Christmas gift ideas: bicycling books

Christmas gift ideas: book reviews

If you’re stuck for what to buy the cyclist in your life this Christmas, we’ve got some suggestions.


There’s a selection of autobiographies, professional cycling, how-to, route guide and coffee table books to choose from.


A Dog in a Hat by Joe Parkin£14.95/US$21.95 VeloPress ISBN 978-1-9340-3026-4 205 pages

A Dog in a Hat is American Joe Parkin’s account of his life as a professional cyclist in Belgium. It’s a series of short stories in chronological order, spanning the period from 1986 to 1991 when he rode for TVM, Eurotop, ADR and Tulip. The title is a translation of a Belgian expression, ‘een hond met een hoed op’, meaning that something looks out of place. Americans racing in Belgium certainly weren’t common 20 years ago.

Joe tells his story straight. It’s not pretty but it’s not bitter. The racing and the team politics were tough, but Parkin is also not afraid to talk about the drug use that was rife in the professional peloton then. He doesn’t exclude himself from this club either. If you’re squeamish, this book is not for you.

A Dog in a Hat ends when Joe leaves Belgium, even though he raced for US teams for several years afterwards. The only thing we feel it lacks is an insight into his life now and how his experiences have shaped him.

The Beautiful Machine – A life in cycling, from Tour de France to Cinder Hill by Graeme Fife£9.99 Mainstream Publishing ISBN 978-1-8459-6314-9 336 pages

The quote on the cover claims The Beautiful Machine is a “Zen-like paean to the joy of cycling”. But this is no philosophical musing, it’s an autobiography, and as such, a fair amount of space is given over to Mr Fife’s unpleasant childhood, university rowing days and various romantic dalliances.

His is an interesting story, and one that all cyclists can surely relate to in some degree – the tale of a man who discovered in bicycles a way to escape the mundanity and cruelties of everyday life. The book traces Mr Fife’s journey from his first ride on a solid-tyred boneshaker to writing bestselling books about the Tour de France and mixing with some of the world’s most famous riders.

The sleeve proclaims: “This is bare-knuckle writing at its most punchy, rippling with wit and energy.” The only problem is that Mr Fife’s wit is an acquired taste. There is much to be savoured here, and the author has an evocative turn of phrase – his first bike had “a frame made from what looked like dismantled railings painted the seaside-villa blue of an old tart’s eyeshadow”, while he memorably describes cycling lanes as “lead[ing] you on, like an arse-wiggling vamp with a lickproof cleavage”.

But the jokey asides and laboured puns sprinkled throughout the text are seldom as funny as Mr Fife seems to think they are, and sometimes disrupt the flow of his writing. It is worth persevering, however, because buried under the flippant comments is a fascinating read. 

We Might As Well Win – On the road to success with the mastermind behind a record-setting eight Tour de France victories by Johan Bruyneel with Bill Strickland£12.99/US$25Mainstream Publishing ISBN 978-1-8459-6385-9240 pages

This book offers a fascinating insight into the Tour de France through the eyes of the man who helped Lance Armstrong to seven victories. As the Texan’s team director, Johan Bruyneel was with him every step of the way, from gruelling training runs to podium triumphs.

As a former racer himself (he won a stage of Le Tour in 1995), Bruyneel is able to dissect and explain his champion’s successes and failures in minute detail. While We Might As Well Win has plenty to offer long-time followers of Le Tour, it explains the intricacies of cycle racing and its tactics and etiquette at a level even a newcomer to the sport can understand.

Sometimes it comes across as a little patronising – basic terms such as ‘peloton’ are explained and the book seems to be aimed at Americans, with gross generalisations about the “European” love of cycling which certainly doesn’t apply in the UK or many other corners of the continent – but it zips along at a lightning-fast pace and is an entertaining read.

Highlights include Lance’s audacious bluff in the 2001 Tour, when he pretended to be flagging on the approach to Alpe d’Huez only to burst into the lead when it was too late for the other teams to attack, and some hair-raising driving in the team car. With Lance set to make a Tour de France comeback this summer, We Might As Well Win could help you see the race in a whole new light.

