Last updated 17th April 2003 - Anne Mustoe 'Cleopatra's Needle' added

Here are most of the bicycle travel books I own or have read. There have been a few over the years that I can't now remember - a sign that they were no good anyway! They’re in alphabetical order by author, with publication details (if I have them) and a brief summary. All my own opinions. Any queries to Enjoy . . .

Mike Austin & Mel Platt | Josie Dew | Edward Enfield | Tim Garratt & Andy Brown | Howard & Anna Green | Christopher Hough | Tim Hughes | Mark Jenkins | Jerome K. Jerome | Bernard Magnoloux | Christian Miller | Dervla Murphy | Anne Mustoe | Freya North | Barbara Savage | Bettina Selby | Pamela Watson     

Mike Austin and Mel Platt

London to Peking: A Bicycle Odyssey
       No ISBN, distributed by Spare Tyre Publications (01684 560922)
Not so much a book, more three themed sets of postcards (Bike Bike, Face to Face & Impressions) linked by a short narrative of the trip. Beautiful photography, so much so that I don’t want to split a set. I’ve seen them on sale singly at Stanford’s in Covent Garden.

Josie Dew

The Wind in My Wheels: Travel Tales from the Saddle
      Warner Books (1992), ISBN 0-7515-0249-9
Josie’s first book, chronicling nine trips over nearly as many years. Ranging from a tour of Iceland and Scandinavia to ‘Land’s End to the Other End on a wheelchair bicycle’ to a Nova Scotian excursion, this is constantly amusing, light-hearted and adventurous. There’s an enormous amount of travelling packed in to 368 pages; so much so that I often wished it was a series of books. A good one to inspire and give a flavour of different countries.

Travels in a Strange State: Cycling Across the U.S.A.
      Warner Books (1994), ISBN 0-7515-0575-7
A tour of Hawaii and then from LA to Nova Scotia, via the Great Lakes. Not as captivating as her first book, perhaps because I’m not so interested in the US of A. Maybe one for our American chums.

A Ride in the Neon Sun: A Gaijin in Japan
      Little, Brown & Company (1999), ISBN 0-316-88156-2
Josie’s latest, only released in February this year (1999), and only available in hardback so far. This has been a long time in the writing. The four month trip took place in 1994 (or ‘95?) and had been published in part in UK cycling magazines a couple of years ago. The time in preparation has been well spent though. Ms Dew has moved on in leaps and bounds from her earlier books; the writing style is clever, articulate and wonderfully descriptive. Always one with a keen eye for the absurd and ridiculous, I often found myself laughing out loud at her perceptive observations on Japanese society. She also makes the reader realise that we can be the weird foreigners with strange habits. An excellent read.

The Sun in My Eyes: Two-Wheeling East
      Little, Brown & Company (2001), ISBN 0-316-85362-3
This a the sequel to, or rather the continuation of, 'A Ride in the Neon Sun'. The first couple of chapters are about getting to Japan: diversions in China and then sailing from Hong Kong on an Outward Bound ship. Once in Japan it's the North that's travelled, all the way to Hokkaido. It's good Josie Dew - amusing, wry and quite incredible.

Edward Enfield

Downhill all the Way
       Ted Smart (1994), ISBN 07475-16324
Written as a travel book rather than a bicycle travel book, this is by the comedian Harry Enfield’s father and details his journey across France in 1991. Frustratingly there are no maps or photographs. However, Mr Enfield is a humorous writer who has a keen and witty observational style.

Tim Garratt & Andy Brown

Discovery Road
      Travellerseye Ltd (1998), ISBN 0-9530575-3-4
15,000 km across Australia, Africa and South Africa. Andy Brown gets tired of the rat-race, links up with Tim Garratt and Suzanne Taplin and sets off on a charity ride for Intermediate Technology. Suzanne (Andy’s ex) only makes it across Australia. An entertaining book, full of high spirits and high jinks, experience and naiveté. Andy Brown writes honestly about his radical change in life-style, and what he had to give up as well as what he gained.

