Spokesmen Cycling Podcast
EPISODE 244: Cycling Is Left Wing—You’ll Never See Donald Trump On a Bicycle
Monday 11th May 2020
TOPIC: All about Jack, including his background and his views on whether cycling is a left wing thing.
1970s bike boom article on Forbes.com
“Wild Swimming” and other books from Wild Things Publishing.
Framebuilder Richard Hallett.
(Cycling is left wing? Read right-winger P.J. O’Rourke’s famous polemic on the subject.
MACHINE TRANSCRIPT (there will be typos):
Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 243 [WRONG! it’s 244] of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This episode was engineered on Monday 11th of May 2020. The spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Jensonusa.com/thespokesmen.
David Bernstein: Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fred cast cycling podcast at www.Fred cast.com. I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For show notes, links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at www.the-spokesmen.com. And now, here are the spokesmen.
Hi there. I’m Carlton Reid and this is another long show. Now, I’m okay with the lockdown extended episodes and I hope you are too. Today’s show is a chat with podcaster Jack Thurston, author of the Lost lanes series of books. Now until doing the background research for this show, I hadn’t realised Jack has a political background and you can hear us discussing/arguing/discussing/discussing whether cycling is a left wing thing or not.
So I have got Jack Thurston and with me today, so this is like an inside baseball kind of show so we’re both podcasters jack is hi jack. How long have you been doing the bike show?
Jack Thurston 1:59
Well, the bike show started in 2004, as a radio show on resonance FM in London, and then it lit, I got an email from a listener in 2005 saying, Can you make your radio programme into a podcast? And I kind of look, I didn’t know what podcast was. And so I looked at looked it up, and it looked incredibly geeky, and I thought, Oh, well, this is this this sound but this sounds good. This means that people can listen, you know, even if they live more than five kilometres from our radio antenna, which is where, you know where we were in London. I thought this is great. And I instead of speaking to a tiny corner of southeast London, I could speak to the world. So yeah, 2005 I think was was May 2005, which is kind of around about the birth of podcasting.
Carlton Reid 2:49
So it was a radio show in London. The Resonance FM is what
Jack Thurston 2:59
ResonanceFM is officially a community FM station, which is is this kind of, sort of so amateur stations have access to this quite low powered FM signal that they can use. But resonance is kind of I think it’s a cut above your typical community radio station. It describes itself as an art radio station or a radio art station. And it’s it’s got a lot of things that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. And strange stuff like 12 hours, rock climbing up some rocky face in the mountains that just recorded everything and just played it out as the guy climbed up the mountain, or unusual music, interesting cultural discussions, sound art, all kinds of stuff. It’s really good. It’s really good. And I think they thought that there was an interesting interconnection between cycling and bicycles and creativity and ingenuity and The arts and I kind of made a pitch and and there it was. Yeah. So I had a half an hour a week on that. But when I moved down to Wales in 2013, it was very difficult to just keep supplying them because I didn’t have access to the studio. So the podcasts dwindled, somewhat as my listeners will be very much aware. I imagine there are quite a few people listening to your podcast who also listen to mine. So but for those that don’t, it’s not it’s become a little less regular. Over the years since since leaving London really just because you haven’t got a radio station cracking the whip saying, you know, 630 Yeah, there you are in the studio, you got to do something. It’s like, oh, should I do a podcast this week? Oh, no, I’ve got a, you know, weed the garden or mine, the kids or writer, travel guidebook or whatever other things that you have to do in life, other than podcasts.
Carlton Reid 4:55
I did go to your studio, because I was on your show a number of years ago. I think it was Jonathan Stevenson was on the show and we were talking about was it has been a bike boom has not been a bike, you know now that’s a very pertinent question because yes there is even though at the time I was saying actually No there isn’t john and this is the argument of my book, but now we do have a bike boom so all of that cultural significance, art the all of these things that were coming into twined in your show then and now coming in just a blooming now jack is there
Jack Thurston 5:30
is there data on that, Carlton? I’m presume you’re talking about Coronavirus, locked down bike boom. So very quite recent, really because we’re only what are we six eight weeks into Coronavirus era. And is there data on this kind of stuff because the data you and I tend to look at is sort of travel surveys, annual cap traffic counts and things like that. But well, what are your indicators that there is a bike boom
Carlton Reid 5:57
there are traffic jams. counters that are picking up, a rise like 200% rise in various boroughs of London also there’s those kind of stuff but where I’m getting most of my and it’s anecdotal. But where I’m getting most of my stuff from is trade only websites that bike shops plug into. And they are saying almost identical things that bike shops in the 1970s American bike boom were saying which was we can’t get bikes for love no money. People are travelling from all over the country because we’ve got a bike and virtually all the bike shops that are open, have have had the last two weeks I’ve been their best ever trading in in, you know, 30, 40 years of being in business is what I’m hearing. Not all bike shops are Oh, that’s fascinating.
Yeah, and it’s exactly the same in the US. You know us are exactly the same. So when I did a story on Forbes of the day about the 1970s bike boom, that’s gaining traction in the US like you wouldn’t believe. Because people didn’t realise a lot of people didn’t realise like millennials didn’t realise that we’ve been here before. There was, in fact, a much, much bigger boom, than the mountain bike boom, for instance, was happening in the 1970s. And when you go and look at the 1970s anecdotes from bike shops, talking about how they can’t get stock, it’s exactly the same now, but that bike boom took four years. This one’s taken two weeks, it really has ripped through the bike industry.
Jack Thurston 7:38
So my question for you is what because what I found very interesting from your description of the American bike boom in the 1970s, in your book, is that it was basically a leisure oriented bike boom. It wasn’t anything to do with the oil crisis. It came before the old price it was it was to do with manufacturing. Have 10 speed, you know, racing bikes and a kind of certain amount of fashion and baby boomers and that kind of kind of conjunction of phenomena, but and with everyone working from home or shut out shut out of their workplaces apart from, you know, a handful of key workers, or not a handful, but you know, a relatively small part of the population. Is this current bike boom.
leisure based as well.
Carlton Reid 8:27
Cos it’s literally two weeks, we don’t know. But
Jack Thurston 8:30
yeah, I mean it people are buying bikes because they’re cooped up in their houses. The government has said you can go for a walk around or a cycle. There’s no traffic on the roads. I mean, I’ve certainly noticed it in Africa or anywhere I live which the small town in the UK in Wales, in not far from the English border, which you know, has got a good sort of road club and cycling community but nobody really rides bikes here. You know, you wave and say hi to people, if you see someone else on a bike, here. Which is a remarkable coming from London in 2013. But I definitely have noticed more families out people, you know, couples out not wearing helmets, you know, your typical sort of people who are just like oh, Cycling is a nice way just to poke around the hedgerows and get a bit of exercise and I can do it safely. Because there’s no traffic.
Carlton Reid 9:19
Exactly. That’s that’s absolutely what’s happening around the country certainly in urban areas that mean I I live in a, like a country lane, but in a big city. And it’s just it’s just family after family after family coming past, some of them clearly kidneys, and you know that the whole family’s probably been bursting to get out. But then there are lots of families who like I bet this is the first time they’ve been out as a family on a bike on a public road. Pretty much ever. Yeah. And you’re right so it’s an awful lot of it is is recreational, some of that will rub off to transport Cycling eventually. But anyway, I’m asking the questions, jack. This is very naughty of you. Yeah, I was wondering, I was wondering how long it would take before you start asking me questions. But let’s go back. Let’s get back to the bike boom later. Let’s go into Abergavenny and let’s go into 2013 that life change. So why did you move in 2013? Who did you move with? And why Abergavenny?
Jack Thurston 10:29
Well, I will. The answer to that is is basically my wife.
She is original her family’s originally from here. She her business is gardens, plants, gardening, she’s garden designer and landscape designer. And we were living in a small flat in central London with no garden, and she had an opportunity to look after the garden that had belonged to her grandmother. Which is really nice. And we were expecting a baby. And we just thought, Well I just thought I’m totally up for this she wants to move because the garden and you know being in a more so natural setting, and all her family connections down here and I thought you know what? time just is passing too quickly. In London. I’ve been lived in London for Well, all my life really I had a couple of years away in California when I did my master’s degree and then I was away for undergraduate. Basically, I was a Londoner, and years, we’re just going past I don’t know, as you get older, you feel like the years just just whizzed by, and you don’t remember exactly what there’s difference between what was happening in 2000 to 2007 2009. They just kind of repeated themselves almost. And so I was ready for change. And I just thought, Yeah, let’s do it. And it was really it was really exciting. And I mean, it’s great for cycling down here. The town sort of promotes itself as the Welsh capital of cycling, which is Maybe a little bit optimistic. But you know we have got there is good cycling in every direction and there’s a decent cycling community as it were very much on the sports side, good youth club for kids learning, cyclocross, mountain biking and stuff like that. So yeah, it’s been I haven’t looked back really. I mean, I still love London when I go but I haven’t been when I went last went up to London, just before the lockdown and been for two years before that, so you know, it’s there in my mind. But to be honest, I’ve I’ve doing what I do with writing cycling travel books. I it’s been other parts of the country that I’ve been going to since since we began so
Carlton Reid 12:41
jack, this is why I’ve got you on the show. We are going to talk about that. Of course we’re going to talk about it at great length. I want to talk about the history of cycle touring and and where you fit into that with your cloth badges for you know, cutting duck panniers or wherever people are putting their their cloth badges. And I do want to get into that. But I’m interested in 2013. Because 2013 is obviously a key year because you moved, but it’s also when you first started doing lost lanes. So was that move and lost lanes? are they connected?
