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Book Review: “My Cool Bike” by Chris Haddon

Our friends at Independent Publishers Group sent us a review copy of My Cool Bike: An Inspirational Guide to Bikes and Bike Culture by Chris Haddon; photography by Lyndon McNeill (London: Pavilion, an imprint of Anova Books, 2013).

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At first, I was a bit skeptical: “aw, man, ANOTHER artsy book about bikes?!?” I expressed my concerns to my contact at IPG, and she assured me that yes, this was another art/coffee table book, but from the author’s very successful (and quirky) series called “My Cool…” Based on her guidance, I gave the book a fair chance, and I’m glad I did.

My Cool Bike is a fun look at the incredibly diverse world of bike culture, where all kinds of people are represented: punks, artists, designers, scientists, tinkerers, adventurers, free-thinkers. This should come as no surprise to many of you; we’re all pretty different from one another, yet we all share a rather passionate love for two-wheeled machines. Chris Haddon traveled to a number of cities and met with a lot of people, and in the process captured a fairly broad set of bike characters who embody bike culture as we know it. Lyndon MacNeill’s photographs really seal the deal, though — the bikes and the personalities behind them are captured in rich color, and those photographs also perfectly capture the joy and enthusiasm of each bike’s owner.

No hardcore racers or superathletes here; the personalities represented in the book seem to not take themselves so seriously, but clearly enjoy the freedom and individuality the bicycle brings to their lives. I think we can ALL relate to that, yes?

My Cool Bike is an enjoyable book to page through — there are no revelations contained within its pages, but I think you’ll enjoy this look at our unique two-wheeled community. There’s really something for every bike fan here; bikes to drool over, fun personalities you would love to go on a ride with, tales of adventures you’ll want to emulate. After seeing some of the collections of bikes owned by people in this book, I don’t feel so bad about the bike jumble in my own garage. While paging through the book, I did find myself wishing for a larger storage space, though!

Take a look at My Cool Bike, available through a number of online booksellers and perhaps even in your local library (if they don’t have it, ask nicely and they might be able to get a copy for you). You’ll enjoy the ride!

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Book Review: “Tour de France” by Graeme Fife

The Tour de France kicks off in a few short days…what better time than to present a review of Graeme Fife’s stellar Tour de France: The History…The Legend…The Riders…14th ed. (London: Mainstream Publishing, 2012)!

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Originally published in 1999, this edition of Tour de France was revised to include the Tours through 2012, where Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the coveted yellow jersey. This book is a thrilling and weighty look at the lore, the triumphs, the challenges and the defeats of the greatest cycling event we know. Compiled from exhaustive research, interviews with riders and anecdotes from historical accounts, Tour de France is dense and satisfying like a fine meal. The book is of two major parts: the first section divided into chapters named after the famous Alpine and Pyrenean summits that feature so prominently in the Tour. The second part is a series of chapters, starting in 1998 and finishing with 2012, that give the highlights and lowlights, the victories and the scandals that accompanied those years. Interspersed throughout the first part of the book are Fife’s own cyclotouriste efforts up the celebrated cols where so many legends were made (and broken).

The word “epic” has been used overmuch in the world of cycling, but that word suits this book just fine. Fife’s writing has an almost lyrical quality to it; his descriptions of events as they happened is breathtaking. Here’s an example, where he is describing the scene of a mountain stage:

The riders plough on through a cacophony of klaxons yodelling like a jamboree of deranged Tyroleans, exhaust pipes snorting plumes of carbon monoxide, the whole circus parade of team cars, service cars, official race cars, motorbikes with and without cameramen perched on the pillion seat, broom wagon snaking up the mountain — as fast as the leader at the front, as slow as the stragglers at the tail — through a jungle of spectators crammed so deep by the road’s edge they leave no more than a single file path down their middle and then bulge shut over the riders as they pass, like a python consuming its lunch.

The entire book is like that — and sometimes those vivid descriptions require re-reading a time or two for them to sink in. This is not “light reading” in any sense of the word, and at 518 pages, this isn’t a quick weekend read either. The book is meant to be savored, and in fact that is the only way to survive this dense tale: read, absorb…read, absorb…repeat until finished.

