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Books on bikes: Cycling in literature

Updated Thursday, 3rd July 2014
If all that activity is too much for you,  why not settle down with one of our choices of great writing about cycling?

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The Wheels Of Chance by HG Wells

Emile Zola Parisian author: Emile Zola Published 1896
The story focuses on the boneshakingly clunkly named Mr Hoopdriver. Hoopdriver - like Wells' later creation Mr Polly, and Wells himself - is a frustrated draper's assistant; his choice of escape is to use his ten days' holiday for a cycling tour of the South of England. Adventure, and a stuttering romance, ensues.

Three Men On The Bummel by Jerome K Jerome

Published 1900
A sequel to the more famous Three Men In A Boat, Jerome this time throws his characters into the Black Forest on a bummel - a German word for "a journey without an end" as one character explains. An end as in a purpose. The German setting allows Jerome to run through a collection of stereotypes and prejudices of the age, although not to such an extent that it stopped the book becoming a set text in some German schools for a while. General critical consensus suggests that this is a sequel which is more Grease 2 than The Godfather Part Two.

The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist by Arthur Conan Doyle

Published 1903
One of two Sherlock Holmes short stories to use a bicycle as a plot device, turning on the question of what sort of a man would hire a governess but make her ride a bicycle to work. Spoilers: a bad one. Also notable for Holmes having a fight in a pub.

Paris by Emile Zola

Published 1898
In the middle volume of Zola's trilogy exploring the failings of fin de siècle Catholicism, bicycles carry most of the characters, and much of symbolism. Zola was also pretty sharp on women who chose to dress more radically than conservative cyclists: "To think that some women are foolish and obstinate enough to wear skirts when they go out cycling!"

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Published 1889
Transported back in time and through space by a plot device, Hank Morgan uses his 19th century American knowhow to great effect in Early Middle Age England. Not least is his "invention" of the bicycle, providing Lancelot and the knights with a battle conveyance more effective than a horse.

Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage

Published 1983
More up-to-date to finish, with Barbara Savage's memoir of a two year trip cycling round the world. Although one hundred years after Zola's cyclists, for some of the 25 countries Savage and her husband visits a woman on a bike is no less pioneering - or daring.


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