Jack Thurston 13:20
Well, it takes a little bit of time to write a book, as I think you’re more than a way and Colton. They don’t just pop out the publication date is sometimes misleading as to the genesis of a book. And now I mean, I like to say that, and that is the way I feel about it is that there’s the writing loss lanes in 2012, which is when I did the bulk of the research, and the actual photography and the writing was a kind of farewell tour of all my favourite cycling haunts, within, you know, half an hour. You know, train ride from London, basically. The places that I’ve been cycling for the last 20 years, either riding down to Kent, and hopping on the train bit further afield or riding out to Essex. So a few London rides as well in the book, and it was basically my chance to do all these rides with some friends if I could rope them in and produce a book about it. I mean, the, the the actual, the actual story that should give you the true story is that my friend Daniel Starr, who I have known since I was 1213, we were at school together and we started a cycling club at school in the sick form, because we didn’t want to do like the boring games where you have to run around you know, muddy pitches and get kind of ritually humiliated by horrible PE teachers and kind of sporty children. We started this cycling club which is basically a cycle touring club, you know, we went get the train out to Hartford cheer with a pack lunch. For a few hours and then come back cycle maybe you’re dead like 25 miles, or something like that. So he, he had written a very successful book about swimming in in nature called Wild swimming which is all about swimming in lakes and waterfalls and in the state of them
Carlton Reid 15:18
because there’s a coast one as well. Isn’t that I bought both of them out. Yeah, the time so yeah,
Jack Thurston 15:22
that great book. There’s a coast one. So we were cycling down the Northumberland coast towards where you live, actually, we’ve got the train up to barrack upon tweed. And we were heading down to Newcastle on a basically a research trip for him. Looking at wild swimming spots along the Northumberland coast for that very book you’ve got and it was me, him another guy, Karen and his dog in the trailer, in and out of a trailer, kind of just wild camping on the way and trying to take nice pictures of swimming spots and find interesting places to swim. And we were just chatting to you know, as you do In the evening about things and he was wanting to sort of set out on his own in the publishing enterprise and not be published by somebody else. But he was desperate to have a Haney in order to so it’s a little bit tedious. But basically, in order to set up as a publisher and not be like a vanity press, kind of self publishing type of thing, you need to have like a list of books that aren’t just your own. So he said that just Can you do a cycling book? And I’ve never written a book before. And he said, Well, you don’t actually maybe you don’t even need to write it. But as long as we can just put it in the catalogue, then I can take the catalogue around the distributors, and then I’ll look like a legitimate publishing house and they will therefore stock my wild swimming books. And you know, they will take all my words to me. And so that’s where kind of Lost Lanes came from really was dreaming up an idea for for a book and we went through loads of different kind of ideas of what might work I just, I mean, ultimately lost lanes is, is very much a kind of my interpretation of well, not my interpretation, my reinterpretation of a book that’s been around for ages, you know, but I think I’ve got a book from 1899 accord, short spins around London during the boom of the 1890s it’s just someone sharing their favourite rides of roots, giving a little bit of description and colour and a few tips on on places to go and stop off along the way and get some food and drink and, and that kind of thing. And, you know, obviously taking advantage of you know, what you can do with a book now and how you can make a book with lots of beautiful colour photographs that you couldn’t do in the 1890s.
Carlton Reid 17:46
Well, they had lots of line illustrations. Then they had an evocative Patterson type, you know, that’s the 1930s of course, but
Jack Thurston 17:57
yeah, pre passes, but
Carlton Reid 17:58
there were there weren’t before that It was tougher. So that’s that’s very much you’re you’re in the historic eight guys there because cycle touring books back then and today, they’ve got to evoke stuff, they’ve got to look pretty, they can’t just be you know, fantastic text. And I’ve got to say the photography in your book that you’ve you’ve taken a wonderful so that’s that’s probably for me impressed more than 50% of the book and your words are good I love your introduction in the in the latest one which we’ll talk about in a minute, but it’s the photographer you can just flick through that and then I’m going for a ride them. And then I don’t know how many people actually read every single word but it’s the photographs that get you out there. Would you agree that it’s the photographs are probably more important than the words?
Jack Thurston 18:49
Yeah, and that was advice that Daniel my publisher gave me on the basis of his wild swimming books that that you know his wild Subarus are full of beautiful pictures of people jumping in to waterfalls and driving off bridges and that kind of thing. And it really does make you want to be there. That’s what that’s what my criterion is for, whether I include a photograph in the book or whether I present it in a, you know, big in the book, because I do all the photo layout as well. And it’s about making people think I really want to be there. And that’s, you know, that’s, I do sometimes look at landscape photographers who, who, who, you know, have a lot of kids have a lot of time plan their shoots really carefully and they produce incredible, beautiful, amazing results. And I feel a bit insecure when I compare my stuff to their stuff but but my stuff is sort of slightly doing a different job. It’s because this these are actually photographs that I take while I’m out wrecking the rides. And so they are there at the moment I don’t have I can’t wait for the light to be a certain way at a certain place. I just have to take the photograph and just be lucky. I suppose. But it’s about Yeah, it’s about, yeah, the photography and digital photography. I mean, it’s made it possible for me as a relatively amateur photographer, I would not have been able to afford to have all the film and processing that you would have had to done if you wanted to take a trip like this in the 90s. And where and when I look back at the books that I used to use it, this sort of this kind of vein, I think of the cotton books, so you probably know Nick cotton, I don’t I
Carlton Reid 20:31
published one of his books, the our family cycling guide,
Jack Thurston 20:35
we got all sorts. Yeah.
I mean, his books are great, the rides are great. There was a useful information in them very practical, but they didn’t really make you want to go and do them. If they if you knew what they were and you think okay, well, I can use this book as a tool. So I used to try and get my friends to come cycling with me my house. Nate’s been living in the house sharing in Waterloo, and I was much more keen on cycling than than any, some of them were. And so I just I realised that you could just tell people, oh, we’re gonna go out to Kent and ride 40 miles. Like that was not appealing to people, or, or people’s partners, you know, their friends bring along their partners or new new people who hadn’t done much cycling, kind of, we’re just gonna go to Kenton cycle 40 miles, if you say, we’re gonna go out to Kent, it’s just the right time for the blossom in the in all the fruit fields. We’re going to visit six different kinds of windmill. And then we’re going to stop at this pub where they do a really good, like, certain kind of pie and we’re going to sit in the garden and have beer which is brewed just down the road. And then we’re going to the end we’re going to swing by this place where we can all have a jump in the river. If it’s warm. You know, that is a whole different proposition. Then you’re actually basically saying, Do you want to come and have a day in the countryside, and it happens to be by bike. Rather than, like we’re going to go out and cycle 40 miles. So the books, the books in a way of trying to kind of do that with the text, because I try and give the the rides a theme or a story or some kind of connection that the people can make with it. But then also with the photographs, you know, I’m able to do that. I’m able to show show what it what it will feel like what it might feel like but then again, it might not feel like that because I was there in April. And you might be writing in October every bike ride is different and in a way, I hope people don’t feel disappointed if they don’t see what is in the books but then I hope they will also be thrilled if they see something that’s different from what’s in the books but equally amazing and I I feel confident that that is exactly what will happen because Cycling is just such a wonderful way to see a place. So check I’ve got
Carlton Reid 22:51
I’ve got two books in front of me. So I’ve got your new one, the last lanes North which clearly I know an awful lot of the roads you were you were doing them And it’s it can be a bleak landscape. And then also your your photographs there have captured that really well. You know, the kind of the, the, the loneliness of the countryside, where you don’t maybe get those pies in a pub, because you’re probably about two hours from a pub that’s going to have anything when you’re in Northumberland, but then I’ve got your first book or the 2013 book, which was in 36, glorious bike rides in southern England. And then I flick through and then you see a woman in a flowery dress, riding a bike. So this is not like hardcore, there are photographs of you where you look a bit more hardcore. You look bit more touring cyclicity but then you’ve got photographs of people who are clearly not and you’re really out with them at the same time. So you’re deliberately trying to, which is what I used to deliberately do with on your bike magazine, which was not take people photograph People in lycra basically try and spread it around.
