Book Review: Cycling Science
 – How Rider and Machine Work Together

 

Cycling Science

Cycling Science
 – How Rider and Machine Work Together
by Max Glaskin

Reviewed by Nick Dey

(Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, Deutschland (and Wigan, Lancashire)
 

Cycling_Science_CoverInvestigate the scientific wonders that keep cyclists in their saddles!

An ageing statistician once stated that there are 1.2 billion cyclists in the world (where’s the uncertainty?). We can all, I would guess, recall the first time we mastered the art of riding a bike – without stabilisers, I should add. My own experience involved a sadistic Yorkshire uncle, the legendarily bad children’s Raleigh Mayflower, a steep drop – those from Wigan will recognise the profile, from Haigh Hall plantation gates down to the trickling metallic orange of the river Douglas and the bridge of doom with its iron railings. The ear filling rush of wind, an attempted brake and steer, a crashing cacophony renting the still air, tears, torn clothes, bloody and bruised body parts, and a grin as wide as Lancashire – inspired by the immense satisfaction of taking control of the purple steed. The rest, as the great philosopher once said, is – much like the 2013 FA cup – history!

Anyone reading this will already agree that riding a bike is one of the most rewarding of human activities, whether from the euphoric wobbles described above, the utilitarian daily commute or the adrenalin rush of competition.

The introduction argues that…

“Cycling occupies a unique niche in the world. It satisfies concerns about the environment, sustainability, health and fitness, competition – while giving millions the freedom to travel independently. Their horizons forever expanded. These benefits would be mere anecdotes if it wasn’t for the fact that thousands of scientists have studied almost every aspect of is seemingly simple activity.”

In ‘Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together,’ Max Glaskin presents his ideas in a straightforward, user-friendly, and consistently informative and entertaining way. The focus is the science of cycling which and this made accessible by the subdividing the whole into themed chapters. With each focused on interrelated topics with the principles and thinking well-presented and supported through the use of info-graphics and supporting text pitched at an appropriate level for the non-specialist. The presentation of some traditionally tricky physics is dealt with intelligently and thoughtfully. All of which allows the reader to access a deeper comprehension and, with diligence, understanding of what goes on when designing, building, riding and racing a bicycle. Experts, fear not! The book contains, as all books of this type should, a very detailed reference and further-reading list with web links if available. I certainly appreciate the huge amount of research Max Glaskin undertook.

Reading this book, be it from cover-to-cover or dipping into it as the mood takes you, can only enhance the experience of cycling, in whatever form you may take it.

An unexpected bonus … One for you teachers and students of physics out there.

Several of my A-level and Advanced Higher Level International Baccalaureate students asked to have a look at the book (I was flicking through whilst they modelled the ‘head’ decay constant of several local beers). They were still engrossed in the book over an hour later having read through their lunch break – so much for the uninformed opinions concerning student concentration spans these days! As one enthused teen, with no previous interest in cycling, pointed out…

“This would have been perfect for the A-Level mechanics and materials unit. Where can I get a copy?”

Another, this time an IB student, politely requested to use the science within as a foundation for an investigation. It didn’t take long for me to agree and I can’t wait to see what research proposal he comes up with.

Both ordered that night and the former has since, after a hiatus lasting since his primary years, started riding a bike to and from school; Heady and immediate success indeed. Others are following in this pairs pioneering tyre tracks! Me? Well, I am one happy teacher of physics! Imagine the experiments and contextualisation of theory we will be doing now that I have a physics lab full self-motivated and cycling obsessed young scientists. Oh, and a ready supply of bicycles and willing ‘volunteers’ too!

So, why all this fuss and hyperbole?

This book delves far deeper than the usual training manuals and guides we are all used to. The science covered is always pertinently focused but also ranges far and wide, often revealing, and revelling in, the unexpected. Fundamental physics, engineering principles, materials science, human anatomy and physiology, statistics, sociology are, along with other fields, the spring boards used to leap into the story of the bicycle and its riders.

