Where have I been? Writing about where I've been... so you can go too
I've been pretty quiet lately, I know. But I have been very busy, you see... working on this book. I floated the idea a half-dozen times with the AA, who published my Bikers' Britain books, and it never got off the ground. So I finally had enough and started working on Bikers' Europe in March and now I'm publishing it myself. You can order one here.
What is it? Well, as the title suggests it's essentially it's a European version of Bikers' Britain. I decided I had to do it because I'd find myself sitting in my office, obsessing about riding in France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, Germany... Perhaps inevitably, as my work room is dominated by Europe, where I've carefully hung Michelin maps to the wall. Initially I just did it just to have a funkier backgrond for video meetings, but I'd find myself in idle moments turning the chair round and tracing roads with my fingertip, thinking, "I wish I was back there..."
I realised the lockdown has been making me slightly stir-crazy. I've been itching to get back on the road, to get back to Europe and back to some of the best riding on the planet, pretty much since getting back from Australia at the end of 2019. And despite having made it to the Alps for a few days in September 2020, between lockdowns, the craving hasn't gone away. If anything, that just made it stronger. By November I realised I was an addict going cold-turkey – I needed another fix of Continental touring but all I could do was spin round at my desk and daydream about it. The thing is, every time I looked at that map, I wanted to go back to a different part of it.
That's when the idea of publishing this book myself began to take hold – and from the time I kicked the project off in March, I disappeared down a rabbit hole. I decided to be business-like about it, though. That meant setting a deadline, so I took government advice and decided to be ready to go on June 21, so-called freedom day for the end of Covid restrictions (and at least I'm on time, even if the Tories aren't).
Then things got serious. I knew it wouldn't be possible to be completely comprehensive in the time available. So I set out to produce a list of the 50 rides I most wanted to do again – my pick of the 50 best rides in Western Europe. Except I couldn't do it. Just 50? I've been daydreaming about three, four, five times that many... But being practical, I knew I had to boil it down to the top 50. I tried... but I just couldn't do it. However, a top 60 seemed practical given the time constraints I'd set.
Then came the hard part. I had to come up with fresh rides – or rather fresh ways to use all those favourite roads that had inspired me. I'd generated so many trips for RiDE over the years (all collected together in The RiDE Guide to Europe, if you can find a copy) and I wanted to avoid any copyright issues by not repeating any of them. So with the exception of a handful of pre-existing tourist routes that the magazine featured, but which I didn't create – established touring favourites like the Route des Grandes Alpes and Germany's Romantic Road, which it would be odd to omit – none of these rides has been seen before. They're based not only on what I've learnt since riding them last but also in many cases on fresh feedback from friends in the area, to fine-tune them and keep them bang up to date.
Then it was just the mechanical part: sitting and writing the words, getting a licence for the maps (and learning to use the software to create them), creating the files for the route downloads to support the book, buying some pictures (of me riding bikes) from RiDE for the cover and to illustrate a few key pages... and then the endless, eye-straining process of proofing and editing the book and getting it ready to publish.
I found myself stuck, here. It turns out that printing books is really expensive. What with having to get a new Mac to work on, an Adobe licence for the layout software, the mapping licence and buying pics, I simply couldn't afford to get a pallet of books printed – plus I've nowhere to store them. So I'm having to use Amazon to print the books, which makes them easy to order and doesn't need me to sell a bike to get things printed, but I'm afraid it does push the price up (you wouldn't believe how much of the cover price goes to pay for Jeff Bezo's rocket set...). Sorry.
But it's done now and I'm really pleased and proud of how it's turned out. There's a spread of rides, from the Baltic to the Algarve, with all my favourite roads on mainland Western Europe between the two covers. It's not all high-mile mountain-bagging, either – I've been supported and assisted through the process of putting the book together by my partner Ali and there's not a ride here I wouldn't do with her on the back. There are several inspired by the thought of showing her not only my favourite roads but also my favourite places, with lots to see off the bike as well. It's everything I've learnt in 30 years of touring Europe, brought up to date in 60 easy-to-use routes.
I hope you'll enjoy it. You can order a copy from Amazon by clicking here.