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Review: Big Rides, Great Britain and Ireland

Big bike rides are high profile right now.

You’ve got the likes of Emily Chappell doing extraordinary things and writing and speaking eloquently about them; pro cycling rebel Lachlan Morton leaping between disciplines and clocking up implausible mileage; and Mark Beaumont, the original ‘around the world’ guy, a kind of adventurous BBC polished establishment figure.

But of course any of us, with the right equipment, and a chunk of time on our hands, can head out for a big ride. That’s the beauty. We don’t need a media platform, an edgy-disruptive brand aware pro cycling team, or a curated Instagram account…we can just go.

We can hit the road, the trails, or the mountains. We can sleep in hedges or seek out 5* hotels. We can invite twenty friends or go solo. There are no rules.

That’s not to say you might not need a bit of guidance. A few tips from people who’ve done this. Maybe just some simple inspiration as to which direction to point your bike and what to look out for on the way.

Big Rides: Great Britain and Ireland, can do this for you.

Collated here are twenty-four big rides ranging from the relatively comfortable – the Great Western Way, 256 kilometres from Bristol to London, with a suggested completion of between two and four days – to the definitely very challenging Great North Trail, covering nearly 1300 kilometres from the midlands to the North of Scotland and taking in most of the mountain tracks in between.

There are road rides, mountain bike trails, gravel adventures, and any combination of those three. For those new to the concept of big rides the detail here is excellent. A selection of symbols attach to each route description to describe bike type needed, types of accommodation to be found en route, route characteristics (remote, steep, forested), and more.

Advice is also given on the favourable times of year to attempt the routes, recommended kit lists, tyre types to consider. For each ride, amongst all this detail, you get a text description for context – really well written, clearly by cyclists who’ve ridden the route – and a decent relief map for reference.

You wouldn’t carry this book with you, but it would help you decide what you should stuff in your bike bags, what bike bags to use, and what bike to hang them from.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the symbols are so comprehensive that my tiny cyclist’s brain is struggling to make sense of them, causing me to frequently flick back to the key at the front of the book. This could easily be a failing on my part; too many hypoxic climbs on the road bike have undoubtedly killed off some vital grey matter along the way.

As an experienced cyclist some of the detail is not relevant to me, but as a tool of inspiration Big Rides hits the spot.

Like most people, I fall into the trap of riding familiar roads regularly. Having had this book on my coffee table for a month I am now seriously thinking about the Wild Atlantic Way: 2765 kilometres along the rugged west coast of Ireland, an area it had never occurred to me to ride. And the Tour de Peak District, and area I grew up in but moved away from twenty five years ago, is all but in the diary.

Published by Vertebrate Publishing, pick yourself up a copy: Big Rides: Great Britain & Ireland – Vertebrate Publishing (v-publishing.co.uk)

Alternatively, this might be the Christmas gift this year for that person in your life who you just know has got a big ride or two in them, if only they had the right nudge in the right direction.

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