Professional cycling

The Tour is Won on the Alpe: Alpe d’Huez and the Classic Battles of the Tour de Franceby Jean-Paul Vespini£12.95/US$21.95VeloPressISBN 978-1-9340-3023-3208 pages

The Tour is Won on the Alpe is a 200-page chronicle of every Tour de France that has visited Alpe d’Huez. It’s written by French journalist Jean-Paul Vespini, who has covered the Tour 19 times and has a deep understanding of the race and its heroes. He focuses on the famous 13.8km climb of Alpe d’Huez: the stages that have finished atop it, who won, who led overall and how it affected the final standings. Included are photos of all the winners as well as complete stats on the climb – handy for that rare pub quiz question.

Besides being a guide to all things Alpe d’Huez, the book is also a valuable historical account of the last 30-odd years of professional cycling. It’s worth reading just for the perspective it provides on the doping scandals that have weighed down the sport today. Very few of the ‘great champions’ were untarnished by doping, even if their penalties were relatively minor back then. The main thing that has changed is our perception towards drugs in sport.


Park Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, second edition by C. Calvin Jones £17.99/US$24.95A&C BlackISBN 978-0-976553-02-1 245 pages

Park Tool and resident repair guru Calvin Jones have released the second edition of their comprehensive Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair just in time for the winter repair season.

As with the original BBB, the new 245-page BBB-2 includes detailed instructions and countless images and diagrams to guide you through a surprisingly broad range of repair procedures.

Seventeen chapters start with the basics – tyre repair, brake and derailleur adjustments, wheel truing – and progress to more advanced jobs such as bearing overhauls and hydraulic disc brake bleeding before finishing off with on-bike emergency repair and proper bike washing techniques.

Detailed suspension tuning and maintenance procedures are notably absent, though even some shop mechanics consider that realm beyond their reach.

Cycling by British Cycling£6.99A&C BlackISBN 978-0-7136-8955-6 64 pages

This book covers everything you need to know about all types of bikes, from buying and commuting to racing and touring. Advice is also given on clothing, bike anatomy, riding position and frame types.

Starting with the benefits of cycling, the book then explains what clothes to wear, what bike to use for particular terrain and how to improve your skills. Each cycling discipline is covered – road race and time trial, track, BMX, mountain bike, cyclo-cross, cycle speedway, everyday cycling and even disabled cycling. The book ends with a note on drug use and the importance of avoiding banned substances.

Elite Performance Cycling: Successful Sportivesby Dr Garry Palmer & Richard Allen£19.99/US$29.73A&C BlackISBN 978-1-4081-0049-3179 pages

Elite Performance Cycling: Successful Sportives is a training manual aimed at the beginner-enthusiast road rider. As the title suggests, it’s to help you prepare for cyclosportives, but plenty of the information in the book could be applied to beginner racers as well. It’s written by Dr Garry Palmer, a sports scientist, and Richard Allen, a sports journalist – both authors having considerable cycling experience.

The book’s 16 chapters take you through everything you need to know, from training and skills, to nutrition, to the big day itself. It’s easy to read and contains lots of useful information, including tips from professional riders such as Mark Cavendish. Our main criticism is that the training programs are unnecessarily detailed, but that’s a common feature among manuals of this type, and it’s part of the reason they sell. That aside, the book should still give you a leg up in your assault on any big sportive.

Route guides

Bike Scotland Book Two – 40 classic Highlands and islands routes by Fergal MacErlean£6.99Pocket Mountains ISBN 978-0-9550-8228-396 pages

The second guide in the Bike Scotland series – the first covered the centre of the country – contains routes suitable for riders of all abilities, on all kinds of bikes.

These range from a two-hour jaunt by the CrinanCanal in Argyll to a multi-day road tour of the Hebrides and some great mountain biking around FortWilliam.

Mostly circular, the routes take in the craggy mountains, misty glens and bottomless lochs that Scotland is famous for. As an added bonus, most of the rides can be reached by train.

The booklet is small enough to slip into a jersey pocket, but the maps are tiny so you’ll need to use the guide in conjunction with an Ordnance Survey map. Each route includes details of which one you’ll need, along with a summary of the distance, duration and terrain.

For mountain bikers, the rides provide an exciting alternative to the country’s well-worn trail centres, and there is more than enough stunning scenery and high-speed tarmac to keep tourers and road cyclists happy, too.

