Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy

by Tim Moore

People do peculiar things in the name of sport. Take the 2014 Giro d’Italia, for example (to the as-yet-uninitiated, the Giro is an annual stage cycling race held primarily in Italy that’s been running since 1909) which kicked off in Northern Ireland in May. Whilst some were simply content to dye some sheep the same shade of pink as the race leader’s jersey, others – well, Tim Moore to be precise – felt compelled to cycle the route of the toughest Giro in history to mark the centenary of that hellish race. Gironimo! charts his journey, from nascent crackpot idea to exhausting fruition.

boom reviews - Gironimo! by Tim Moore

Right now, cycling is enjoying a renaissance in the UK, perhaps because it’s a sport we seem to be good at. For the first time in its history, a Brit – Bradley Wiggins – won the Tour de France in 2012. We won the most medals – 12 in total, 8 of them gold – in cycling events at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and then another Brit, Chris Froome, only went and won the Tour de France again in 2013. Yet the darker side of professional cycling – specifically, the doping scandals associated with Lance Armstrong and friends – has dogged the sport in recent years. Moore’s personal response to this is to not only attempt to travel back to cycling’s distant, halcyon past by retracing the dusty tyre tracks of the 1914 Giro, but to do so on an antique bike that he is forced to rebuild himself from bits and pieces strewn across the continent. With subject matter like this, Gironimo! might be expected to sate the appetites of vintage enthusiasts, those with a passion for DIY, fans of cycle touring, avid followers of cycle races and sadists. But it might not slake the thirst of Tim Moore fans who were hoping for yet another brilliant, dryly witty, wryly observed, idiosyncratic travel tome in this, his ninth book.

For those as yet unacquainted with Moore’s work, he has picked out some unusual and inherently amusing subjects to date. Mode of travel is often a central feature of his writing: in Continental Drifter he elected to follow in the steps of one of the first Grand Tourists 400 years after the event in a decaying Rolls Royce; in Spanish Steps he followed an ancient 500 mile pilgrimage route from France to Spain, assisted by a borrowed, temperamental donkey; and this is the third time that the mighty bicycle has featured (in Frost On My Moustache he cycled across Iceland whilst retracing a Victorian gent’s travelogue, then in French Revolutions he followed the route taken by the Tour de France in 2000). Based on his previous form, it is understandable that fans would have high hopes for this book.

It all begins innocently enough. Starting with a quick Google, Moore finds himself absorbed into the world of professional cycling in the early 20th century and – we’ve all done it – immediately buys a book on his new specialist subject. Armed with this book, an account of the 1914 Giro by Paolo Facchinetti, he decides not only that he will retrace the route of this, apparently one of the most difficult races in professional cycling history, but he will do it on the kind of bike that would have been used in that race. Bearing in mind this was a time before gears and brakes became commonplace and that it is not easy to happen across a functional bike from that period, this is quite a task. So begins Moore’s journey – his quest to collect and assemble the right bits of the right sort of bike; his own arduous journey across Italy on the back of it, clad in age-appropriate, ridicule-inducing attire; and peppered throughout with flashbacks to the original race.

It’s certainly an interesting enough read. As he has done so many times before, he breathes new life into long-forgotten lives and their extraordinary feats. This time, he includes plenty of photos – of himself in silly outfits, of broken bike bits, of handlebar-moustachioed gents from bygone years. But whilst it might elicit the odd chuckle here and there, Gironimo! doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as entertaining as his previous travelogues. It's missing his usual razor sharp sparkle. Perhaps it is the subject matter that is slightly stale: he has, after all, already documented his attempt to follow another bike race elsewhere (French Revolutions). Part of Moore’s charm is his almost shambolic everyman persona and his professed lack of physical fitness, but after French Revolutions we already know he can probably cope with cycling this challenging route, even with the added peril presented by a decaying bike. Gironimo! seems perhaps a bit heavy on the geekery of vintage bikes and vintage cyclists, and even Moore acknowledges in the latter parts of the book that he has become a bit of a 1914 Giro bore, when he finds himself failing to be good company when his parents fly out to visit him.

Unfortunately, it is probably only going to be the most die-hard Moorephiles and those with a deep interest in cycling that will really enjoy this saddle-sore outing. It may get a bronze in the 'travel books about cycling written by Tim Moore' category but definitely places last in his entire back catalogue.

we give this three out of five