One Man And His Bike
A life-changing journey all the way around the coast of Britain
by Mike Carter
I must confess, I didn’t pick up this book with a great degree of enthusiasm – I’ve read motorcycle-based travel books before and found some can go on long after they run out of interesting things to say. So imagine my surprise when I picked up One Man And His Bike and was almost instantly drawn in – the tagline is simple enough (“what would happen if you were cycling to the office and just kept on pedalling”?), but it’s the execution that makes it fantastic. You can almost see it – a man desperate for escape, for change; he’s cycling to work and reaches a junction. One way – towards work is; traffic jams, road works, blowing horns and exhaust fumes – the other runs alongside the Thames, and onwards out to the sea. Who wouldn’t be intrigued at the possibility, the promise? It’s almost poetic.
Well, Mike Carter was, for one. Instead of heading to Argentina, he decided to load up the bike and follow that road to the sea, and the result is an amazing, epic travelogue, 5000 miles around the coast. It’s not written as a travel guide, or a “how to do your own epic ride”, it’s purely Mike’s story – as a consequence, he doesn’t get bogged down in detail and the narrative fair dances across the page. If you’re looking for his in-depth thoughts on your coastal town, or want a useful guide to an interesting seaside destination, you won’t find it here. But what you WILL find are 350 pages of the most wonderful snapshots, of places, landscapes, history, cycling, beer, cakes, camping, and most of all, people – Mike will clearly speak to anyone, and it’s his encounters with the broadest variety of the populace that really bring the book to life. On almost every page, it seems, there’s an artful vignette of a meeting between any kind of random person you can think of, and some bloke on a bike.
What makes this a stand out book is that Mike is first and foremost a writer, rather than a cycling enthusiast. His prose is wonderfully measured and efficient, a deftly-wielded artist’s brush picking out beautiful detail rather than a housepainter’s roller covering everything in stodge, so it races along, but it still leaves you with strong impressions of the many things he saw and did, so you get a wonderful sense of the country and its people in a nutshell. And it’s funny, too – proper laugh-out-loud-in-public funny, as well as wistful, insightful and informative.
If you’re a hardcore racer who’s only interested on the inside story from the peloton, this may not be the book for you. But if you’ve a love of cycling in general and you’re looking for a good read, whether it’s to pass the time whilst winter rages outside, in a hammock on your summer holidays, or even (dare I suggest) on a cycle tour round the country, I highly recommend it. This is a book that has the power to inspire.
One Man And His Bike
Author: Mike Carter
Published by Ebury Press
Available in Paperback & eBook
RRP £7.99 (Paperback), RRP £7.99 (eBook)
Sporting Immortality The Hard Way
by Michael Hutchinson
There’s an attractive simplicity to the hour record – one man, one bike, sixty minutes, away you go. As tests of human endeavour go, it couldn’t be simpler, but Michael Hutchinson’s account of his attempt is a long, long way from being an anodyne account of a simple record bid. Part autobiography, part history, part non-fiction drama, it wears a great many hats and (not unlike the author) covers a lot of ground in a very short space of time – it covers his own life story, of course, but also hosts a vast array of anecdotes concerning cycling past and present, road racing, time trialling, training, drugs (inevitably) and the hour record itself. So it’s for anyone with an interest in cycling, because it casts the net far and wide.
But I suspect that it might also be a good book for anyone not that interested in cycling, because Hutchinson is a great writer. Self-deprecating and wonderfully dry of humour, he wanders seemingly aimless across the landscape of cycling, touching on a historic fact here, a biographical note there but always linking the narrative together seamlessly and at an easy pace. As the book continues, the spotlight focuses more and more upon his own attempt at the record, and the result is a fantastic portrayal of the almost claustrophobic build-up of stress and intensity.
