Book Review: Red Tape and White Knuckles

Lois Pryce's hobby is riding small bikes on big trips. Her books about those trips are fantastic. Photo: Loisontheloose.com
Lois Pryce’s hobby is riding small bikes on big trips. Her books about those trips are fantastic. Photo: Loisontheloose.com

There are many different hobbies out there. Some folks fly model airplanes, some people find knitting relaxing, and it’s rumoured that some people even spend thousands of dollars on metal clubs and run around in the grass, hitting a little white ball into a hole in the ground. Crazy, we know.

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Lois Pryce has a hobby much more interesting than any of those pursuits – she rides motorcycles. Small motorcycles. And she rides them long distances.

Red Tape and White Knuckles

Pryce is best-known in North America for her first book, Lois on the Loose, which details her first long ride, which took her from Alaska to Argentina on an XT225. Now her second book has finally been released in North America (it’s been available in Europe for a while). It’s titled Red Tape and White Knuckles.

This time around, Pryce is headed to Africa on a Yamaha 250. Red Tape and White Knuckles starts, naturally, with the preparations for Pryce’s journey; although she’s fair-skinned and sunburns easily, for some reason, she decides she must see Africa by motorcycle. Alas, a trial run to Morocco leaves her with a ripping case of dehydration, but that’s not enough to deter her; in the following months, Pryce starts gathering travel visas in London’s African consulates.

Pryce's book gives you a good idea of what sort of characters you can expect to meet on a journey across Africa.
Pryce’s book gives you a good idea of what sort of characters you can expect to meet on a journey across Africa.

This stretch of the book sets the tone for the tale – it shows off Pryce’s power of observation, as she lays out the good, the bad and the ugly of the visa application process.

As she hits the road, crossing the Channel, traveling southwards from France, she has plenty to say about the people she meets along the way. Xenophobic B&B owners (who are immigrants themselves), a fellow traveler who stresses the importance of getting along with everyone, then wears T-shirts with sexy slogans through Islamic countries, a desert guide who manages to get everyone lost – when you read the book, you feel like you’re riding with the wacky characters that Pryce meets en route.

That’s one of the best things about this book. It doesn’t just describe the landscapes you’ll encounter when riding Africa. Through her trip across the Sahara, down southwards to Cape Town, Pryce hobnobs with everyone from overlanding Land Rover pilots, to African government officials, to enterprising fixers who guide her through confusing African cities.

A random passerby extracts her bike from a mudhole after she gets it properly stuck, a truckload of soldiers high on weed tries to steal her food, and a desperate hotel worker pumps her for information on how to escape her low-income job – Pryce interacts with everyone she meets en route, and when you read, it feels like you’re right there with her.

The trip isn’t without danger ; at one point, Pryce even manages to ride into a minefield, but manages to escape without setting off any explosions. Want more details? Then, buy the book and read it for yourself. It’s a great yarn, with old-fashioned GPS-free adventure, and full of Pryce’s dry British wit – it’ll likely leave you laughing out loud.

Riding Africa was not without its low moments. Photo: Loisontheloose.com
Riding Africa was not without its low moments. Photo: Loisontheloose.com

It’s entertaining, but also a good guidebook of what to do (and sometimes, what not to do) if you want to ride your motorcycle madly off in all directions. It’s full of action, not self-introspective navel-gazing, and you might enjoy it so much that you read through it in a setting or two.

This 410-page softcover is available for $24.95 at Octane Press.

Lois on the Loose

Really, if you’re going to read Red Tape and White Knuckles, you should pick up a copy of Lois on the Loose first. This book is where Pryce develops her writing style (and her riding style).

Like her second book, Lois on the Loose is full of written snapshots of fellow travelers and friendly locals that Pryce meets along the way, starting with her journey’s beginning as she leaves her humdrum job at the BBC and uncrates her motorcycle in an Alaskan airport.

In her first book, Pryce even rode through a bit of Canada, although her lack of insurance caused a bit of trouble.
In her first book, Pryce even rode through a bit of Canada, although her lack of insurance caused a bit of trouble.

She actually visits Canada on this trip, and ends up with her bike confiscated by the RCMP after they take a dim view of her lack of insurance.After she rescues it from the impound, she heads south to the US, then Central America, eventually reaching the very bottom of South America.

Her journey has plenty of trials: Pryce is hardly a grizzled two-wheeled veteran at the book’s opening, and she makes mistakes due to her naivety. Perhaps her greatest mistake is partnering up with another woman who’s also riding South America – but much, much worse prepared for the trip, mentally speaking. In the end, though, Pryce doesn’t have to figure out how to politely part ways – the riding partnership has a much grimmer end.

The weather, the extreme altitudes, hordes of butt-pinching men who can’t resist a red-headed foreign woman riding a motorcycle – Pryce fills the reader in on all the highs and lows of her trip.

If you do a bit of digging on the web, you’ll find the rare reader who’s disgruntled over Pryce’s description of local cultures.

Apparently, some people think a book on motorcycle travel isn’t done until you fill it full of reverent descriptions of all the societies you travel through. Those people should simply sign up for National Geographic, and leave the rest of us to this amusing story.

Pryce was at Overland Expo when I attended there in May, but if you missed that event, you can buy her books from Octane Press.
Pryce was at Overland Expo when I attended there in May, but if you missed that event, you can buy her books from Octane Press.

Whether she’s riding her motorcycle at an extreme angle to battle blustering desert winds, staying for the night in dodgy inns (even a brothel at one point!), or bluffing her way through a roadblock with pidgin Spanish and a faked tale of a waiting husband (complete with bogus wedding ring), it’s quite funny in parts, while others leave you wondering just how this five-foot-two Englishwoman pulled it off.

But, she did manage to complete the journey, and she’s turned it into a great book. It’s 352 pages long and will set you back a meager $16.95 at Octane Press. Buy a copy, and save it for next winter when it’s cold and miserable outside – you just might get inspired to hit the road yourself.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Red Tape and White Knuckles”

  1. I need to know all the safety feature on motorcycle. Like what to do when the bike wobble, front blow out tire, rear blow out tire,

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