Confession time: I’m not very good at riding a bike. The thought of commuting on one in London, where van drivers regularly mash cyclists, terrifies me, and the last time I rode one in the country, I fell off (in my defence, I was going through woodland, down a hill). But I love cycling as a sport: the spectacle, the stories, the combination of technical perfectionism and terrifying physical exertion – everything about it fascinates me. Because cycling has such romance and so many facets to it, cycling books are often amazing. I’ve read loads: you should read these.
FASTER, Michael Hutchinson
The best cycling book I have ever read, easily. In his prime, Hutchinson was an elite cyclist who made a serious assault on the world hour record and narrowly fell short of an Olympic slot: he was also a guy who did absolutely everything he could (and a few things that he’d admit were stupid) in pursuit of getting faster. This book is about all of them: from examinations of laminar airflow and the lactate system to taming your inner chimp and advanced carb-loading. Although it’s a phenomenal introduction to the intricacies of cycling (and endurance sport in general), this book is about more than that: it’s about just how far you can push the limits of one seemingly-fairly-simple skill, and about how far teams and entire countries have gone to do exactly that. It should get you thinking about how you can apply the concept of marginal gains – looking for tiny improvements in every area – to your own life, and it’ll also teach you why lobsters are more clever than horses. Near-flawless.
THE SECRET RACE, Tyler Hamilton
If you’ve ever wondered how Lance Armstrong got away with it for all those TDFs – this is how. Hamilton did basically the same thing, using tactics that ranged from taking EPO and hormone tablets that would leave his system in 12 hours (so even if the testers turned up, he could just extend his training ride until he was clear) to participating in a fake-bus crash where several key members of his team had blood bag infusions. Not exactly heartwarming reading, but super-informative and a book that’ll give you all the Armstrong-hate ammunition you ever need.
IRON WAR, Matt Fitzgerald
Okay: not a cycling book, though it does have huge chunks about cycling in it. It’s about the rivalry between Mark Allen and Dave Scott in the early years of triathlon, told via the medium of their greatest ever race…but interspersed with biographies of both men, alongside dozens of fascinating insights into training theory past and present, including why running really hard is self-teaching, and why Pose running is bullshit. This book made me want to do an Ironman triathlon, and my last marathon left me swearing I’d never do anything so stupid ever again.
Honourable mentions: Put Me Back On My Bike, anything by David Walsh, and Riding Into Darkness. If something else is great and I haven’t mentioned it, I may not have read it. Feel free to send me books, all.