So what will you learn by reading this book?

As ever I’m loath to give too much of the detail away – I certainly had several ’aha! so that’s what’s going on’, and ’ooh, I’ve never thought of it that way before’ moments. I have decided to give you, good reader of all things pedal powered, a taste of the questions posed, and answered. An amuse-bouche-bicyclette if you like!

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Fundamentals: chapter one introduces and asks several fundamental questions. “What are the forces acting upon a bicycle?” What is a bike – its components? “How efficient is a bike or why is it easier to ride than walk?” “Which bike should I choose (what is the most efficient design?)” “Why are men’s and women’s bikes different?” “What are the environmental impacts of cycling?” “Can cycling help me live longer?” “How risky is travelling by bike?” How much power can a cyclist generate?” “How can I compute the power output?” “Does a tandem have scientific advantages?” Along the way some beautiful physics and wider science is woven seamlessly into the context of bike and rider. Force & inertia, energy efficiency, power, the conservation of energy and the laws of thermodynamics and gender specific anatomy and physiology, are all introduced and developed a little deep than expected for such a friendly tome. Many myths are laid to rest along the way as the chapter ’…lays down a broad, smooth track for the journey ahead.’

Strength & Stability: the second chapter describes the physics that makes the bike – your bike – work so well (and not collapse beneath you – as happened to me in Shanghai!) We’ve all asked ourselves how much load our bike can take and this is where the chapter begins. You’ll even be able to estimate the stress acting on the various parts of your bike as you change position. There is then a fine treatment of material science – a very useful introduction to the field it proves to be. Stress (what you do to the material), strain (how that material behaves when you do things to it), the elastic limit (that sickening moment when the bars and tubes no longer return to their original dimensions… as recently experienced!), the Young’s modulus (the relationship between stress and strain) and, finally ultimate tensile strength… Or how close are you to actually breaking your frame (another recent, ahem, incident on a local track makes me wish I’d done my sums before pretending to be a rubbish version of Sir Chris Hoy!) all provide a solid foundation for the remainder of this long chapter. Our focus alights on frame geometry and bike fit – a very useful size chart is included, along with component specific energy and power efficiency (frame twist and crank deflection, etc) and then moves into suspension and the ever controversial self-stabilising dynamic models of the moving bicycle. This latter is worth a book in itself. The chapter concludes with a detailed, and fun, treatment of cornering, counter steering and the equilibrium of forces required in keeping you off the tarmac. The author doesn’t limit himself to two-wheels.

Materials: here we have succinct, ahem, material evidence for the ingenuity of the plethora of engineers behind the bicycle. The opening takes a novel approach, staring as it does with the fundamental states of matter and then plunging into the atomic structure and bonding of commonly used materials. Tubing follows; their diameters and, for me a very interesting knowledge gap filler, how they are held together. I couldn’t spot any reference to the precision of milling of the miter joint – the quality of which, an old time builder told me, adds a great deal to the strength of the frame? Polymers and carbon construction continue the journey which then flows into fluids, in all their guises; manufacturing, gas pressures (and how they affect riding), et al, then return us to the starting concept with the introduction of another state of matter, plasma – and why it may well play an important role in the future of bike materials. This is very novel contextual application of this ’fourth state’ and is well explained and supported by some vividly imagined and sketched diagrams: never an easy thing to do when trying to visualise such complexity in two-dimensions.

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Chapter four is one for you speed merchants out there… Power! Where it is generated and where it is lost. The author starts by asking the obvious question, ‘how does a bike turn effort into speed?’ The pages dealing with foot-pedal interface and gearing efficiency caused me to rethink the paucity of my own shifts! The oft-ignored but ever vital chain is given the clean-up it deserves, and is brought bang up to date with the support of some very contemporary research. Again, much food for thought for the elite riders and coaches (but I’m sure Chris Boardman is fully up to speed). Wheel weight & mass distribution, spoke tension, tyres, braking, bearings – and as I desperately need a new wheel-set this is very pertinent – are well presented and contextualised, supported ably by some basic physics ranging from the typical simplified Newton’s 2nd Law (F=ma & Ƭ=lα), mechanical advantage and moment of inertia to harmonics and fundamental frequencies. Sigh, physics and cycling… bliss!

