PLANET: CYCLING CUBA
Book Review by Lynette
Chiang (author of forthcoming book “The
in Cuba”, pub date July 01 , 2003)
Travel Website: http://www.bikefriday.com/lynette
Great roads, great people. What two better reasons for a cyclist
to point his/her front tyre in the direction of the land everyone seems
to have a second-hand opinion about? Like an expertly packed pannier,
this compact guide not only covers almost every bikeable corner of
it neatly crams in all you need to know about cycle touring, camping,
maintenance and (if you are so disciplined) preparatory training. The
authors have cycled Cuba eight times, and we benefit handsomely.
Right up front is an excellent Table of Rides - a summary of
42 self-contained, individually mapped routes ranging from half-hour
spins to 5 day expeditions. String them together in the manner
and you have a logical, 76 day, sub-4000 km journey covering the island
end to end.
A generic section “Your Bicycle”, neatly describes how to
choose and maintain a standard touring bike. It looks suspiciously like
an ad for Cannondale bicycles, and I’m not sure why the bike features
slow, knobby tyres rather than touring tyres, as most of Cuba is paved
as is much cycle touring. Also, given the hassle and cost of
transporting a conventional bike on airlines, trains and whoever else
might want to hit you up, I was disappointed to see only a passing
mention about folding travel bikes, as some are now truly viable
alternatives to a standard bike, especially for smaller women.
I am probably biased, as I ride one).
The route maps are detailed with cue sheets and elevation
diagrams for the hillier parts, though if you’re like me and have a
congenital defect regarding direction (and always expect to see North
the top of the page) you might find yourself turning your head in
strange angles to get oriented.
Throughout the book, lively boxes describe things that
distinguishes Cuba from the rest of the world: the ration system, the
guesthouse system, the dual money system, the hustling system, the
System….even Elian Gonzales, making it a riveting general read in its
own right. A nice inclusion is a history of cycling in Cuba itself.
I’ve always found LP guides user-friendly but sometimes a
bit chunky and verbose, ideally suited to armchair pre-travel rather
than frantic thumbing as your truck ride is pulling away. The first
is worthy of several bedtime readings before setting off. “Extra
Strength to Fold and Go” - I guess this means you can bend the spine
back on itself (perish the thought) for stowing in your handlebar bag.
would like to see cycle guides like this spiral bound with rounded
corners and plasticized paper, given that cyclists are invariably
in wind and rain.
I cycle camped across Cuba in 2000 using a messy mixture of
hearsay and printouts from the internet, and as far as I can see, this
book covers it all - no reasonable rut left unridden. I would augment
only with the following for potential cyclists to put attention to: 1.
Food (lack of). 2. Food (lack of). And watch for wandering fingers
around your panner zips – no doubt my Ritchie Cool Tool is the central
asset in a Cuban bike repair shop by now.
Buy this guide and head over, before the buena vista of Cuba
becomes less so.
Copyright 2003 Lynette Chiang All Rights Reserved.