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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 18 July 2010
Simon Gandolfi's Old Man On A Bike is a classic in every sense of the word, and it is one of the world's great motorcycle road trips. The story line in a nutshell is that Gandolfi (a Brit in his 70s) went to Mexico, bought a single-cylinder, 125cc Honda delivery bike, and pointed it south. "South" as in Tierra Del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America.
I've read every book of this genre, and none is in the same league as Gandolfi's. Old Man On A Bike combines first-class writing, captivating story-telling, the excitement of a long distance motorcycle trip, ground-level input on how others outside the US-UK alliance view world events (without Gandolfi injecting his own views), and most significantly, the realization that we can age without losing our enthusiasm for life or our sense of adventure. The title's implied oxymoronism may attract readers, and Gandolfi describes himself as an old man, but Old Man On A Bike shows that he is not old at all. His excitement about being alive and out in the world, his curiosity, his willingness to take on what others might not, and his de facto youth are invigorating.
Gandolfi writes in the present tense, which takes the reader into every scene to experience the food, the accommodations, the people, the road, the weather, the fear, the excitement, and the rest of his wonderful journey. His positive experiences refute misinformed warnings about corrupt border guards and officials in a delightful manner, and provide an overall "feel good" experience. I've written a few books myself, I've traveled internationally by motorcycle, and (as mentioned above) I've read all of the motorcycle travel stories. The only one that comes close to being as good as Gandolfi's is Dave Barr's Riding the Edge (Barr is a double-amputee who rode a beat-up old Harley around the world), but I believe Old Man On A Bike is an even better read than Barr's inspiring story. Trust me on this...Gandolfi's book is more than just a road trip...it is wonderful story about staying young and living large.
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on 10 November 2008
Beware, this is difficult to stop reading once started. At one level it is a thoroughly engaging, informative and captivating account of a journey through the better and lesser known parts of South America by a seasoned traveller and writer who knows the continent well and speaks fluent Spanish. At another level it is a contemplative account of 21st century international perspectives from someone who is inquisitive and gregarious, someone who engages in conversation with anyone he meets and someone who listens.

He is no fan of President Bush, which in South America makes him welcome, and he gets on well enough with people to be accepted by Argentineans, although a Brit, and talk about the Falklands / Malvinas. Not Laurens van der Post, thankfully, but more honest, better written and many more laughs. His humility helps.

If you are over 73 you will wish you had done something similar. If, like me, you are under 73 you will be thinking it is not too late.

On page 288 he says his wife is egging him on to do the return journey from Tierra del Fuego to New York. I just hope that the resulting book is as good as this one.
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on 9 October 2009
Having read the reviews,most do have a point,l loved the book,having travelled a lot in Europe on bikes,but not in his league,although my wife wishes l would go for longer!l only know to well the problems the solo traveller comes across.ok there isnt much about bikes,that is not the point of the book,the book is about an old man doing the unthinkable,doing a massive journey with no backup,and that is the point,no backup,if you want a bike hero book(with massive backup,get charlie and co)if you want real travellers tales this is the book for you. By the way l met simon at a travellers day at the ace.I recognized him and said"l am reading your book, its great"he walked towards me with his arms up"give me a hug"he said smiling,and to old men hugged in the ace(in the best possible taste of course)
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on 30 January 2010
A pretty good book especially for the price. Having been to South America but unfortunately not on a bike but being a biker I was interested in the subject matter. Pretty interesting and a different perspective to many people and doing it on your own takes courage but also means you get to meet the locals which is what travelling is all about.
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on 17 November 2008
Mr Gandolfi has had ten other books published and the reason for his success was obvious to me before I had finished giggling my way through the prologue of Old Man on a Bike.

With his remarkable insight and searing self awareness, Mr Gandofli reminded me, time and time again, of my grampie Kirkby. Once the patriarch of our family, always my hero, a man who died having forgotten more than I am likely ever to be able to learn.

This book is singularly unique in that it draws the reader inside an older person's mind. I found it an enriching, often comforting and pleasant place to be.

The writing style in Old Man on a Bike' is mature and mischievous, gritty, factual and witty. The book is filled with concise, clipped sentences of professional brevity:

'Although travelling, I am on familiar territory. We are always on familiar territory, all of us. Yet we divide ourselves from this reality by erecting fake barriers and boundaries of nationality and race and religion.'

