Er ist mit einem Esel über den Jakobsweg gepilgert, untrainiert die Tour de France nachgefahren und zuletzt auf einem DDR-Klapprad den Eisernen Vorhang entlang geradelt. Der Brite Tim Moore gehört zuden bekanntesten – und witzigsten – Reiseautoren der Welt. Im Interview mit dem Cyclin‘ Blog beschreibt der Londoner, warum er am liebsten per Rad reist, wieso Deutschland das Radfahr-Paradies ist -und was die gefährlichsten Situationen auf seinen Reisen waren.
In one of your first books you chose a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow to emulate the first grand tour of Europe, undertaken in 1608 by Thomas Coryate. Why did you change your means of transport later?
They started showing the Tour de France on TV when I was at university. It was broadcast just after a crappy afternoon quiz show that all lazy students watched, and because I was an especially lazy student I couldn’t be bothered to change channels. Anyway, I got hopelessly drawn into it – the drama, the pain, the heroism, the cheating.
All that said, I didn’t actually do much cycling until 2000, when I committed myself to riding the entire route of that year’s Tour de France and writing a book about it. Since then, that’s been the pattern – I don’t do any proper cycling for a few years, then go off and do far too much of it. It’s partly to do with living in London, which by north European standards is a pretty terrible city for cycling.
What do you enjoy most about cycling?
When cycling is good, it’s great. A bike takes you to places other modes of transport can’t. It’s like walking, but faster. Plus you properly interact with your environment, right down to the smells. And by riding that old DDR shopping bike all the way down the old Iron Curtain, which was a pretty stupid thing to do in most ways, I proved that the bicycle, even in its humblest incarnation, is a go-anywhere, do-anything machine. And if I can do it – in my fifties, with no preparation whatsoever – then anyone can. A shopper will always get you down the shops, even if they’re 9,000 kilometres away.
„You probably won’t die, but I do worry that you might go mad“, your wife said the night before your latest adventure. What was the most difficult or dangerous situation a) during your iron curtain voyage and b) in other adventures on a bike?
Finland in the middle of March was no place to be on a shopping bike. It was -22C one morning, and I rode through snow for almost three weeks. Up in the far north there’s nothing for miles and miles – sometimes 80km between houses, let alone towns. And sometimes no cars or people for hours. On my second day, I started to feel really hypothermic in the middle of nowhere – it was getting dark, and my Garmin and phone batteries had gone dead. One of the problems with hypothermia is that you feel sort of nonchalantly resigned to your predicament, so it was only the next day that I realised how much danger I’d been in.
Otherwise, riding my 1914 bike down the Alps from Sestriere was probably the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done on two wheels. I’d had to make my own brake pads from wine corks, as the bike had wooden rims and rubber pads would have melted from the friction. Cork doesn’t melt. But it also doesn’t work. I had to put both my feet on the road to try and slow down – when I finally stopped my feet were burning!
You are said to be afraid of insects. How do you deal with them during your travels?
Very badly. I’m pretty sure that if I do ever die on a bike it will be down to flapping about at a wasp that flew down my jersey or something. Cockroaches are the worst. My parents have a nice little house in Italy but I don’t go there because of the scorpions (even though they’re always tiny, and usually dead).
You have travelled Germany as well for „The Cyclist Who Went in the Cold“. What are your memories like? Did you enjoy travelling by bike here?
I’m not just saying this, but Germany is the best country on earth for cycle touring. I couldn’t get over the number of bike paths, or the quality of their surfaces. Out in the rural areas, German motorists were so unaccustomed to see a bike sharing an actual road with them that they didn’t know how to react. Plus traditional German food is the best-ever apres-velo fuel. Schnitzels the size of dustbin lids! The only real downside is the soundtrack. If you really must play „The Final Countdown“ on repeat play at full volume in your car, at least keep the windows up.
Your travelling seems to have been a legacy from your grandfather. Was he an adventurer, too?
Much more than me. He went off alone to Heidelberg in his late teens and studied there, right through the Weimar years. At the age of 73 he drove his Land Rover from London to India and back, through Iran, Afghanistan and so on. In between he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph – he was one of the first western journalists to travel through Stalin’s USSR. He hated plane travel, and even in the 1980s he was crossing the Atlantic in banana boats. When he was off on his big journeys he used to send us these really long and very funny letters. An inspiration without any doubt. Just before he died he gave all his grandchildren £3,000 each, with the proviso that it had to be spent on travel. I used my money in 1990, to go off on a tour of Eastern Europe just after the wall came down. That trip produced my first piece of published travel writing and set the template for my Iron Curtain bike ride.
Why do you prefer travelling on your own?
It’s not really a choice – nobody can spare three months to come and join me on some daft journey! It would definitely be more fun with company, but probably less interesting to read about. When you’re alone you tend to find yourself in more interesting situations, and relying on strangers to get you out of them. It certainly makes it more of a challenge, not least in the mental sense. There is no doubt that being completely alone for months, especially on a bike, does make you go slightly insane. In a good way! Also, as a cyclist I’ve acquired some pretty anti-social habits. I make up stupid and often offensive songs and bellow them for hours. I also spit quite a lot I’m afraid. Plus I like riding at my own pace: slow but steady. Mainly slow.
You've done the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia. When are you going to challenge the Vuelta a España?
Ha! I always get asked that. I’m not ruling it out, but in truth the Vuelta doesn’t have quite enough history for me. The Tour and the Giro are blessed with a surfeit of epic stories.
In an interview you said that you are interested in cycling in North Korea. Is this going to be your next destination?
The North Korean embassy is just up the road from my home in west London – it’s in a really boring suburban house. That’s always piqued my curiosity. I was probably joking about cycling around the country, and if the authorities read even two pages of one of my books they would never let me in. Kim Jong Un doesn’t seem the self-deprecatory type. It would be fascinating though. With China and India rapidly becoming car cultures, North Korea is one of the last countries on earth where the bike is still king.
Tim Moore: Mit dem Klapprad in die Kälte. Abenteuer auf dem Iron Curtain Trail, Covadonga Verlag, 14,80 Euro, 320 Seiten, ISBN 978-3-95726-017-8