Fife references many photographs of the Tour as he writes, and while he thoughtfully includes a small handful for the readers, I was left wanting more. There are so many references to scenes from the past that a companion photo album would not be out of the question. Perhaps a future edition may address that one shortcoming?

If you are a fan of the Tour, a cycling historian or anyone who loves learning about professional cycling, this is a fantastic book to read. It can be an uphill slog at times to get through this massive volume…but the view from the top is worth it!

Thanks to our friends at the Independent Publishers Group for furnishing a complimentary review copy to us.

Book Review: “Half Man, Half Bike” by William Fotheringham

The Spring Classics are over, and we’re getting close to the Grand Tour season in pro cycling…in this era of “specialists” who train for particular races, what better time than to present a review of a book about a man who could (and just about DID) win everything he entered — stage races, track events, one-day classics, kermises?

As many of you know, I’m a fan of the professional racing scene…and have been since the early 80s, when I dabbled in some racing of my own. Anyone who knows anything about professional cycling knows the name Eddy Merckx — a true legend in pro circles. Merckx’s many records may never be eclipsed and the utter dominance he displayed in his racing career is the stuff of dreams for most other pros.

When our friend Jen at the Independent Publishers Group offered to send me a copy of William Fotheringham’s Half Man, Half Bike: The Life of Eddy Merckx, Cycling’s Greatest Champion (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2012), I eagerly accepted! This is the second Fotheringham book we’ve reviewed, the first being Cyclopedia: It’s All About the Bike, and the third of his books I’ve read (his biography of Fausto Coppi is fantastic).

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Let me just get this out of the way right up front: Fotheringham delivers once again! It is fair to say that he is my favorite cycling author…his combination of painstaking research and his ability to capture some very intimate human elements of his subjects makes his books a joy to read. As you might imagine, there are many dozens of books written about Merckx’s exploits during his racing career. Fotheringham thoughtfully distills much of this information into an easy-to-read and gripping tale.

As much as I love the post-war exploits of Coppi, Bartali and others, Merckx’s years in the peloton are my favorite “golden age” — when he and Van Springel, Anquetil, Gimondi, Godefroot, Ocana, Fuentes, de Vlaeminck, Sercu, Van Looy and many other notables duked it out on the roads and circuits throughout Europe.

Half Man, Half Bike begins as World War II is winding down and as Edouard Merckx is born in war-ravaged Kiezegem, Belgium. The author illustrates the difficult childhood Eddy had — including a stern, somewhat tyrannical father and a gentle mother who didn’t initially appreciate her son’s interest in racing. Merckx began his junior career in 1961, and found success quickly; his mother reluctantly agreeing to let him race rather than finishing his schooling. After winning the Belgian junior champion’s jersey in 1962, it wasn’t long before he made the jump to the pro ranks. And the rest, as they say, is history — with nearly 500 wins as a professional, including five wins each of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, dozens of spring classics, and three World Roadracing Championships, his career was unparalled.

Fotheringham paints a vivid picture of Merckx’s quick rise to glory. He describes many of Merckx’s innermost thoughts about why he raced the way he did…the catalysts that drove him to dominate his rivals. The entire book is riveting — while I’ve heard many of the stories of Merckx’s wins on fabled Tour stages, the details Fotheringham presents truly capture the essence of the tactics, mindset and spirit of this champion. The author caught up with Merckx in the 90s and describes his post-racing business ventures and activities, but points out that:

What Merckx has given the sport can be seen in the way bike racing on the road has been perceived since his retirement. La course en tête as Merckx forged it remains the benchmark for the entire sport. The way he raced is the gold standard to which all professional cyclists and all their victories are compared.

If you like racing even half as much as I do, I cannot recommend this book enough. You’ll have a hard time putting it down. It’s readily available on the major online book retailers…so what are you waiting for?

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I missed a chance to meet Eddy Merckx at Interbike 2010. I got wrapped up talking to one of our advertisers and missed the “window of opportunity”. Luckily, my pal Moe had me covered — braving a long line to get me an autograph (being signed in the photo below):

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