I won’t spoil the ending, but Hutchinson is well qualified to have a tilt at it – with over fifty national time trial titles to his credit, not to mention three British Time Trial Championships, a brace of Irish Time Trial Championships, a British pursuit crown, and let’s not forget his victories in the Brompton World Championships (a title which the UCI seem strangely to have yet to award a rainbow jersey for), he’s as successful as any domestic male cyclist has been. But he’s also a PhD, and a successful writer, Cycling Weekly columnist Dr Hutch and author of a book on sailing – this is a man with many strings to his bow. However, there’s no ego out of control here – his ability at time trials is, he freely admits, a simple quirk of genetics, and even discovering cycling was an accident; otherwise he’d likely be a frustrated academic to this very day. Moreover, sometimes cringingly self-aware, he has no problem with – indeed, almost rejoices in – poking fun at himself.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that it’s too short; not in terms of value for money, because at a retail price of nine quid in paperback it’s pretty good on that score – I just wish there was more to it than the 288 pages, because he’s never dull, never lingers long on any one topic. As a result it’s an easy-going page-turner that takes you on a compelling journey that’ll have you laughing out loud and gnashing your teeth, sometimes at the same time. In turns both very funny and painfully honest, The Hour just might be the most entertaining book on cycling I’ve ever read.
The Hour – Sporting Immortality The Hard Way
Author: Michael Hutchinson
Published by Yellow Jersey Press
Available in Paperback & eBook
RRP £8.99 (Paperback), RRP £8.99 (eBook)
Classic Cycling Race Routes
The Toughest 52 European Challenges
by Chris Sidwells
Reviewed by Nick Dey
Published: 15th October 2013
AA Publishing in association with Garmin
An inspiring book to read and then to ride… if you dare!
This inspiring hardback book presents a selection of the most challenging and rewarding routes for road and racing cyclists. From the South Downs Epic and Tour of the Peak in the UK, to Paris-Roubaix in France and Tour of Flanders in Belgium, from Gruyere Cycling Tour in Switzerland and Tour of Lombardy in Italy to the San Sebastian Classic in Spain, this book is the ultimate motivation for cyclists who want to push themselves to the next level.
The fifty-two classic European cycling routes – one ride for each week of the year – selected to appear in this weighty A4 hard backed tome of well over two-hundred pages cater for the aspiring and experienced cyclist as well as those more romantically inclined, inspired as they are by the epic routes raced by the legends of the sport.
Experience an example… The Retro Ronde.The routes have derived their inspiration from the many professional races as well as the ever growing mass-participation events, the cyclosportives. Indeed the twenty-four routes that cover the UK and Ireland are exclusively ‘sportive in scope. I’m ashamed to report that I have ridden only one … but can vouch for the books accuracy; I was indeed Flat Out in the Fens! Several of the European events feature in the World Cycling Tour: an age group series in which participants have the chance to qualify for and compete in an age-group final. You, yes you, could become a World Champion!
Route 34, pp148-150, covers the outstanding Retro Ronde*
I rode this in 2013 and am happy to state without hyperbole that it is my absolute favourite cycling experience, second to none – full review coming soon to Cycling Shorts (Ed. I promise!)
Here I am… climbing ‘The Wall’ Retro Ronde 2013
In the book the route distance is correctly stated as 100 km (I managed 112 km but did get myself lost taking in a few extra Heligen!) but the total climbing was very different to my experience. The book states 525 m however I managed 1200 m. To be fair to the author the organisers fine tune their route each year – and I did do the extra cobbled climbs! All the other information is accurate and succeeds in conveying the flavour of the experience. For experience the Retro Ronde certainly is! I shall be back every year – or as long as the old bike, and even older legs will allow. If you do plan on riding try to make a long weekend of it. The ‘Crit’, ahem, racing on the Saturday is wholly authentic yet rather tongue in cheek, and well worth the entry fee of €5!
Posing for the official photo at the start… the atmosphere was the best I have experienced.
So how does this fine book present the information?
The book in a nutshell …
- 52 European cyclosportive and Grand Tour routes
- Full-colour route maps with directions and elevation profiles
- Advice on ride strategies and techniques
- Tips on training, appropriate clothing, nutrition and fitness
- All routes are available to download for your GPS cycling computer
- Routes cover the UK & Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
The author suggests the reader takes two possible approaches, both of which allow them to make full use of the route information. The first, and Sidwells strongly suggests this as the most preferable avenue, is to take part in the official event for each route (if there is one) as, and I can only concur with him in this respect, …
“…the atmosphere and camaraderie of these events, where thousands of like-minded souls take part, all enjoying doing something they love, is incredible.”
Additionally, there is also more than enough information within the book to allow you to ride each route, or your own variation of it, independently of the official event and at any time of year. Words to the wise… check before you leave that roads are open!
Each route is clearly described and supported with often fascinating background information along with tantalising titbits of history; and who amongst us hasn’t unleashed the inner child and ridden a classic imagining the spectres of the greats; Coppi, Bobbet, Garin, et al, riding alongside?
