Andrew Sykes, Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike called Reggie. 2011.
Let’s clear the air and cut to the bunch sprint – I really enjoyed reading about Reggie’s European adventure. Good Vibrations is a book you can read on the big chain ring – it’s a light read that delivers just what its title promises: it tells the story of the author’s 2010 summer holiday cycle trip from his home in Reading to Brindisi in the south of Italy.
Good Vibrations tells the story of the author’s first long distance cycle tour. Cycling for some 30 days, travelling anywhere from 60 to 175+ kilometres a day and camping most nights, he more than earns the long-distance cycle-tourer description he seeks. Reggie is his trusty (a couple of broken spokes apart) Ridgeback Panorama bicycle and his main travelling companion. While the author is certainly not into bike mechanics nor maintenance, he certainly has a love of his bike and he is keen to give Reggie a co-starring role in his saga.
Andrew Sykes is a modern languages teacher and this may explain the origins of his lively, very readable and refreshingly light writing style. This is a book you will read with relish, reluctant to put it down and keen to keep the pages turning. Sykes spins a very good story. This is his first major trip and first book and as you read you can sense his growing confidence – in his cycle-touring and writing. The writing zips along at a brisk pace at all times in the author’s no nonsense style, but just occasionally in some of the reflective passages you catch a glimpse of the writer he may well become in the future. These passages are often from his blog and carry real promise. At all times he has the happy knack of making the reader feel they are right with him and along for the ride – in sunshine, showers, downpours and deluges: and for most of the journey there appeared to be plenty of the latter.
There is a refreshing naivety to the author’s writing that is very appealing. He seems genuinely proud of his trip and his book’s success: and so he should be. Others have certainly travelled further and in more exotic places. However, the inspiring thing about Reggie’s trip is that every cycle-commuter or day-tripper can imagine that they just might be able to emulate the author. This, therefore is a book that will inspire more than most.
Sykes has a nice sense of humour and a good line in one-liners. I especially liked the mention of the French swimming pool cunningly disguised as a small nuclear power station. He is also a good story teller and introduces us to the friends he meets and makes on the road with warmth and good humour – even the Italian control freaks!
While there is plenty of detail on the trip and how it was successfully, but lightly planned, I would have liked to see a wee bit more detail on some aspects. For example, the book drew on blog postings made on the move from the author’s iphone, but we are offered few details of how this happened. Indeed, the iphone seems to have been used each day, but we are left in the dark as to how affordable this was. Some sort of GPS tracker was used to plot the stages, but no details are provided. At 300 plus pages the book is long enough, but a better balance might have been struck if some details of the trip each day were cut and more space devoted to these technical matters.
However, the slight coverage of technical matters means the book will appeal to both cycle-tourist and general reader or traveller alike. Good Vibrations is something of a Swiss Army Knife in the travel book world: it offers something for everyone.
I have one major gripe: never was the old adage truer, than the wisdom of not judging a book by its cover. Good Vibrations has a dreadful cover, with garish titles and a dismal photograph taken at the end of the journey. In the euphoria of his Italian finish the author can be forgiven for taking the photograph in one of the less picturesque parts of Brindisi, but with a little forethought he might have chosen to finish somewhere more uplifting and he certainly would have been well advised to chose a more inspiring photograph for the cover. His trip and the book deserved something a bit more eye-catching than Reggie in front of a graffitti-scarred concrete wall.
However, this is no place for carping. Good Vibrations is a wonderful, witty and inspiring book. I’ll shelve my copy between Josie Dew and Barbara Savage: it more than deserves its place. I suspect the author’s next offering may well find a position next to Anne Mustoe and Dervla Murphy, and that’s high praise indeed.
Recommended with 4.5 stars.
Available in all sorts of formats and from Amazon