Gironimo: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy
By Tim Moore
It’s rare when my library has a new book in the tiny sports section; even rarer when that book is about cycling. I eagerly checked it out, then finished it in less than a week. I loved it. Cycling, travel, a bit of history. The perfect combination for my literary taste.
Basically, middle-aged British guy Tim Moore is searching for a mid-life challenge, and settles on riding the route of the 1914 Giro d Italia, which he determines was the most difficult bike race in history. Four hundred kilometer stages through the Alps, terrible weather, bikes with only two gears, and other factors combined to decimate the field of riders. Only eight finished.
The book traces his journey from searching for and building a period-correct bike (and goofy wool kit) to completing the course (albeit over 50 hours behind the race winner), with lots of misadventures in between. It’s a bike tour book, but unlike other bike tour books, fits into a broader context. There is history behind the route, and Moore intersperses his travails with an account of the race as it unfolded in 1914. I enjoyed that.
Moore’s writing is hilarious; I actually laughed out loud multiple times. There are some British expressions that I didn’t understand (what’s a “lay-by”?). In contrast to a writer like Bill Bryson, who I increasingly find to dispense amusing if predictable humor without too much muscle beneath it, Moore flashes moments of poignant reflection (sometimes undercut by a self-deprecating jab). I’d quote some here, but like an idiot I’ve already returned the book to the library. So you’ll just have to trust me.
Ultimately, the book made me appreciate the heroic/insane accomplishments of riders a century ago, and has recalibrated my definition of a difficult day on the bike. If they could race through the Alps at midnight in a rainstorm on creaking steel bikes with wine corks for brakes (seriously, I’m not joking), fueled only by red wine and amphetamines, and a middle-aged out of shape man can retrace their path, surely I can do whatever ride I’m moaning about.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Fiat Pandas