There are maps and directions for each route, including profiles that clearly indicate where each hill is located along with rather useful yet often unsettling detail on how long and steep they are! The ever useful height gain is also presented.
In the words of the author, Chris Sidwells, “Enjoy the book, use it for planning and setting objectives, but above all get out and ride these routes. They represent some of the finest cycling experiences you could ever have.”
Classic Cycling Routes in a little more detail …
The introduction is extensive and covers three very important pre-ride requisites: Basic equipment – your bike, creating a training plan, and challenge-ride nutrition. There is a lot of very useful information here ranging from how to best use a GPS device (by Garmin) to the basics of creating a training plan.
The two-hundred pages devoted to the fifty two Race Routes traverse Europe through seven countries but with the majority set in the UK and Ireland.
The UK & Ireland section contains twenty-four routes, as listed below:
The Fred Whitton Challenge
The Ryedale Rumble
Etape du Dales
The Cheshire Cat
Tour of the Peak
The Shropshire Mynd
Flat Out in the Fens
Hell of the North Cotswolds
The Ups and Downs
The New Forest Epic
The South Downs Epic
The Tour of Wessex
The Exmoor Beast
The Dartmore Classic
The Dragon Ride
The Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive
Tour of Sligo
Malin to Mizen
Megève Mont Blanc
Cinglés du Ventoux
Etape du Tour 2010
Tour of Flanders
Grand Fondo Eddy Merckx
The Amstell Gold Race
Gruyére Cycling Tour
Alpenbrevet Platinum Tour
Tour of Lombardy
A Stage of the Tour of Italy
La Leggendaria Charly Gaul
Maratona dles Dolomites
La Pinarello Cycling Marathon
San Sebastian Classic
Val d’Aran Cycling Tour
A Stage of the Vuelta
La Pico del Veleta
Don’t forget… all routes in this book can be downloaded to your Garmin (the Edge 800 in my case) from the AA website.
As the book itself says, ‘the classic race routes selected here are not for the faint-hearted. Based on the best cyclosportive events in Europe and on stages of Grand Tours, they are much more than just pretty rides in the country. The fifty-two routes are serious mental and physical challenges (in the case of the Retro Ronde… the liver is called upon to do its bit too!) that require training and preparation. Yet each is accessible and achieved by many thousands of amateur cyclists each year.
Classic Cycling Race Routes allows you to cycle these rides at any time, either as preparation for the race events, or for the sheer joy and exhilaration of the challenge. For those rides that don’t have a dedicated cyclosportive route, the author has designed a ride a ride to reflect the demands and history of the race.
Each route contains a map with directions and an elevations and an elevation profile, and Chris Sidwells provides an overview combining ride strategy and techniques with the history of the race.
Practical and aspirational, Classic Cycling Race Routes will inspire a new generation of cyclists to push themselves to the extreme. You never know, the next Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish or Sir Bradley Wiggins may well be among them!
One for the rider as well as the reader + GPS routes = 100% Awarded our Star Buy Rating!
Reviewed by: Nichiless ‘Nicky’ Dey.
About the author
Chris Sidwells is an internationally-respected British cycling journalist and author, with nine books on cycling, ranging from biography through fitness and training to bike repair. His Complete Bike Book has been translated into twenty-four languages, and his Bike Repair Manual is about to reach its fifth edition. Tour Climbs and Race for Madmen were best sellers in their genre. His ‘The Official Tour de France Records’ has the backing of Le Tour Itself. Most recently he has published The Long Race for Glory: How the British Came to Rule the Cycling World… the next book to be reviewed on Cycling Shorts. Chris’s words and photographs have graced the pages of Britain’s best-selling cycling magazine Cycling Weekly (indeed he seems to appear in every issue,) and in all issues of Cycle Sport and Cycling Active, along with Cycling Fitness. He has also been published in Men’s Fitness, Cycling Plus, GQ, Running Fitness and the Sunday Times. Phew!
20 Tumultuous Years in Cycling
by William Fotheringham with a forward by David Millar
Reviewed by Nick Dey & Sim Parrott
Riding hard comes from the pen, via newspaper and magazine, of one of professional cycling’s most respected and talented journalists and writers.
“A great writer and journalist who has contributed a huge amount to cycling over the years.”
