Book Review: Blazing Bicycle Saddles by James Clarke

Folks, even though I keep hearing age is a number and that 60 is the new 40, and you are only as old as you feel, I sometimes still wonder.  I truly wonder how long these legs can keep me moving forward and my body can keep me in the saddle as I go places I have never been before.  Sometimes I think it will be forever, other times not so much.

So, when I stumble on a book like this, where I am younger (by a LOT) than most of the group riding, it gives a young pup like me hope!



This book follows the adventures of a group of 60 and 70 somethings from South Africa who have come up with a plan.  Just as Stanley and Livingston opened up deepest, darkest Africa for those from Europe to explore, they needed to do the same in reverse.  Yep, you heard correctly, their goal was open deepest, darkest Europe for others from Africa to follow.

What better way to do this, than by bike.  They had all ridden them when they were younger, so how hard could it be?  They dubbed their trips the “Tour de Farce” I – VI.  Each trip, in a different country.

Now you might think a group of older, non-experienced riders may have bitten off more than they can chew when for their first trip they decided to follow most of the course of the Danube River.  Clarke, their fearless leader, assured them he had researched the route thoroughly.  In fact, since they would be traveling down stream the whole way, the bikes would of course, be going down hill the whole way.  Hell, they might wear our their brakes before they ever needed to pedal.

I don’t think anyone who has ridden will consider this a spoiler… Riding downstream does NOT mean downhill!  Which they found out soon after starting.  They also had to deal with riding on the right instead of the left, talking very loudly to try to make the natives understand English, and their own combined distinct lack of a sense of direction.  How a group could come to a T-intersection and 5 people think they should go 5 different ways (there are only 3 choices at a T) I will never understand.  Plus, how does one get lost when you are following a river…

Worse yet, there was danger and distraction around every turn.  Taverns, Inns, Chateaus, and any number of places that served beer, wine, food and more beer.  In subsequent rides, their biggest concern was calculating how many kilometers/Ounce of local beverage they could achieve.  England’s Ales they feared the most.  Who knew after drinking that thin stuff if they’d make it between the pubs…

To quote: One feels one has earned a beer after cycling for a couple of hours and then the continued cycling afterwards gives one the satisfying feeling that one is working it off and will soon need another.  In this way one can achieve comfortable rhythm of exercise and relaxation getting neither fitter nor fatter.

Yes, a bike is the perfect machine!

After enjoying the first adventure, they continued the “Farces.”  They traveled through Ireland, France, Tuscany, followed the Thames in England, then back to France (the food was there best there in their opinion).  They stayed in Inns that were 100s of years old and ate the best food they had ever eaten.

Editors note: From personal experience I will tell you, the longer you ride, the better ANY food tastes, but his description made me hungry every time ….

One year, they made an exception and allowed a 55-year-old to join the ride as one of the regulars was unable to attend.  He was told though of one requirement.  No fast decisions. He had to learn to dodder with the rest of them.  I honestly believe part of the fun for these guys was to argue about which way to turn, and then getting lost for a while before meeting up at a drinking establishment.   Having someone take the lead and not join in would ruin it for them all.  (For the record this would drive me nuts).  The leader of the group did allow though that since the average age of the group was not reduced, they should be able to faster and farther.

These are tough old goats.  There were crashes, bad weather and uphill travel.  They didn’t let any of this stop them, and each ride they took made me want to go there as well! (Though I would suck at doddering…)

I loved another quote when he talked about cyclists being able to enjoy both sounds and aromas of the countryside.  He went on to say: Cycling has an advantage even over hiking: the scenery changes at a more stimulating pace, yet not so fast that one does not have time to savor it,  And at cruising speed, one creates one’s own cooling breeze.  Cycling in the one form of wheeled transport that cannot in any way be regarded as offensive – no pollution, no noise, and little demand on road space.

Bottom line folks, read this book. The author is funnier than hell, and only Joe Kurmaskie makes me laugh more when reading a cycling story.  More importantly though, read it to remind you that with a bike, age doesn’t matter.  If you can move it forward and keep your balance, you are still young enough to ride, and you a never too old for adventure!

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