'They infuse their finds in hot water and insist I bath the burns. They are small commanding women. They cook, clean and do the laundry. Disobedience would be foolish.'

'For the past few days I have been pursued by a middle-aged hen. Today the hen slinks into my room while Nora collects my laundry. I discover the hen on my bed. She has laid an egg.'

The book also regularly offers flowing paragraphs of perfect descriptive indulgence. I savoured every word.

I read the last page of this book with a smile on my face and a sense regret that I had reached the end of this enthralling paperback.
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on 19 July 2011
This book is the perfect antidote to those who say "you shouldn't be doing that at your age". Gandolfi was 73 when he undertook this journey. For that reason alone the book is inspiring. I also found his rather cavalier attitude to common motorcycle orthodoxy mixed; the machine (a 125cc Honda) was probably perfect for his needs even though it was looked down on by many but his clothing was not the best motocycle clothing available at the time. As a result there are occasions where the experienced motorcyclist will feel little sympathy when Gandolfi complains of being cold and wet. Maybe he did not feel top of the range clothing was approriate for such a bike, but there can be no doubt better equipment would have been appropriate for that journey.

Partly because of his age, partly because of what appears to be his personality, Gandolfi met many people on his travels, and they (as always) are the key to a travel book. In such a long journey there must always be a wide variety of people met and spoken to. I felt at times however that Gandolfi was, maybe unwittingly, showing his own reflection rather than the picture of those he met. Others came over very clearly, but the few exeptions struck me quite strongly.

I would still recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel writing, and to anyone who may be falling into teh trap of thinking it time to slow down. But It is not a favourite.
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on 25 December 2009
This could have been so much better. A journey through Central and South America on a 125 by a 70 year old is enough. Unfortunately the author wanted to ram a polical message down our throats. Initially tolerable it becomes annoying and in my case in the end it resulted in sections likely to contain these old man's rantings to be skipped altogether. Simple human interaction becomes distorted and diminished as the author seems unable not to view every one he meets as a policital pawn either manipulating or being manipulated; I just wanted to read about an old man on a bike.
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on 7 June 2013
Had previously read Uneasy Rider by Mike Carter, and was hoping for more of the same. If you are interested in motorbiking then prepared to be disappointed - distinct lack of detail about the 125cc bike he rides, and how he feels about it. I also find the way it was written frustrating, it is as if it's comprised of a bunch of very short sentences. There is no flow to the words when reading, and constant short sentences make it feel like a task to read it and takes away the pleasure. Sprinkled with a constant over-tone of political issues gave a disappointing read.
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on 11 July 2009
When I first saw this book on the search results I was immediately drawn to it,why?,well just look at the cover!.as soon as you read the blurb on the back you will be hooked and want to read it.
There are many books available on this journey from the States to the tip of south America but so far as I have read none of which are as unique as this,the guy doesn't even take any proper bike gear with him!,he even wears his pygamas to keep warm along with several other layers when riding at altitude!.
I have to say that the author has lived in some parts of south america in his youth and this is evident in his detailed writing as the bulk of the middle section is about the ride from Mexico down to Bolivia area,indeed as you approach the end of the book the author is only about half way down south america with Argentina still to go!.On that as you approach the end of the book and the author starts to narrate that he is tired of the journey you notice how he skips through the last couple of countries without the detail that you come to expect from the first half of the book.
A great read and I have no doubts in recommending it to anyone.
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on 7 June 2012
I have read numerous motorbike travel books including all Ewan's and Che's, but Simon Gandolfi's is by far the best I have read to date. If you only read one motorbike travel book chose this one. Briliantly written with simple but graphical flowing sentences. Simon gives an honest account of interaction with locals which gives an excellent picture of life in Central & South America, he clearly does not enjoy riding in cold & rainy weather on poor roads, but we've all been there at some point. I have not read any of Simon's previous books as I mainly stick to travel and motorbike books.
If I have to comment on any negatives there are 2 minor ones, and 1 major. The minor ones are that I would have liked the last chapter to have been more descriptive, and a map showing the towns (not just the countries) would have added to the experience. The major dislike was....I didnt want the book to end, I wish it had been another 300 pages, and that says a lot for someone who reads slowly.
All in all, a brilliant book, a real eye opener. Go ahead buy it, you wont regret it. Remember "its never too late".
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