The best books for a long bike ride

Who am I?

I’m a writer, musician, and psychiatrist, a member of the Philosophy Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the owner of far too many bikes. I cycled four thousand miles from Bristol in the UK to India. But I didn’t just want to write a travel book, I wanted to take apart my experiences with the tool kit of philosophy, and then put them back together again, in a long-distance bike ride. Freewheeling down the mountains, clutching at the brakes.

I wrote...

Mind is the Ride

By Jet McDonald,

Book cover of Mind is the Ride

What is my book about?

When Jet McDonald cycled four thousand miles to India and back, he didn’t want to write a straightforward travel book. He wanted to go on an imaginative journey. Mind is the Ride takes the reader on a physical and intellectual adventure from West to East using the components of a bike as a metaphor for philosophy, which is woven into the cyclist's experience. Each chapter is based around a single component, and as Jet travels he adds new parts and new philosophies until the bike is ‘built’; the ride to India is completed; and the relationship between mind, body, and bicycle made apparent.

The books I picked & why

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Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

By Dervla Murphy,

Book cover of Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

Why this book?

If you need a book to launch you on a long bike ride, or any adventure for that matter, this is it. The story moves like a rocket. Dervla cycled by herself from Ireland to India on a single-speed bike in 1963 with a pistol strapped to her leg. She doesn’t so much reflect on reality as inhabit it. This isn’t a travelogue that will change the way you look at the world. But it will make you want to go out and squeeze the zest from it.

The Problems of Philosophy

By Bertrand Russell,

Book cover of The Problems of Philosophy

Why this book?

Highly transportable. The dimensions, in fact, of a slice of toast. But like the best books, it towers over its word count. Bertrand Russell was the foremost British philosopher of his generation and here he gives a popular introduction to the problems of the trade. Whilst you may not always agree with Russell’s somewhat aloof, rational, take on the universe, you cannot help but admire the eloquence of his writing, the full fat breadth of his intellect, all the more impressive for such a wiry intellectual. Why take philosophy with you on a bike ride? Because cycling fundamentally changes the way we look at the world, it tilts the prism of our understanding.

Third Policeman

By Flann O'Brien,

Book cover of Third Policeman

Why this book?

Sometimes we need to be shaken up a bit, like a bike ride over hard cobblestones. And the Irish humorist Flann O’Brien does just that. In The Third Policeman, he introduces us to bikes that have absorbed the molecular makeup of their owners, so they no longer need to be ridden to the pub and can trundle off by themselves, to rural policemen who push and pull at the levers of time, to boxes that are packed within boxes within boxes within boxes. You may not always understand The Third Policeman. But you will almost certainly be delighted by your confusion.

Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time

By Jay Griffiths,

Book cover of Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time

Why this book?

I think I’ve hinted that a bicycle ride can play tricks with time. There are moments when coasting along, a bike ride can feel almost timeless. In this book, Jay Griffiths challenges everything we think we know about time. The tick. And the tock. The almost predatory power it has in Western life. And in counterpoint, she reaches into the non-linear chronology of indigenous cultures to show us a different way of moving forward, by moving sideways. Cycling may appear to be a linear mode of travel, transporting us from A to B, but, like Jay’s book, it is always taking us sideways, stitching us into the dashed line at the centre of the road, daydreaming us into timeless reverie.

Eastern Philosophy

By Mel Thompson,

Book cover of Eastern Philosophy

Why this book?

If Bertrand Russell’s book is about Western Philosophy, our rational need to investigate objects and minds, as unwilling observers, then Mel Thompson’s book explores the ideas of the East, where immersive philosophies don’t just employ thought, but also feelings and physical reactions, ritual, and meditation. Where mind and body aren’t just separate entities on the end of a stick, but an integral part of the environment that surrounds us. This eloquent book, equally unpatronising and rigorous, puts thicker tomes to shame. If you’re willing to believe that a long-distance bicycle ride is a pilgrimage of sorts, an experiment in self-understanding, then this book might just help you reach a different destination.

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