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All about the bike


On Your Bike

After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).

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I was rather sceptical when a friend lent me her copy of It's All About the Bike by Robert Penn, and insisted I'd enjoy it.

The premise seemed to encapsulate the worst type of obsessive-compulsive gear-freakery. The author decides he wants to create his "perfect bike". This doesn't entail picking one from his local bike shop, or even getting a frame builder to create and equip a bespoke model - too easy. Penn instead sets off on a mission to buy the best bits and pieces from around the world.

... a lifelong enthusiast with a nice sideline in epic cycling anecdotes - expounds upon the history of the bicycle and the many intriguing developments that got two-wheelers to where they are today.  

It soon becomes apparent that the book is all about a lot more than the bike, or at least, his bike. As he collects the makings of his dream machine, Penn - a lifelong enthusiast with a nice sideline in epic cycling anecdotes - expounds upon the history of the bicycle and the many intriguing developments that got two-wheelers to where they are today.

It's a fascinating read, one that I can't wait to finish - a task currently on hiatus as I am cycle touring in the French Alps and didn't want my friend's book to get bashed up by ham-fisted pannier packing.

Of course, It's All About the Bike should not in any way be confused with Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike, which is more true to its title.

I read it back in the early noughties, a more innocent time when the Tour de France champion's personal life was straightforward and he wasn't being besieged by allegations of systematic doping. It was an inspiring read, one that opened my eyes to the fascinating world of multi-day (or "stage") cycle races. Armstrong has a lot of detractors at present, but even if he is shown to have taken performance-enhancing drugs like so many others, his achievements after surviving cancer will always be astonishing.

My first introduction to the Tour was a vaguely remembered book I read as a youth - The Big Loop by Clare Huchet Bishop. Written in the 50s, it's a suitably boy's own tale of a French lad with championship dreams being raised by his financially struggling mother.

I shudder to think how it would read now, but one scene in particular stayed with me (as I recall it). After the boy's mother spends her savings to buy him a defective bike that breaks, the men at the factory where his late father worked collect money to get him a replacement. He enters a race but does badly, and is scolded by the workers. They didn't spend their hard-earned to watch him bring up the rear!

A spectacularly elitist approach from the days before politically correct child raising. Other advice includes keeping one's toenails nicely clipped.

No wonder he goes on to win the Tour de France AND the final stage.

My cycling reading has tended to be magazines, blogs and news features, a few workmanlike biographies of Australian cyclists and some histories of famous races. It's a deficiency that really should be addressed.

One book I've heard a bit about is The Rider by Tim Krabbe - a mind's eye view of a single event. I'm also on the hunt for books about epic journeys, or just the general love of cycling. Time to turn over some new leaves.

Do you have a favourite book on cycling you'd recommend?

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14 comments so far

  • i've read a few bios of pro cyclists and it's pretty clear they refrain from talking about most of the interesting stuff. i can't wait to read the USADA case against armstrong. i agree he's still a champion, but i expect the case file to be more interesting than most published literature on riders!

    commuter cyclist
    Date and time
    August 23, 2012, 4:47PM
    • I admire your dedication to work. As if...
      "Cycle touring in the French Alps at the moment." How is that even possible?? ;-)
      Some of my favourite cycling related tomes are by the English Crane cousins, Richard and Nicholas. (Nick Crane these days pops up as a presenter on the fascinating Coast programs about the British and European littoral, but I digress.)
      'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' is their account of a ride from the sea to the point on land farthest inland.
      It was Nick Crane's early '80s book 'Cycling In Europe' which inspired me to lead the life of a meandering and carefree cycle tourist.

      North Shore
      Date and time
      August 23, 2012, 5:24PM
      • Does anyone else find it amusing/silly to see road cyclists totally kitted out head to toe in racing gear? Like as if they are actually riding in the Tour de France...... it's the equivalent of me going down to the park for a kickabout wearing the full head to toe manchester united kit. sorry guys, you don't need aerodynamic spandex, shaved legs, and team outfit for your amateur fitness pedalling......

        Date and time
        August 23, 2012, 5:27PM
        • There's more to cycling gear than the look, genius. Same applies to jogging gear, or do you think recreational joggers should run round in their business clothes?

          1. Shorts: appropriately padded, less chafing. Lycra means little chance of snagging loose fabrics on the saddle. Shorts means no snagging in the chain. Snags can cause accidents
          2. Jersey. Close fit to wick away sweat as quickly as possible. coupled with a layering system to avoid overheating.
          3. shaved legs: don't know *anyone* that does it, but in racers or serious amateurs it has advantages, *not* related to aerodynamics. It means getting a leg massage hurts less and for mountain bikers it means injuries and scrapes don't get full of hair
          4. Logo gear: you're clearly a non-cyclists so how would you know team gear from non team gear? Or club gear? Or simply branded gear?

          In short, what makes you think you have a clue?

          But you know, keep herping. It's funny.

          Date and time
          August 23, 2012, 6:00PM
        • No, I don't find it silly either.

          I guess this means drew also finds it amusing that people change into other clothes when they go to the gym, or go swimming. After all, you can just swim in a t-shirt and shorts as well. Must be wannabe Thorpies to wear swimmers...

          Go figure.

          Date and time
          August 23, 2012, 7:53PM
        • Agree with STA - a lot of that kit makes riding more comfortable and safe - although I draw the line at corpulent guys who couldn't ride 5kms without having a coronary wearing the rainbow stripes on their jersey. You earn that, you don't buy it.

          Date and time
          August 23, 2012, 9:25PM
        • 12 months ago i would have agreed with you drew. i swore i'd never wear lycra, what dorks!! at the time my riding consisted of short trip to work along a flat bike path, id wear my work clothes, trips to the park with the wife and kids, i'd wear comfortable clothes for going to the park.
          But then i started to ride longer distances work was 30km away and I wanted to do sydney to the gong. Normal clothes became uncomfortable and impractical, my work clothes would be all sweaty and when you sit on a bike saddle for more than an hour your bum gets sore. Its about fit for purpose. No need for lycra, when trundling around a park with the wife and kids or rolling along a short flat cycleway on the way to work. If however i'm riding 30 ks across town up hills etc then I wear more appropriate attire. Plus its a good excuse to regularly visit bike shops when you already have more bikes than your partner wants you to have.

          on my bike
          Date and time
          August 24, 2012, 2:05PM
        • @ pushiepedlar. If you have more bikes than your partner likes you have broken the S-1 equation.

          Rocket Surgeon
          Date and time
          August 29, 2012, 12:44PM
        • Rainbow stripes are one thing, but mowing down blokes climbing hills in a polka-dot jersey is fun as well...Mt Lofty isn't much of a climb, but it sorts out the regulars from the casuals.

          Date and time
          August 29, 2012, 2:07PM
        • Agree with the comment about Lance. I read his book as I was going through chemo treatment, as I'm sure many have. Did he have an unfair advantage? Yes, definitely. He'd already ridden for his life. His competitors were only riding for a yellow jersey.

          Completely agree about the "fit for purpose" comments. As for "team kit", my jerseys are plain white (1st one I bought, for visibility) because t-shirts were uncomfortable when sweaty as I cycled DURING my chemo treatments, Safe Cycling Australia 1m Matters, Ride To Conquer Cancer (RTCC) Brisbane 2011, 2012, and our Simply All Survivors (SAS) team jersey. I wear these to promote these events / causes, which are close to my heart. Next jersey I wear will be Sydney 2012 RTCC. Waxed my legs as a fund-raiser for another cancer survivor. What nobody tells you, is the ladies like it!! :-)

          Date and time
          September 07, 2012, 10:19AM

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