Last week I got rid of some books. Easy enough, you think—most of them were old, some of them were simplistic, all of them had to do with bicycle racing.
Well, surprise, surprise: I didn’t get rid of all my books—that wasn’t the goal. I wanted to move some to a new home so I could better focus on books that have been important to me over the years, whether or not I’ve read them all the way through.
These are some of the books I’m keeping.
Agonistic Cycling, author: Agostino Massagrande, publisher: Edizioni Landoni, copyright approximately 1980, 173 pgs.
So that’s where my Sutherland’s Spoke Calculator went, stuck inside this book, along with 1) a gear chart/business card and 2) shoe size conversion chart from Champaign Cycle, 3) a Blue Sky Cycle Carts brochure—“carries 150 lbs. with ease”—and 4) a 1988 Associated Press article on Tim Moore, who developed a high-density polyethylene sewer grate cover to protect bicyclists from plunging into long-slot sewer grates.
I can’t get rid of the book. Now I know where all this stuff is.
That aside, I should have known better than to start racing decades ago just by looking at the cover of this English translation of an Italian primer on competitive cycling.
The photo is taken from the back of the pack.
The Best of Bicycling!, editor: Harley M. Leete, publisher: Pocket Book, copyright 1970, 465 pgs.
I’ve written about this book before, and I still wonder why Bicycling! magazine made the decision to drop the exclamation mark instead of making it into a mission statement.
There’s a bit of everything in this book, including a picture of cycling innovator Dan Henry on his fully suspended long-wheelbase recumbent. If anyone knows where this bike is today, let me know. Please.
Bicycle Mechanics, In Workshop and Competition, authors: Steve Snowling, Ken Evans, publisher: Leisure Press, copyright 1986, 160 pgs.
Yes, It’s a few years old, but there are plenty of things worth noting: 1) the spotless workshop I’ve tried to duplicate for thirty years without success; 2) the clever paint brush bent at an angle below the bristles to clean between the chainrings; 3) ideas on transferring rider position from one bike to another (hint: start with a level saddle).
Plus, all the pictures of Snowling on the job remind me how much I miss wearing overalls. Your waistline? Your business.
And with no discussion of mountain bikes, hydraulic brakes, suspension systems or index shifting, the pictures are really big.
Bike Mechanic, Tales From the Road and the Workshop, authors: Guy Andrews, Rohan Dubashi, photographer: Taz Darling, publisher: Velo Press, copyright 2014, 272 pgs.
Guy Andrews says the inspiration for this book was the previous book by Snowling and Evans.
A lot happened in 28 years.
Consider this bit of insight from page 57: “So being a team mechanic requires more than mechanical nous and a love of bicycles. You will also need a good knowledge of the bike races, a trucker’s license, and a strong sense of logistics.”
Bottom bracket? Snowling recommended using the same name as the maker of the chainset on a given bicycle. Done and done.
Andrews, on the other hand, spends page 151 explaining what happened to the old square taper bottom bracket and ends with this paragraph:
“We are going to see continuous developments in this area. Who knows, perhaps we might eventually end up with a light, stiff, reliable solution that actually lasts.”
bike tripping, author: Tom Cuthbertson, illustrator: Rick Morrall, publisher: Ten Speed Press, copyright 1972, 176 pgs.
Like Karl Kron’s book, Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle, bike tripping is dedicated to a dog: “Irving, the best dog in the whole world.” It’s also dedicated to Cuthbertson’s bicycle, a Hetchins, which especially in the U.S. of 1972 was a quality ride.
Like a lot of beginner bike books, bike tripping illustrates the right way and wrong way to ride a bicycle. But no other book illustrates the wrong way quite so clearly.
Why keep this book? Maybe for the endpiece photograph of the author wearing a newsboy cap, white t-shirt, jeans and a smile while riding a high wheeler. It’s an early reminder of the joie de vivre that bicycling represented to me over the years—and yet another reminder of a bike I want to add back to the stable.
The Complete Cycle Sport Guide, author: Peter Konopka, publisher: EP Publishing Limited, English translation (from German) copyright 1982, 182 pgs.
I’m keeping this one for the dumbest of reasons: I’ve already given away 11 bicycle books. But it does recommend something I value, a smooth cycling style, and I think of its words whenever I ride:
“A perfect stylist lets the legs do the work, the rest of the body not moving. Above all, the head should be kept still and the body should not bob up and down or from side to side.”
