Paul Fournel: Need for the Bike

There is so much to say about this little book by cyclist, writer, publisher and OULIPO-member Paul Fournel, that I do not know where to begin. It is perfect. It captures what riding the bike is about, in just a few works, a few sentences he describes the essential.

Why, you ask, gather all these data about rides, how far and how fast, measured by computers and GPS-devices, when you need just a few well chosen words that condense the reality of it. (Ezra Pound: ‘Dichten’ is condensare).

I recognize almost everything in Fournel’s ‘need for the bike’. Which, I guess, is a way to say I am a cyclist like him. (Only I think he’s way faster, more competitive, I never did any sports prior to buying a racing bike when I was 30, I am a late-comer).

Just a few quotes — in English (the translation is by Allan Stoekl, the book is published by the University of Nebraska Press):

“Bike speed requires you to be selective about what you see, you reconstruct what you sense, In that way you get to the essential. Your gaze brushes over the title of a book or a cover, a newspaper catches your eye, you glimpse a potential gift in a window, a new bread in a bakery. That’s the proper speed of my gaze. It’s a writer’s speed, a speed that filters and does a preliminary selection.” (p. 44/45)

“As soon as I knew how to ride I grasped the idea of a greater world. When I left tot do a circuit, everything inside the circuit was ‘home’.” (p. 63)

“Road maps for me are dream machines. I like to read them as if they’re adventure stories. When I drive my car I use them to find the shortest route, to find the long roads where cities join, roads that don’t go through the country. As a bike rider I use them for everything else. If I know an area, every centimeter on the map is a landscape laid out for me. If I don’t know it yet, every centimeter is an imagined landscape that I will explore.” (p. 79)

For me maps are dream machines too. And there is the reason why I still use maps, and do not have a GPS device — though I am fascinated by how these technologies change one’s relation toward space, landscape and dreaming. I find it impossible to dream while staring at Google maps and Google Earth.

Should I write an essay on that?

(Btw: thanks to Alex Myers for bringing this book to my attention)

Paul Fournel is here:


  1. I would be very interested in that essay, I have often wondered why you stick to your analogue map.

    comment by Nickel | 27 November 2008 | 21:53 |
  2. The easy answer is: habit. The slightly better one: aesthetics (though my somewhat careless way of drawing the route speaks against that). The one I’m wondering about is: the difference between dreaming the landscape while looking at a map (of paper) and peering at a computer screen (with zoom-possibiity etc.)

    The problem with this third option is: this blog is read on computer screens anyway.

    Ah, at some point I will be using A GPS-device and upload KML-files etc….

    But not yet :-)

    comment by Arie Altena | 27 November 2008 | 22:12 |

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