Friday Group Ride #35

Summer is a time for reading, and I’ve spent most of it working my way through a tall pile of cycling tomes. I read Bernard Hinault’s Memories of the Peloton and Tim Moore’s French Revolutions and Paul Fournel’s Need for the Bike and Ralph Hurne’s The Yellow Jersey and William Fotheringham’s Searching for Tom Simpson and Sam Abt’s Breakaway: On the Road with the Tour de France. There are maybe more, but you get the idea. Cycling? You’re soaking in it.

This week’s Group Ride is about favorite cycling books. Mine include some of the above, but also books by Matt Rendell and Tim Krabbé.

What are your favorites, and why?

There are a slew of training books out there, of course. I tend not to read them, because training seems like a good way to ruin a ride, but I’m open to the crazy idea that some of them are good and useful. I await your sage guidance.

While I have dedicated some good portion of the last few years to getting cyclo-educated, there are still so many books I’ve not read. You would think that for a voracious reader, a narrow genre like ours would be easy enough to conquer in short order, but I’m not finding that to be the case.

If I spoke French the problem would only be worse. Please do not hesitate to name works in foreign languages that you think are superlative. Maybe I’ll sell my wife’s car, buy the US publication rights and get filthy rich off the royalties. Or at least buy said book and hope to learn its mother tongue during my lifetime, so I can read it.

I’m also interested in hearing about some books I’ve not read, but are on the short list for end of summer consumption. Among those is Jean Bobet’s Tomorrow We Ride and Laurent Fignon’s autobiography We Were Young and Carefree. Your reviews greatly appreciated.

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  1. Paul

    Being a rider of the heavier persuasion, I enjoyed the book by Mike Magnuson, Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180.

    At 220lbs, I still haven’t completed my 180.

  2. Jim

    Krabbe, The Rider. Nothing gets to the heart of the key events in a race – all of which occur inside a racer’s head – better than this.

    Agree with Paul on Magnuson’s book being pretty solid. Not sure if any of you caught the follow-up, maybe in Cycling, where he interviewed LeMond. His life has taken a bit of a tailspin, doing a 90 if not another 180. Still an incisive and painfully honest writer.

  3. michael

    i have Fignon’s bio in the original french. it has a certain nuance that the english version (which i read for comparisons sake) sorely lacked in several cases. translations are always a challenge.

    i have been working my way through a massive reading pile this summer, most of them non-cycling related.

    did read Joe Parkin’s new book, which I was disappointed with for a reason which I cannot put my finger on – it just didn’t have the magic that the first managed to capture.

    second the MR recommendation – his Pantani book is a must-read, and I have gone through it more than a few times.

  4. nrs5000

    @Jim, spot on that Krabbe’s the rider captures inside-the-head. Plus the locale in the south of France. Plus the ’70s era. Plus the stream of consciousness outtakes. My favorite is the riff on how when whenever Jacques Anquetil reached the base of a climb, he shifted his bidon from the holder to his jersey pocket, to make his bike lighter.

  5. Jon Paul Baker

    I enjoyed the english translation of We Were Young and Carefree. There was a tinge of something to it. I don’t know if I’d call it sadness or wishing things were different. That may have been a translation issue. It was interesting to read his comments about how the peloton changed in the early 90s to Bill McGann’s in The Story of the Tour de France Volume 2.

    I started In Search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore a couple of days ago. I’m enjoying it so far (20% of the way through).

    I just added Fallen Angel, by William Fotheringham, to my Kindle. It’s about Coppi; hopefully it will be good.

  6. Armchair Cyclist

    Paul Kimmage’s ‘Rough Ride’ is worth a read, although personally the writing came across as a bit amateur to my eyes. Granted, he wasn’t a writer at the time, but there’s something about it that slightly jarred with me. However, it’s an interesting look into the professional ranks of his time, and of course, he has a fair bit to say about le dopage.

    Matt Rendell’s ‘Blazing Saddles’ gives snapshots of every episode of Le Tour,k with the UPS of focusing on the interesting stories – it’s not just a run down of the winners and losers.

    Finally, an excellent resource can be found here:

  7. Souleur

    Currently I am on Joe Parkins ‘come and gone’.
    It seems to be as good as his ‘dog in a hat’, simply vol. II if you will.

    I love the American experience of Euro/Belgian racing, the cultural difference he coped with, accomodated and won through. The doping he noted was simply beyond my imagination and perhaps his first accounting of it all has changed my impression of the peloton forever.

    +1Jim: Krabbe’s ‘the rider’ is an essential in the cyclist…er…riders bookcase.