Sir Bradley Wiggins, Tour de France winner 2012
The book is collection of William Fotheringham’s best* work as selected by the author himself. For those who are unfamiliar with his work, Fotheringham, a racing cyclist himself for over thirty years, has been the Guardian newspaper’s cycling correspondent since 1994, and has covered nineteen, and counting, editions of Le Tour de France. He has reported from four Olympic Games and, not content with the print coverage of pro-cycling, launched Procycling magazine. As a writer Fotheringham has penned very well received, and bestselling biographies, of three colossi of the sport: Tom Simpson**, Fausto Coppi** and Eddy Merckx**.
The eclectic collection of writing included represents, as Fotheringham himself states,
“… a snapshot of a given story or a race taken at a particular time.”
Riding Hard is a collection of standalone pieces covering the Grand Tours, the Olympic Games, the greats of the sport and the villains. It concludes with a section of powerful obituaries. Outside the two great sporting behemoths that are the Tour de France and Olympics, Fotheringham has attempted, for the benefit of a non-specialist UK audience, to generate a constructive narrative. That he achieves this is a testament to his skill as a writer.
Each piece is full of the now unavoidably suggestive, yet unspoken, nuance provided by hindsight and many often bristle with an unspoken truth and sense of anger. There is much to learn in returning the past and this journey is, without a doubt, a worthwhile and rewarding one. The underbelly of the sport does cast a haunting shadow throughout the myriad of articles, and rightly so, as it every much part of the story of many a racing cyclist. The folklore is there, along with the key players, the clowns, the visionaries, the supporting cast, and the villains. However, such is the quality of Fotheringham’s prose that one feels as if the mythologizing layers are being peeled away, revealing a genuinely fascinating ‘truth’. Well, a tale as close to the truth as a looming deadline and a Texans lawyers would allow! The Zeitgeist is keen and the selection, when revisited with added commentary, rewarding & thought provoking. William Fotheringham and Riding Hard serve the sport of professional cycling is very well indeed.
The book is subdivided into twelve sections each stitched together with a common, and sometimes rather unexpected, thread creating a tapestry covering the last twenty or so years of the sport of cycling. All, it must be said, from an unapologetically and uniquely British perspective. Every chapter is briefly introduced and the context of writing and selection set out clearly. This addition enriches and revives each piece.
Chapter 1, ‘The Tour and More’, begins with a rather wonderful piece that sees the author, somewhat askew to the organized chaos he has been plunged into, bewitched by the race for the very first time. It certainly chimed well with my own personal recollections of a balmy Breton afternoon, an unremarkable stage, a tiny French village, the cacophony of the caravan, the musical rainbow blur of the peloton… and the resulting sore head – ah, halcyon days indeed. How this piece is followed will give you some insight into the book and the author’s perceptions and recollections: Sean Kelly’s retirement, the Linda McCartney foods team & the 2000 Giro d’Italia (the first year a British team took part), the 99th Paris-Roubaix (2001), Etape du Tour (2002), the corporate transformation of the ubiquitous and friendly Didi Senft ‘the tour devil in red’: He who sounded the vanguard of the roadside fan in fancy dress… love ‘em or hate ‘em!
Chapter 2, ‘Tour de France 1994-2003’ is similarly constructed and begins in 1994 with Chris Boardman crashing when in yellow. It takes us to ‘Le Tour en Angleterre’ and Sean Yate’s yellow jersey, Greg LeMond’s abandon – and retirement later in the year. Onwards we move into 1995 and the luckless Boardman makes his second of many appearances, the heartbreaking death of Fabio Casartelli is reported with grace, and emergence into the media glare of one Lance Armstrong highlighted. Miguel Indurain and his Tour focus is critiqued (1995), his dethrowining (1996) reported and the unease behind the rise of Riis, Ullrich & Telekom, and the now infamous Festina Team presented. Lance Armstrong features in several pieces and is a prominent in Fotheringham’s explanatory end notes. We then move on to 1998 and the Tour in Eire. Enter stage left: Pat McQuaid, Kelly, Roche, and supporting cast.
Chapter three: ‘Festina Leave, Armstrong Returns’. You guessed it. We begin in Eire 1998, in a car with a then unkown soigneur, Willy Voet. Exit Festina, a tearful Virenque, a bullied Christophe Bassons and enter Tyler Hamilton, Laurent Jalabert and one Marco Pantani. You see what I meant by ‘haunting shadow’! Lance? Yes, he is here too. With recent events in mind the pieces here have an added poignancy.
