I hope that travel writer Tim Moore doesn’t mind me saying this as I mean it in the nicest way possible way, but judging by his books – and I’ve read them all – he seems to be a man in the midst of a permanent and hilarious mid-life crisis.
All of his books see Moore leaving his family [I guess for cliches sake I should refer to them as long-suffering] seemingly on a whim/strange manly urge and undertaking long journeys of varying degree of challenge and, well, silliness. His latest work, The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold, is no different.
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After his first cycling-themed book, the brilliant French Revolutions: Cycling The Tour de France (2001), he waited 12 years before saddling up again. As you do, he felt that riding the route of one of the toughest ever Giro d’Italias – the 1914 edition – on a period bike, with cork brakes and all, for Gironimo! Riding The Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy (2014) was a good idea. It wasn’t really, but like French Revolutions it was bloody funny reading about it…
This time, Moore didn’t leave it another decade before heading off on two wheels again. His 10th book, The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold: Adventures Along The Iron Curtain, involves his hardest, probably daftest ride yet: 10,000km or so on the newly created (if not entirely finished) Iron Curtain cycling trail from Finnish Lapland to the Black Sea in Bulgaria. On a two-speed, slightly modified East German small-wheeled shopping bike.
A bike for a horror trip
The bike, a MIFA 900, is not a thing of beauty and definitely not the natural companion for a multi-thousand kilometre tour. Bought from German eBay, even MIFA enthusiasts implore Moore not to do it: “Please avoid, it will become a horror trip!”
Does it become a horror trip? Well yes and no – Moore is an incredibly easy companion and manages to make light of situations that would probably reduce hardened cycle tourers to gibbering, curled-up-in-the foetal-position wrecks.
From the cold and wet of Finland in an Arctic winter – "'Please, anything. Bread? I’m on a bicycle. There are no shops. Please.' Two days in and already pleading for my life,” – to the arse-clenchingly dangerous Russian roads: “My hi-vis tabard might have been a no-vis stealth suit fashioned from potholed tarmac," Moore manages to make the worst of times very, very funny.
A little bit of history
At the same time, Moore manages to chuck in some education, like the story of Finland’s epic underdog battles with Russia during WWII, the siege of Leningrad, the history of the MIFA 900 bike itself, when he visits the factory and is offered a brand new bike by the bemused/confused owner.
More than that, though, Moore’s books are strangely inspiring. It’s hard not to be impressed by a man in his early 50s who hasn’t really ridden for two years – curiously that Giro ride didn’t lead to Moore becoming a fully fledged MAMIL – deciding to undertake a huge ride on a completely inappropriate bicycle.
It makes the daily struggle to get motivated for ride to work seem a little weak, and whets your own appetite for a bike-based adventure. It probably won’t be quite as amusing without Tim Moore for company though.
The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold: Adventures Along The Iron Curtain is published by Yellow Jersey Press, £14.99
Read an extract of Tim Moore’s brilliant new book in issue 320 of Cycling Plus, on sale October 11, 2016