patriarchal competitive cycling culture.
The book also follows Jones’s own LEJOG ride after a traumatic period in his life. Unlike so much writing about travel, he doesn’t just celebrate experience as some kind of emotional embrocation that reinvigorates him through the mere act of cycling. ‘His’ chapters are honest, introspective and not in any way self-indulgent.
These parallel narratives are key to the book’s success – the shifting focus between chapters apes the wild mood swings during extreme-distance riding, flitting between the brooding and tender to the thrilling and daft.
The antepenultimate chapter is a key example. This details the current record and is fast-paced, only to be bookended by a wonderful thoughtful summary of why people are drawn to the challenge, and why we place such emotional value on journeys as a whole.
I’ve known Jones for some time now; he’s a fixture at hill climb events in south west England and featured on the BikeRadar Podcast in the early days of writing this book. He is a generous and funny man and an unwilling authority on niche British cycling cultures. All of this shines through in his charismatic writing. End to End will delight cyclists and lay readers alike, and comes highly recommended.