Jack Thurston 24:06
Yeah, I mean, I’m not pathologically against lycra I if I go out for a sort of energetic blast around my local area, I will sometimes wear a pair of lycra shorts and if it’s hot and it kind of has a cooling effect on the body, and it’s comfortable, but if you’re, if you’re if I’m out for a whole day, and I’m stopping for lunch, and maybe having a cream tea or something like that, actually, I feel a bit. I don’t really like to wear that kind of tight fitting clothing all day. I just like to wear normal clothes or sort of normal hiking, walking clothes that people would wear. I just feel that that’s, that’s practical, and people should wear what they what they feel comfortable in. Ultimately, that that picture I think the one you’re thinking of, is is my wife Sarah, and she just was wearing that dress. I think because it was a hot day. And yeah, I, I think I think it can be off putting. I mean, we you know, you know this more than I do, you were doing this long before I even started doing anything to do with cycling in the media. It presenting cycling as an activity for which you have to get topped up in a particular way via which you have to get topped up in a particular not that you can get topped up in a particular way. But the the activity the bicycle requires you to dawn, a certain kind of uniform. And I think that’s obviously going to be off putting, that’s obviously going to be off putting in particularly when it’s not true. You know, obviously, if you’re going to go rock climbing, then yes, there are probably some practical, got things that you need, or maybe they’re not, maybe that’s a bad example, I guess if you’re going to go scuba diving, you probably do want to wear a wetsuit, if you’re going to go to a cold place go scuba diving, it’s probably a good idea to have a wetsuit, but I don’t think that lycra is the sort of cycling equivalent of a way suit for scuba diving you don’t have to wear it you can wear it if you like it, but we people who are comfortable wearing it should not underestimate the degree to which it alienates cycling as an activity from the sort of mental sense of possibility in the average person in the population.
Carlton Reid 26:24
So in the from the press release that I’ve got here, which is about lost lanes North it’s all about how how successful you’ve been so well done. You’ve actually made and it’s not easy to make a book sale. I mean, bestsellers can be you know, 5000 copies sometimes so to make a bicycle book, sell well, is good going. So have you done that? Have you have you? Have you plugged into something?
Jack Thurston 26:55
I think the firt I mean, the first, the first one, the last day in southern England. Sold really well, I think somewhere around 30,000 copies, I don’t know what they say the press release something like that. And the subsequent ones, Wales and West have sold a fraction fractions of that. So, you know, more like 10,000 or 6000 stuff that kind of that kind of range. So it’s a big difference. I think the first one did well, partly because there are a lot of people cycling in London, even back in 2013. It went in the non bike boom, or whatever it was, there simply are a lot of people who cycled to work. And I think I was tapping into the idea that Hey, you got this bike that you started to work every day or some days. How about using it to go and have a nice day in the countryside, and also the fact that every ride was pretty much accessible from Central London on a train journey. Whereas you know, if you live were you doing in Newcastle and you want to do a ride in Lancashire. You know that That’s a long way away. It’s a it’s not inevitably with the rail network and transport links being the way they are a book based around the kind of hub of London as a as a public transport hub with this incredible network of or not a network just spokes that go out into the greenbelt of London is appealing because it means that if you live in London, you can basically do all the rides and there are 8 million people who live in London quite a lot of them ride bikes. And it also got picked up I think by a few gift shops. They have these gift shops at railway stations Oliver bonus. And I think the gifting market for cycling stuff, you can is good because it’s a bit like gardening or golf or recipe book. I don’t know what else.
Carlton Reid 28:47
It’s kind of a recipe for where maybe, maybe?
Jack Thurston 28:50
Yeah, it’s that thing of like, oh, what do I get that person? Oh, they’re really into in, you know, insert the word could be cycling, could be gardening, could be golf. So you could pick up some sort of silly knickknacks, like a tea towel with a bicycle logo on it or a notebook with a bicycle logo on it and, or mug. And yeah, we’ve all received these gifts, I’m sure you have Christmases and birthdays and things like that. And you’re like, your heart kind of sinks in you just because it’s got a bicycle logo does doesn’t mean I’m gonna just love this, this note pad or these paper clips or whatever they are. But I think but i think you know, a nice chunky book with attractive cover. And I mean, I should pay tribute to the guy who did the illustration Andrew profit he’s done. He’s really evoked sort of the classic iconography of cycle touring in the golden age of the 30s 40s 50s and travel, you know, travel brochures of that era, but I think is taking it forward into his own style. And I think people just immediately pick up the book because it’s got a kind of zingy cover, and then open it up and go, Oh, there’s lots of nice pictures. I would like to be there. And, and this will be great for my friend who’s really into cycling or by relative or my son or my So the gifting market as publishers call it has been good to us with with with lost lanes, but I have to say the first one is the one that has kept me doing them in terms of Finance. So thank you to everyone who’s bought lost lanes, Southern England and to everyone who hasn’t bought a west or a Wales for North.
Come on, come on. So let’s talk about
if that’s not too much of a holiday,
Carlton Reid 30:25
well, I’m gonna I’m gonna I’m definitely we’re gonna segue we’re gonna we’re gonna slip it in and out of different themes out cuz you mentioned income. I would like now to go into to your income and talk about you as what you do as a day job. So when I do my research here, you know, find out what jack Burson does is like, hang on, co founder of farm subsidy. I didn’t know anything about this special advisor to the Newcastle MP Nick Brown, who I’ve had a few run ins with before and I didn’t know any of this transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall fund of the United States. Wow. I didn’t know any of this. So jack, tell us about jack.
Jack Thurston 31:09
the mask is lifted. No, I mean, I, I think I think the 2013 was a sort of pivotal year because that was the kind of year when I I stopped doing a lot of that work on actually quite happily, I felt a little bit burnt out by what I had been doing for the previous 10 years and what I had been doing for the previous 10 or 15 years is working in, in politics, Public Policy Research. That kind of area I started working as a researcher for for Nick brown just after immediately after leaving University as like, I mean researcher is glorified way of putting it I was, I was you know, I did photocopying, I made cups of tea, open the post, you know, bank area, that kind of thing. And in a small Office of an MP. And the nice thing about working in the small office of an MP is that they do get to see you. And if you can do something, you know more than just opening the post and making the tea, then then you know, that will get noticed. And you can then you know, accrue more work because they’ve ultimately, none of them have got enough especially in in opposition when it’s just them. And they’re there. They’re small, two or three members of staff, you there’s more work to be done than they have got staff to do it. So there’s always opportunities if you want to, if you want to kind of get you know, get on as it were. It’s just getting that foot in the door really. And weirdly, actually, what I asked him after was Why did you give me that job? Like, why did you you get you know, get MPs get letters every week or more than that, you know, saying from young, pushy politics graduates saying Can I have a job in your office sort of thing. And it was weird that he looked he looked, he looked through it. And there were two things that’s stuck out on my CV. It has nothing to do with my, you know, academic qualifications or anything like that. One of them was that I’d done some work at university on HIV and AIDS like awareness, which I think he thought was, was good. And and also I cycled across Romania with in with a friend exactly my friend Daniel who published my books with we saved up money from working and got a little travel bursary from our universities and flew across to Romania and spent six weeks cycling around I think he thought that was a bit different from what he normally got. So to all if there’s any I don’t know if there’s any young people listen to this podcast there’s that there’s no young people listen to my podcast, Carlton, but you know, it the things that you did
the things that you do outside, you know, your cycling, you know,
it shows you got an independent spirit and, and a sense of can do so anyway. started working for Nick and just carried on with him for for a while, and then ended up as a special advisor, the Ministry of Agriculture when he was the agriculture minister. So I still write helping writing speeches and research and carrying and all the rest of it. And during that time, I kind of got to see how screwed up. agricultural policy was pretty much everywhere around the world, but particularly bad. It felt like in Europe, paying money, loads of money to the wrong kind of people for doing the wrong kind of things with their land. And I thought, having stopped doing that work. And having left Nick and kind of was on my own thinking that if people knew where this money went, if people just knew how much money was going to the queen, the Duke of Westminster, Eton College, all these big companies, they would surely say there’s got to be a better way. So I then saw I started working on a kind of freedom of information campaign in Britain working bit with a Guardian newspaper, and some journalists there who specialised in that, too, because because I knew because I’d worked on the inside, and I knew where all the information was in the government department, we could kind of target those requests quite specifically, and make it hard for them to refuse. And, and eventually, we won, or I won, and with the Information Commissioner ruled in my favour, and we’ve got all this data on who gets what the level of the individual farmer so you know, you could say you could say, you can look up the queen, you could look up all these rich people and see how much tax money they were getting. And then and then I took for the next few years taking that model around Europe and getting other activists and journalists doing the same thing in different European countries. And then we ran a website, massive data site like big data, big data before big data was a thing where you could actually search all this stuff and And you could search by your postcode and find out who the big recipients of farm subsidies were in your area. And I hoped that it would, you know, drive a sort of reform of the of the whole system, and we’d end up with a much better system. But you know, that that didn’t really work out for lots of different reasons. And I felt so I felt a bit, you know, you work at something for 10 years. And, and you kind of feel like you’re in a worse position than you were when you started. And you just kind of, it’s difficult not to feel a little bit disillusioned, like you could just carry on for another 10 years and another 10 years, and then you’d be like, 70, and you’d be the guy who campaigned for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and didn’t achieve it. And that would be that with your life, and I just thought, that’s not really what I want. I’ve tried hard with this, and it’s time to pass the baton on to other people. So that sounds a bit a bit underwhelming description of my career journey, isn’t it? But then I remember also someone said to me once when I was you A student or something that you should have like a different career every 10 years, and you should just kind of change. So I guess that’s what I’ve what I’ve been doing.