Howard & Anna Green

On a Bicycle Made For Two: 6,000 miles from London to Nepal
      Hodder and Stoughton (1990), ISBN 0-340-51359-4
The first bicycle travel book I read, and the one that’s inspired me most so far. They travelled to Nepal to work for the International Nepal Fellowship, Howard as a health project administrator. They went by tandem (hand-built by Chas Roberts of London), following the traditional route across the Alps, down Italy, through Greece and Turkey, then Iran, Pakistan and India. I’ve met them (as my parents also worked for the INF) and they say it was a most amazing experience. One day I’ll follow in their tyre-tracks . .

Christopher Hough

A Pedaller to Peking
Methuen (1986), ISBN 0-413-57980-8
Entertaining, witty, written like a student and all the worse and better for it. How to set off on a transcontinental adventure with no real idea of what you're letting yourself in for. Only taking one waterbottle probably says it all. Travel books from the eighties paint the world and its English ex-pats as consistently arrogant and screwed up. Don't know why. Not a great book but worth reading.

Tim Hughes

Great Cycle Tours of Britain
      Ward Lock (1988), ISBN 0-7063-7112-7
A book full of really good cycle tours of Britain. From north to south, from long to short, this has it all. I've followed some of the routes and they are consistently enjoyable; the tour of the north-west coast of Scotland is particularly stunning. I don't know if this is still in print but is worth buying if you get a chance. The photos are great, too!

Mark Jenkins

Off the Map: Bicycling Across Siberia
Robert Hale (1992), ISBN 0-7090-6257-5
Siberia. Not the place most of us would chose to go for our holidays. Mark Jenkins writes about an adventure, physically and psychologically, across one of the remote regions of the world. His style is distinct, often impressionistic (and frustrating) and a close reading is duly rewarded. Intense, but worth it.


Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men on the Bummel
      Penguin (1900), ISBN 0-14-006392-7
'A "Bummel",' I explained, 'I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end.' This Bummel is a follow-on to the hilarious Three Men in a Boat and recounts the mishaps that George, Harris and J. undergo on a cycling tour of Germany. It is fiction and, in the words of J., the narrator, 'There will be no useful information in the book'. Jerome has a deeply ironic style, never missing the opportunity to laugh at the English or Germans, but in an affectionate way.

Bernard Magnouloux

Travels with Rosinante
      Oxford Illustrated Press, ISBN 0 946609 70 5 (Haynes Publications Inc, CAL
the USA) Thanks, Ed!
Laughs all the way as the eccentric (and very determined) Monsieur Magnouloux cycles around the world on his faithful steed. (Interestingly enough, Rosinante is the name shared by Dervla Murphy’s first bike. Does anyone know of any obvious cycling link? (update: Kent Peterson informs me that it's the name of Don Quixote's horse.)) An entertaining tale, from struggling across Tibet with one gear to seducing women in Africa. Well worth searching out.

Christian Miller

Daisy, Daisy
      Routledge & Kegan Paul (1980), ISBN 0-7100-0709-4
At 180 pages this is a condensed story of a remarkable journey across America. Mrs Miller headed west against the prevailing winds on a three-speed folding bicycle which she had never ridden before, complete with camping gear. So there's a refreshing (and sometimes frustrating) naiviety about the trials and tribulations she encounters. She writes well and honestly.

Dervla Murphy

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle
      John Murray (1965), no ISBN, it’s that original a copy! (In print with Flamingo)
A unique copy, dedicated to a colleague of my father in Pokhara in 1965. Dunkirk to Delhi in 1963, through the coldest winter in 50 years. (No, I don’t know why she didn’t wait till later in the year.) Rather than travel down Italy she went via Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. This is one of the classic bicycle travel books; despite being 35 years old it has the air of a different era. For instance, the List of Kit includes, under Incidentals, one .25 automatic pistol and four rounds of ammunition, which get used for killing wolves in snow-bound Yugoslavia. Not something Jobst Brandt’s packing list recommends! Most of the book deals with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, an area that the author has a strong affection towards (see Where the Indus is Young). Sometimes self-righteous and naive (but interestingly so), the narrative is compulsive and the journey awe-inspiring. The one-speed 37 pound bicycle survives the journey intact, as does Ms Murphy.

The Waiting Land: A Spell in Nepal
Flamingo (1967), ISBN 0-00-655090-8
Not strictly a bicycle travel book as most of it is about Ms Murphy’s work in a Tibetan refugee camp in Pokhara. However, she does go on a few bike rides and I was born in Pokhara, so justification enough for me! Pokhara as a destination on the hippy trail, and before the tourist centre it’s become is vividly described, as is the unique culture of the Tibetan refugees. It’s sad that thirty years later they’re still there.