In chapter four: ‘The Armstrong Saga’, we now see another facet of Fotheringham’s reporting. In a charming homage to the Observers late cycling correspondent Geoffrey Nicholson, Fotheringham bulletins from the front line take the form a diary. This charmingly off-center approach is highly effective and also serves to give us, the readers, a tantalizing glimpse into the life of journalist at Le Grande Boucle. It covers the now infamous years from 2001 to 2007. I unashamedly counting myself amongst the number of then thirty-something M.A.M.I.L’s who were inspired to begin cycling by Mr Armstrong, et al. Much of this came not from watching the racing – I didn’t watch much at the time – but from following the story in the press. These articles brought it all home… beware the hero but take even greater care with the ‘story’! Still, those who know me well wouldn’t hesitate to combine the phrase cycling with obsessive (possibly unfairly as I only own five bikes, six if you count a frame. OK, seven with one arriving in a fortnight!) So, no real damage done and the sport of cycling moves on. The chapter continues more traditionally and we meet Michele Ferrari, Chris Carmichael, Mario Cipollini and, oddly, Raimondas Rumsas’s mother-in-law! Inserted neatly amidships, so to speak, are a collection of much needed rider reminiscences, all focused on what made their tour so special. From Roger Lapebie (1930’s) to Steve Bauer (1980’s), with a cast of greats sandwiched neatly between. It serves a gentle reminder about why we watch, and are fascinated, horrified and charmed by bicycle racing. Tyler Hamilton’s epic ride (2003) with a fractured collar bone now adds duality and shades of grey, blurring the edge of the moral, the ethical and the nature of sport as fair contest. Armstrong’s sixth victory (2204) and the abuse of Simeoni do tend to polarize things somewhat though. Dave Millar, Richard Vironque are amongst those we meet as we journey to and through the year. Underpinning all is the authors barely concealed longing for the retirement of Big Tex’. The diary returns with final words all Armstrong.
Chapter 5: Au Revoir Floyd, Bienvenue Mark. The post LA era, or so we thought. We journey on through 2006 and ‘Operation Puerto’ meeting Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Dick Pound & Floyd Lanids. Confusions & contradictions abound. But then we reach a real high point in the greatest Grand Depart of them all in 2007 and the arrival of a new, cleaner, generation. Enter Mark Cavendish & Geriant Thomas. A 2007 tour diary teases us with subtle insight but is followed by Vinokourov’s positive test and, it has to be said, astonishing tales of denial. The Chicken is plucked, and after forgetting where he had been all summer, excluded. Cofidis, with one Bradley Wiggins throwing his kit in a bin, exit stage left. 2008, however offers more optimism with the rise of a new, clean and very rapid, star. Cav’s first stage win is covered in style and Wiggo’s ambitions noted and analysed.
Chapter 6: Rise of the Brits, Fall of Lance. We enter 2009 and see Le Tour surge to center stage in the zeitgeist of British cycling fans and sporting media. Alberto Contador wins (then loses) in 2010, duels with Andy Schleck while the newly formed Team Sky ride, innovate, learn and plot. It is here where Fotheringham chooses to lay the Armstrong mystique to rest with a withering piece about ‘hitting the wall on the rock of hell’ (2010).In stark contrast the article that he selects to follow this is an uplifting report on Jean-Rene Bernaudeau and his “… upbeat approach and ethical philosophy” that produced great Vendee region riders such as Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland. I was fortunate enough to spend several days riding in the area as a guest of Essex cycling legend Alan Perkins (1960’s Holdsworth-Campangnolo Pro, Tour of Britain stage winner, London-Holyhead winner…) and treasured every pedal stroke of the club runs. They absolutely love their cycling in the Vendee and welcomed a chubby, slow Lancastrian with open arms, and the occasional pat on the tummy! The astonishing scene involving a complete lunatic driving a French TV car, Juan-Antonio Flecha and one Johnny Hoogerland (surely possessing one of the highest pain threshold levels around) is covered as is Wiggo’s master plan and Armstrong’s excruciating death-throe denials. We hear from David Millar, of whom Fotheringham speaks highly, Sean Yates and many more characters all vividly and honestly brought to (real) life.
