Creaking shelves

I’m in my local Waterstones and I’m nosing around the sport section. It’s not a massive store, but I can’t believe how the cycling section now extends across two shelves and even has its own identifier. A few years ago if you’d looked between Wisden’s cricket almanacs and the glossy football annuals you might have found a couple of bike maintenance manuals.

Just how many books on cycling do you need? Photo from bonniesbook.blogspot.com

Recently the publishing world’s gone ga-ga for cycling. Perhaps they’ve realised that cyclists are a fair-weather bunch by and large. Once they’re off the bike they’ve got time on their hands and that represents a marketing opportunity. There are biographies, autobiographies, buying guides, trail guides, histories of the development of the bike, the grand tours, accounts of cycling expeditions and epic climbs are all jostling for attention. Most of the UK’s professional cyclists have written formulaic autobiographies; Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish, David Millar and Bradley Wiggins are all present.

What’s caught my eye is some of the off-beat cycle publications – faded heroes, the darker side of drug taking in cycling, moments in time, obscure cycling topics and reclusive cyclists (who seem to be drawn to a life on two wheels). Perhaps this is cycling beginning to branch away from it’s fixation with the competitive element. I’ve yet to see cycling break into the philosophy, fiction and design sections but I think it’s just a matter of time. You might think “what’s the need for cycling to break out of the sports section?” but I don’t understand why something that almost everyone can do, that is a child’s right of passage, that is an essential mode of transport for so many isn’t more widely written about. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a proliferation of bike blogging – it’s just filling a much-needed gap.

If I had to name a top 5 for cycling books they’d include

  • King of The Mountains, Matt Rendell – who’d have known that drug baron Pablo Escobar had his own private velodrome? It just one of the many fascinating facts about Colombian cycling. Anyone who remembers the awesome climber, Luis Herra should read this.
  • Flying Scotsman by Graeme Obree– The subtitle give a clue to the tone: “Cycling to triumph through my darkest hours”. Obree is a fascinating, complex and fragile figure.
  • In Search of Robert Millar, Richard Moore –  Again the subtitle gives a hefty clue “Unravelling the mystery surrounding Britain’s most successful Tour de France Cyclist”. To me Millar remains one of British cycling’s most progressive, revered and enigmatic characters. 
  • French Revolutions, Cycling the Tour de France, Tim Moore – This remains one of the few funny books about cycling.
  • The Rider, Tim Krabbe – One of the most engaging pieces of cycling fiction/reportage. if you don’t understand cycle racing read this book.
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