Gironimo!: Riding The Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy, by Tim Moore
The ending of the first paragraph gives the reader a good idea of what to expect for this volume as a whole, and presumably the author’s entire body of work, which I am about to become a lot more aware of since I requested several books of his from the library: “Their geriatric struggle demands sombre respect, but doesn’t get it, because the man is wearing a giant Rubettes cap and blue-glassed leather goggles, and when he comes to a squeaky halt in the lay-by his woollen-pouched nuts slam stoutly down into the crossbar (vii).” Make no mistake, this is a very earthy book by a cycling  enthusiast and apparently popular writer on travel and bicycling. If you like bicyling and can tolerate a middle-aged author humblebragging about his heroism in doing an insane historical reenactment stunt while continually talking about the battered and abused state of his genitals while making humorous observations on those he encounters, you will probably enjoy this book. I found the author a bit crass for my tastes, but in all other aspects refreshingly Nathanish. Take that as you will.
Like many books, this one has an interesting pacing over the course of its roughly 350 or so pages. Frustrated with the cynicism and professionalism of the contemporary Tour de France, which he documented in a previous book–one on my reading list–the author decides to tackle the most punishing race in history, the 1914 Giro d’Italia, won by an obscure biker who was cycling’s version of a “one hit wonder.” He decides, though, that he wants to race it in a period bicycle, which results in some hilarity as he attempts to learn how to put together a bicycle and acquire enough spare parts to make it on a gruelling Milan-Milan circuit. He meets a lot of colorful people and writes in a self-effacing way about himself as is typical for this sort of sports journalism, and ends up being able to make it through the entire tour, albeit in more time than it took them. He also seems to find himself viewed as somewhat heroic for engaging in the undertaking, reveling in his reputation as the crazy Englishman on an ancient bike. Moreover, the ride seems to give him the excuse to engage in some self-reflection and also revive his faith in cycling–all in all–the book has the feeling of a successful effort in pilgrimage despite the suffering the author seems to undergo because of his equipment and his general lack of competence in Italian or bike repair.
It’s easy to like this book. Again, this is an extremely earthy author who takes delight in somewhat crude humor, but that failing aside, the author comes off more as endearing than profane. The author’s framing of himself is deeply strategic. By painting himself as endearingly incompetent, more than a little bit awkward and harmlessly eccentric, he makes his somewhat slow trip around Italy on an antique but sturdy bike a heroic journey rather than something to treat with ridicule and contempt. By humbling himself, he allows a sympathetic reader to honor him. This would have been insufferable to read from someone like Lance Armstrong, but the author strikes just the right tone to make this an enjoyable read. The combination of the author’s mastery of tone and his vivid descriptions of elderly Italian women trying to mow him down along with the lighthearted photos and drawings that liven up the text make this a winning volume and a good reason to see if there is a translation for the history of the 1914 Giro d’Italia referred to so often by the author. This is a book that encourages the reader to find more books, which is always the sign of a champion in my book.
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