John Foster Fraser’s “Round the World on a Wheel” may be the first serious cycling book written. Fraser and two companions left London from St Pancras’ Church in 1896 and spent two years cycling across Europe, Asia and America on their sturdy road-bikes before returning to the same spot by what was then one of the classic cycling routes in London, Clapham Common, Kennington Park Road, Westminster Bridge Road (“how vile”), Westminster Bridge (“the dirty old Thames”), Parliament Street, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus (“in the mass of traffic we were nearer our deaths than we had been for two years”), Oxford Circus, Langham Place, Portland Road, “slithering over the mire” Euston Road (“slithering over the mire”), St Pancras’ church. The book is a great classic of travel writing and well-illustrated with photographs, including the three bikes.
Over a century later there are several cycling books that can be compared to Fraser’s classic. Richard and Nicholas Crane cycled from the coast at Bangladesh across the Himalayas to the point in the world which is furthest from any sea. “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” is the sort of book that simply cannot be put down. A very great book indeed and eminently readable.
Christopher Smith’s “Why Don’t You Fly; Backdoor to Beijing – by bicycle” is right up there with the best travel books ever written. He’s intelligent, funny, observant, and a very skilled writer. Cycling fanatics may become irritated with his lack of technical know-how about his machine, but for everyone else, this is a terrific book!
For the fanatics, Beaumont’s “The Man who Cycled the World” is perhaps now too well-known since it was a, successful, attempt to beat the world record and was followed on television. If your main interest is the actual cycling, the book is fascinating. It’s a race against time and you’re there on the saddle with him. A gruelling ride and a gruelling read.
Josie Dew’s wrote about such topics as the best cycling routes in London and therefore she is well acquainted to many urban cyclists. They should not miss “Wind in my wheels: Travel Tales from the Saddle”. It is full of the sort of mishaps that happen to people on two wheels. She is not a natural travel writer, having little interest in how the rest of the world lives and not much tolerance for cultures that are different from her own, but she is a cyclist and for those whose main interest is cycling, it’s a good read.
By way of a contrast Dervla Murphy’s “Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle” has everything. A very great travel writer, she is also serious about her bike. This is a renowned book, a wonderful read if you are not intending to do it yourself, and a storehouse of information if you are. One of the best travel books ever written and certainly one of the best cycling books written.
An American slant is given by Barbara Savage’s “Miles from Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle Adventure”. This story of an American couple who set out from Los Angeles to cycle across 5 continents is in no way a literary masterpiece, but it is warm, human and, in many places, very funny. Another one for the bookshelf.