A father and son cycling across France together is probably slightly unusual, but won't necessarily make for a worthwhile story; do the same trip many years later and there are now two trips to talk about – as well as the changes in their lives and relationships. That is what Matt and Arthur Lamy cover in Rides of Passage, and the result is a delightful travelogue that is not just about the cycling.
The Lamys are a father and son who have both been on the cycling scene for many years: Arthur ran the Boudins for Bikes shop on Jersey for 28 years, and son Matt has written for or edited several cycling magazines.
Rides of Passage joins a growing library of cycling travelogues, some of which – Spain to Norway on a bike called Reggie and The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold, for example – we have reviewed, so an author needs to find a different angle if a book is to stand out – especially if it involves cycling in France, which must be one of the most popular destinations for cycle touring.
The difference on offer here is that it is a repeat of a journey that they have done before, and it gives them the chance to look back at the changes in both their lives and their relationship over the intervening years.
The younger Lamy makes clear that he sees himself and his father as 'two relatively normal blokes' and bemoans the fact that 'we've got to the stage where to be normal – and especially normal and happy – is almost seen as a lack of awareness, experience or aspiration'. Lamy wants this book to be an antidote to that aspect of modern life, and the result is a book that never feels the need to try too hard: it is just an entertaining and enjoyable story that has a cycle ride as its starting point.
One benefit of their connections is that 'whilst we offered to buy all the kit we chose to use on this ride and we did indeed pay for most of it', they clearly received significant support from the trade – which would set them apart from most normal people embarking on such a trip.
All that experience around bikes did not prevent them from making the sort of basic errors that any experienced cyclist should know to avoid, such as fitting a new Brooks saddle immediately before the start. It will come as no surprise that Matt experienced significant discomfort for most of the trip. Surely not a deliberate ploy to provide the 'fighting against adversity' theme that is so prevalent in cycling travelogues? I fear that it will have the effect of reinforcing many people's view that cycle touring is an uncomfortable experience, rather than inspiring them to go and try it for themselves.
Like any good travelogue there are numerous observations about their time on the road, which often become recurring themes – such as how shops in France always seem to be closed when you need them.
Something that makes this travelogue a bit different is that the protagonists are recreating a journey that they had also done 21 years earlier. Obviously in that time a lot had changed in their lives, which is revealed in the auto-biographical aspects of the narrative.
That previous trip is present throughout the book with reprints of diary entries of the time, when they were aged 15 and 42; it adds interest, and helps to show both how much and yet how little has changed over the years. Unfortunately, I found the two typefaces used to be a little difficult to decipher at times – and making it hard to read your book is never a good idea.
We are all aware of the role that electronic gadgets often play in our lives, and cycle touring is no exception. For sure it can help to make some things easier (such as communication and navigation), but this trip reminds us how it also introduces different concerns. For example: can I recharge my devices in time? Will I have enough memory capacity? And does the campsite have good enough wi-fi? Technology giveth with one hand, but taketh away with the other.
On several occasions the Lamys managed to match the locations and poses of photos from the earlier trips fairly well, which must have taken considerable planning; I found these 'then and now' shots to be a welcome (and unusual) part of the 12 pages of colour pictures.
I doubt that anyone would want to recreate the Lamys' full experience on this ride, because it seems to involve too much unnecessary suffering. If you did want to find out more about their exact route, or the bikes and equipment used, it's available on the Rides of Passage website (see the 'Contact' link above). The book itself provides very little information for anyone looking for help to plan a similar trip.
Rides of Passage was published in 2016, and one bonus of the delay in reviewing it is that used copies are now readily available for less than half of the full asking price.
The Lamys initially set up Thirty-Six Books to publish Rides of Passage, and the plan was 'to push the accepted boundaries of the commercial book industry'. As a result, they also offer their publishing services to anyone who has 'always wanted to write the ultimate book about the subject that obsesses you'; if you fit that description, then this could be your opportunity.
A cycling-based travelogue combined with reflections on the changing relationship between a father and son
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rides of Passage by Matt and Arthur Lamy
Size tested: 205pp
Tell us what the product is for
From Thirty-Six Books:
Much more than just a cycle touring book, RIDES OF PASSAGE blends the stories of two life-affirming bike expeditions with the experiences of a father and son during the 21 years in between to create a unique memoir.
Using original diaries from Matt and Arthur Lamy's first trans-France voyage in 1994; daily reports from their 2015 trip; and their two life journeys - as one grows from a teenager into a father, the other from a father to a grandfather - it is a tale that touchingly captures the passage of time, relationships, family life, cycling, and the sights and sensations of pedalling across a foreign country.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Rides of passage
Author: Matt & Arthur Lamy
Publisher: Thirty-six books
Fairly expensive as a new hardback, but used copies are readily available.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The 'then and now' photos.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The typeface used for diary entries.
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
A charming story of cycle touring and father/son relationships that delivers on its promise.
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