Carlton Reid 37:08
So what are you now? Are you an author? When somebody says, What do you do for a living? And you don’t know them, Madam, what do you say?
Jack Thurston 37:18
I hate that question. I really hate that question.
Because it presupposes that sort of what you do is who you are. And it also pretty supposes that the work that you do for money is the work that defines who you are. And I don’t feel like that. I mean, partly because I earned very much money. So I mean, I’ve worked part time, because I’ve got two young kids who are four and six, and my wife is much more successful in what she does, than I am in what I do. So you know, she has a kind of sense of preeminent role in a way in terms of time allocation, and neither of us make a huge amount of money of what we do. But we live in a rural area you know we have quite low outgoings I grow a lot of vegetables. So sort of get by and yeah, I’d say I write I write cycling books I also write for for magazines and newspapers and that kind of thing about cycling and try and keep a podcast on its feet. But that doesn’t bring in anyone that actually cost money to do so. I don’t know yet stay home dad slash guide book author, slash journalist. Is that all travel writer? I don’t know is that right? That’s all I’m asking
Carlton Reid 38:32
you if that but then again, I didn’t know anything about your background. So that’s good for me to white. Why didn’t I know these things about you? I just know you as jack bike show. And you ask the questions. Now because I’m asking you the questions. We’re gonna find out a bit more about I was jack who is doing farm subsidies. So that’s kind of lefty when you’re working with Nick brown and Because it’s kind of lefty ish. So I know you’ve done a show on this. But just your opinions that is cycling. Left wing, is it right wing? Because I know you had differing opinions from different political spectrums there because you had Guido Fawkes on who was saying, No, no, actually, it’s libertarian, you know, freedom to go anywhere and stuff. So where do you see cycling in the political sphere?
Jack Thurston 39:29
I tend to think it’s naturally on the left, because it’s democratic, because it’s accessible because it’s sort of non non violent non dominating of others.
And it’s quite a levelling type of thing.
I can see the arguments for freedom and and for liberty. But I also think that those arguments lead you quite quickly towards auto domination, and a kind of A world in which you just have cars, or you’re poor and you ride the bus or walk. And and I don’t, I think that’s much more of a right wing kind of view. But the you know, the left, right split, I mean, where is the left right split in the in society today? It does feel like it’s fracturing in all kinds of different
Carlton Reid 40:21
around Brexit split, rather than
Jack Thurston 40:24
Well, I mean, it’s not just not just even talking about Brexit in Britain. I mean,
you know, I, yeah, I think I think traditionally it has been off the left. And if you look at someone like Kuklos, Fitzwater Wray, who’s a hero of mine from the golden age of cycling. He was a pacifist, a socialist, the Clarion cycling club, you know, he was involved with them. I think it has got, I don’t think the Primrose league with the Primrose league on bikes because they’re the sort of right wing counterpoint to the Clarion Clarion cycling club aren’t they? No, I think I think I think you can put different interpretations on it. And I think I think self reliance, independence, liberty, those are all things which appeal to a certain strand of, of thinking on the right. But I think overall the bicycle, you know, I mean, I’d like to think that a bicycle has appeal for everybody. I think I think there’s I was listening to a podcast of the day about liberty and the idea of positive liberty and negative liberty and, you know, your liberty to do something versus whether someone is stopping you from doing something. And I do feel I mean, that you and I agree on this. I think carton, you know, the cars. The cars is just the root of the problem. I mean, bicycles are sort of it’s they’re almost like a side issue. It’s crazy for me to say that as someone who basically works, it’s like he loves cycling, but they are a side issue in the whole thing about car dominated societies. Is that going too far?
Carlton Reid 42:11
No, but they are coming to a bit more prominence. Now we know with with.
Jack Thurston 42:15
I’m not saying I’m not saying they’re not prominent, what I meant, what I meant to say is that, that, you know, you tackle the reason why I’m so passionate and about Cycling is it’s because it’s a way of travelling, that that doesn’t impose so much horror on other people. You’re part of that
Carlton Reid 42:32
you’re also talking about a pleasure to talk about your kind of cycling but you can just as easily get a dentist earning turn and 250,000 pounds a year who’s got a fleet of Porsches, who goes out on his road bike can also be be cycling and absolutely would not be on the left. You can get people like sir Alan sugar who are out there and saying some pretty awful things at the moment on social media. They’re out there cycling and then you Get people who are travelling to trail centres, you know, in their big SUVs, getting their mountain bikes off the side, probably to 3000 pound mountain bikes, probably more, and then going away again. So they’re not of that ilk. So are you not just self describing yourself here, when you when you’re when you’re talking about cycling? This is this is where you see it. But it’s actually there’s many, many prisms, you can you can see cycling through many kinds of cyclists out there, but it’s probably one of its actual strengths.
Jack Thurston 43:30
That’s true. No, and I do agree with you. And I’m going to rollback from my position. I think, you know, yeah, anyone can enjoy the thrill of turning a pedal and the pleasure of the wind in your hair and the exhilaration you get from being on a bicycle that is a setting that appeals beyond anything to do with politics. But I do think that once you start thinking about why cycling is so marginal, In certain societies, and so prominent in other societies, there is a political dimension to that, which is based around. Well, it’s obvious to me that it comes down to infrastructure, doesn’t it as we both agree. And culture perhaps, and those are all expressions or causation factors in politics. And I think the sort of social democratic politics of, of Denmark of the Netherlands of scan, you know, Germany, those are the places where there is good cycling infrastructure where Cycling is is much more widespread than it is in our sort of Anglo Saxon countries. You know, that there there is there is a link there to do with politics. I don’t know. I mean, you’re the expert on this. I don’t you feel like you’re I feel like I’m being quizzed by someone who knows all the answers. And, and and like, you’re gonna I feel like this would be like a tutorial. Well, when you You’re my You’re my, you’re my professor.
Carlton Reid 45:05
I’ve mentioned the Netherlands there. I’m not Confucius here at all. I’m not gonna. Absolutely I can learn from anybody. So the Netherlands, you ask the same question in the Netherlands, it would be like, what would you mean? It’s a left wing or it’s a right? No, it’s just Cycling is everything. You can have rabid right wingers cycling just as much as left wing. So that does seem to be the reason I asked the question is probably very much a British thing to do on Anglo Saxon thing to do in your terms, in that in other countries, it’s not politically charged, yet we meet you, perhaps others. When we self described this, we do make it politically charged. But you’ve then got things like David Cameron cycling Prime Minister, I mean, they couldn’t do when there were Prime Ministers But still, the current prime minister exactly is famous. For being on a bike name, you know how many labour prime ministers have been famous for their their bicycling credentials? Well, I can’t think of any.
So is it really that …
Jack Thurston 46:10
come from it? You’re not private? No.
It was great. It was a great election, wasn’t it? We are to two people who who ride bikes against each other Corbyn and and Johnson. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know I i think i think there are I think there are different levels at which you can talk about that issue. And clearly you don’t have to be of the left or have the right to enjoy cycling.
But I do think that cycling does.
Especially cycling in a country like ours where you are really, you know, the scum of the earth basically on the roads. That’s how you’re treated by most people hold on a lot of people. And that does that is that does that is that there is a kind of humbling thing about that and it’s not not pleasant. thing, but it does it does show you how vulnerable you are. And that I think is the consciousness from which to deeper care for others and empathy for others who are less invulnerable or in vulnerable positions can spring from. So I do think that the bicycle can make you a better person. I just I don’t see Ilan musk on a bicycle. I don’t see Donald Trump on a bicycle. I don’t see all these sort of selfish grasping hucksters that seemed to define 21st century Sir Alan Sugar on bicycles.
