If a book makes a good stocking filler, a cycling book makes a great one. There are dozens out there worthy of your consideration, some new and some old, and below is a selection of the best we've come across recently. From David Millar's eye-opening account of his descent into doping in Racing Through the Dark, to the history of one of the world's most famous bike companies in Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand, there's something for everyone to get their teeth into.
Racing Through the Dark
Redemption. It's the final word David Millar writes in his gripping, revealing autobiography Racing Through the Dark, and its giving nothing away for us to say so. For this is a tale of one man pulling himself back from the precipice, and finding eventual peace and salvation in a sport that had steered him into the dark side of performance enhancing drug use.
Millar's story is well known. The golden boy of British road cycling, "caught with his hand in the cookie jar" as Lance Armstrong memorably put it, had his Biarritz home raided by French police, was thrown into a cell and ultimately banned from the sport. He lost his home, his job and his reputation but unlike countless others in his situation, he never hid from his wrong doings or denied his guilt and ever since his comeback has been a walking, talking beacon for clean sport.
Racing Through the Dark, by David Millar (£18.99, hardback, 288 pages)
What is perhaps less well known is the inside scoop on doping in the 90s and early 00s. The "code of silence" - the Omerta - meant rampant drug use was unspoken and unacknowledged, and it's insightful to read his insider's account from his days on the Cofidis team. Opening with his arrest in France, the book chronicles his teenage years growing up in Hong Kong, his exceptional natural talent for bike racing and his arrival as a neo-pro on the French Cofidis team in 1997.
It didn't take long for the young Millar's innocence to be compromised by the murky world of professional cycling. His enthusiasm for competing against, and often beating, a peloton that he suspected of swindling him was eventually ground down and a disillusionment, combined with apparent pressure from his team hierarchy, led him to Tuscany and his first experiences of EPO use.
Racing Through the Dark reads as half memoir, half confessional and its production undoubtedly acted as a catharsis for Millar. By his own admission, he didn't much enjoy cycling in the years leading up to his arrest, seeing it as as something that paid the bills rather than his chosen sport or passion, which makes it all the more refreshing to see him fall back in love with the bike during his exile. His return, first with a gritted-teeth stint at Saunier Duval, then through his shared development of the ground-breaking Slipstream project with Jonathan Vaughters, makes for an ultimately uplifting story. Essential. Review: John Whitney
How I Won the Yellow Jumper
David Millar features again, this time playing a small but important role in ITV cycling correspondent Ned Boulting's first book. Boulting was thrust into unfamiliar territory in 2003, reporting on that year's Tour de France for the British television network despite knowing next to nothing about the sport. Midway through the first stage time trial, and in the belief he was coping well, he exposed his inexperience in monumental fashion by suggesting that Millar, because of a mechanical problem, had kissed goodbye his chances of taking the yellow jumper.
What follows is an often amusing account of one man's total immersion in the world's biggest cycling race. By covering every edition since 2003, he's been transformed from a wet behind the ears reporter into an unapologetic cycling fanatic. From behind the scenes insight into just how tough covering the three-week Tour is, his enduring camaraderie with ITV stalwarts Gary Imlach, Chris Boardman and Phil Liggett, plus detailed looks at the key players of the race since 2003 such as Armstrong, Millar and Cavendish, Boutling's debut is a heartfelt, witty and revealing look at one of the biggest shows on earth. Review: John Whitney
How I Won the Yellow Jumper, by Ned Boulting (£12.99, paperback, 336 pages)
Comedian Mastermind: The Best of FatCyclist.com, 2005-2007
Elden "Fatty" Nelson has amassed quite the loyal following over the past six years with his immensely popular blog, FatCyclist.com, and now Nelson has decided to collect some of his favorite early works into his first book.
Nelson hasn't just cut-and-pasted his old blog posts into this 308-page book, though, instead augmenting them with additional commentary: the backstories on why those posts even exist, reader comments, and countless annotations that lend even more insight into the mind of the Fat Cyclist.
Most of the entries are – expectedly – somehow bicycling-related, including the absurdity of some industry advertisements, how to (and how not to) blow a snot rocket, tongue-in-cheek advice for Lance Armstrong, and a litany of personal stories surrounding Nelson's own life on the bike.
But there are also anumber of off-topic gems that remind us that every cyclist – no matter how hardcore – has a life off the bike, too. One of our favorites involves Nelson's kids and, well, vomit.
I was feeling particularly pleased with myself because I had heard the noise coming from his bedroom: the gagging noise that meant I had two seconds to get into his bedroom and try to catch the barf in a bowl. I had sprinted across the hall, grabbed the bowl we always kept by his bed, and managed to catch the entire stinking mess. No cleanup tonight!
And then, as I carried the bowl o' barf out of his room to the bathroom, I tripped.
Comedian Mastermind: The Best of FatCyclist.com, 2005-2007, by Elden Nelson (US$19.95 and up, paperback, 338 pages)
Raleigh: Past and Presence of an Iconic Bicycle Brand
This is as much a history book as a bicycle book. It's not surprising the vastly knowledgeable author has taken this approach, given the nostalgia amongst many middle-aged and even older British cyclists for the many Raleigh classics. OAP enthusiasts might want to relive the glory days of Reg Harris, riding his hub-geared bike based on the original Raleigh Record Ace, while comparative youngsters might be fascinated with chapter and verse detail of how Raleigh designed and built the 1980 Tour de France winner's bike. Those who owned a Chopper will love the chapter devoted to such 'high-rise' bikes.