Chapter five is the main issue for the racer out there:  aerodynamics – how to push the air out of the way as easily and quickly as possible. I think I heard Chris Boardman, that man again, state recently that up to 80-85% of energy transferred by a racing cyclist is used to overcome that most insidious of opponents: air resistance… What a drag! We have all read about the pro’s and the many hours they spend undergoing wind tunnel testing – just look at the transformation in form of Vincenzo Nibali (2013 Giro d’Italia, stage 8.) Well, if you’ve ever wondered what dark arts they apply then this is the chapter for you. Not a single aspect of aerodynamics is overlooked and all concepts are, as usual, made accessible.

This excellent book closes by covering the one thing only hinted at so far… The human factor. I’ll be honest and admit that I read this first in a desperate attempt to find some secret, long hidden, key that would allow my 90 kg+ to get up hills faster than a sophomoric sloth! I really should know better! The chapter opens by introducing, clearly and simply, all the body systems involved. Anatomy, physiology, neurology and psychology, etc., are all interlinked. Many of the more recent issues in cycling are well treated. Especially interesting was the direct comparison the books format allowed me to make between altitude training and the cheats alternative, ’blood boosting.’ The short, medium and indeed long terms benefits to heart, lungs, body and mind, of riding a bike, especially with regards to regular high intensity training (rather topical this) is persuasively presented.

“Cycling protects against the long term risks of coronary heart disease, no matter how long you cycle each day – but cycling faster is better!”

Max Glaskin is an award-winning science and technology journalist with a special interest in cycling. He has contributed to a vast range of publications. He co-founded the Mountain Bike Club (of GB) and ran it for five years to help launch the sport. He has cycled over the Greater Himalaya and danced for the Queen as a member of the Bicycle Ballet!

 

Cycling Science Cycling Science
 – How Rider and Machine Work Together by Max Glaskin Cycling Shorts Rating

CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 100%: Read it: think, apply – ride smoothly, efficiently and swiftly!

Title:

Cycling Science – How rider and machine work together

Author:
Max Glaskin

Hardback Price: RRP £20.00

ISBN 978-0-7112-3359-1

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Consumed by Jonathan Budds

 

Consumed

by Jonathan Budds

Reviewed by Nick Dey

Consumed by Jonathan Budds

The cover tells the prospective reader so much; the despairingly single-minded Pantani-Armstrong-esque posturing, perhaps desperately imploring, to the cruel gods of victory, fortune and wealth. From the many hued brown tones on almost black, to the elongated limbs and warped, distended and shrinking body. All combine to suggest that we need to look beyond the obviously physical world of the professional racing cyclist and into the psychology of individual, sport and society. It is a book very much within the current self-evaluative zeitgeist of the sport. But not in the way you would immediately think. It is a novel of so much more.

Welcome to the first gothic novel set in the world of professional road cycling! Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write! This is sporting horror story full of wit, dark-humour, hope, insightful observations and unexpected and unpredictable plot developments.

Consumed, by Jonathan Budds, stands as wonderful novel in its own right.

It just so happens that pro-cycling is the chosen road of the protagonist. The book delivers on several levels and on the way delves deep into the psyche of isolated athlete,  family, friends, teammates, lover, fans and, as topical as this is, medical doctor and associated cronies. It also holds a much needed mirror up to much of what dominates popular culture today.

It is almost impossible to impart detail, nuance, feeling and, unforgivably, plot without giving away the arcs of a very good, very, very well written story.

Congratulations Jonathan, you may well have penned the finest cycling novel to date.

