Review: Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills 

   The full title is actually “BICYCLING Magazine’s Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills – Your Guide to Riding Faster, Stronger, Longer, and Safer” which is pretty self explanatory, and I probably shouldn’t have to even do a review, but here goes anyway.  

   This appears to be a compilation of articles from Bicycling Magazine on various subjects particular to the art of road riding and road racing. In all honesty, I picked this up thinking that it would either be a bunch of tips and tricks I’d already read elsewhere or else a bunch of information about blood oxygen levels and intervals and other things that, while they might be interesting scientifically speaking, do not interest me subjectively speaking. But I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. 

   The first few chapters were super basic, but well written and focused on preventing bad habits from forming early on, one could assume. A great deal of what followed was a good mix of stuff I’ve heard before, but written by professional cyclists (Davis Phinney authored several of these chapters, which is noteworthy since he is the husband of one of the authors of the first book I reviewed, Connie Carpenter-Phinney) with specific, thoughtful tips, and stuff which I’d not heard or long forgotten.  

   There’s a good chapter on breathing. It may sound odd, but I’m a big fan of focusing on my breath when I ride. I try to turn some rides into a kind of pseudo meditation. Or maybe it’s more like yoga.  Either way it’s rarely discussed in the other books I’ve read about cycling. There are chapters on climbing and the benefits thereof, which I appreciate because I primarily notice my fitness level based on how I handle the hills in and around my home town of Portland, Maine.  They actually covered a wide variety of subjects that apply to any fan of riding bikes, from beginners to commuters. There are a few chapters that are mostly directed at road racers, but even many of these also pertain to long distance riding and touring.  

   The book was published in 1998, so there are some small elements that might seem dated, but overall it holds up really well. Good advice is good advice. There is a chapter toward the end titled “For Men Only” that was a lot about impotence and not being able to feel one’s penis for a month or more. It seems like much of this has been shown to be incredibly rare or just generally debunked. Which isn’t to say there aren’t risks. But still…  

   The following chapter was titled “For Women Only” so I skipped it. I try to respect the wishes of the books that I read. Plus it allows me to imagine all sorts of bizarre stuff that could be in that chapter. Kind of a Schrödinger’s cat of vulva mythology. But there was one thing that I read in this book that I will never forget. 

   In one chapter they explain how stop lights detect cars using metal detectors under the pavement, which was awesome because I didn’t know that. They also explained what to look for if you want to roll over the detectors to increase the odds that your bike will actually ping the thing and make the light change for you without any cars having to come up in the lane right behind you. Which I greatly appreciated. But then the guy goes a lot overboard by suggesting that cyclists should go so far toward obeying the vehicular rules of the road that, when you find yourself waiting at a light that just won’t change, rather than waiting for an opportune moment to just ride through the red light they could dismount and lay their bike down on the detector to help it detect the steel (this is assuming your bike is made of steel) and change the light. I feel that this would do so much more to confuse and disrupt any potential traffic that might witness such a scene than it would to actually make said cyslist safe. But of course I also really want to see someone try it. 

Or get one of these doohickeys

   I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to anyone who has been riding for a little while and who feels like they could ride a little smoother and a little better. Or really anyone at all interested. Don’t hold back just because I failed to properly pigeonhole you. 


Book review: Ride the Revolution 

   Since I became a cycling convert five or so years ago I have done a lot of online research, especially when trying to learn how to fix things on my bikes. But I also discovered several great cycling blogs out there that I eventually read in their entireties. When I made the switch to a full-on commuter I was working at a bookstore in Portland, ME. I don’t know if folks are aware, but when you work in a cool, indie book shop there are people from different publishing houses who visit from time to time, and they love getting to know what topics and authors you enjoy so they can bring you advanced copies to read. I only worked there for a year, but I got to read some great books on cycling, bike culture, and repair. And since then I have become quite familiar with the bicycle section of my local library. Since I’ve been reading all these great books, and since I’ve been doing this whole blog thing, it struck me that I should try writing some reviews now and then. 

   I’m on vacation in Canada (or at least I was when I began writing this review), so I brought along some reading material that I checked out ahead of time. One of those was Ride the Revolution – The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling, edited by Suze Clemitson. What better place to start!?

   I really enjoyed this book.  Each chapter is either written by a woman from the world of cycling, and Clemitson did a fantastic job of finding people who are associated with cycling in a wide variety of ways. I have to admit that I’d only ever heard of a tiny handful of these very interesting women, and even then I mainly knew the names but not the specifics. But that’s a point that this book makes over and over without really having to say it explicitly. There are so many women who are amazing athletes, commentators, and administrators in the sport of cycling, and yet there is very little coverage that might otherwise make them household names. Cycling as sport has been male-centric for most of its history, even though women have been there all along doing all of the same things. 

   This book does focus almost exclusively on the sporting aspect of cycling, which might make it less interesting to anyone who isn’t at all familiar with the various tours and races that have been running for decades. I have only been interested in cycling as a sport for about a year now, but I have read a few books about the Tour de France and some other classic races. I also read The Rider by Tim Krabbe and Gironimo by Tim Moore early in my “research” into bicycles, so I had some idea of how the sport works and how it has evolved over time. Prior to that I had mainly read about the history of bicycles and how new inventions and innovations have brought us from unwieldy penny farthings to the sleek, sexy cycles of the modern age. But even in those books there is a great deal to learn about how sport drove many of those innovations. It is difficult to learn much about bikes without also learning at least something about competitive cycling.  So if you have any interest in bicycles, and you also have any feelings at all about sexual (in)equality, this book will have much in it that you will find interesting. 