Chapter 7: Great Britain – Atlanta to Athens, begins with the opening of the outstanding Manchester velodrome in 1994. A place I love. I took my Mum to a meet in 2010 and she is now an avid fan of track cycling. Such was the positive experience and welcoming atmosphere of staff, riders and fellow spectators… OK, the signed poster, which she has had framed and now hangs where my – her only sons – portrait used to hang and a cheeky peck on the cheek by Jamie Staff helped… the Tiger! It was good to see her so happy. So thank you Manchester. I really enjoyed this chapter as it brought back, and added vivid Technicolor to, so many great stories about hugely talented and dedicated cyclists, coaches and supporting staff. Chris Boardman, Yvonne McGregor, Peter Keen, Jason Queally, Craig MacLean and someone called Hoy. Herne Hill makes a deserved appearance and then we focus on Wiggo again and the dominant Nicole Cooke. There is a shocking telling of Graeme Obree’s depression and suicide attempts along with the recognition that seeing people solely in the context of their sport may no longer be good enough for the subtlety of the information age. All leads smoothly into chapter 8…Inside GB Cycling, which is an extended piece written post 2007 World Track Championships, and pre-Beijing… and we all know what happened in China! The Beijing Olympic Games of 2008 are covered in detail in their own chapter – 9. The emergent personalities, the performances and the background stories are all there. Heady, and inspiring stuff. But where did all these riders come from and how are we to keep producing more, and will a British Tour de France winner emerge? Chapter 10: The Academy devotes another extended piece, again from the Observer Sports Monthly (2009) to this and many more questions.
Chapter 11: Beijing to London brings us right up to date and gets us rolling with a piece on the then 40 year old sprinter, Jason Queally, and his brave attempt to make the 4000 m pursuit team. Victoria Pendleton & Jess Varnish are well met, Sir Chris Hoy’s progress, challenge – and challengers – are unambiguously presented. Onwards with Ben Swift, Dan Hunt, Mark Cavendish, David Millar, Rod Ellingworth, Jason Kenny, Anna Mears and Sir Bradley Wiggins. All are writ large. A memorable cycling writing, inspired by a truly memorable summer of sport.
The book closes movingly with an In Memoriam selection. The names and careers selected here whisper so much about nature cycling and the cyclist, both the inspiring and the tragic; Beryl Burton, Percey Stallard, Marco Pantani, Charly Gaul, Felix Levitan, Harry Hall, and Laurent Fignon,
Perhaps it is only fitting that the final word should go Robert Millar…
“Educated, well judged and honest writing … when was the last time you thought that about a journalist?”
I hope you enjoy this trip back through the recent past of this fine sport as much as I did. It is a book that I will pick up again and again, dipping into my memories and experiences with a truly talented and insightful scribe as my guide.
Neunkirchen-Selscheid, Germany (via Wigan and East London/Essex!)
*Best, the adjective, limitations and all, is clarified beautifully in the introduction.
If like me you love reading the latest news about cycling, be it online, in the newspaper or in one of the many cycling magazines such as Cycling Weekly then this book will be right up your street. Actually if you love cycling and following the race scene this is a must read.
Racing Hard is packed full of the articles and news pieces that William has written over the last 20 years, as he worked as a journalist following the Team GB and European races. After each article William has added a current comment reflecting what happened in the cycling world following the original publication. His handling of the Armstrong years is very good and it is a great review of the articles published at the time with excellent reflective comments.
I totally echo the quote from Robert Millar “Educated, well judged and honest writing…. when was the last time you thought that about a journalist?” William’s writing is truly well judged, honest and is a real joy to read. The book is so engaging that I have barely managed to tear myself away from reading it. It is certainly a book that you will want to pick up and really get stuck into and I would highly recommend you buy a copy for the summer and get in the mood for this year’s Tour de France.
I have read two other books that William Fotheringham has been involved in and can highly recommend them both.
Laurent Fignon: We Were Young and Carefree
(Translation by William Fotheringham)
Willy Voet; Breaking the Chain:
Drugs and Cycling – The True Story (Translation by William Fotheringham) – Read my review by clicking here.
CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 99%: An anthology of finely crafted and well linked cycling journalism. Go on treat yourself you know you want to. This really is a must read book.
