aust cyclist cover may jun 2003review


Book Review by Lynette Chiang (author of forthcoming book “The Handsomest in Cuba”, pub date July 01 , 2003)

Travel Website:


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 Cuba, 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 suggested 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. (However, 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 at 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 half 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. I would like to see cycle guides like this spiral bound with rounded corners and plasticized paper, given that cyclists are invariably caught 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 it 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.