Although he’s probably better known for his trip from Istanbul to China via the old Silk Road, Gabriel Pernau is the most important Catalan fixed wheel cyclist of the 21st century. So far. In 2001 on an authentic no-speed bike he repeated the route taken by the first Tour of Catalonia in 1911, an experience he recounts in Catalunya a Pinyó Fix [Catalonia by Fixed Wheel] which was published in Barcelona earlier this year. The photo here is from the same volume, which also contains an excellent short history of pedalling in Catalonia up to that point. Pernau quotes inter alia Narcís Masferrer who, in a 1906 article, wrote that Catalan roads impede foreigners

from realizing a desire most comprehensible in them of coming to Spain, the beautiful country with blue sky and pretty women, and visiting Barcelona, the great Spanish city closest to the border, admired by all, the modern capital, emporium of industry and of national manufacturing. (…) Pity the tourist who ventures to enter Spain via Le Perthus: without a road sign!, without a bridge over the Tordera!!, with an infinite, endless series of ephemeral streams [rieras], which in times of rain become impassable rivers… The most daring surrenders in anguish, and … decides to return to his country. (p121)

What I missed in this book (probably through lack of care on my part) was an account of how contemporary cyclists found out how to get where, and of the problems they could expect on the way. Here, for comparative purposes, is an annotated London to Bath route from The ‘Royal’ Road Book of England. A Guide to the Main Routes Throughout the Country, With 300 Contour Plans (London and Edinburgh: Gall & Inglis, ca 1900):

I’ve done this route and variants several times and recommend the ride through Hyde Park early on a fresh, bright morning, followed by 50s vernacular architecture alongside the A3 as it leaves London, a whole series of small towns with good fish and chip shops, and then Bath, the classiest quasi-council estate in the world. All that can puncture your joy on a day like this is Box Hill, a horrid green lump just after Chippenham. Brunel gave up and built a tunnel underneath it, but you will survive if you make it to the scrumpy manufacturer at the bottom on the right on the Batheaston side.

Enough of that. Who knows where I can find old Catalan cycling maps?

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  1. Can you tell me about a a Gall and Inglis Edinburugh,
    Large Map of noth Wales, cloth bound blue cover
    scale 3 miles to an inch
    Just turned up dont know the history though I would be glad of any information
    Judith Griffiths

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