Style. Cool. Count me in.
European Cycling, The 20 greatest races, author: Noel Henderson, publisher: Vitesse Press, copyright 1989, 152 pgs.
This is the book that reminds me European racing extends throughout the year—that there is way more to the sport than one month in France.
It doesn’t make me any more interested in road racing today, but the history and names behind each contest still reverberate.
Half-wheel Hell & other cycling stories, author: Maynard Hershon, publisher Velonewsbooks, copyright 1994, 133 pgs.
Could there be a question about keeping this book? Hershon is a Writer. Some samples:
- “You can divide bike riders into two groups: those who believe in their hearts that cycling is an aerodynamic sport—and those who would rather deny it.”
- “Old as he is, Sully’s never learned respect. He’s smart, funny and irreverent clear to the bone. Got a pig valve in his heart…. You could feel sorry for him if you didn’t know how easily he could ride away from you.”
- “The last Italian to have won the Tour sat across the table from me in the Bianchi lunchroom. We shared a bottle of acqua minerale. Sometimes I poured; sometimes he did. I felt, between you and me, that I was just where I was supposed to be.”
- “If you ride 150 races and win 10, you’re a superstar. You lost over 90 percent of the time, but everyone wants your autograph.”
An Intimate Portrait of The Tour De France, Masters and Slaves of the Road, author: Philippe Brunel, publisher: Buonpane Publications, copyright 1995, first published in English (from French) 1996, 158 pgs.
If you like black-and-white pictures of bicycles and racers, here’s your book.
The picture of Vervaeke and Geldbol smoking cigarettes while wearing goggles on their heads and spare tires around their shoulders, water bottles hanging off the front of the handlebars? It’s in here.
The first time you read this book, you look at the pictures. The second time, you read the captions. The third time, you read the biographies, starting with that of Ottavio Bottecchia, the 1924 winner.
Twenty years later, I’m reading it for the fourth time.
Major Taylor, author: Andrew Ritchey, publisher Bicycle Books, Inc., copyright 1988, 304 pgs.
It goes without saying that The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, Marshall W. “Major” Taylor’s autobiography, has a place on my shelf.
His “dozen don’ts” contain much practical wisdom:
- Don’t try to “gyp.”
- Don’t be a pie biter [greedy—ed.]
- Don’t keep late hours.
- Don’t use intoxicants.
- Don’t be a big bluffer.
- Don’t eat cheap candies.
- Don’t get a swelled head.
- Don’t use tobacco in any form.
- Don’t fail to live a clean life.
- Don’t forget to play the game fair.
- Don’t take an unfair advantage of an opponent.
- Don’t forget the practice of good sportsmanship.
He was a black man in a white man’s sport in the 1890s, a world-champion sprinter who won on tracks from Peoria to Paris, from Indiana to Australia. Racism prevented some wins; his personal beliefs prevented others. He didn’t race on Sundays until his career was nearly over.
But no autobiography is truly comprehensive. Ritchey’s book provides a few of the missing details.
Taylor died in Chicago in 1932 at 53. No one claimed the body. He was buried at public expense. (His body was later exhumed from an unmarked grave and moved to a more prominent spot in the cemetery.)
When interviewed by Le Miroir des Sports, Taylor’s European manager recounted “the stunning number of his victories during his first three European tours: forty-two first places in 1901, forty in 1902, thirty-one in 1903.”
One of Ritchey’s more telling details: Taylor lived about 10 years longer than the average black man in America.
Visions of Cycling, author and photographer: Graham Watson, publisher: VeloNews, copyright 1989, 127 pgs.
When you’re on the Internet, you live in what some call the eternal present; what Douglas Rushkoff in Present Shock called the continuous now.
Past, present, future (the latter in the form of faith, speculation, overconfidence and lies): everything happens at once. It’s exhausting–and avoidable.
How to preserve your perspective? Open a book. Open Watson’s book.
This is nothing if not the past: leather-net helmets, steel bicycle frames, film cameras. This is what happened before–when before was its own world, not having yet spun into another planet.
This is one bicycle race at a time from a photographer taking one picture at a time. This is life without filters–unless those filters are screwed onto the end of a 180mm lens.
This is glorious. This must remain.