A Place Apart
      Penguin (1978), ISBN 0-14-00.5030-2
Again, this doesn’t set out to be a travel book as such but the use of a bicycle as transport is important in the book’s aim: to understand the fabric of life in Northern Ireland. So much (and so little) has changed in two decades that this is out of date politically but still soberingly relevant in terms of communal violence and ignorance. Well worth reading as an outsider’s view (Ms Murphy being an atheist) of the situation.

Wheels Within Wheels
      Penguin (1979), ISBN 0-14-055448-0
Ms Murphy’s autobiography up to about 1961, just before her trip to India detailed in Full Tilt. A fascinating and moving account of the roots of her independence of mind and spirit. Deep roots: in the introduction to Full Tilt she writes, ‘On my tenth birthday a bicycle and an atlas coincided as presents and a few days later I decided to cycle to India’. Maybe her parents were encouraging her even then . . .

The Ukimwi Road
      ?? No details, I’m afraid, although it’s definitely in print ??
A by turns harrowing and hopeful account of a ride through central Africa, in an area dominated by AIDS and corruption.

South from the Limpopo: Travels through South Africa
John Murray (1997), ISBN 0-7195-5789-5
Not a conventional travel book, this lacks thematic or physical progression and is more a documentary on South Africa immediately before and after the first multi-racial elections in 1994. Well written and compelling D.M. treads where most of us would fear and asks the difficult questions, both of herself and the new South Africa. She can be rather too curmodgenly at times, with her blanket aversion to television and computers, and, worryingly, still can't fix a puncture! A long and serious book but well worth reading because of this.

Anne Mustoe

A Bike Ride: 12,000 miles around the world
      Virgin Books (1991), ISBN 0-86369-650-3
At the age of 54 Mrs Mustoe left her job as headmistress of a public girls’ school in Suffolk to cycle around the world. As a classicist and historian she decided to follow Roman roads through Europe, Alexander the Great across the Asian subcontinent, early European traders through the far east and then the settlers across America (although going W-E). The first few times I tried to read this I found it very dry and academic, and was unable to get past the first chapter. However, I tried again, and being older and wiser (hopefully), found it fascinating. A carefully planned route, following historically important roads, gives a sense of following in the well-worn footsteps of travellers over the centuries.

Lone Traveller: One Woman, Two Wheels and the World
      Swan Hill Press (1998), ISBN 1-85310-970-3
Mrs Mustoe heads off around the world again, this time from East to West. Instead of doing the whole distance at once she split it over a number of years, picking the best season for travel in each continent. Rather than follow the traditional linear narrative this is split into chapters dealing with themes and particular terrains, for instance: good days; bad days; the Australian Outback. This works really well. Her writing is far better than in A Bike Ride and the structure avoids the cliches inherent in travel books. Recommended.

Two wheels in the dust: From Kathmandu to Kandy
Virgin Books (2001), ISBN 1-85227-926-5
'Two Wheels in the Dust' is Mrs Mustoe's best book yet. Like 'Lone Traveller' it doesn't follow a single bike ride, instead taking it's structure from the Ramayana, one of the Hindu religion's sacred books. The journey takes the route of the Ramayana from Nepal through India to Sri Lanka, following Rama, Sita , Hanuman and a whole legion of gods, demons, humans and animals. Most chapters end with an extract from the 'Ramayana' that relates to the area Mrs Mustoe is in. This is a wonderful book because it plays to Mrs Mustoe's strengths: her erudition and educational background. The enthusiasm she displays about her discoveries of Hinduism and the Ramayana is infectious, and this transfers to her depiction of the land and its people. I guess this book also wins in that it makes me want to visit India and read the Ramayana, which is surely the goal of any travel book!

Cleopatra's Needle: Two Wheels by the Water to CairoAnne Mustoe 'Cleopatra's Needle'
Virgin Books (2003), ISBN 1-85227-984-2
A journey from Cleopatra's Needle on the Thames Embankment to the place where it was carved and raised in ancient Egypt, now a suburb of Cairo. The rather tenuous conciet is following the route of the obelisk as far as possible by water, which means a trip round the Mediterranean. The weather was awful for Mrs Mustoe's trip and coastal roads are always grim, either full of traffic or impossibly hilly, so it was not the joyus expoloration of Europe and the Levant it could have been. But it was saved by two things: 1) following her progress with a map and Microsoft Encarta, which was great fun, and 2) her erudition which taught as well as entertained.