The most impressive thing about this guide is the sheer wealth of information it contains, despite its diminutive size. The author explains the history of many of the landmarks and lists sights to look out for, from golden eagles, Bronze Age monoliths and whisky distilleries to the monster of Loch Awe – said to be a cross between a horse and an eel, with 12 legs.

In fact, this is the book’s one downfall – there is so much information packed into its tiny pages that there isn’t much space left for describing the routes, so good map reading skills are essential. Just make sure you’re not so engrossed in your map that you fail to hear the pitter-patter of 12 beastly hooves coming up behind you!

Mountain bike rides in & around … by Max Darkins£10.95 Rough Ride GuideISBN and pagination varies from guide to guide

These natty little A5-sized route maps are divided into different parts of the southern UK [North and South Downs; The Chilterns; Exmoor and Dartmoor; Wiltshire and Dorset; South East; South West], and each contains 17-20 routes. Rides are categorised by difficulty, have a full description and come with a detailed Ordnance Survey map. Shortcuts and extensions are also included.

A plastic pocket is a helpful addition to each of the guides which is handy for keeping the maps dry. Accommodation, refreshment stops, nearest bike shops and directions to the routes are also detailed. ‘Add-on’ packs can be purchased to bolster the original ride selection.

Mountain Biking Trail Centres – The Guide by Tom Fenton£17.95/US$28.77Vertebrate PublishingISBN 978-1-9061-4801-0 216 pages

There are more than 60 mountain bike trail centres in Wales, Scotland and England, and this book is a comprehensive guide to each one. It also has a section dedicated to UK bike parks.

Each trail centre is broken down into difficulty level, facilities available, the different trails on offer, and useful stuff like nearest bike shops and directions. If you’re planning an excursion to any trail centre, this book is a real gem.

We especially like the overview map pinpointing the geographical location of each trail – ideal if you’re planning a road trip. And if the pictures throughout the book don’t inspire you to ride, we don’t know what will.

South East Mountain Biking: North and South Downs, Ridgeway and Chilterns by Nick Cotton£15.95Vertebrate PublishingISBN 978-1-9061-4803-4208 pages

Published by the same people as Mountain Biking Trail Centres – The Guide, these books contain 24 routes of varying difficulty in the South East of England.

The lack of an OS map for each route is made up for in the very detailed descriptions of the rides. For the thrillseekers, each book lists the top 10 downhills among the selection of routes, and for the more adventurous there’s a list of top-10 climbs and ‘Mega Rides’ too. An altitude profile is provided on each route to give an idea of climbing involved. The books are pocket-sized, so will easily fit in your rucksack or jersey.

Coffee table books

Campagnolo: 75 Years of Cycling Passion By Paolo Faccinetti and Guido P Rubino£27.50/US$39.95VeloPressISBN 978-1-934030-37-0160 pages

This is a coffee table book for Campagnolo fans, from company founder Tullio Campagnolo’s first quick-release invention to the recent Super Record 11-speed carbon groupset.

For the first 50 years, the Italian bicycle component maker was run with passion and a stern hand by Tullio, while the past 25 have been overseen by his son Valentino, who, as an experienced but overwhelmed 33-year-old, was thrust into leadership of the marque when his father died in 1983.

Campagnolo covers all the bases, including the design and flow of jewellery-like components from Vicenza, Italy. The passion and adoration for the company is well represented in this book, which is a must-have for any Campy fan.

Paris-Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell By Philippe Bouvet, Pierre Callewaert, Jean-Luc Gatellier and Serge Laget£24.95/US$39.95VeloPressISBN 978-1-934030-09-7224 pages

With the recent Spring Classic successes of Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder and Fabian Cancellara, the popularity of races like Paris-Roubaix is growing once again. The photo opportunities are endless during the race called “The Hell of the North”, as racers pound over centuries-old cobblestones at breakneck speeds.

Dry or wet conditions rarely dictate the outcome, because with Paris-Roubaix, there’s always visual theatre in the form of muddy faces, bloody knees or the final sprint for glory in the Roubaix velodrome.


Paris-Roubaix captures the intensity and emotion of one of the more brutal sporting events in the world, dating back to 1896. This coffee table book shows the elation and sadness of nearly 100 years of racing over the manliest of courses, and is worthy of any hardened cyclist’s bookshelf.