French Revolutions

Tim Moore

Read August 2003, July 2007

Tim Moore is frequently described to American readers as “the British Bill Bryson”.  This book only strengthens the link: it is to Moore what A Walk in the Woods is to Bryson.  But whereas there's something quite human about walking the Appalachian Trail—indeed, it seems time and boredom might be one of the greater obstacles, as Bryson admits—Moore's trek, which is to bike the route of the Tour de France, mountains and all, seems decidedly less so.  So Moore gets a copy of the 2000 Tour itinerary and... sets out to ride it!

I first read this book two years ago, when I was beginning to suffer from Tour Fever.  Reading it again (a few weeks after the 2003 Tour had ended—withdrawal?) I was somewhat less taken with it.  I'd forgotten just how poorly Moore behaves towards many locals and locales, digging deep into France's reserves of kindness towards bicyclists; or just how much he complains to the point where his readers wish a pox on him.  Perhaps this edge is necessary to turn a trip into a book, but Anne Mustoe's A Bike Ride offers an excellent alternate model.  Also, two years ago I was impressed by the depth of his research into the Tour; now I recognize that the tales he quotes are the ones every Tour enthusiast knows by heart (Lapize, Christophe, Poulidor, Merckx, ...).

And despite this, here I am reading it again, in 2007. Why do I keep coming back to it? Just about any book reveals new depths on re-reading, but great literature this certainly isn't. Maybe, like much of travel writing, this is simply an armchair fulfillment of an unattainable dream. And I must admit that, on re-re-reading, his harshest edges are a bit less harsh than I'd earlier thought. And the one aspect that most stood out from this reading, when I paid attention to the details of mileages and speeds, is what excellent shape the self-proclaimed slacker Moore must actually be in!

In short, there's something fun and charming about this book.  His premise is original and invokes delight.  His passion for the Tour comes through despite his bile.  The stories and legends bear re-telling.  And there's just something about the book that gets at the heart of great travel writing: an account of a person doing what you wished you could, sharing his inner fears while daring you to follow in his trail.