    Bill McGann’s TdF historical accounts are also incredible works. The utter detail of it all has taken me forever and a day to absorb and digest, but worthy of each of our attention as we find out where we came from.

    I appreciate the others mentioned, fall/winter is coming, and those mentioned will be what will occupy Souleur’s read time w/a big cup of Caffe’ creme.

  8. nrs5000

    Another one – out of print but worth tracking down – Dino Buzzati’s “Giro d’Italia.” An account of the 1949 Giro, Bartali v. Coppi. Outstanding.

  9. James

    I enjoyed Michael Barry’s Le Metier a good deal as it had a different perspective. It was interesting to read how a pro prepares for and deals with the pressures of a season. The large amount of pictures were a nice compliment. I generally don’t get a lot of reading done in the summer but most often read in the winter when it’s pouring down rain. I have the new Joe Parkin’s book awaiting my perusal once the weather cools down. Ooh, another book I read years ago was a fictional account of the Tour. I can’t remember the title or the author but enjoyed it none the less as it had a very Euro perspective. I’ll try to remember the title…

  10. dvgmacdonald

    If you’re in the mood for something a little different, I really enjoyed Travis Hugh Culley’s “The Immortal Class” about his years as a bike messenger in Chicago. It was filled with the sort of adrenaline fueled escapades that have made the messenger the hero of so many young urban hipsters.

    1. Padraig

      I have to share in the little love fest for Krabbé’s “The Rider.” The opinions he holds are harsh, sometimes unreasonable, certainly not forgiving, and it’s refreshing to read internally unedited views. I just adore that book.

      One that ought to be mentioned is Daniel Coyle’s “Lance Armstrong’s War.” I think years from now it will likely serve as the definitive text on the Armstrong era, at least from the standpoint of profiling the riders and what they were about. That book gave us the immortal phrase “the Dead Elvis grin.” I saw some of that this summer.

      Michael: “Come and Gone” is indeed a very different book from “A Dog in a Hat.” The things that make “A Dog in a Hat” such a treat are clearly not present in “Come and Gone,” but I’ve got to say, the longing Joe expresses to find form, to see what he can really achieve and the anxiety about whether or not he’ll manage it before time runs out, I thought, gave the book a rather thrilling quality. And the end of the second book is every bit as heartbreaking as the first.

  11. Velosopher

    Thank you for mentioning Paul Fournel’s “The Need for the Bike.” In my cycling library, no book is more central; it’s my two-wheeled friend and comforter, style guide, and, most of all, my Tao te Ching. Actually, the similarities are compelling: a short tome filled with delphic stanzas, teaching through example and poetic evanescence rather than through edicts or “training tips.” Fournel is part racer, part Sunday duffer, a native Euro traditionalist who celebrates brash American innovation — truly, “Need for the Bike” encompasses all. I sometimes wish I’d never bought a training book, and only used Fournel as my guide.

    I’m also quite surprised no one has mentioned Bill Strickland’s Ten Points. Next to Krabbe, I haven’t read a soul who can better capture the flash, excitement and fear of being in a crush of insane people on two wheels. Magnuson’s “Heft” was both fun and interesting, but for soul-searing self-disclosure, Strickland leaves him in the dust.

  12. Hank

    “Tommorrow We Ride” by Jean Bobet is a beautiful read. Unusual to find a top pro cyclist with quite an impressive list of palmares who is also a great writer. The icing on the cake was that he was also the brother of and domestique to one of the greats, Louison Bobet. A must read.

  13. cb

    Michael Klonovsky – radfahren (riding a bike)

    i am almost certain its not available in english, but i just had to tell you about it anyway. its published in a little series roughly translated ‘little philosophy of passions’.

    the author covers a lot of aspects concerning what makes (the passion of) riding a bike so likable to us, or better, why we are so fascinated by it. its also one of the best books to make non-cyclists understand cyclists (a bit) better.

    so i guess there goes your wifes car…

  14. wvcycling

    I’ve met several of the people that Parkin talks about in Come & Gone. Most seem to talk in the same way that he wrote his book, for lack of a better way to explain it… Stuff about the past not coming out as nostalgic as we would hope it to sound like.

    Anyone read Sex, Lies, and Handlebar Tape?
    What about that one new, super expensive Michael Barry book? Forgot the name of it…

    This winter is going to suck if I can’t find a job for all this stuff I keep making a list to buy…

  15. Robot

    @wvcycling I have read Sex,Lies and Handlebar Tape. Highly illuminating. It paints a picture of Anquetil as a brittle, head strong man of extravagant tastes. His domestic arrangements seemed to be born from some sense on his family’s part that he was the center of the universe. It’s a very odd story. Worth reading. I have not yet read Master Jacque, the other well known Anquetil bio, but I will eventually.