Carlton Reid 47:38
I mean, he’s The Apprentice.
Jack Thurston 47:42
Yeah, Alan Sugar’s a funny one, isn’t he? Because he is actually he was a Labour Party supporter wasn’t familiar. He’s flip until Corbyn came along. He was a New Labour Tony Blair. So he does come from a left a left working class tradition. And I don’t know what he’s wearing. where he is now? But then, you know, I think you need to. Yeah, I mean, there’s anecdotes and individual data points and they could be confounding effects and clearly, racing, cycling, mountain biking, you know, you know, in a controlled environment is, you know, is one thing. I do know, I do feel that in my experience of meeting people who are eminent in the cycling world as I’ve done over the podcast, I do feel that they do tend to be on more on on the left I just as kind of my experience. Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree, those sorts of people. I mean,
Carlton Reid 48:47
it’s just sort of where they are where they’re at. I don’t know. So in the all the President’s Men, which is the Woodward and Bernstein book about the Watergate scandal, you’ve got Carl Bernstein, who was a self described 1970 Bike boom. Bike freak was very upset when he discovered that there was a bike freak, actually in the White House working for creep. The Committee for the re election of the president Macgruder so Macruder would cycle to the White House he was the almost certainly within the high command of of the Watergate scandal basically. I think he certainly went to prison for it. And so it that shocked curb Carl Bernstein he was incredibly shocked when he was researching all of this Watergate stuff that he assumed that second was left wing. And here the was a rabid right winger was cycling. Now we stick with that probably still shocks actually that anecdote still shocks because yes, I think most people I’m touching word here, most people would assume Cycling is leftist, greenish, eco ish. And when you get right wingers on it’s like, well, that’s stat that stands out. But what? politically what stops you getting on a bike? Nothing stops you getting on a bike politically?
Jack Thurston 50:10
Now, I think there are I mean, what didn’t Margaret Thatcher say something about? You have to worry about a man in his 20s who rides the bus or something like that?
Carlton Reid 50:22
I’m afraid but yes, you shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t be on public transport. It’s apocryphal, but it kind of fed into her mentality for sure.
Jack Thurston 50:32
Yeah, I think there is a there is a sense in which a car is a status symbol, and is indicative of success in the kind of capitalist economy and society and having a nice car and driving everywhere. Is is kind of how you show that you’ve made it according to those criteria. Jackie, can
Carlton Reid 50:55
you have a nice car and a nice bike? jack?
Jack Thurston 50:58
Yeah, but you wouldn’t you do. Just you. You’ll use the
Yeah. So maybe you can go into Yeah, go for a bike race or a bike ride. I don’t know. You can have both, that’s for sure. You can have both.
Carlton Reid 51:12
We’ve talked over many, many years about the history of cycle touring. So you’re fascinated. We’ve talked about Lawrence of Arabia, and his, you know, where he, he came a cropper, of course, on his motorbike without, trying to kill two cyclists. But then he did do lots of cycle tours before that. So you’re very interested in the history of cycles. So you’re not just writing about this. And then doing a brief mention in your book you are you are really interested in the in the whole era of classic cycle touring.
Jack Thurston 51:48
I think I’m just interested in travelling by bicycle. And when you’re interested in something, you want to kind of find out how long it’s been going on for and clearly it It’s only been going on for as long as there have been bicycles. So that’s not that it’s mostly recorded history, you know that? Well, it’s all recorded history, obviously, we’re going back to the 1860s, I suppose. So it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, and it’s very well documented. Because cyclists love to write about their endeavours and take pictures of them or draw line drawings about them.
And I just, I don’t know, I find it
very alluring to, to feel a connection with somebody who lived 100 years ago who’s doing something similar to what I’m doing now. And feeling the same kind of things and experiencing them in a similar sort of way. I just, it’s you get a little historical shiver down your spine, don’t you? It’s always I mean, it’s a bit like stepping into a into a mediaeval castle, and thinking you know, closing your eyes and thinking like, what would it have been like? But you don’t really know do you? You really don’t know what in a ruined castle what would it have been like? What would life be like? In a castle? Yeah, it’s beyond almost what we can imagine 500 600 700 years back, but I could definitely imagine 100 years back. And, and the things were sufficiently different back then to be interesting to me. And in what in terms of what’s changed, but it’s sufficiently close in terms of experience that I can kind of touch it and really, really have a feel for it feel for the texture of it. So it’s the appeal of history, isn’t it? And I find history appealing in lots of different ways. Industrial history. Yeah, I think but I think history history is most powerful. When it I, I don’t know I’m gonna qualify myself here because if you go to someone like Stonehenge, and you kind of touch those stones, and now we’re talking about pre history, and you have no idea who the people were who’d made that place and why they did it and it almost haven how they did it. It can be totally or inspiring, and just knock you for six. And so clearly you don’t need to be proximate to the people you’re having this sort of historical connection with, but there is a certain kind of feeling of proximity that does, that does. I don’t know, give it a bit more texture and a bit more liveliness, it’s a different kind of thing isn’t it isn’t a different kind of thing. But I do love chancing upon old photographs of places that I know, that 100 years ago, and seeing them so I don’t know. Do you feel the same year into history? Absolutely. I don’t think I’m a learner
Carlton Reid 54:34
at all. So 1890s which is that that first bike boom when people are getting out there on their, that their bikes, and you’ve got people and I know we’ve often I’m pretty sure we have a conversation on Twitter about this at the time, but when I’ve posted images of 1890 cycle tourists, for instance, going to Stonehenge, which you’ve just mentioned, you know, they were on what’s now the the 115 3103 or 103? what’s the what’s the road is anyway? 83303 Thank you. The major road that’s going to the West Country, your West, you’ve know this better than me because of your your, your book. Yes, but the 303 that’s like so those cyclist of the 1890s were on the main roads of the day, because there was no cars at the time. So they were riding, they weren’t riding on last lanes back then they were riding in effect on the Turnpike’s the major roads of the day. So when you’re when you evoke that historical residents, well, those guys weren’t riding on your last lanes. They were riding on the motorways of the day. There’s just there’s no cars they were Yeah, they were
Jack Thurston 55:48
and but actually pretty quickly, towards in the 1910s or 1900s and 1910s. You start to come across so you start to come up with People saying oh that roads too busy now or with we don’t like that road anymore if you go through the, in the 1920s and 30s. And and there is a sort of that’s the era in which the car starts to dominate, and cyclists head off to find other roads. And I think that’s a process that has continued to this day. And I think that’s what gravel biking is all about. And I love gravel, gravel bikes, they are perfect machines for cycling on loss lanes and more. And I think that, that, I don’t know whether I would say the 1890s is my golden age of cycle touring. I think it’s freestyle, if you look at the kind of people who were doing it. It was a one particular It was a fairly well to do not exclusively, but fairly well to do I think the golden era of of cycling, in terms of my view of it is probably The 30s when you start getting outdoors moving all the youth hostels cropping up and people having a bit of time and a bit opportunity to go out there, bicycles a bit more accessible, lightweight machines are available. And then the 40s and 50s with the rough stuff. And so York rally and all those kinds of things that are the beacons of, of cycling in our country, and then in the 60s, I think it starts to become a bit more marginal again, although I should say because I looking at, I look at the bike images of the bike Centennial in America, which was in 76, wasn’t it? And there are some beautiful photographs of that. And I have to say I look at those photographs with exactly the same free sort of history. As I look at the photographs, photographs from the 1930s I just feel like that was a real amazing time and a place to be, to be around to be cycling across America. And I’d love too, I’d love to learn more about it, actually. So I think you could look at all these different eras. And you can look at images from the early London to Brighton in the early 1980s. And see, you know, handmade Friends of the Earth stickers, or posters or posters, banners and badges and things like that. It’s just it’s sort of making a connection with like minded people across the barrier of time. And and I think that’s interesting. I don’t really mind whether I’m envious of the fact that the cyclists of the 1890s were able to just barrel down the best flattest roads to get places and cover big distances. I’m incredibly envious of them. But I don’t feel that that I have to, in any way interested in reproducing their journeys in terms of the actual roads they went on. I think I’m more interested in in drawing on a wellspring of bicycle travel through a century or more and and China interpreting it For our times, and what’s available now,
Carlton Reid 59:03
jack, and we’re going to, we’re going to close for a break now. We’ll come back in a minute, and I’m going to talk to you about I want to hear about what other tours that you’ve done. And you’ve just said you did remain here, but actual tours, rather than just going out for a ride. So that’s what we’re going to talk about when we come back. So we’ll go for a break. So David, take it away.
