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Anyone interested in adventurous cycling journeys can easily find travelogues, advice, and pictures about such trips – but rarely are they combined into one package like Escape by Bike, let alone produced by anyone with the depth of experience that Joshua Cunningham has acquired.
Cunningham has been undertaking adventurous trips since his teenage years, spending 'consecutive summers...initiating myself into the world of cycle touring by exploring portions of Europe with friends.' Not only did this 'form the basis for a near-unquenchable thirst for cycling adventure', it provided the knowledge necessary to undertake the expedition described in Escape by Bike – his most challenging mission so far.
Escape by Bike claims to be 'equal parts travelogue and practical guide', which is true – but it might be underselling the book. With some travelogues the actual journey is almost incidental, however 'epic' it may be, its main purpose being to provide opportunities for humour and self-inflicted mishaps that can be woven into an entertaining story – see Tim Moore or Andrew Sykes, for example.
The journey in Escape by Bike starts in Dumfries and ends in Hong Kong, which is a suitably daunting trip for most people to earn some respect. Cunningham's narrative is straightforward and informative, but does not try to include every last detail; it also provides the basis for all other aspects of the book.
Like any good travelogues you will participate in the journey vicariously, sharing in the highs and lows of such a ride, learning about local cultures – and all the time appreciating the benefits that doing it on a bicycle can bring; sometimes you really want to be there yourself, and at other times you are thankful that you are not.
Practical advice is scattered throughout the pages, positioned alongside the most appropriate part of the trip. Five environments are covered, being forests, mountains, deserts, tropics, and cities, with each being encountered at some point on the journey – and each making different demands on equipment: 'you'll learn that with appropriately tailored bikes and gear, struggles are minimised and enjoyment heightened to the full.'
There is sound advice on bike selection, and although modification and personalisation are encouraged, 'essentially...there are five main setup categories: traditional, expedition, mountain, extreme, and ultralight.'
Suggestions for non-bike equipment are divided into weight levels, giving lists suitable for light, medium, and heavy packing. Your requirements may differ, but this provides a good starting point which you can adapt as necessary.
At what point should an iPad/tablet feature in your packing? 'Medium' is the proposal, with a laptop, hard drive, speaker and solar powered charger helping the 'heavy' category to earn its name. Spokes appear in 'medium', although you will have to install them with a suitable multi-tool from 'light', as a proper spoke key does not appear until 'heavy'. You might make different choices.
The coverage of equipment rarely mentions any particular brands, providing instead general guidance and points to consider. This does make it less likely to become dated, but don't expect to see recommendations for specific products: for that, online resources like this website are endorsed.
It is clear from reading other travelogues that travelling cyclists often have the same experience as Cunningham, which is that 'Visas and travel permits are the biggest barrier to unbroken overland travel' – and there was plenty of opportunity for such impediments on a journey that involved 64 countries. What follows is an extensive list of points to resolve before leaving – and the sensible advice to have a Plan B, just in case.
Cunningham addresses several other questions that a prospective traveller may have to consider: is it better to travel alone or with others? Should you take vaccinations? Tent, tarp, or bivvy bag? In all cases Cunningham gives you the pros and cons of each to help you reach your own decision.
Even if you don't want to read yet another travelogue, or don't plan to undertake an expedition of your own, you can still enjoy the impressive photography. With shots ranging from the informative, through the artistic, to the dramatic, the quality and quantity are sufficient to qualify this as a coffee-table book – but this has not been achieved at the expense of the other elements.
I really appreciated the informative captions, because in many cases the pictures prompt questions that start with what, when, where (or even why), so it is good to have the answers readily available.
Pictures like this rarely happen without significant amounts of time and planning behind them, yet Cunningham is meant to be cycling 13,000 miles at the same time. I don't know how he managed to achieve both, but he has set the bar very high for anyone planning a similar style of book.
Combines the best elements of a travelogue, a practical guide, and a coffee-table book
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Escape By Bike by Joshua Cunningham
Size tested: 264pp
Tell us what the product is for
From Thames & Hudson:
Joshua Cunningham spent eleven months cycling from the UK to Hong Kong, a journey that took him through twenty-six countries and across 21,000 kilometres of the Eurasian landmass. He captured thousands of breathtaking photographs and acquired the wealth of invaluable experience he shares here, from how to arrange travel and select the best bike to what to pack for each climate and terrain, and how to choose and navigate the route. Equal parts travelogue and practical guide, this exhilarating account divides the stages of his tour into five chapters, each focusing on a specific geographical environment: forest, desert, mountain, tropical and urban.
Packaged in a travel-friendly format, Escape by Bike will be an essential source of inspiration to cyclists, outdoor enthusiasts and anyone who is interested in planning their own cycling adventure, large or small.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Escape by Bike
Author: Joshua Cunningham
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Format: Flexibound PLC
The flexibound cover is effective, but one might expect hardback at this price: the thick paper and big glossy images warrant it.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The broader appeal of a book that combines three main elements into one package.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The highly distracting stripes (of various colours and widths) that appear on every page of text.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Probably the best overall combination of travelogue, advice, and pictures available to adventure cyclists in one package, although I'd say it falls short of being 'best in class' in any one area; better than a jack, but not quite a master of all.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding