By Simon Gandolfi.
“Why would a reasonably sane man in his seventies ride the length of Hispanic America on a small motorcycle – a man who is overweight, suffered two minor heart attacks and has a bad back? Stupidity comes to mind…”. Thus begins Old Man on a Bike, the story of Simon Gandolfi’s epic solo motorcycle trip from Mexico to the tip of South America.
Gandolfi buys a small 125 cc Honda (a pizza delivery bike) in Veracruz Mexico, and sets out on his 6-month journey, crossing 13 countries and 22,000 kilometres. He has not ridden a motorcycle in a great many years. He is alone. He has a bad heart. But he has a goal – Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.
Old Man on a Bike is first and foremost a travelogue; the motorcycle simply a means of transportation, a source of periodic humour, and a cause of crises of varying degrees. Gandolfi covers the trip on a day-by-day basis, recounting his experiences as a series of vignettes as he discovers new towns and villages, meets new people of many cultures and stations in life (he speaks fluent Spanish which makes this easier than it would be otherwise), and deals with all the trials and tribulations of a long road trip – including breaking his false teeth on more than one occasion and running out of heart medication.
While the diary format is appropriate, I found Gandolfi’s writing style to be such that I got the sense I was experiencing the trip whilst looking through a soda straw – getting but a very narrow perspective frequently lacking in context. Nonetheless, his ability to engage with the local populace did provide some of the more interesting parts of the book as well as giving the reader a basic understanding of the people and the environments in which they live, and through which he travelled.
Gandolfi makes no secret of his politics or his views on current world events such as the Iraq war and at times it seemed Gandolfi was using the book as his personal soapbox. Whether one agrees with his views or not, I just found the injection of politics to be an unnecessary irritant that contributed nothing to the story of his travels. It is a minor flaw to be sure, but still it bothered me enough to warrant a comment in this review.
So bottom line? I would offer a qualified recommendation for this book. Is it a requisite item for inclusion in any motorcycling library? Not really. But as the story of one man’s voyage, it’s an interesting read and one can’t but admire Gandolfi’s courage for undertaking such a trip at his stage in life.