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Thanks, David. And we are here with Jack Thurston, who will as he said before, he is not an author. He is he’s Lots of different things he wouldn’t even have ever a very long business card. I asked before the ad break I wanted to find out what touring so so jack has is talking about his the golden eras and there’s been many golden years including that those wonderful rise across the US in the 1976 and do go and search for photographs of those that some fantastic National Geographic if you go into their archive of some of those photographs,
but jack what what kind of touring Have you done apart from where you’re talking about Romania? So what what have you done elsewhere in the world?
Jack Thurston 1:01:36
So I haven’t done a huge amount of worldwide touring. I feel a bit
of an underachiever
Carlton Reid 1:01:43
fraud, you’re a fraud.
Jack Thurston 1:01:46
Yeah, I have cycled I mean, I thought I did a big ride around France in 2008 for about six weeks, so I rode the crest of the Pyrenees from the Atlantic coast to the Midwest. radian like with full panniers and all that stuff. This is before Kindles had come along and my entire front left pannier was full of paperbacks maps. So, yeah, that was a that was an early adopter of the top. on that trip. I did have a top. I’d seen them. When I was walking the john Muir Trail in California, I’d seen a guy sleeping under a tarp, and it looked a lot better than my little mini tent. So I did that. That was a top trip. And I have done some little, you know, three or four day tours around northern France, kind of accessible from Britain. I’ve done a lot of cycling in, in England and Wales. I would say that was the most of it. I mean, I’ve done some, I don’t know I’m sure they’re big tourist hotspots of cycling holidays in the Alps, and the Pyrenees. Kind of just more like out doing day rides, but most of my cycle touring has been in In England and Wales, so cycling down I used to cycle every summer down to Cornwall from London. My friends had used to rent the same cottage on the beach at Constantine Bay in new Padstow. And so they would, they would go on the train, and I would set up a couple of days earlier and give them a bag with my clothes and things like that and wetsuit and stuff to carry down with with them and then inside cycle down, and then then take the train with them back at the end of the holiday and cycling around Wales. Yeah, just different parts of parts of England really. I did a I did a very disastrous looking back and it feels like disastrous lightning tour in New England. Because the friends of mine were getting married in Vermont and I wanted to go to their wedding but I thought it was pretty irresponsible to like fly across the Atlantic to just go to a wedding. So I thought okay, I’ll make this a build my summer holiday around this wedding. And so I cycled from Montreal to New York with the wedding at the halfway point. And then towards the end in New York had a bad crash and ended up in hospital having my teeth fixed
Carlton Reid 1:04:10
a crash that you have to that other day. Nobody else was involved or what was
Jack Thurston 1:04:16
no Yeah, it was. It was, it was on one of those, you get some bridges in America that are made out of like about made out of metal, like a kind of grid structure of metal. I don’t want the right word for that is but they’re quite good. They get very slick in the wet. And I came down a descent with too much speed and applied the brakes and lost the back wheel and hit the deck and hit my face into the metal grille of this bridge. Yeah, that was a very nice but and yeah, I didn’t find in the wild camping in Vermont. I mean And, and, and upstate New York. I mean, the mosquitoes were just appalling. And also, I felt like wild camping was really was really not on. Like, there were signs everywhere and lots of barbed wire kind of saying, you know, you can’t come in here, stay away, intruders stay away. And so it was quite hard to find really nice places to wild camp. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the kind of culture of whether it was acceptable just to pitch your tent anywhere. And I still don’t really know the answer to that. And also, it was quite difficult getting food, like, you’d end up shopping in like petrol stations and things and then things would come in very large packets. So you’d have to buy like two pounds of bacon or something and you couldn’t eat it all and it would go off and you couldn’t just you know, you could just get a small amount to keep going from day to day you had to supply these bulk loads of stuff until you’re at war or weighed down by all so I didn’t I kind of failed at cycle touring in America. Maybe one day I would like to come back. But I mean, I’d love to do another big trip I’d love to cycle across Europe. I’d love to cycle to Istanbul or something like that. I did a tour for three days for The Guardian travel section last year as the guest of the vom de office to tour. The Tourist Board over there who showed me around the Atlantic cycleway south of the mouth of the river la from the basically from the mouth of the revenue are to La Rochelle. And I did that on a Brompton which is fun. So I’d like to do Yeah, I’d like to do some more touring in France with my kids. I’d like to go to the Netherlands with my kids, because I think that’d be the place to take them for cycle touring because that’s, that’s that’s the limiting factor these days is when I’m not doing a book and basically with the children and They can’t really do psycho touring in Britain, because it’s a rotary not safe for it. With the exception of a few rides that I’ve done like bit on the Northumberland coast with the kids really nice. And the Devon coast to coast is a good child friendly one. We were supposed to bring up to the Peak District in Derbyshire, at the end of May to do some cycling with the kids on the old railway lines. But I don’t know if we were going to be able to do that with Corona. So yeah, so I don’t know I I really look at these people who do like your son who does that is amazing. Riding back from China, and I feel like now is not the time. I should have done that. I should have done that already. I should have done that in my 20s or 30s. I don’t know why I didn’t. But I just didn’t. I was too busy in politics, I suppose. And I guess it’s something that probably have to wait until I’m a bit less encumbered with family life. Yeah.
Carlton Reid 1:07:57
I know I know what you mean.
about them and I was certainly I’ve been looking at Joshua’s trip and that brought back all the memories of when I did those kind of trips. And I’m kind of thinking, when can I do them again not not Corona stopping me but because it is gonna be a couple of years before I can do this, but just Yeah, I’d like to do some mammoth trips again, I’ve just heading out pointing the bike in there a direction you don’t know where you’re going to be doing away again with that night. I’m looking forward to doing those kinds of trips again. Actually, not not just no planning. Nope, no, just heading out and because that’s what I did. I just went out and just just cycled off and didn’t know where I was gonna go. And
Jack Thurston 1:08:41
months on end, or how long are you going?
Carlton Reid 1:08:43
I went for two years. So I started in before university I was gonna do I was gonna do politics, in fact, jack and then I did a year of cycling around the Middle East and thought I’m not going to politics. And I spend another year of cycle touring again rounded bit, the Middle East bit of America did an awful lot of touring for two years, basically, just just pointing the bike and just just going, which was fantastic. And I’ve always harked after that doing that, again of not having any, any worries. But like you, I’ve got kids, but unlike you, my kids are quite a bit older. So I am I’m probably not too many years away of being able to do that kind of cycle touring again, if I can interest my wife
Jack Thurston 1:09:34
into it. Yeah. Well, that’s the thing would you do would you just leave her on her own or would you go with her or she would go with you?
Carlton Reid 1:09:40
Well, she’s before we were married. I took her to Iceland. And we did an incredible trip into the interior of Iceland, in which it was perpetual daylight you had to get from campsite to campsite, you couldn’t just do the wild camping. You were saying that before you had to get to an official camp. So you were having to cycle for 1921 hours a day to cycle through Europe’s only desert. Which was why, you know, the older Sandy rose in Iceland. And that could have actually finished our relationship there. And then, but I discovered that she was incredibly tough and she was able to do these amazing bike rides that I was making her do. So she’s a keeper. So I would say I would, I would do those bike rides with with her at some point, but she’s a doctor. So it’s kind of difficult for her to, to take long career breaks.
Jack Thurston 1:10:37
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s an interesting thing about how you can and maybe it’s a little bit like Alistair Humphries and his idea of micro adventures. Can you get a certain amount of what you get out of a big trip in a shorter trip? And how do you go about doing that? And I think for me, I’ve been thinking I’ve flown a lot on aeroplanes for work and I feel like I don’t really want to be flying
for my leisure
you know, I just thought it’s a personal decision and I’m not preaching to anybody else. I just don’t feel like that’s what I want to be where I want to be at. So I’m I’m kind of feeling like okay, so it’s gonna if I’m gonna fly around the world I’m really good at cyclorama after wonder wonder wonder about the Atlantic and the Pacific but I’m pretty much sort of committed to cycling from where I can get to by train or boat. But that gives me a huge amount of scope. I mean, Europe is Europe is is continental Europe, Ireland. I’d love to go there Scotland. There’s a lot of places I like to go and I do feel like I get a lot of the benefits from from even like a week or two weeks. trip I think so I’m so I’m more thinking of I’d love to cycle across France you know just from Cali or salmon Oh to the Mediterranean coast you know that would just be a nice thing I love nice thing to do so
Carlton Reid 1:12:14
let’s get into the future. I don’t get into the future are you gonna be doing sort of interrupting their day but are you going to be doing lost lanes from a reading loss lanes Ireland lost lanes Scotland. What’s a I’m not going to give too much away. But what is your future in guidebook, Mike?
