Lanterne Rouge: Eleven Bicycle Books

When one looks at one’s possessions and admits to oneself that it’s All Too Much to Bear, it’s time to clean house.

Some things are easier to pitch than others, but let’s not discuss electronics, computers or broken bird feeders. Instead let’s look at what really makes a house a home: the printed word.

Newspapers tucked here and there are pitched without a second thought. Magazines are nearly as easy to toss, that is, once you’ve safely set aside all your back issues of Wooden Boat, Bicycle Quarterly and Velo Vision.

But books, what to do with all the books? More specifically, what to do with all the bicycle books?

Some of these volumes have traveled with me to at least a dozen apartments and houses over the years. They’ve been lifted, boxed, shifted, unboxed and placed on new shelves.

In other words I’ve had more opportunities to rid myself of them than I have fingers (and I have all my fingers).

Turns out the best way to cull the herd is quickly. Here’s a quick farewell to books I recently gave to another person who rides bicycles and, out of respect to the authors, a few of the reasons why I did so (spoiler alert: I haven’t been interested in racing as a spectator for a long time).

Bicycle Track Racing, authors: editors of Bike World, publisher: Bike World Magazine, copyright 1977, 124 pgs.

If you were new to racing in Illinois in the 1970s, most of your races were criteriums, short courses with lots of laps. I remember walking around Moline, Illinois, after racing in the rain when it finally occurred to me that spectators grouped around the corners to watch the crashes.

Oh, the humanity. Was all racing like that?

No. This book reminds the reader that “American cycling’s ancestral lineage is in track racing.”

Plus, for spectators, track racing is way more convenient than a criterium. You can see every crash without moving at all.

Contemporary Bicycle Racing, authors: Keith Kingbay, George Fichter, publisher: Contemporary Books, Inc., copyright 1978, 82 pgs.

This is how racing was represented in America one year before the movie Breaking Away came out. Note to self: Don’t ever use contemporary as the title of a book. Time moves on.

Boy, does it move on.

Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Bicycling, authors: Greg LeMond, Kent Gordis, publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, copyright 1987, 352 pgs.

I’m not going to disrespect LeMond. His career speaks for itself. But this is another racing-focused book, and I’m decades past being racing focused. I may not be the only one.

A few words from the final page:

“Cycling, like any other sport in America, is a business, and as soon as the business of cycling no longer seems profitable, it might no longer be quite as ‘hot.’…”Of course, I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen. After all, I’ve dedicated ten years of my life to this grueling sport because I truly love it. And I think the next chapter of cycling’s history should belong to America.”

Turns out it did. And boy, was it dope.

Kelly, A Biography of Sean Kelly, author: David Walsh, publisher Harrap Ltd., copyright 1986, 240 pgs.

The exodus included two books on Sean Kelly. At the risk of betraying my lack of attention, I’ll say this one has a lot of words with a small group of black and white photos.

I liked Kelly because I thought of him as a great soloist, bulling ahead when his team couldn’t keep up with him.

I flipped through a few pages and came across this description. Apparently, for Kelly, it was all about the bike:

“Kelly wasn’t a clever talker, he couldn’t be deemed physically handsome and he didn’t have the advantages of a formal education. Outside of the bike, there wasn’t much that Kelly could claim to excel at. His talent was for turning the pedals. He enjoyed the feeling of mastery when he turned them faster than everybody else.”

Thanks for waiting until page 78 to write that, David.

Road Racing Technique & Training, authors: Bernard Hinault, Claude Genzling, publisher: Velo-news Corporation, English edition copyright 1988 (French copyright 1986), 208 pgs.

He is French. He won the Tour de France five times. His nickname is the Badger. He raced in Look pedals in 1985.

I raced in Look pedals.

And for the life of me, I don’t understand how you can set the cleat adjustment by riding with the cleat bolts a little loose (pg. 80-81).

How do you retain the adjustment when you kick your heel out to release the cleat from the pedal? Also, how do you release the cleat when it rotates under the shoe?

Clearly a matter for another reader to ponder.

Sean Kelly, a man for all seasons, authors: Sean Kelly, David Walsh, publisher: Springfield Books Limited, copyright 1991, 127 pgs.

Good title. The book is actually divided into four seasons. I love a theme. Lots of good color photos, too.

Years ago I marked my place with the 1991 receipt from VeloNewsBooks: $19.95 for the paperback, $4 shipping.

Guess I was made of money back then.

Stephen Roche, My Road to Victory, author: Stephen Roche, photographer: Graham Watson, publisher: Stanley Paul and Co. Ltd, copyright 1987, 128 pgs.

Why did I keep this book for so long?

It’s a tall but slender hardcover and apparently written by its subject, a Dubliner who in 1987 won the Tour, the Giro d’Italia and the World Championship.