Freya North

William Heinemann (1999), ISBN 0-434-00538-X
'Sex, drugs, lashings of lycra, large bulges and larger egos...' is what the jacket says, and I can't disagree. A novel based around an imaginary Tour de France (but with many recognisable characters and incidents) it's badly written (but enjoyably so) and concerns the ludicrous love-life of Cat, the main character, and assorted soigneurs and mechanics. For anyone who enjoys the TdF this is a top read, full of laughs and excitement - I actually found myself caring which of the fictional characters was going to win! Freya North followed all of the TdF in 1998 and the experience really shows through. A good read for the dark, cold days of winter when you can't imagine summer ever coming again.

Barbara Savage

Miles from Nowhere
      ?? No details. Sorry ??
The American classic which I read and enjoyed, but it failed to capture my imagination. Each to his own.

Bettina Selby

Riding the Mountains Down: A Journey by Bicycle to Kathmandu
      Unwin Paperbacks (1985), ISBN 0-04-910082-3
I have a huge admiration for Bettina Selby. She’s one of that band of doughty middle-aged women who undertake mentally and physically demanding journeys that put most of our adventures into perspective. This is her first book, tracing a journey from Karachi up the Indus, detouring to the Khyber pass, and finishing in Nepal. The Indian subcontinent is often described as being the hardest part of any transcontinental trip that involves it, so much respect to her for tackling it. It’s not the best written of travelogues, often losing itself in directionless description and route detail, but inspiring all the same.

Riding to Jerusalem: A Journey through Turkey and the Middle East
Richard Drew Publishing (1989), ISBN 0-86267-250-3
The Crusaders’ routes through Europe and Asia to Jerusalem form the backbone to this book. Bettina covers London to Venice in 30 pages, the majority of the book dealing with the journey through Turkey and Syria into Israel. I found it to be hugely educative and compelling. Mrs Selby obviously knows her stuff and has great enthusiasm for it; this comes across clearly in the writing. Cycling as a form of modern day pilgrimage.

Riding North One Summer
      ?? No details. Sorry ??
My recollection of this is hazy. A trip up the west coast of England to the Scottish borders and then back down the east coast.

Frail Dream of Timbuktu
      John Murray (1991), ISBN 0-7195-4838-1
Following the river Niger westbound, through Niger and Mali, this is another trip through hostile terrain. I did enjoy this, despite having to start a number of times before I it hooked me. The sense of a way life on the brink of disintegration in the face of the 21st century is clearly conveyed.

Like Water in a Dry Land: A Journey into Modern Israel
      Harper Collins (1996), ISBN 0-00-627942-2
Not strictly a travelogue, this brings together a number of trips through the Middle East and, specifically, Israel. Like Riding to Jerusalem, this wins through because of Mrs Selby’s passion and knowledge on the subject. It’s depressing and uplifting by turns: seemingly unresolvable tensions against positive individual actions and attitudes. This close observation is combined with a wider look at the political situation

Pamela Watson

Esprit de Battuta: Alone Across Africa on a Bicycle
      Aurum Press (1999), ISBN 1-85410-629-5
Starting in Senegal and finishing one-and-a-half years later in Tanzania, Pamela Watson is not your typical cyclist; she worked in business before setting off and was supported by Shell, an anathema to many people. Whatever their starting point, though, most transcontinentals have the same sense of a deep-seated goal that pushes them on through difficult experiences and terrain. Testse flies, terrible roads and the turmoil of central Africa all make their mark, but the highs (of which there are many) always make up for the lows. Her love of Africa is never defeated, only deepend. Intelligently written and well worth reading.

Mike Austin & Mel Platt | Josie Dew | Edward Enfield | Tim Garratt & Andy Brown | Howard & Anna Green | Christopher Hough | Tim Hughes | Mark Jenkins | Jerome K. Jerome | Bernard Magnoloux | Dervla Murphy | Anne Mustoe | Freya North | Barbara Savage | Bettina Selby | Pamela Watson     

And back to the index . . .