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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Havn't You Read This Book? - a travel page-turner!
Out of the dearth of travel literature around at the moment, there are only a handful of books that grab my attention enough to make it difficult for me to put down once I've started. Christopher J.A. Smith's, 'Why Don't You Fly?' (Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle) is one of the few that keeps me turning the pages.
This cycling odyssey from his home in...
Published on 23 Oct. 2005 by Deborah Brady

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much complaining!
This is an ok account of the authors trip from his home in England to Beijing. For me though, there is too much complaining about, well just about everything, body pains, locals, scenery, food, etc. It certainly didn't inspire me to hit the road as a few other cycling books have. If you want good cycling books you should read Josie Dew, Dervla Murphy, Anne Mustoe, (why...
Published on 9 Aug. 2011 by PHaire


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Havn't You Read This Book? - a travel page-turner!, 23 Oct. 2005
By 
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
Out of the dearth of travel literature around at the moment, there are only a handful of books that grab my attention enough to make it difficult for me to put down once I've started. Christopher J.A. Smith's, 'Why Don't You Fly?' (Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle) is one of the few that keeps me turning the pages.
This cycling odyssey from his home in Worcestershire to Beijing is a good read. His style of writing flows throughout. There are wonderful descriptions of landscapes and people he meets and he writes with just enough self decpreciation and touches of cynicism that keep his feet (and the readers') on the ground through his use of dry humour and insightful thoughts. His intellingent and perceptive writing explpores not only the logistics and stamina of a long, arduous journey and the inevitable discomforts that go with it, but also the way it changes his outlook on life, not just on the journey itself but how it effects the everyday, humdrum routine back at home.
There are the usual stories that come with a book of this genre; bits breaking and falling off the bike, punctures and hair-tearing-out problems with bureaucracy, familiar in most travel writers' tales. But with Why Don't You Fly', the humour is subtle and gentle, such as the time when he tries to overcome language barriers by explaining, to the amusement of a local, that he is riding around the world on a tomato!
The combinaton of insightful, intelligent comment, descriptions of places and people and gentle humour is very good. The book is for anyone contimplating such a journey themselves, a sort of 'go for it anyway - take that window of opportunity when it presents itself' kind of mentality which is inspiring. He tops and tails the book with a prologue and epilogue, written in the third person, a style that wonderfully contrasts with the rest of the book; a reality check, illustrating the monotony and trivia of everyday routines. Such is the stuff of all our lives! After reading this, if you are not able, or lucky enough, to plan a journey of your own, then this armchair version is just as good.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Candid and compelling, 27 Dec. 2010
By 
BeeKeeper (East Anglia, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
Like other readers I have read a few cycle touring books. Chris Smith has completed a superhuman journey by bicycle and he takes the reader over extreme highs and down into extreme lows along his journey. His book is well written. His writing is at his best when he is describing enounters with local people or officials. His description of some of the fellow cyclists he meets and travels with along the way almost verge on charicature, although they do not become wholly implausible. For me he he is at his most insightful when he writes of the communities he is travelling through. He gives brief historical and political summaries of each country and region he passes through which is very informative whilst not being too turgid for the reader who is not too keen on pages and pages of history. Clearly he is often constantly the centre of attention in many impoverished communities particularly in India and Pakistan, which was undoubtedly very wearing on him in terms of privacy, but he could have still taken a little more effort to tell us about the lives of the local people and the communities that he encountered and those that helped him. Occasionally I had the impression that the arrival at his destination at the end of the day or completing 80-100 miles each day took precedence over his journey. The journey is more important than the arrival. I also found his apparent ignorance of or little patience with his bicycle infuriating. Every long distance cyclist should have an intimate knowledge of how their steed works and how to maintain and repair it on the road particularly in case where a problem occurs in the middle of nowhere. That's just common sense. Never the less this is an enjoyable, well written and insightful account of a challenge to cycle 18,500 miles to Beijing. It is a travelogue up their with the those of Nick Danziger and Alistair Humphreys.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much complaining!, 9 Aug. 2011
By 
PHaire (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
This is an ok account of the authors trip from his home in England to Beijing. For me though, there is too much complaining about, well just about everything, body pains, locals, scenery, food, etc. It certainly didn't inspire me to hit the road as a few other cycling books have. If you want good cycling books you should read Josie Dew, Dervla Murphy, Anne Mustoe, (why are they all women?) and Tom Kevill-Davies also known as the hungry cyclist. I've found them far more entertaining.
As for this book, as I say, it's ok. There are interesting snippets of local colour but the author points out only the negatives mainly (except for China, which he loved) and for me I ended up skipping pages just to finish.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This guy needs to get out more...how ironic, 4 Oct. 2012
By 
Ian "sKiT_" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
I took this book with me on holiday to inspire me for my next major tour. Unfortunately it did not do so. As another reviewer has stated, this guy is a grade one moaner. I really don't know why he bothered going to be honest if this is the sum of his experiences. I get the impression that this guy spent far too long driving lorries long distance and grew to like his own company too much.
He does visit some amazing places and see some amazing things but it is all made negative by his constant depressive anecdotes and complaining.
He has no real knowledge of cycling so don't expect any thoughts on technical aspects or relating to other cycle tours. I feel he did the trip to help himself become a better person after losing a girlfriend and being stuck in a job he dislikes. If it has, I'm pleased for him. If only it has had the same effect on his writing skills and outlook on life.

