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31st January 2003


Good Vibrations: Coast to Coast By Harley by Tom CunliffeGood Vibrations

The full title of Tom Cunliffe's traveller's tale is Good Vibrations: Coast to Coast By Harley. Stop! Come back! Tom and his wife Roz take the road trip of a lifetime across America on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, yes they do. But don't let your preconceptions about Yank tanks keep you from enjoying their adventures and sharing in their understandings.

Tom and Roz are English; Tom an experienced rider, Roz has just passed her test. Tom ships his own full-blown Fat Boy over to States for the trip; Roz buys a 'small bike', an 883 Sportster on the East Coast. The guy who sells her the Sporty isn't sure it's big enough to make the round trip to San Francisco and back in one piece -- what would he make of men who rides their BSA Bantams to Moscow, eh?

Throughout their journey, Tom and Roz are tested -- by the weather, by the roads -- and entertained -- by the people and by the landscape. They encounter astonishing hospitality and occasional hostility. All the time the message is driven home: America is not simply Britain on a bigger scale. It is a foreign as any other country -- the shared language misleads as much as it informs. America is big, and America is different. Tom and Roz run up against those differences at every turn, and through this book the reader can begin to understand them.

It really helps that Tom can turn a word, too. Here, he looks at his Harley and sees that the rain gives the bike a new dimension; 'As the clear drops ran off her waxed tank to drip over the shining complexity of her power plant, each one carried an image, a tiny world that lasted only long enough to land on the smooth black gloss and run to the edge. Letting go its despairing hold on the underside to tumble onto the cylinder fins, its doom was sealed as surely as that of an iceberg sailing down from Labrador to meet the warm Gulf Stream… The droplets hit the hot chrome and evaporated with a hiss, leaving nothing but invisible vapour, where a second earlier had been a fish-eye image of the tractor, me and the oak tree.'

Good Vibrations has a flaw; the journey back, when funds are running low and the great adventure is coming to a close, conveys its sense of anti-climax all too well. The final chapters can't compete with the exhilaration and anticipation established in the first half of the book. The riders are tired, the end is in sight, and the journey ends on an off-key note. But the good far out-weighs the bad -- and the bad is only 'bad' in comparison to the good!

Rowena Hoseason

Good Vibrations: Coast to Coast By Harley by Tom Cunliffe.
Published by Summersdale, ISBN 1 84024 113 6, price £7.99.
Buy a copy from Amazon for £4.25


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