The Tour de Tuli takes cyclists through parts of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, traveling along elephant trails and past all kinds of wildlife. A photo of the event features cyclists passing a giraffe. A difficulty rating calls the route “extreme — and even tougher if you encounter charging elephants.” It is a six-day bike safari covering roughly 200 miles. And it is exactly the type of trip you expect in a book entitled “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die.”
While bucket-list books inevitably encourage debate about what makes the cut and what doesn’t, “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die” negotiates its varied terrain skillfully. Author Chris Santella asked cycling experts for suggestions, yielding some unexpected destinations and routes with various degrees of difficulty. That said, the book is best used as a starting point, an introduction to the many cycling tours out there. For some cyclists, it may open up new areas for exploration — the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada; the rice fields of Bali; or the roads from Hanoi to Angkor Wat. Or, it may confirm the appeal of certain destinations like California’s wine country or western Ireland or Majorca, Spain, where many professional cyclists train.
Santella followed no set criteria, but generally included routes that offer either breathtaking scenery, unique culture, tasty culinary offerings, or all of the above. He recognizes the subjectivity of his endeavor, listing rides that will suit avid cyclists who crave high mileage and tough climbs and others that will please casual cyclists who prefer frequent stops at French bistros and Italian wine tastings. For cyclists who fall somewhere in between, the itineraries seem somewhat flexible with detours to take or skip.
The book includes mostly off-the-beaten-path trips, making some urban destinations seem a little out of place. I’m not sure New York City and Portland, Ore., merit top 50 inclusion. Of the 50 destinations, 24 feature roads in either the United States or Canada with the Portland, Ore.-based Santella favoring the Pacific Northwest with three routes in Oregon and two in Washington. Yet, having cycled through different parts of Oregon, it’s hard to argue with Santella’s home region bias. Of the remaining 26 routes, two feature South or Central America, two cover parts of Africa, six pedal through Southeast Asia and Oceania, and 16 tour Europe.
Still, some omissions stand out. No treks through popular cycling spots in Germany or Austria? My most memorable and most scenic bike trip climbed from Salzburg, Austria, to the Salzkammergut lake district east of the city. So, it surprised me that Austria makes only a few-day cameo in the Prague-to-Vienna trip. But part of the book’s fun is the debate it encourages, even with well-made cases for each selection.
The entries offer brief, yet thorough, descriptions of bike routes with nearby options like Maine’s Casco Bay region and Vermont’s Champlain Valley and faraway destinations like New Zealand’s South Island and Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge. Depending on the place, the entry highlights local history or food or geography and provides just enough information to encourage further exploration. And for the most part, the entries are colorful and informative enough to make for interesting reading even if places like Lithuania’s coast or Thailand’s Golden Triangle never make your cycling bucket list.
At the end of each route description, the “If you go” information takes the suggested itineraries from the plant-a-seed stage to actual planning. It lists the nearest airports and best airlines to use, as well as the best time to try each route, the level of difficulty, duration of each trip, and options for accommodations and guided tours.
With tips like that, “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die” gets adventurous cyclists going in the right direction. The real challenge comes once they start pedaling.