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THE IRON CURTAIN: 10,000 Miles on a £50 Bike

By Christopher Ashley

There are two types of cyclists – those who ride bikes based on weight, rolling resistance, lateral stiffness and vertical compliance. And then there’s Tim Moore, with a spiritual connection to the bike that would make Eddy Merckx blush.

The Enigmatic Ascetic

When reading Moore’s book The Cyclist Who Went Out in The Cold: Adventures Along The Iron Curtain you have to keep in mind that this is Moore’s tenth book. This isn’t a writer who’s trying to make a name for himself – the book starts in the cold tundra of the Finnish Lapland.

Within two days, Moore was begging for bread on the isolated country’s doorsteps – local convenience shops being something of a luxury this far north.

It’s very clear that Moore has an ascetic approach to cycling – if it doesn’t hurt a little, you’re not going to see the benefits.

The Journey

The Iron Curtain spanned nearly 7000 km from Finland to Greece, and Moore’s chosen route offered a few challenges as well as opportunities. The Iron Curtain runs through several distinct cultures that each have their own idiosyncrasies – from Russian traffic to deep spiritual contemplation of the merits of antifreeze.

By the time Moore arrived at the Black Sea in Bulgaria, he’d experienced the kindness of strangers, waived the comforts of hospitality to make a dent in his journey, and broken his own perception of what his body could endure.

The bleak, cold, and damp weather would punish Moore, but not as much as the psychological effect of being alone in the wilderness. After all, Moore had nothing but a bike to escape brown bears and wolf packs. You’d think he’d choose a sensible bike…

The MIFA 900

Three Million Mitteldeutsche Fahrradwerke AG built between 1967 and 1990 and Moore got his hands on one of them. In 1978 alone 1.5 million were built and they became the iconic folding bike of Eastern Germany.

Folding bikes are synonymous with urban convenience – they aren’t known for touring comfort. This begs the question why would Moore use a MIFA to traverse The Iron Curtain?

Maybe Moore is your typical cyclist – he wants to prove a point. You don’t need a fancy touring bike to cross continents. You just need a few spare inner tubes, a tube of lube, a little mechanical knowledge, and as the English would say, “sheer bloody mindedness”. Chapeau, Mr Moore.