I recently broke my elbow. It at the end of a triathlon I was savagely thrown off my bike by a bump or a dent in the road and so now, in the glorious heat of the summer, having suffered all winter, I cannot get my reward and go out riding (or running, or swimming, or do anything I usually consider fun). My big bottom lip sulking about this on twitter inspired the fabulous James Spackman from Pursuit books to stick Paul Fournel’s Need for the Bike in the Post for me.
I was a little dubious when the first chapter was titled: Violent Bike. But to be fair this book covers every element of cycling and can you even be considered a cyclist if you haven’t experienced that violent bike? It offers snapshots of the crashes, the hot dusty days, the races, the deep friendships, the bikes and equipment and the lifelong love of all things cycling. The chapters match our riding. Short and sharp sprinty sections, long meandering lengthier segments, all reflective after a lifetime on the bike.
The short chapters help its poetic structure reel you in. These are the musings of a man who has spent many many hours on a bike, contemplating how his bike has shaped him, his life and his mind. The book is elegantly crafted – not just in the poetry of the language used but even in its design with the author’s love of Campagnolo reflected in the chapter fonts.
Paul Fournel comes from a different world than most of us. We did not grow up in a town famed for its love of cycling. We have not sat within the peloton during a grand tour. We haven’t committed to work on a bike in Paris. But Fournel successfully speaks to our version of our cycling story in our world. Our first bike ride. Our day feeling like a cyclist. Our first race. Our favourite coffee stop. Our favourite hot chocolate on a freezing cold ride. The days when our legs feel great and the days when they inexplicably abandon us. The “oh yes – such a beautiful way of describing it” moments appear in almost every chapter.
You finish the book knowing Paul Fournel does not just ride a bike, that he is a French man riding his bike. The book oozes France. You find your imagery while reading it bringing every stereotype to life with garlic and red wine practically seeping through the pages. And full of such masculinity too that along with the garlic and the red wine I could almost feel the heavy male sweat.
If you have fallen out of love with your bike recently this is a wonderful way to remind yourself of what you used to love about it and send you off to your garage to dust it off. If you are still in love with your bike this will remind you why and send you off to the bookshelf (or more likely now phone) to start mapping out your next adventure.