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Book reviews: Last-minute gift ideas for the bicycling reader in your life

I’ve got a backlog of book reviews waiting to be published, so I thought I would combine them into a longer “roundup” — as you well know, books can be a great holiday gift for the two-wheeler in your life. Or, you could always treat yourself to one of these titles. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Bike Porn, Volume 1

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Chris Naylor is the author of Bike Porn, Volume 1 (West Sussex, UK: Summersdale Publishers, Ltd., 2013). In this book, Chris has compiled dozens of high-quality photos of some really spectacular bikes. These photos are juxataposed with cycling-friendly quotes, from notables such as H.G. Wells, Grant Peterson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bob Weir, and many more. It’s a celebration of the craftsmanship and technology of the modern bicycle.

Lots of custom bikes from today’s hot builders are featured, as are components like wheels. The photographs are from many contributors, and all of them display crisp resolution, focusing on subtle details as well as the entire bike. The book is printed on matte-finished, high-quality paper, and serves as a mini “coffee table” book. The tech geek in me wished for more information about some of the bicycles displayed within Bike Porn’s pages, but that’s beyond the scope of the book. This is a good addition to a collection of bicycle design titles, generating inspiration and interest in some really fantastic two-wheeled machines.

The Road Less Taken

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Kathryn Bertine’s The Road Less Taken: Lessons from a Life Spent Cycling (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2014) is a humorous peek into the world of professional women’s bike racing. Kathryn is an accomplished writer, penning features for publications like ESPN, espnW. In addition to her professional racing career with the Wiggle-Honda team, she has also found the time to create documentary films and to write two other cycling memoirs. Most importantly, she is one of the founders of Le Tour Entier, an organization that helped launch La Course, the women’s Tour de France that premiered in the 2014 season.

Kathryn details what it’s like to be a professional cyclist among women’s ranks — the financial struggles, homestays, mechanical issues, and so much else. She approaches her narrative with a large dose of self-deprecating humor, giving a funny and insightful overview of the fairly deplorable state of professional women’s bike racing. Kathryn’s ability to convey her passion for the sport despite the many struggles is refreshing, and she gives a great look into what motivates riders, how they stay focused, and how she was able to overcome adversity during her years as a racer. She finishes off the book with some articles she wrote for other publications, highlighting women’s sports issues and showcasing other female athletes. The book, on the whole, is a bit scattershot — Kathryn tends to jump around a bit in almost a stream-of-consciousness writing style. It works here, though, and I found it to be a very enjoyable read.

The Monuments

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Since I began following bike racing in the mid 1980s, I always had a soft spot for the spring and fall classics, particularly the five races known as “The Monuments”. In Peter Cossin’s book The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling’s Greatest One-Day Races (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), I found a treasure trove of information. Let me just put this out here right now: this is overwhelmingly the best book I’ve read this year, and I read a LOT of books (60-80 a year). I simply could not put this tome down…it is filled with historical accounts, little-known facts, and the origins of the greatest races on the pro calendar.

What are The Monuments, you ask? Well, in order of their placement on the racing calendar, we’ve got Milan-Sanremo (known as “La Primavera” in Italian, their phrase for “spring”). Next up is de Ronde van Vlaanderen, known to English speakers as the Tour of Flanders, referred to by fans as “Vlaanderens mooiste” (Flander’s most beautiful). A week later comes Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North. This one is considered the Queen of the Classics, and legends are born on the cobbles. Next up is La Doyenne (the old lady), cycling’s oldest Monument that most people know as Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Rounding out the calendar is the Giro di Lombardia, colloquially known as “The Race of the Falling Leaves”. This last used to mark the end of the pro season, and was a last chance for many cyclists to get a prestigious win for the year.

Peter Cossins addresses each race with incredible detail, from accounts of the first runnings of each race through to modern times. These accounts are amazing in their detail — it is almost as if the author was there, roadside, catching all the breathtaking action of true cycling legends giving their all in these events. Even as a seasoned follower of these races, I learned many details. For example, most fans think Paris-Roubaix is called “Hell of the North” due to the mud, the inclement weather, and the torturous cobbled secteurs. In fact, it was given that nickname just after World War I, when the race traversed areas utterly devastated by the fighting in that brutal conflict.

The Monuments deserves a place in every racing fan’s bookshelf — I simply cannot convey how much I enjoyed reading this title. I even skipped meals in order to finish this thing; it is that compelling.

Faster

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Written by Michael Hutchinson, a professional cyclist with over 50 national titles, Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) gives a detailed examination into the art and science of professional bike racers. Hutchinson presents the information in a way that breaks down complex ideas about physiology, nutrition, and technology into concepts that are easily digested, even for a layperson. In other words, I didn’t have to ask my wife to explain some of the physiological details to me (she’s a medical professional working on her doctorate).

Hutchinson talks about some of the extremes pros go to to eke out those crucial seconds that stand between them and a win (high-altitude simulation tents, anyone?). He delves deeply into laboratory testing, the psychology of successful riders, and many other facets of the sacrifices, black magic, and hard science of the professional athlete’s training regimen. Throughout the book, Hutchinson is not afraid to poke fun at himself or at a lot of the mysteries surrounding extreme athletic preparation. His writing style blends humor with a rich examination of the sport, and it’s been very pleasant to read (so far…I’m not quite finished with the book yet). For the cyclist who also likes to pin on a race number from time to time, this is a valuable addition to a book collection. There are no “secret formulas” on offer here, but much of the information can be used to formulate training game plans all the same.

These four books are available online or at most well-stocked book retailers. Each of them makes a fantastic gift for the bike fan in your life.

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