City Cycling: London

This is a lovely small book which formed part of a set covering Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Antwerp/Ghent, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona and Milan (as well as this one of course), and I found that irritating as I was only interested in London! But now you can get it on it’s own – oddly after a quick search on Amazon I couldn’t find it, but I have seen it in Waterstones so it does exist.

Although aimed at cyclists I would recommend it for anyone visiting/living in London as the places visited are not solely aimed at cyclists, they are just linked via rides – if inclined you could walk the cycle route, just over a longer period of time. The book looks at a few select areas and recommends places to see and visit, as well as local eateries (always important).

At just under 50 pages it isn’t the longest book, but would easily fit in most cycling jerseys and bags. It includes small maps of the specific areas and wider London, with a useful key, and even room at the back for your own notes should you be so inclined.

It retails for about £5 so 10p per page, a bargain really. And also a bit odd seeing that it is by Rapha and they like to aim for a price range to make them exclusive whilst quite ubiquitous, if that is possible!

Mud Sweat and Gears – Ellie Bennett

This book made me think, not about the book, but about writing about books (and films, music, etc, anything really!) – and whether I should review in my head as I go along or wait until the end and then look back on the thing as a whole.

This book falls into the first category, after a few pages I was against the author and kind of hoping things would go wrong. It isn’t what they were doing or why, it was the real ale side of things. I have a deep hatred of CAMRA for reasons I will not detail here, and this books does dwell at times on beer, which I expected going in to it, but not realising it was the beardy sandal wearing CAMRA types in charge.

As a journey the book is well presented, they chose an odd route, which is nice for a change, taking it as a tour rather than a challenge. The non-challenge aspect of it is hammered homes a few times but the ease at which walking is employed – if you walk up a hill you do not deserve to free wheel down the other side, that’s not cycling, it is descending. Also there are no tears in cycling, unless you smack your gonads on your top tube, those are valid tears.

There was some belittling of other riders too, I found it ironic that they laughed at a rider using sat nav and being a bike nerd, when they are in CAMRA. The cherry on the cake is the quote on the cover, from the lord of cycling self aggrandisement himself – Mark Beaumont.

I should stop typing as I wont end up recommending the book no matter how much I try, I am quite sad that it has to live on my bookcase forever more.

Bluffers Guide to Cycling

I cannot tell a lie; I was looking for a cheap/free eBook to read using the Kindle app on my phone whilst on the toilet at work. This happened to be free, think it still is too, and so the decision was simple.

It is a night light read, could probably get through it in one sitting (not on the toilet), but it isn’t empty and instantly forgotten. I found it fun and enjoyable, it is written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but it does not drift over to being silly.

I enjoyed just jumping in and reading a small section every now and again, not just on the toilet, wanted to read it more and more, but also didn’t want to rush through it and have it finish. Much of the book really struck home, about types of rider, laws, etc.

As well as being free (at time of writing anyway) it offers great value for money, but it is also available in the physical form, and still worth it, a small tome to pop into bag of even jacket when out riding. Not all free books offer value for money, some I have read have felt very costly in terms of sanity and time.

Wayne’s Tour – Wayne Howard

The subtitle of this book – A Big Bloke’s Tour de France – is a good synopsis for the story, it follows the author as he rode the year 2000 tour route. There are a few books that follow people attempting routes from different years (Tim Moore’s French Revolutions being the best of the lot in my opinion) and for different reasons.

This is the first I recall reading that was for charity. The book starts with a good introduction as to the why, and then the how – as in how to prepare. The author starts as a serving police officer but that comes to an end pretty quickly, retirement freeing up the time to ride the massive amount of kilometres required.

Intermingled with the developing story of the task in hand are various quotes related to what is happening at that time, I liked this idea, a few I knew, many I didn’t, and they aren’t from riders, much more deep and philosophical that that!

Being a slightly older book there was one thing that made me smile in an “if he only knew” way – there are references to the (in)famous Lance Armstrong, from the point of view that most of us had a few years ago – as one of the best TdF riders ever.

The ups and downs of the circumnavigation throw up a variety of interesting and humorous tales, I particularly enjoyed the ongoing relationship with his support driver Andy.

It’s a well written book, the story flows well, a good pace, I am sure it could have been double the length, with more detail on each days riding, but it isn’t a detailed route guide, places are mentioned and we continue, pretty much as they are when riding.