Jack Thurston 1:12:29
Well, no. I’m happy to happy to say I mean I should be out now. This is the prime time of year May and June the countryside looking at its best, nice long days. I should be out doing loss lane central England, which is the next book. But I am which, you know takes in the Cotswolds takes in the Peak District by my definition, I drew a fairly high line for what is the North. I know it’s a topic of endless debate. Where does the North start, but I wanted to have this much great cycling in northern England that the further south you draw the line that, you know, the less there is to go around it or the less rides to go out or whatever, I’m not expecting that myself clearly, you know, the rides are gonna be even more sparse than they already are. And they’re, you know, the great regret I get with any of these books is that I didn’t do a right there. I didn’t do it right that I didn’t do a ride from Durham, up in to the north Penn lines that that should have been in there but then I would have had to lose one of the rides, you know, so I wanted to draw the line up there. So I’d have I could have a really good chunk for mid the Midlands, central England, whatever you want to call it, that we’re taking the Cotswolds. We’re taking the Peak District and the taking them off and hills sort of the border right up to Wales. I’m not quite sure where the eastern line will be drawn and whether it would last lanes east
or not, whether there’s a mileage and
Carlton Reid 1:13:55
you’ve still got a fair bit more theory goes got a fair bit in England in effect together. Before you even need to get to friend,
Jack Thurston 1:14:02
yeah, and then I think you’ll be Scotland will be will be next. And I don’t know how you divide up Scotland because I think it would be ridiculous. I mean, I’m creating a hostage to fortune here on time, I think it would be very difficult to do like one book on the whole of Scotland, unless it was maybe a bigger book with like 50 rights rather than
Carlton Reid 1:14:22
just just the borders, you could do some amazing amazing book just orders nevermind Scotland as a whole.
Jack Thurston 1:14:28
But the problem is, the more specific a book gets in terms of geography, that the less sales there are really, and you know, I sales is what makes it a question of whether it’s viable or not. And I feel like I lost lanes France would be, I mean, you know, you couldn’t do the whole country. I mean, you’d need multiple books to do France. And then, and actually, my publishers do have a really nice book about cycling in France called frazzle fellow which is basically about one route from from some hello to nice I think. And they are there they’re actually the couple who wrote that rather tour company called Saddle Skedaddle, I think and they they I think they’re up nearby nearby you actually about a mile a
Carlton Reid 1:15:21
About a mile and a half from where I am. And I saw the other day in lockdown. I even saw them in lockdown. Yes.
Jack Thurston 1:15:28
So yeah, they they have a well established touring routes that they guide and they thought they would make a book about it. I think the sales of that have been okay. I don’t think they’ve been quite up to last Lane’s levels. So it’s really trying to come up with a book that would, you know, meet the test of sales, and it’s do and it’s doable, really. I mean, I’m very interested in the whole off roading sort of research it’s in, in sort of light mountain biking, I can call it that Which is what crap gravel biking is. I mean, on the one hand, I’m slightly irritated that this whole new idea of gravel biking has come along because it’s basically just riding on on sort of rough tracks and we’ve been doing that forever or forever they’ve been bicycles, but I do love gravel bikes and I think that gravel bikes are the bikes that most people you know, going for a day out should be riding as opposed to a as a road bike because it just gives you so much more safety on the road. And and it gives you so much more potential to ride different kinds of flexibility. I’m, yeah, I mean, I’m writing I’m writing a bike with 38 one bike, it’s got 38 mil tires and one bikes got 47 606 50 B 47. And I’m mostly riding it on the road. And it feels so safe. You just feel like you’re never did. You’re never gonna lose grip. You’re never gonna fall off. And I know I’m probably not gonna fall off anyway because I’m quite experienced cyclist but I think lots of people do have little pranks and and things don’t nades and lose lose grip on the road. So the idea that recreational cyclists should be riding the same kind of bikes that Tour de France people are riding it’s just madness is just the yes madness and so gravel bikes give an alternative to the touring bike for people who don’t want to be carrying lots of stuff, but still want to do a lot of varied cycling There you go. You’ve got gravel bike, any carton,
Carlton Reid 1:17:32
I have a Specialized Diverge that Specialized very kindly lent it to me for a variety of projects before the lockdown and then because the lockdown here they said, I’ll call it and we can actually collect it, keep it for the duration of the lockdown, just like fantastic. I’ve got this bike for months and months. So yes, I’ve got a gravel bike that I’m using. Yeah, I’m with you on that jack in that I am using That far more than I’d use a road bike, certainly in lockdown, because you can get Oh, you know, you can do lots more different flexibility. So I do a lot of railway paths, and then I come off the rails. And then if I if there’s too many people on there because there are a lot of people walking on this very present moment, and I go, Well, this will go on the road. You know, I’ll just do this stretch, you know, on what was formerly an incredibly busy dual carriageway. Well, I can now ride on that because there’s no cars, and then it just gives you that flexibility of doing the dirt track and the dual carriageway with the same bike. And that’s Yeah,
Jack Thurston 1:18:36
yeah, really obviously, you could you could you could ride your mountain bike on a dual carriageway, but it just wouldn’t have the same sense of a lamb and spirit toward it. You know, going along with knobblies I mean we do this is another thing we were talking at the beginning wherever you about light crew and stuff. And then once once we start geeking out about different kinds of bikes, and what bike you need to do this and what bike you need to do that. You’re amazing. putting off your general public who basically just go into a bike shop and like pick a bike up and go, I want the lightest one. And like I said, just kind of that that whole mentality is just is so pernicious, isn’t it? You see, so I meet so many people and in fact readers or readers of my books, who have taken up cycling and have bought rode bikes because they’re light and maybe because the bike shop had a lot of road bikes in and then they let they let their on a little section like a two mile section of bridleway on my on the route that I’ve given them in the book. And they’re like, Oh, it was muddy, and oh, our tires got stuck and we’ve got mud in the brakes and all that. And I I try to be sympathetic. And I don’t say I wish you hadn’t bought that bike but I do wish they hadn’t bought that bike. I wish they bought a gravel bike or you know, touring bike,
Carlton Reid 1:19:53
old fashioned touring bike is what they are really in many respects. You’ve got the clearance. You’ve got the mud guard islets you equip them with all of the racks even though that’s not the standard thing now you got to be bike packing not not rack riding now, but they are very much of that 1950s rough stuff fellowship I yeah, I mean touring is in terms of
Jack Thurston 1:20:16
what, in terms of what you can do, yes, but they are a lot lighter in terms of slinging them over your shoulder, I think the the feeling of riding them and this is what I like about the bike that I’m I’m writing is that it’s got a sort of tour touring bike wheels or even bigger than touring bike wheels and tires rather, and but the kind of riding position and feel of a liveliness of a of a road bike. It’s that sort of, it’s the best of both worlds in a way because a touring bike when it’s unladen can feel like unnecessarily, sort of lead and people do like that excitement. I have
have a little bit of a twist a little bit of twitch in the bike.
Carlton Reid 1:21:04
So do you have a bike that you research your books with? Or a you? You have a quiver as they say a quiver of bikes, and you’ll just choose that one for the that particular route.
Jack Thurston 1:21:17
Well, I I’ve written a succession of basically steel audax type touring bikes. None of them have been quite right for me, for one reason or another, but they’ve always been like secondhand bikes that I’ve sort of built up myself or whatever. I had a little flirtation with Moulton’s, but that was a while ago. But no, the new bike is a bike built by my friend Richard Hallett who is a former cycling journalist and I’m sure you’ve heard him work with technical editor of Cycling Weekly who lives in West Wales. So not too far from me. And it’s a frame builder first learned to build build frames and building some lovely bikes and so he’s built me a version of him. His model, which is called the 650. b adventure. So it’s a quite, it’s quite traditional in the sense that it’s got rim brakes. And it’s got, it’s got low gears, it’s steel. It’s got a front handlebar bag, like a traditional French style. It’s kind of like a French randonneur type bike.
Yeah, but I’ve also got a bike, like more of a, like
a, you know, a, that’s a hand built
bicycle, which, you know, cost cost me a fair bit. And so I don’t like to just sort of thrash that around all winter. And so I do have a bike which is a disc brake bike, with chunky big tires that I ride in the winter. So yeah, but I’ve got a lot of I’ve got too many bikes, Carlton.
Carlton Reid 1:22:55
No, Jack, there’s no such thing please, please. disabuse yourself of that notion. There is no such thing as too many bikess. So where can people buy the book? So let’s let’s plug where people can buy the book, Jack?
Jack Thurston 1:23:12
They can buy it from me.
I’m selling it directly and this response has been amazing. So I will sign it for you with with my autograph or dedicate it to you, if you’d like that, or if you want to give it to someone else. I’ll dedicate it to them. You can there’s a way of letting me know about that on the website. So the web shop is at last lanes.co.uk but it’s also available on on the online. I mean, this is a terrible time to be launching a new book because all the book shops are shut because of the lockdown. So I’m having to do a real push on direct sales. But Amazon have it Waterstones I think have it on their online store. You can get it as a Kindle book, and it’s half price. I think it’s like 7.99 on Kindle and it’s 16 pounds 99 The for the real the actual flesh and blood book or whatever, and I think I was gonna have it a bit of a bit of a bit of a discount as they usually do. And and and same with I’ve got all the all the other books are also available in all those sort of sources. If your independent bookshop is selling, it’s doing deliveries or whatever then
that they may have it they may have it or maybe I do get it in.