  16. Matt

    Have read a good bunch of the above books and agree with the recommendations, but have one more to add. ‘One more kilometre and we’re in the showers’ by tim hilton is a nice wide ranging memoir of one mans life as a club roadie in the uk. A very good read.

  17. dropoutdave

    If you want a good laugh read ‘French Revolutions’ by Tim Moore, his account of cycling the route of the Tour de France.
    Also great is ‘Paris-Roubaix a journey through hell’ full of fascinating photographs indicating just how the comparison with hell came about.

  18. puck monkey

    Willy Voet’s ‘Braking the chains’
    Its unbelievable the amount of drug use he writes about. Its also unbelievable that he tries out drug regiments on Festina lesser riders. Willy takes the riders drugs to stay awake and drive the bus. Great book.

  19. Matt

    Yeah breaking the chains is a super book. Often too much conservative oriented hyperbole & heroics in cycling writing for my taste, so enjoyed Voet’s honest blood sweat and tears account of the festina years. The Pantani bio by Rendell was also very good.

  20. finbar

    I have to disagree with the recommendation for “French Revolutions” – i thought Tim Moore came across a xenophobic bigot who, for the first half of the book, did nothing but moan about not enjoying cycling.

    No-one’s mentioned “Ten Points” by Bill Strickland yet. It’s ugly and harrowing in places but certainly worth a go if you’re a fan of the cycling genre.

  21. Matt

    Been meaning to track down an edition of Barthes ‘mythologies’ that includes his TDF essay. Isn’t in the edition I have and little doubt that would be insightful reading.

    A discerningly curated links list of great cycling essays online would no doubt be well appreciated by many: has someone out there made or come across a compilation like this anytime recently?

  22. Robot

    @finbar I am loathe to pan a book, but I also thought French Revolutions was pretty poor. I kept asking, “If you’re in crap shape and don’t know anything about cycling why are you even doing this?”

    I’m not going to go out and write a book about hang gliding. I don’t actually know anything about hang gliding. I don’t imagine I have anything to offer there.

    Mr. Moore didn’t see it that way, apparently.

  23. db

    I read both Joe Parkin’s “Come and Gone” and Michael Barry’s “Inside the Postal Bus”, and was somewhat disappointed by both. They read more like blogs than cohesive books at times, and I wanted more insight and nuance than that.

    The best cycling book that I read this year was by a non-cyclist: “Round Ireland in Low Gear” by Eric Newby. Very interesting account of bicycle touring Ireland in the 1980s, before the age of the travel industry and the Internet. Newby is an excellent writer.

  24. db

    I also want to add the BikeSnobNYC book. The blogger wrote a well-rounded book that really presents a level-headed look at the bike as more than just a piece of athletic equipment or more than just a tool.

  25. Armchair Cyclist

    @finbar and @robot
    re: Tim Moore – are you guys American? (That seems like a negative question written down, but it’s not meant to be!) I think part of his charm is his Britishness, which might not come across as intended if you are not British. So, for e.g., not xenophobia per se, more a general love/hate thing that we Brits have with the French. 🙂

    He’s written a number of other books, one of which was about the game Monopoly – he visits every ‘square’/location of the London version – again, very humourous in that British fashion, and full of ‘interesting’ information about the board game (for example, apparently owning the orange set is the best).

  26. Dan O

    Like most cycling nuts, I’ve read quite a few cycling related books. Sure, I enjoy reading about pro riders and their related stories, however these two books stick in my mind:

    “Heft on Wheels” by Mike Magnuson. Well written account of overweight, smoking writer, that races bikes within a year (or so) of doing the 180.

    “Bike Snob” by Bike Snob NYC. Bike Snob has a down to earth style that makes fun of bike culture without really offending anyone. The dude gets it. It’s like a group of your friends joking and making fun of our little goofy bike world.

  27. Robot

    @ArmChair Cyclist – The answer is yes and no. My father is British, my mother American. I love Britain, and most things British. My problem with Moore’s book was that, though well enough written, it didn’t tell me ANYTHING about cycling. It purported to be about cycling, but it was really just a book about Tim Moore. Amusing in some ways, but also tone deaf. The cardinal rule of writing is “Write what you know.” Moore knows nothing about bicycles. And so…

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