Cycling comedian John is on to a real grinner with his life story!

Cycling is smiles better for author and former stand-up comedian John Dowie

Cycling comedian John is on to a real grinner with his life story!

As a former professional stand-up comedian, John Dowie should have impeccable timing. So why did he quit comedy just when it was about to become the new rock ’n' roll and end up cycling around the country with a tent?

It’s a question he has often asked himself. But, as his hilarious new book ‘The Freewheeling John Dowie’ reveals, he hasn’t looked back since (except on the regular occasions he’s about to be overtaken by a fellow cyclist).

As well as a comedian and author, John is a poet, playwright, musician, actor and director, not to mention a keen Cycling UK member and, by his own admission, an addictive personality.

As he said: “Once I get hold of something I like, I become fanatical about it – which is what happened when I bought a bike.”

That was in 2005 – 33 years after John made his professional comedy debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was given his first review (“Fatuous” – The Scotsman.)

Back in 1972, comedy wasn’t the superstar-making, mega-money business it is today. John gigged where he could in folk clubs, music venues, fringe theatres, universities and rooms above pubs.

Things improved with the advent of alternative comedy in the 1980s but John packed up the stand-up routine in 1995 to work as a director and write for radio, TV and the theatre.

He said: “It was as though my departure was just the break that comedy was waiting for. No sooner had I stopped than comedians were earning vast amounts of money performing in venues the size of small countries.”

Meanwhile, after discovering the joys of cycling in 2005, John was taking the spotlight in a slightly more intimate venue – a one-man tent.

He recalled: “I thought I’d just have the occasional bike ride once I took up cycling but, addictive personality that I am, soon I was having rides before breakfast. Then I was riding my bike virtually every minute of every day. The more rides I did, the more I wanted to do.

“Soon I was craving longer and longer journeys, friends, family and work all forgotten. In a very short while I had sold my flat, bought a tent, and was riding my bike all the time.

I cycle more like a snail than a man, creaking along, my world on my back – or, rather, my bicycle’s back – with no idea of where I’m going or how to get there. If you don’t know where you’re going, why rush?”

Avid cyclist and former stand-up comedian John Dowie

“While former friends and contemporaries dined at The Ivy, I ate beans from a camping stove!

“My kind of cyclist tends to be either very old or very young, on rusty boneshakers or bicycles with training wheels, and they only have one thing in common – overtaking me on a regular basis.

“This is because I cycle more like a snail than a man, creaking along, my world on my back – or, rather, my bicycle’s back – with no idea of where I’m going or how to get there. If you don’t know where you’re going, why rush?”

Now 65-year-old John, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, has committed his marvellously entertaining story to print.

Gems include his first long-distance bike ride, where he managed to get hopelessly lost – by several counties and about 140 miles – and ended up sleeping in a graveyard with his underpants on his head.  

He added: “The book is not just about my life as a cyclist. It’s also about my life as a comedian. In one of those lives, starting off slowly then going rapidly downhill is a good thing. In the other, it’s not. It would have been nice if, just once, I’d got them the right way round!

“It’s the story of my life so far. I hope there are still a few more bike rides left – a few more hills to climb, a few more lanes to get lost in.”

‘The Freewheeling John Dowie’ is published by Unbound, who use crowd-funding to meet their production costs.

The writer Alan Moore, creator of ‘Watchmen’, ‘V for Vendetta’ and more, read an early draft of the book and wrote: “I genuinely cannot recommend this cornucopia of middle-England majesty too highly.”

Unbound are offering a discount to any cyclist who makes a pledge – apply the code CTC16 at the checkout stage and £5.00 will be wiped from the bill. Excerpts from ‘The Freewheeling John Dowie’ can be found on the Unbound website, along with a video narrated by the great comedy writer Barry Cryer.

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