At one time, that was commonly known as a Pretty Good Season.

Plus, the book’s full of color pictures.

But the writing is functional at best, right down to the moth-eaten obbligato of whether there’s a place for the wife or girlfriend during the Tour.

I may be tired of spectator sports, but I’m tired to death of male-dominated spectator sports. Sorry, Stephen.

The Tour de France Complete Book of Cycling, authors: David Chauner, Michael Halstead, publisher: Villard Books, copyright 1990, 235 pgs.

This book promises everything, and that’s before you get to the subtitle: From Weekend Biking to World-Class Racing: The One Total Sourcebook for Every Cycling Question and Every Cycling Need.

However, it doesn’t seem to answer the following questions:

  1. Where did Henry Miller, author of Tropic of Cancer, buy the bike he referred to as “my best friend?”
  2. Which winner of the Paris-Roubaix created both the Champion and AC spark plug brands?
  3. Who authored Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle, a book that includes 18 pages on “Curl, The Best of Bull-Dogs?”
  4. What was that author’s real name?
  5. What year did the League of American Wheelmen ban black riders?

Granted, I didn’t review the book line for line—maybe I missed something along the way. Still, I would expect a comprehensive book on cycling to rival the Oxford English Dictionary in size. At 235 pages, the Complete Book just doesn’t weigh enough.

Answers: A) Madison Square Garden at the end of a six-day race. B) Albert Champion. C) Karl Kron. D) Lyman Hotchkiss Bag. E) 1894.

Tour de France, The 75th anniversary cycle race, author: Robin Magowan, publisher: Stanley, Paul & Co. Ltd., copyright 1979, 204 pgs.

Another racing book. If I must choose between the Tour and Jules Verne—and I must, life is short—I’d rather spend five weeks in a balloon.

Magowan’s book includes this discussion of anabolic steroids:

“They also have, like birth-control pills, dangerous side effects. Blood pressure goes up, liver rots, and the testes atrophy. But this is only in a small percentage of cases, and there is a school of sports medicine, in East Germany notably, that believes these can be prevented if intakes are continually monitored as to dosage.”

Is it too early to ask how that all turned out?

Tour de France, Three Weeks to Glory, author: Samuel Abt, publisher: Bicycle Books, Inc. copyright 1991, 192 pgs.

I’ll probably regret giving this one away. It’s well written and includes a scattering of historical images.

There’s also an interesting Q&A with Jacques Goddet, a Tour de France director for decades. Here’s one exchange from page 40:

Q: “Doesn’t the average person seem less attracted to the ideals of sacrifice and suffering that are so much a part of bicycle racing?”

A: “They want security. The whole world has become much more interested in security. There is so much misery in this world that everybody looks for peace and quiet, definitely.

“And the Tour especially refuses security. It involves and needs the concept of facing pain and defeat. Sacrifice is partly responsible of the Tour’s popularity. Sacrifice is part of cycling’s legend, certainly part of the Tour’s legend.

“I’m not saying that personally I would like the riders to encounter huge difficulties, but it is necessary for the sport.”

winning bicycle racing, author: Jack Simes, photographer: Robert F. George, publisher: Contemporary Books, Inc., copyright 1976, 195 pgs.

In America in the 1970s, bicycle racing was exotic to me. The best racers in the world didn’t come from this country. The huge six-day races of the 1930s were impossibly lost in the long ago. No American had yet competed in the Tour de France, and LeMond wouldn’t win his first Tour until 1986.

TV and newspaper mentions of racing were rare. So I read and reread books like this one. Simes was a good rider (three Olympic appearances) and coach, but he was an American, and his book provided little perspective on the world beyond the lower 48.

A quick look at the index reveals a mention of the Tour de France on page 99. Here’s the totality of that mention:

“Many stage races in this country involve only two or three events on a weekend, but the bigger international ones last several weeks and cover as much as a thousand miles in that time. The most famous bicycle race in the world, the Tour de France, is a three-week stage race for professionals.”

Short. Sweet. Gone.







About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
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6 Responses to Lanterne Rouge: Eleven Bicycle Books

  1. adventurepdx says:

    I think I see a theme in your jettisoned books. 😉

    (I actually have a copy of that LeMond book, found it somewhere.)

  2. Mitch Hull says:

    Excellent post!

    I too have had trouble getting rid of books about cycling (or most any other topic).

    I especially regret tossing an oversized paperback Whole Earth-style book on cyclotouring from ~1972-3 that I used to guide my preparation for my once-a-lifetime big trip out West in 1974.

  3. tuckamoredew says:

    They say there is no such thing as too many books, just not enough bookshelves. But what to do when there is no room for more shelves?

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