Racing Hard: 20 Tumultuous Years in Cycling
Hardback Price: RRP £12.99
Paperback Price: £7.99
Kindle Price: £7.99
The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro
by Charly Wegelius
Reviewed by Lawrence Bywater
Pro road cycling is feted for its heroes, its superhuman efforts, its panache filled endeavours and mainly its winners. Yet perhaps what is most captivating about this sport in terms of its individual personalities are the efforts of a band of self-sacrificing, selfless riders who perform the tasks unseen by the uneducated cycling fan. Domestiques. They serve their glorified leaders day in day out; they perform the often thankless tasks of sheltering lead riders from the wind, becoming their waiters with food and bidons and generally being at the beck and call of others. Ultimately they make cycling the team sport that it is so often not credited for. Charles Wegelius was one such domestique who carved out a (successful) career in this role.
His book Domestique: The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro, co-written with his partner in ‘crime’ from the 2005 World Championship in Madrid, Tom Southam, is an eye watering expose into the professional peloton in which he inhabited through the 2000’s. The starkest tones of his story show just how much he was willing to sacrifice in order to make it as first an amateur and then a pro. Arguably it was this mentality that made him such a cherished domestique by teams in Europe.
From the first enquiry to his mother to ask whether she could write a letter to his headmaster to allow him to train during sports afternoons at school, to leaving York to join Vendee U in France as an amateur, Wegelius’ passion and drive for the sport jumps from the text on the page and virtually smacks you in the face. His mentality and feelings are laid bare for all to see and arguably what makes this different from the standard Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish story. Ultimately, no other recent cycling autobiography is more revealing. Perhaps only David Millar’s Racing Through The Dark (read our review here) and Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race come close to revealing what it is really like inside professional road cycling and both of those almost entirely focus on the doping aspect of the support. His constant unhappiness and lack of contentment despite success is a telling thread which runs throughout the book. Indeed, insecurities are never far from the forefront of Wegelius’ mind.
Before British Cycling’s track success was replicated on the road with the BC Academy/Team Sky etc, Wegelius had to do what all other British road riders had had to do over the previous few decades to be successful – make a go of it in Europe. The classic stories emerge of ramshackle houses provided by teams, the culture shock of European life, but also the young Wegelius showing how passionate he was about success. A classic example: He asked his then manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau to allow him to race (his French racing license was currently in limbo at the time) at an event – he drove to the event in a team camper, set the bike up himself and travelled without a masseur. To his teammates incredulity he duly won the race. Yet again insecurities arise. Wegelius writes that on winning the Under-23 national Road Race and coming second in the European Time Trial Championships as an amateur he felt “victory wasn’t something special that I felt I should sit back and enjoy.” He actually felt that, “a win was simply another box ticked in what was turning out to be an infinite list of boxes I had to tick to be content.”
His meticulous approach to life as an amateur transcended from keeping his bike clean after every ride, washing it with diesel, to competing with another amateur on who could spend the less on everyday essentials. Yet, Wegelius comes to recognise that, “society’s admiration for athletes is based entirely on the achievement of an ideal.” He realises that the sacrifices he has made to become the athlete he so desperately wanted to be, has made him a difficult person to be around.
Throwing all the personal anecdotes aside the book still fantastically illustrates the idiosyncrasies of the pro peloton. Obviously given his career with Italian teams, Mapei, De Nardi and Liquigas the majority of incites have a distinct flavour to them. Old riders tales such as wearing as much clothing whilst training are very enjoyable and occasions such as the 2005 Vuelta, where temperatures were heading into the 40°C Spanish riders were seen warming up on rollers with woollen hats, leggings and arm warmers are a delight to read. The book finishes with a wonderfully poignant tale which is topped by a realisation that Wegelius had found the truth about being inside the professional peloton: “it’s no f***king fairytale.” Overall, a delight from start to finish; perhaps the only thing missing is a further insight into life on the Giro d’Italia in which Wegelius was so well versed.
CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 90%
Domestique – The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro
Hardback Price: RRP £16.99
Paperback Price: £8.99
Kindle Price: £8.99
– How Rider and Machine Work Together
by Max Glaskin
Reviewed by Nick Dey
(Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, Deutschland (and Wigan, Lancashire)
Investigate 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!
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.
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!
CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 100%: Read it: think, apply – ride smoothly, efficiently and swiftly!
Cycling Science – How rider and machine work together
Hardback Price: RRP £20.00