Yeah, I think people have really enjoyed looking at it and I thought this is gonna be terrible. How am I going to launch a book when there’s no press coverage has no, no travel features, they’re going to be about it. I’m not going to extract anything to the magazines and stuff. But I think it’s early days, but I think that people have really enjoyed in lockdown the chance to dream yet. The 300 that the rides that they’ll do when lockdown eases and And I think that you’re planning a bike ride is a great it’s a it’s a wonderful thing to do, isn’t it? It’s a wonderful it’s a wonderful thing to pull out in the maps and start researching things and with the internet you can do so much research at home you don’t have to go to the library anything.
I think planning i mean i i’d love to
Yeah, I’d love to hear what everyone is whatever whatever is planning. It’d be a great a great thing to know the kind of rides that people are wanting to do because when it’s only when something gets taken away from you, that you really value in in a in a new way isn’t it
Carlton Reid 1:25:38
so many years I wrote a guidebook and it was done by the from the saddle of a bike but it wasn’t a bike book and it was a guidebook to Lebanon and this is just straight after the the Civil War ended and I wrote went in there as a cycle tours rode around published a book and you never know who’s gonna be buying this you as soon as can be independent travellers, but when we actually She looked at the sales, most of them were to x pack Lebanese. And they were they were buying this guidebook to the country that they were born in. Because they hadn’t been back for many, many years. And because I took colour photography, they were using it as a way of of dreaming about their homeland, and how they would revisit one day. So I’m assuming your books certainly now right now, I mean, normally it might be something different, but now it’s gonna be Yeah, that that dreaming angle that I want to do this in the future and and and living vicariously through the pages of your book for their future. Yeah, I hope so.
Jack Thurston 1:26:48
I think it’s gonna be really interesting how Travel and Leisure travel is different in the age of Corona, and whether people won’t be able to fly long distances. Because it’s gonna be so much hassle, you know, the quarantine requirements of international travel are gonna make it very difficult. So people are going to have to be thinking about doorstep adventures, and what they could do in their backyard. And actually, one thing that I should I should sort of say about, about the books is that, sure, you can ride the routes that are in, in the books that I’ve done for you. And I’ve gotten, you’ve got the GPS files and the route sheets and all that that you can use to do exactly those routes. But what I’m trying to communicate through the books is a sort of way in which a way of thinking about cycling that will empower people to do their own planning and dream up their own roots do their own explorations and become their own sort of guide book writer in a way and and I think that is that is from what I can tell that has happened and I’ve done some talks. I did a talk at Stanford’s the map shop in London about the planning the perfect bike ride and how, how to get to grips with that sort of thing, because, you know, some some people it. Again, it’s one of these issues that for hardened, experienced cycle tourists such as you know, yourself and me, I suppose to a certain extent, it’s second nature to us as what we do we just get out the map and we go for it. And I think if you if you if you’ve grown up with maps, that the only maps you’ve ever really seen are Google Maps on your phone, then you really have no idea of like, how to plan satisfying, enjoyable and safe cycle tour. And so I think that there is a lot of discovery that people can do, particularly people who have been again, so digital natives who’ve been weaned on on Google Maps. There’s so much information that doesn’t contain there. It’s it’s not it’s not just about mapping but I love the idea. Have people adapting my routes or, or just coming up with their own rides in that style where it’s not about kings of the mountains. And it’s not about, you know, threshold blood values or whatever the whatever the sport people are into. It’s about exploration, that stopping and looking and feeling.
Carlton Reid 1:29:23
But to be fair here, and I’m not not knocking you here, but you’ve got Simon Warren there, who is talking to his guidebooks in there. In fact, guidebooks are talking about, you know, hill climbs, and people will cycle many, many miles to get to, you know, his 100 climbs. And people are just getting out there for that reason, so it’s still actually it’s touring. It’s just, it’s on a svelte road bike, but it’s still touring.
Jack Thurston 1:29:52
Yeah, it’s funny. I had a conversation with Simon Mottram, the founder and owner of or co owner, I don’t worry How much of a notes anymore of Rapha, a while ago and he said yeah that Jack basically what we all do is touring we just can’t call it that
Carlton Reid 1:30:12
it’s a good point
Jack Thurston 1:30:14
but they’re not they’re not how many people wearing Rapha are actually in bike races
you know where there’s a prize for the winner?
Carlton Reid 1:30:25
Yes if I if I’m saying I’m going out for a ride if I’m in my Lycra or I’ll say I’m going for a training ride is what I say but i’m not i’m actually going exploring and I’m going riding on a tour so yeah, it’s good point i’m not i’m not actually training because I’m not training for a race. I’m just using a bike to tour
Jack Thurston 1:30:44
Yeah, and no one want me to it’s funny because the Tour de France okay tour in the in the word in the phrase Tour de France is great. It’s a Tour de France. It sounds appealing and exciting, but nobody wants to be a tourist. Do they tourists, tourists yucky nasty. people you know having vegan chips and and fizzy warm lager on the Costa Brava No, wants to be a tourist. We want to be adventurous. We want to be explorers, we want to be travellers. And so, you know, I think by cycle touring, unfortunately, it’s not it’s not it’s not got the the touring is not the tour of the Tour de France as in as in a journey. It’s the tour of the tourist, the tourism and and that’s a negative association. But I do I do worry sometimes that the what gets the media attention is people pushing themselves to the limit. And I don’t know that you necessarily always need to push yourself to the limit. I don’t know saying that. It’s wrong to push yourself to the limit, but it does seem as though that is the dominating way in which Cycling is presented. It’s either either sporting limits like tournament Racing that kind of thing, or it’s adventure limits. It’s like how, how many days? Can you ride without sleeping? Like, what hardships Can you endure on the crossing this desert? On a bicycle.
Carlton Reid 1:32:12
Isn’t that your previous show? Because you’ve just had Mr. Walker on, haven’t you? You’ve had Ian on there talking about his his long distance rides in which he is not getting any sleep.
Jack Thurston 1:32:28
And I did quiz him a bit about that about about, I mean, probably not as much as I should have done. I think he did. He did. He did give a good explanation of what the appeal is, and that he feels it’s really nice to have like a project and a kind of an event that he’s working towards, that gives him a sense of direction and a mission and an idea of, of going further than he can ever go before. But I think the people who do that sort of thing are are not the most not the majority of us. They are exceptional people, and we celebrate them and load them and crown them with laurels and, and all that kind of stuff and we admire them and we enjoy reading their exploits. But it’s, it’s, it doesn’t need to be that way. But yet that is what dominates. Because if you want to get attention for a bicycle ride in the media, it has to be something extreme. It has to be something that’s never been done before a first or it has to be you know, you’ve got caught by a attacked by a bear or, or some sort of hardship. And I don’t, I think you can just use the bicycle as a way of travelling. That is just the best way of travelling that there is. And I think that’s as simple as that. If that doesn’t sell newspapers unfortunately, and doesn’t get people you know, with massive Instagram followings or whatever, I don’t know. It doesn’t have to be extreme.
Carlton Reid 1:33:58
thank you. This in our heart of hearts.
I was gonna wrap the show up actually.
Jack Thurston 1:34:06
Yeah, no, no, no, go go grab the shirt without me blathering. No,
Carlton Reid 1:34:09
no, no, it’s fine. You’re a professional blatherer. That’s what you that’s what you do. Maybe you actually talked more about yourself on this show then then you’ve talked in previous shows. So if I’ve introduced people to your history, in politics and with farm subsidies in the EU, then then I’m very happy to have broadened people’s knowledge into jack. Thanks to Jack Thurston for a diverting couple of hours. His books really are sumptuous and inspiring, and I heartily recommend them. Don’t go listening to his podcast though. It’s awful. Yeh yeh I’m kidding — The Bike Show is great, really really catholic, in the non-religious sense, and I’m glad Jack is back in the game even if its only sporadic at the moment. This has been episode 243 [244 actually!!] of the Spokesmen Cycycling Podcast. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was bigging up the 200th episode of the show, and now we’re closing in on 250 episodes. Show notes and more can be found at the-spokesmen.com The next episode — I hope — is with academic Rachel Aldred, the Metropolitan police’s Andy Cox and Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner Chris Boardman. We had an issue with gremlins, and I’m waiting on a bit of audio repair from Chris. If that happens, I’ll get the show out to you as soon as possible. Meanwhile, get out there and ride.