Voyages contemporains 4 : “À plume et à pédales : voyages cyclistes” by Raphaël Piguet

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

 Raphael J. Piguet

Like the bicycle itself, bicycle travel is usually regarded with polite but superficial curiosity, or relegated to the status of a hobby for the masochists, the childish and the less fortunate, or – more often than not – simply ignored and absent from the shelves of travel literature. However, as soon as it appeared, this first autonomous mechanical vehicle available to the public became the tool of choice for both novice tourists and seasoned explorers. The first bike boom, at the turn of the 20th century, was as passionate as it was short-lived. The car soon replaced the bicycle, but not before cycling stories had had time to multiply and lay the textual foundations for a true practice of space, as discreet as it was revolutionary. More than a hundred years later and in a very different context, the possibilities offered by the machine are rediscovered with renewed wonder, and once again, accounts of travels by bicycle, whether local or long-distance, are proliferating.

The present volume explores these two periods in the history of bicycle journeys, following historical, sociological, political, and philosophical lines. But it also studies the two strokes of the action of the "human engine," which alternately presses on the pedals and on the pen – or, nowadays, the keyboard. As soon as the bicycle appeared, the connivance of these two movements that feed each other was forcefully proclaimed: one pedals to write, writes to pedal, and the old analogy of the world as a book finds, in the cycling context, as much freshness as unexpected relevance. Is the bicycle the necessary vehicle of real journeys? The instrument of rebirth for a genre, travel literature, that is always portrayed as moribund? Or the magic object capable of rising against the downward slide of a world in perdition? It is, at least, the means of a difference that affects the relationship to space as much as the relationship to the text, producing a shift whose effects the studies gathered here try to measure.