In light of this critical disclaimer allow me to introduce you to twenty-seven year old Romain Mariani, professional cyclist (ranked 63rd in the world), native of a fictional Eastern European enclave, cricket loving son of an English mother and a brutal Eastern European former pro. Romain is a character to whom I took an instant liking, he’s someone I’d very much enjoy riding alongside, and that this positive engagement took place so early in the book is further testament to the penmanship of Jonathan Budds – who self-published by the way, but on this later.

We first meet Romain ascending the final climb of a stage race. The racing description here is somewhat reminiscent of Tim Crabbe’s The Rider. High praise indeed, but fully justified. All seems to be going almost to plan. Almost. He’s so close, there are just a few percentage points difference between him and the very best… But then, with the stage winner found dead, Romain finally arrives at the long aspired to yet dreaded cross roads. How will he handle the descent, both literal and metaphorical? And what unexpected twists does fate have in store?

Romain is, through his childhood experiences, vehemently and uncompromisingly anti-doping. But what is he to do? How can he bridge the tiny yet almost insurmountable chasm to the very top of his sport? He is at a cross roads with unexpected and long dreamed of (and feared) opportunities presenting themselves almost daily. Ah, the life of a promising pro. Much truth is hinted at here.

Meet Hans Banquo; Herr Wunderschön, Hansi the Conqueror. The leading rider of the day. Utterly dominant, yet approaching the end of a highly lucrative career. He may remind you of someone, just a little, but then again, perhaps not? Other characters enter the story but to describe them in any detail would give too much away. I can, however, dare to inform that there is amongst a smorgasbord of fascinating and often larger than life characters  a rather odd and messianically  obsessive doctor with the gothically obligatory oily assistant as front man, a girlfriend, also a leading but injured athlete, her highly driven and wealthy father, Romain’s family and village friends, a rather unpleasant Aussie pro with an unsettling mother-as-manager relationship, a gypsy community desperate to make ends meet, a philosophical taxi driver, and a mythical -or is it – giant wild boar called Golgotha. The latter of which both fascinates and haunts Romain. It all becomes rather more pro-tein than pro-team*!

It would be remiss of me to tell more of Romain’s tale as key plot details would be revealed and the joy of discovering his story for yourself, gone.

I can only urge you to read this excellent and, at least in my experience, unique novel*.

Still unsure if this book’s for you? Go to www.consumed-novel.com where you can download the first 10 chapters of the novel for free. There is also a limited edition musette pack containing a signed copy of the book, 200 hundred were produced, however I am not sure how many remain unsold (I bought one, it’s of real quality!)

As I’ve already stated, Jonathan self-published this superbly dark and witty book. His need to do so is, to my mind, a sad indictment indeed of the publishing houses and their narrowing priorities.

Jonathan, a veteran of twenty years in advertising, has competed in many cycling events including the Etape de Tour and the longest and largest bike race in the world, the Vätternrundan. Consumed is his first novel. His second, Chronic, in which a man is shot by his wife for no apparent reason, will be published later this year.
* vegetarians, vegans, plant-based athletes, and those with a sensitive disposition beware!
Riis: Stages of Light and Dark by Bjarne Riis Cycling Shorts Rating
CyclingShorts Rating: 100%. A book I will certainly read again.
Title:
Consumed

Author:
Jonathan Budds

Available in Paperback and digital

Price:
RRP £15.00 +P&P (Limited Edition with Musette)
RRP £6.99 (Digital)
RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

How to buy:

  1. The limited illustrated edition (1 of 200) is available for £15 + Post and Packaging. Each 6″ x 9″ copy comes in its own specially-designed musette (cyclists’ feed bag) and is printed on 115 gsm paper, double the weight of the pages of a standard paperback. Available from the authors Consumed webpage:  http://consumed-novel.com/buy-the-book/
  2. In paperback from Amazon UK for £6.29 (at date of writing): Click here to view in the Amazon Store
  3. In eBook format from Amazon UK Kindle Store for £2.62 (at date of writing): Click here to visit the Amazon UK Kindle Store