I give it two stars as it has some interesting aspects but if your looking for inspiration...don't bother
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up there with Bill Bryson, 31 Mar. 2008
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
I am not a regular reader of travel books and am not into cycling but 'Why Don't You Fly?' surpasses all constraints of genre and is a bloody good read. I was knocked out by the scale of Chris's feat, the standard of his writing and the brilliantly judged use of humour. (Books where I laugh out loud while reading are very rare indeed.) I rate it up there with Bill Bryson.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not about the bike!, 7 Aug. 2012
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This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
If you've bought this book expecting to read tales of life in the saddle which include technical details about cycling and/or the bike itself, then I'm afraid you are about to be disappointed. This is a record of one man's journey from England to China and includes very little refernce to the bike, life on the bike, dealing with alternating terrain, repairs, etc. That said, I enjoyed the book generally, although I found the author's inability to speak plainly an unwelcome distraction and, at times, down right annoying. One might be more suited to poetry or other works of literary flamboyance, Mr. Smith!

If you're looking for books about travelling long distances by bike you might try 'Cycling Home from Siberia' or 'The Man Who Cycled the World' instead.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful book you'll not want to put down, 11 Oct. 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
This is a truly sensational book, and what makes it stand out is that it keeps on getting better weeks after finishing the book. This is a tale of a man whose life circumstances transpire to let him choose to make one of those life quest journeys. The narrative is fast paced and insightful and the pages effortlessly fly by. Where Lance Armstrong's book 'It's not about the bike' is inspirational as one mans triumph over adversity, Chris Smith's 'Why don't you fly' lets us grapple with the question we all struggle with from time to time of 'why?' or 'what's it all about?'
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing adventure!, 17 Feb. 2008
By 
Mr. W. GIBBY - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
I have read a number of cycle adventure books but this comes out one of the best. A very honest description of an amazing adventure with a number of highs and lows. You'll read it in a few days - very difficult to put down. Highly recommend!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Cracking Read, 22 Jun. 2011
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
This is a real page-turner of a book that gripped my attention from the off. The author has a wonderfully readable style and soon has you riding every mile of his 16,500 mile trip from London to Beijing. I cannot remember a move vivid account of such a trip nor one that blended historical and cultural background information with eye-witness accounts of the day-to-day experience of the cyclist so well. At the very least, Smith is up there with the very best of travel writers much of the time.

For sure, this is a 'warts and all' account of a journey that was clearly physically, mentally and spiritually demanding in the extreme. Smith is keen to explore the whys of the journey just as much as the hows and wheres. He does a great job of exploring his motivations and personal reactions to the challenges he faced. He gives a great insight into what was going on in his head while he turned the pedals and in the exotic places he passed through and stopped in.

Its obvious that the trip was a physical test that the author just met at points and yet, by the end, had mastered to the point where he rightly considered himself an athlete. Mountain passes, deserts, sandstorms, driving rain and howling headwinds all added their challenges to the norms of dealing with extreme heat, cold and deprivation. Yet, while some other accounts leave the reader wondering if the effort was worth the prize, Smith makes it very clear that he came back a different person and so the value of the trip is never in real doubt.

Some of the best passages in the book deal with his interactions with others on the road. He is very honest in his reactions to different peoples and cultures he encounters and to his fellow travellers. Not all of the latter get glowing reports! However, overall, the warmth he feels for the communities he passes through is generally continuing and one of the most uplifting features of the writing. He does dialogue very well and some of the exchanges reported are very, very funny.

This is a book that will serve the would be cycle tourer reader well in many respects. Above all, its a great expectations-setter: the account is so vivid it leaves no doubt about the challenges to be faced. It also works as a practical handbook: there is a good equipment list and the mechanics of visa-getting and getting by in difficult countries are embedded for those who read closely. Most of all, however, it hammers home the message that such epic journeys challenge the muscles of the mind and spirit as much as those of the legs.

A very fine book by a very human author who succeeds extremely well in telling the tale of an epic ride while somehow allowing the peoples he meets and the terrains he masters to take centre stage. Highly recommended.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredible Journey, 23 Oct. 2005
By 
Mrs D Acton (HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, HERTS United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle (Paperback)
I have been on an incredible journey! It only took two days. I was on a bike to China. Sometimes I laughed out loud, at others I lapped up the history and atmosphere of unexplored lands. I then realised that actually I was still on my sofa reading an amazing book within the comfort of my own home. Or should I say comfort zone? The journey meant a lot to me, and even the opening quotation told me exactly where I am. In fact it told me that I have done precious little with my life thus far. I always meant to travel, but as pointed out in the book, a woman on her own is never a good idea.
The writing is excellent: emotive and spiritual and reminiscent of Paulo Coelho or Don Juan in its style. I was immediately drawn in and hooked and I found myself nodding profusely (to myself) at things like 'we are in control of our own destiny', our 'own puppet masters', and 'we need to take responsibility,' us and us alone. It's books like these that make me want to sell my car, flat and life, and motor round the world in a Winnebago. Sometimes it takes an inspirational book like this to realise what is sadly lacking in one's own life, and the parameters in which we live.
To exist or to live? The choice is ours.
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'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle
'Why Don't You Fly?' Back Door to Beijing - by Bicycle by Christopher J.A. Smith (Paperback - 15 Aug. 2005)
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