Raleigh, by Tony Hadland (£35, hardback, 360 pages)
As for the history, Raleigh epitomises the time when the UK was at the top of the manufacturing tree in many respects. Indeed, just after the end of World War II, Raleigh and other smaller UK manufacturers accounted for 95 percent of bikes imported into the US. By 2000, Raleigh had been taken over and all but wrecked by, ironically, US managers - borrowing $30 million at 30% interest from George Soros, the currency speculator known as 'the man who broke the Bank of England' during Black Wednesday, 1992. A fascinating yarn. Review: Richard Peace
Cyclepedia: A Tour of Iconic Bicycle Designs
Just as Raleigh interweaves historical events with bike technicalities, so Cyclepedia is a book about the bicycle and design. In fact, you might associate the publisher mostly with beautifully produced art books. Here Michael Embacher's superb collection of bikes is given the same treatment, with luscious photographs of 100 superb examples of cycle design from 1922 to 2010, plus brief text descriptions of what was groundbreaking about them.
Cyclepedia, by Michael Embacher (£19.95, hardback, 224 pages)
Models range from sublime René Herse touring bikes to ridiculous examples of plastic bikes (careful not to put this one next to the radiator) and from hi-tech groundbreakers such as the 1993 Kestrel with electronic shifting to hand-crafted one-offs such as the titanium Moulton or the custom-lugged Bob Jackson tricycle. Endlessly fascinating and a great price too. Review: Richard Peace
Racing Weight: How To Get Lean for Peak Performance
Racing Weight is the ideal gift for any athlete looking to shed a few pounds. Author Matt Fitzgerald writes for a broad range of sports, from running to triathlon, but cycling is given plenty of coverage. From how to determine your optimum weight, to improving your diet and training around it, to controlling your appetite and making your own fuel - it's all in this book.
Even if you are already a lean machine, you'll likely still learn something from Racing Weight. There's a lot of common sense, a fair share of myth busting and some useful tidbits from considerable volume of research that's been carried out on eating and training. Review: Jeff Jones
Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance, by Matt Fitzgerald (£13.95/$18.95, paperback, 224 pages)
The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes
Renowned physiologist Dr. Allen Lim pours his experience of feeding pro cyclists on the road into his first book, co-authored with chef Biju Thomas. The 320-page book includes 150 recipes covering every meal and then some: breakfast, lunch, dinner, "portables", desserts, things to eat immediately after a ride, and yes, even Lim's much sought-after rice cakes.
Thomas and Lim don’t delve too deeply into the science behind the recipes – though there is information included if you want it – instead preferring to concentrate on the basic nutritional needs that every cyclist shares. The foods described are intentionally simple to prepare, impressively flavorful, easy to digest, and incorporate mostly basic ingredients that should be readily available even while traveling through unfamiliar lands. There's no overload of buzzwords at all here – just honest to goodness recipes made with real food that you'd likely eat even if didn't pedal a bike for a living.
Being aimed at cyclists – in particular, ones who may be actively trying to bust into the professional ranks and are literally starving – Thomas and Lim don't overlook the basics that folks who aren't otherwise so single-minded might already know, either, like basic shopping lists, a rundown of staple foods, nutritional information, and basic techniques like how to cook eggs, pasta, and potatoes.
As Lim puts it in the book's introduction, "I watched one of the athletes I was coaching pour a bowl of cereal for dinner, and I knew we all had to do better."
Ever found yourself noshing on a bowl of Fruit Loops after an all-day ride? Here's a solution bound in one convenient hardcover.
The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes, by Biju Thomas & Allen Lim (US$24.95, hardback, 320 pages)
Where to Ride – London
There's a veritable slew of riding guides to London but this one stands out because of the sheer number of routes - 50 in all - and the inviting introductory descriptions of the rides from experienced author Nick Woodford, born and raised in London and contributor to such well-known travel series as Rough Guides and Sawdays.
The rides are short - between 5.5km and 35km - but this suits London as going at a leisurely pace lets you explore the countless attractions, famous and little-known, the city has to offer. Each ride has a decent map with streets labelled, Boris bike locations signed with directions. Kiddie friendly options are also marked up. As well as the usual city centre candidate destinations, the suburbs are covered too, from the history rich Waltham Abbey in the north to mountain bike rurality at Biggin Hill. Practical info includes Tube and rail maps. Review: Richard Peace
Where to Ride - London, by Nick Woodford (£14.95, ringbound stiffback, 256 pages)
Slaying the Badger
Those of you yearning for the more innocent, bygone era of professional cycling may be surprised by the story at the heart of Slaying the Badger. The book chronicles events leading up to, and including, the 1986 Tour de France, a race characterised by the apparent deceit, duplicity and double-crossing between its two major players, Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault and Greg LeMond.
Frenchman Hinault, in his final year as a professional, was under pressure from a public and media desperate for him to overhaul the five Tour wins of Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil. LeMond, a 25-year-old from the then cycling backwater of North America, was gunning for his first. Hinault had vowed to support his La Vie Claire teammate, following LeMond’s help the previous year in securing the Badger a fifth Tour crown. But would this promise, given seemingly in the heat of the moment following the 1985 race, be kept? The answer, according to Moore, isn’t straightforward and makes for an engrossing story, even to those familiar with the denouement of the ’86 Tour. Review: John Whitney
Slaying the Badger, by Richard Moore (£12.99, paperback, 304 pages)