   It is well organized into sections with similar narratives, like “The Pioneers”, “The Riders”, “The Media”, etc. The first chapter covers Beryl Burton, whom I’d never heard of, and who was quite clearly an unmitigated badass. She was setting records alongside (and sometimes ahead of) the men around her while also dealing with all of the responsibilities of a wife and mother in the 60’s and 70’s. Her chapter ended in the same way as so many others in this book, with me asking myself “how is it possible that in all of my reading I’ve never heard of this person?”  I have read about a few women from the early days of cycling who are not mentioned in this book, but most were not involved in any sort of cycling sport. However, I imagine that if I mentioned Beryl to any ladies who follow the sport of cycling (and especially any who themselves compete) they would know who I was talking about. But maybe not!

   I also discovered fascinating tales of women like Sarah Connolly whose voice is known as a commentator of cycling events, or the two outstanding Australians, Rochelle Gilmore and Tracey Gaudry, a team owner and the first female VP of the UCI respectively. Some of the chapters are actually interviews, and in those cases the questions are always insightful (perhaps because they come from women as well) and follow one another deeper into the subject than you might find in a regular magazine article with its need to cover a wider range of subjects and experiences. 

   There was never a chapter that I found boring or was antsy to skip. Even the one on Hannah Grant, the chef for the Tinkoff-Saxo team was interesting, although I do work in the food industry and I was a pastry chef in my former life, so I do have more of a built in buy-in for something like that. Overall I think this would be a good book to suggest (or just purchase) for any cyclists in your life whom you consider deserving of such a thing. 


Brooks B17 – About One Year In (+a bit of rambling)

   I bought my first brand new leather saddle last year after the bike swap. I originally meant to write a review immediately and then again after 500 miles. But guess what. That’s not how things went down. In the end I had it on a bike that I didn’t ride as much as I originally thought I would, mainly because the weather really held out for so much of the past winter that I was able to ride my slightly fairer weather bike most of the time right up until I had to switch to my full-on winter bike. Basically I built up a bike that didn’t actually fill a niche in my collection. So in the end I removed the Brooks from that bike after about 300 miles and left it sitting on my dresser for most of the winter. 

   Then, when I finally had to put Judi away for the winter I stole her C17 and put that on my foul weather bike since its weatherproof. Recently I took Judi down off the wall and got her prepped and ready for the spring. When I went to put a saddle on her I ended up going with the B17. The original Fuji saddle was black, so this black leather number looks a little more, I don’t know…traditional. 

   But most importantly, I ride Judi more than anything, and I know that the B17 is less likely to destroy the crotches of my various pairs of pants. The Cambium is super comfy but it also wears out pants like sandpaper. It’s worse on pants with some texture to them like jeans or cords. So that’s how I ended up finishing out the first 500 miles for the new saddle on Judi. And for now that’s probably where it will stay. But enough backstory. What do I think of this thing when it’s pressing into my nethers?

   I went through a few phases. The first few rides it felt immediately comfortable, but they were all pretty short; maybe three or four miles tops. When I finally managed to take some longer rides I noticed that it would start to feel a little uncomfortable after five miles, and the longer I’d go the more I would get this soreness in my inner thighs. Sexy, I know. But now is not the time. Luckily most of my rides during the break-in process were of the shorter, more comfy variety. 

   After I put it away for a few months and then put it on a different bike it felt comfortable and pretty much stayed that way. So I’m not sure how much it was the change in my riding position because of the different bikes and how much it was just my having ridden it 300 or so miles already.  At this point it’s got well over 500 miles on it. I did a 27 mile ride recently and did not have a sore ass afterward, so that’s something. 

   I should mention that I’m no expert in this area. I’ve ridden on a bunch of different saddles, but most have been original saddles on vintage bikes.  None were all that great.  The rest have been soft, squishy gel seats in a variety of designs; lots of cut out centers. My first bike had a Zéfal seat of that type. I rode it a lot. I didn’t do any long rides back then. Five miles still kicked my ass. Oh, and I just remembered that at some point I replaced that seat with a cheap eBay saddle from china. That one was hard plastic with yellow leather over it. It wasn’t more or less comfortable than the squishy Zéfal on those short rides. Other than that I have owned a couple of used leather saddles. One was nearing the end of its life. It was an old Brooks that was so stretched I couldn’t read the imprint on the sides. I’m pretty sure it was a Professional model.

   The other was a B17 narrow that the original owner had overtightened early on, but I managed to sort that out and save it. It never did get all that comfortable, though. It retained a sort of wooden quality. To be fair, I didn’t ride it as much as I could have. 


   So in the end what I did was get myself a combined birthday/xmas gift from the parents, as is my occasional right as a late December baby. I got the aforementioned Brooks Cambium, and I’ve basically been comparing the comfort of my other saddles to that. It is very comfortable. I can ride on it for hours and never give a second thought to my butt. It disappears beneath me and I love it, except for the also aforementioned pants-destroying properties. 

It matches my shoes!
   So I say all that to say this…the B17 is very comfortable, but it’s not yet reached Cambium level comfort. I feel like it will get there. In fact, I’m pretty sure that what it needs is some long rides, and I’m looking forward to testing my theory this summer. I spent last summer escaping from an impressively unpleasant job into an infinitely better one (that’s accurate so far since my enjoyment of the job hasn’t yet ceased to wax), and thus didn’t get to do much riding at all. But this new job comes with the perk of a 40 hour work week as opposed to 60, so that’s 20 extra hours that I should be able to spend riding. Subtract some of that for family time, like, 10 hours (15 if we’re being honest), and I still get to go on a couple long rides and another longish one. So maybe we’ll see how things shake out and revisit this at the end of the summer.