Mr Howard is an interesting man, at different points in the book there are short sections on positive thinking and motivation, the line of work he is now in, something I found quite interesting, and ideas I will have to try – not just when cycling either! Although the word ‘positive’ in cycling has to be used very carefully of course.

The charity supported was Rosemere Cancer Foundation, for each new copy purchased £1 goes to the charity, as I bought my copy second hand I donated directly (only right) to http://www.rosemere.org.uk/index.php/donate/making-a-donation

Heights of Madness – Jonny Muir

I happened across this book in the excellent Stanfords travel book shop and picked it up a little later from a well known internet auction site. The premise is simple – the cycle and walk to the top of every county in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 92 days, 92 being the amount of mountain tops (read the book to understand why there are 92!).

To be honest I wasn’t hooked straight away, it took a little while to get into the book but when I did I flew through it. The way the book is written is split down into clear sections and an easy read. Sadly my UK geography is a little lacking but I think I understood the route, it zig-zagged from bottom left up the country, with a little twist at the end to ensure last peak was Ben Nevis.

The storeis of the counties with very low tops are just as interesting as those more challenging, in fact they seemed more interesting as on a few occasions just finding the peaks was an issue. When he got to places I knew there was an “I’ve been there” flicking through my mind, and there were a few places I would now like to visit, not all 92 though.

It is an enjoyable book, a bit of light fun really, the tales of a slightly eccentric journey, definitely a pointless one, the sort of things we English excel at!

Between the Lines – Victoria Pendleton

Apart from seeing her in action at major championships (and on Strictly Come Dancing of course) I knew very little about Victoria Pendleton’s past. This book addresses that and so much more, whilst most cycling biographies cover a similar path from a childhood riding with friends to eventual stardom it is very rare for one to feel quite as deeply personal. A couple of times I felt uncomfortable reading it, it was like listening in to someone having a private conversation, and it gets very raw and honest in places and delves deeper than other biographies I’ve read – cycling or otherwise.

A good amount of space is taken up with her childhood and the times riding with her dad and against her brother. I had vague recollections about her brother but these were fleshed out and I felt a little jealous of her seemingly perfect upbringing – that illusion is revisited later in the book.

The time spent training in Switzerland is heart-breaking and something I never expected to read, you do need to read this book, and that section, to understand why I am not even going to try to paraphrase it.

The hugely successful track career feels like a small part of the book, but must take up at least half of it, but it is so well written and detailed without being dull it just flies by. There are ups and downs as with any life, and a love story slowly inveigles it’s way in, but not a soppy love story, one dictated as wrong by the all encompassing evil of British Cycling.

The nearer to the 2012 Olympics we get the more familiar the story becomes, but there are still a couple of curve balls thrown in just to ensure the reader is still awake.

This is one of the best book’s I’ve read – you don’t need to be a cycling fan to be drawn into the story, and it’s one that I think a female audience would empathise with quite deeply, as a man I can understand, but not in the way the fairest gender do.

I would be interested in a volume 2 a few years down the line, looking at what happened post Olympics, the media merry-go-round, etc.

The Cycling Anthology: Volume 3

Even though this is only the third in the collection I am an avid fan of the Cycling Anthologies – they bring together some of the best writers in cycling in a way that is simple and ingenious. The loose theme for this edition was a review of 2013, but it was a rather loose theme.

There are 13 articles on topics ranging from Chris Froome, doping, Australian rider to buses and then 8 other subjects. Yes I know, that makes 12, the 13th is something different different and rather special. It is written by Ellis Bacon, one of the editors, and I guess when the idea was pitched there may have been a few deep discussions about whether it was too much of a gimmick.

It is a ‘choose your own adventure’ story, a throwback to my younger self for sure, but based on cycling this time of course. And it works, just a simple story placing you as a first year pro. It could easily have been expanded to be a full book but the few options available are still quite testing and interesting, with various outcomes available.

Although each article is enjoyable and interesting (as interesting as Chris Froome can be – I just don;t get him personally) but overall the book felt loose and disconnected. The articles could have been dropped into any cycling/sports magazine, they don’t feel of a higher quality to standard print journalism as they did in the previous issues.

I still really like the small format, so easy to read when out and about, and as each one appears on my bookcase they just look cooler and cooler.

These books sitsperfectly alongside (metaphorically) The Bicycle Reader (ebook only) – it is a very similar publication but whereas The Cycling Anthology looks at the more mainstream and known authors a higher percentage of those in The Bicycle Reader as more obscure. As with cycling both can sit comfortably toghether.