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The Great Escape by Bicycle
“Boldness Be My Friend” is the thrilling true-life account of WW2 POW escapee RICHARD PAPE’s attempts to evade re-capture and keep ahead of his German pursuers across Northern Europe. Illustration by DAVID ECCLES
Until reading this book, I had never actually considered just how valuable the humble bicycle could be to an escapee in occupied territory. A true gift, its merits are almost too obvious to realise - relatively anonymous, easy to steal (and just as importantly, easy to conceal), silent running and enabling one to cover considerably more ground in a day than could possibly be achieved on foot. This all made a bicycle far more valuable than a motor car to Mr Pape.
As I got deeper into the story, I was absolutely staggered by the pace which he kept up in order to stay ahead of his pursuers. He simply did not stop unless it proved physically impossible, 24 or even 48 hour stints were normal.
Imagine, if you can, riding over 100 miles non-stop through pitch darkness, intense cold and driving rain dressed as a Belgian farmhand - complete with heavy boots, full length overcoat (made out of “itchy blanket” material no doubt) and baggy corduroy trousers, all of which when wet, would have weighed as much as a small car.
Too easy? Alright then. Imagine you're riding a single speed roadster which is either too large or too small and according to sod's law would almost certainly have had a “left hand pedal crank clanking every revolution” due to a faulty cotter pin (remember those?!). Finally, you cannot stop by the side of the road for fear of being rumbled (and then shot) by a roving search party..
The above would be tough for a modern cycling athlete, but remember, this was wartime and POW's welfare was not a priority of the German Army. Mr Pape was in pretty dodgy shape even before he escaped, and a diet of wild berries and puddle water cannot have helped.
Catch me if you can
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Road bikes and Racers
I relax by taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together again.