Words Derri Dunn
Summer’s finally here and it’s a great time to be out enjoying the warmer weather from the saddle. But of course, if the British climate isn’t playing ball, or your partner has banned you from pedalling during your summer holiday, the next best thing is sticking your nose into one of these cycling tomes.
Whether you’re looking for inspirational tales of cycling derring-do, practical information on planning your own next big two-wheeled feat, or you just need fitness and nutrition advice, there’s something for everyone in this selection.
With such a vast array of cycling adventure stories, advice and information available, we’ve trawled the bookshop shelves to narrow it down to these seven of the best sources of literary entertainment. All offer something for the beginner or the more experienced rider alike.
So, find a quiet reading spot and get ready to feel motivated and inspired — even if the ‘summer’ hasn’t quite materialised as planned.
What to look for
If you’re off on your hols and you’re looking for something to read to pass the time, go for an inspirational story rather than an informative textbook. It’ll pass the time better and you won’t wish away your whole break wanting to be on the bike and applying all that newly learnt science.
There’s everything here from little portable pocket books to hefty coffee table hardbacks. You’ll want the former in your holiday luggage, as the latter might incur those pesky excess baggage charges.
If you’re unlikely to stand much chance of wangling six months off work to pedal to Mongolia, it doesn’t mean you can’t still have an adventure. Look for books that help you explore local routes and plan a more modest getaway.
Just because you’re spending more time on the bike right now, doesn’t mean it’s not a great time to do a bit of learning. Read up on the latest scientific nutrition and physiological findings, then apply it to your summer rides for instant results.
Hellingen — A Road Cyclist’s Guide to Belgium’s Greatest Climbs, Simon Warren £9.99
Renowned masochist and climber Simon Warren, after exhausting 200 or so climbs in Britain, has headed to cols new in Belgium to carry on inflicting torture on the thigh muscles of British cyclists. This pocket-sized edition is perfectly proportioned for stuffing in a jersey pocket for travel, so now there’s no excuse not to pummel yourself on the famous ascents of all the most iconic Northern European cycling Classics like the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. At least there’s a Leffe and frites waiting at the top of the Kemmelberg, which we suppose is some small consolation.
7/10 BEST ON A BUDGET
Cycling Science, Max Glaskin £20
Cycling Science tackles two of the most fundamental questions troubling cyclists everywhere: why doesn’t a bike just fall over when you ride it, and will shaving your legs make you go faster? We won’t reveal the answers here, but rather than sucking the joy out of cycling with the appliance of complex science, this fascinating read instead brings a very accessible new perspective through easy-to-understand language and plenty of images. There’s loads here you can apply to your own riding as well, for your very own ‘marginal gains’ strategy. A great way to become the ultimate post-ride-pint know it all.
Bicycle! A Repair and Maintenance Manifesto, Sam Tracy £13.20
We put together a ‘Seven of the best maintenance books’ some months ago in CA, but Bicycle! offers a slightly different perspective. This book is free from step-by-step fixes and instead speaks to the mechanically blind among us who believe a bicycle runs on a combination of hope, alchemy and fairy dust. Bicycle! is a useful read for those people, walking them through each part of a bicycle and its purpose, gradually building the knowledge into the bigger picture. It’s probably a bit simplistic for most cyclists, though, plus its American tone and style (think tires not tyres, inches not centimetres, and everything priced in dollars) may grate.
Lost Lanes, Jack Thurston £14.99
It’s hard to believe this fat little book contains just 36 routes. That’s because each of these hidden British gems is not only comprehensively mapped and described, but also includes information on ‘Pubs and pit stops’, and glorious full-colour photos that will make you hungry to try the rides outlined. With the price and practicality of taking your bike abroad becoming ever more outlandish, this lovely book does much to make you realise there’s a whole world to explore on two wheels, right on your doorstep. A handy table at the front gives a quick overview and tells you how to get there, and each ride even has a link to a downloadable GPS map, making this a very practical guide indeed for a very British bit of bicycling.
9/10 TEST WINNER
12 Months in the Saddle, John Deering and Phil Ashley £25
In a large, hardback format and with sumptuous full-colour photographs spreading over the entire page width, 12 Months in the Saddle is very much a coffee table kind of read rather than a practical ride guide for cyclists. That’s not to say it won’t inspire your own adventures, though. It reads almost like a novel about the lives of writer John Deering and photographer Phil Ashley as we join them for 12 big rides in a year — but the story actually begins with Deering’s first bicycle at eight years old. There’s plenty of fellow MAMILs who will recognise in their tales of triumph and woe, making this a heart-warming and amusing read.
Fitter Further Faster, Rebecca Charlton, Rob Hicks and Hannah Reynolds £18.99
There are some familiar names on the cover of this sportive-riding manual, and we don’t just mean the foreword by pro racer Alex Dowsett. Our very own experts Rebecca Charlton, Rob Hicks and Hannah Reynolds have pooled their fitness, racing and nutrition knowledge. What sets Fitter Further Faster apart is how it walks you through your sportive preparation, beginning with setting your first goals six months out, through to your last-minute checklist, then warming down and assessing your progress after the event. A comprehensive strategy for the sportive starter
Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, Stephen Lord £14.99
This book holds a special place in my affection as I first consulted it many years ago to plan short, lone cycling jaunts across Slovenia, Morocco and other adventurous destinations. The world for bike tourists has changed dramatically since then, but fortunately so has the handbook. Adventure Cycle-Touring still has plenty of lively accounts from intrepid adventurers, including ‘The Hungry Cyclist’ Tom Kevill-Davies, but the travel and preparation information has been updated for this edition. It’s still an excellent source of both practical advice and inspiring tales, but our only criticism is that as bike tech and airline regs move so quickly, it’s probably time for another refresh for 2013/14.
With cycling, as with most activities, practice makes perfect. But if the weather’s not being as seasonal as you’d hoped, you’re stuck on a bus, plane or train instead of riding, or you’re off on a holiday where bikes have been banished, summer is a great time to brush up your two-wheeled knowledge. Whether that knowledge is technical, nutritional, or simply inspirational is your choice, but you’ll definitely find something suitable in our top pick of summer reads.
We’re well into the sportive season now, but with Fitter Further Faster’s progressive plan, you can pick it up from where you are now or start planning your 2014 campaign. Cycling Science is an engrossing read for building your body and bike into the ultimate two-wheeled speed machine.
But it is technically summer, even if the weather can’t quite make up its mind from week to week, so two practical guides to the joys of two-wheeled travel are our favourites. Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook is fabulous for far-flung forays, but the lovely Lost Lanes fills us with a warm glow over the simple pleasure of delving into our local little-known bike routes, which is why it’s our test winner.