when i moved to the isles over 25 years ago, the local bookseller had a slim volume on display in the window entitled the motorists' guide to jura. there's a strong likelihood that the apostrophe was conspicuous by its absence, but that's of no real nevermind because either the author was a tad over zealous or simply in possession of an advanced sesne of irony. basically put, there is really only one road on jura that goes from the ferry ramp at feolin all the way to george orwell's house at the top, though the last few miles are decidedly less than car friendly.
the existence of this publication (i have no idea if it is still in print) was the impetus for my cycling on islay section of the post, a rather basic summation of velocipedinal perambulation that might conceivably aid those visiting by bicycle for the first time. but in truth, islay is not the sort of place in which it is easy to get lost. in fact, in all the years i've been here, i can't say i've come across anyone who has actually managed to do so. yes, a few years ago several participants in the ride of the falling rain took a left instead of right, but that was mostly because they were engaged in conversation to the point of obliviousness.
that, however, is not to say i have not harboured thoughts of converting a few web pages into an illustrated guide that eager riders could fasten inside their bar bags. in fact, if i'm honest, i did sit down at one point, open my page layout software and type a few paragraphs of the first chapter, but that's as far as i got. some folks are just flaky.
thankfully, that's not an adjective that could be applied to the busy elves at imperial works in london's kentish town. unlike yours truly, they appear to have been burning the midnight oil on behalf of eight cities in europe. well actually nine. rapha originally produced what was termed their urban range as distinct from their more road-racing oriented apparel, but perhaps after several repetitive jibes from myself (and others), it was re-named the city-riding range. happily this gives me a whole new heading for poorly judged humour.
taking this continued investment in those encouraged to ride around the major cities of europe to its logical conclusion, rapha have now produced a set of eight compact, bijou and beautifully produced individual books that offer comprehensive advice for the intrepid traveller aboard a bicycle. paris, milan, london, copenhagen, berlin, barcelona, antwerp & gent (one book) and amsterdam. each is not only packed with desirable knowledge for those new to each metropolis, but beautifully yet simply illustrated by eight individual artists.
not available separately, they are delivered in a black hardcase bearing the embossed legend "Stylish, covetable, locally informed, fun - City Cyling Europe presents the best urban (there's that word again) locations, destinations and experiences for visitors on two wheels." the fact that the back of this case makes it plain that the contents relate solely to europe, might be taken to suggest that there will be further series concerning other continents. we live in hope.
each slim volume owns its own well-chosen colour scheme and begins with a fold out cover displaying a comprehensive map of the city under consideration, backed with a day on the bike, a concise trip around the city, detailing stops for breakfast, lunch and dinner along with pretty much all that can be seen from the saddle.
those of you who look forward to an issue of rouleur landing on the doormat each issue are going to love these books. for on opening as far as the contents page, that addictive aroma of ink on paper (recycled?) offers a heady accompaniment to the subsequent pages. as mentioned above, each book has been individually illustrated, and it's the combination of these and a pertinent attention to typography that make each of these volumes a compulsory delight.
after an introductory overview of each city, and having broken down each into sections, the subsequent chapters are packed with relevant, comprehensive and numbered detail related on a following map.
the narrative is impeccable. if i might quote from the paris book: "The neighbourhood we're exploring here extends west to the Place de Clichy and east almost to the rue de Clignancourt. Don't head up to the iconic, picturesque Montmartre without stopping on the way to experience the 'bobo' (bourgeois-boheme) rue des Martyrs in the South, which has a village-like feel." and again, from the London narrative: "Carnaby Street, despite its history, is not worth visiting. Try Newburgh Street instead, or duck into Kingly Court for more boutiques, or back rubs and yoga if it all gets too much."
this is informal travel writing at its finest. though not specifically attributed to any author, the production of the whole set is accredited to andrew edwards and max leonard of tandem london, a 'design, print and editorial studio.' they have done a sterling job even down to the listing of food, coffee and wi-fi locations ending each chapter.
if, perchance, your cycling activities lean more towards rapha's training and racing catalogue than necessarily the city riding, each book has a chapter heading to suit, mentioning any notable contemporary riders and those from days past, along with note of any organised rides and local clubs. this is followed in each case by essential bike info including local riding etiquette, safety, security, bike hire and relevant transport info. there's also a comprehensive index of links and addresses and space for notes at the back.
however, no matter the quality and quantity of writing and eclectic illustration, the biggest aid to getting around has to be the quality of the maps, and those included in each volume are not only aesthetic but accurate and well presented, though the rapha pocket-sized dimensions of each page means that the type size might unduly strain your eyesight. there's not a chance you could read one of these atop a bar bag. apart from the map across the gatefold cover and those sandwiching each chapter, there are further maps at the back of each book. getting lost will surely require considerable effort.
i'm such a reticent traveller that i have only ever visited london and paris, but only cycled in the former. however, even on the basis of being simply an international armchair cyclist, this collection is intriguing enough in its own write (see what i did there?) to be worth perusing from the comfort of your own home. a beautiful enhancement to any of the items in rapha's city riding range even if you don't own any.
published by rapha/thames and hudson, the set of eight city guides are available from the rapha website very soon at a cost of £25.
monday 21 october 2013