Book Excerpt: Tom Ritchey, The dot connector

From Editor’s note: The following excerpt appears in Tim Lewis’ new book, Land of Second Chances, available now from VeloPress. For more details, visit VeloPress’ website today.

In Rwanda, Tom Ritchey found a new frontier in bicycle development — and himself. Photo: Brad Kaminski | Tom Ritchey had been cycling in Rwanda for a week when he came across the old man and his wife standing by the road. He had ventured all around the little country, pedaled up and over most of its “thousand” hills. He never thought he’d go anywhere more spectacular than his backyard of northern California, but this place — with its mist-topped volcanoes, towering waterfalls, glassy lakes, and monkeys hanging out like belligerent teenagers by the side of the road — certainly came close. He imagined that this was what the whole unspoiled planet had looked like a few thousand years ago. As he traveled around on his bike, he saw children — it felt like millions of them, most of them smiling, indomitably cheerful. They were entertained by nothing and everything; Tom wasn’t sure which. They ran alongside him barefoot or in cheap rubber sandals until they collapsed in the dirt, breathless but gasping for air to keep laughing. Then, out of nowhere, another group of kids would appear, as if arriving for their designated spot in the relay, taking their turn to sprint up the track behind his back wheel screaming, “Muzungu!” White man! Relentlessly, “Muzungu!” Not a greeting as such, more an instinctual outburst of shock and curiosity. Wherever Tom stopped, a crowd would form. What they made of him is anyone’s guess. He stood a few inches over six feet tall and wore skintight Lycra and reflective sunglasses. He had an impressive shock of black, backcombed hair and an exuberant mustache clipped somewhere between handlebar and Fu Manchu. Back home, he looked like someone whose fashion clock had stopped ticking in 1975, but in Rwanda, they didn’t have many white men to compare him to. He could mangle a couple of words of Kinyarwanda, and he spoke no French, the other useful language in the Rwandan countryside, but he chattered away obliviously in a mellifluous Californian drawl that no one even vaguely understood. He thought they might be interested in his bike, which he had designed and welded himself from aerospace titanium and should have looked like a rocket ship to them. But they couldn’t care less. They just wanted to see him up close. The more adventurous ones would reach out to touch him. If he tossed down an empty bottle of water — “Agacupa!” — there would be a mad scrabble for the trophy. The complete excerpt can be read here.