The Reading Life: Cycling and Bicycles

It’s spring and while that means gardening and exposed skin for a great many people, for me it always means cycling in all its forms. Riding to work after too many trips on the bus over the long, hard winter. The attractions of a long, slightly chilly road ride. A slow, meandering ride through the neighborhood with the sun on my back. And the racing…ah, the racing: the Spring Classics, a few early stage races, and the run up to the Giro d’Italia and the coming of the sun.

Riders traverse the Forest of Arenberg during Paris-Roubaix -- L'Enfer du Nord

Here are a few books about cycling that might feed your obsession (or help create it). They’ve certainly fed mine.

The Noblest Invention: The Illustrated History of the Bicycle

I really can’t say how many times I’ve pulled this small book off the shelf and just paged through it, looking at all the beautiful machines that the cycling industry has produced over the last hundred years or so. It has the familiar and the strange, the elegant and the just plain weird. It never fails to please me.

Bicycle: The History by David Herlihy

This is a fascinating, well-written, and comprehensive history of the bicycle as a machine, as a mode of transportation, and as a cultural icon from the beginning to the present day. It’s particularly fascinating to see the early evolution of the bicycle, as well as the realization that the basic configuration of what we ride now hasn’t changed considerably in more than 100 years.

The Beautiful Machine by Graeme Fife

This is a true celebration of the bicycle and cycling in all of its forms, whether they be good and joyful or hard and painful (and there’s a very fine line between the two–and sometimes none at all). Fife is a great storyteller and writes with tremendous energy and verve.

Tomorrow We Ride by Jean Bobet

Jean Bobet rode the Tour de France in the 1950s alongside his brother Louison Bobet, who is the first rider to win the Tour de France three times in a row. Tomorrow We Ride is Bobet’s memoir of a life in cycling and “tomorrow, we ride” was what Jean and Louison would say to each other ever time they arranged to meet and ride together, whether they were racing or just going out for a Sunday ride. It’s one of the best books written about a lifetime of cycling.

Need for the Bike by Paul Fournel

Paul Fournel, a long-time member of Oulipo and writer of other stranger things, is probably the most obsessed cyclist that I know of. He never raced professionally, but he’s steeped in the culture of French cycling, and he truly loves his bikes and cycling. Need for the Bike is a series of short, occasional pieces that can be read straight through or browsed and dipped-into with great pleasure. This is perhaps my favorite book about cycling.

Put Me Back on the Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson by William Fotheringham

The British cyclist Tom Simpson died while trying to ascend Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France, an event that’s still remembered each time the race (or anyone else, I suspect) ascends the Giant of Provence. This is a steady, readable account of Simpson’s life and death.

20 Years of Cycling Photography by Graham Watson

Graham Watson is the premier photographer of professional cycling today. Changes are, if you see a great photograph of professional cyclists, he took it. This a greatest-hits volume that encompasses twenty years of his career. Note, however that it came out a more than five years ago and therefore doesn’t include his most recent work.

Le Metier by Michael Barry and Camille McMillan

I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m going to list it here anyway, based on the excerpts that I’ve seen and Michael Barry’s excellent previous book On the Postal Bus (and his equally well-written blog). This book follows Barry through a season as a professional cyclist, and is filled with photos by one of the most talented cycling photographers working today, Camille McMillan. I’ll surely buy it as soon as it’s published.

Do you have a favorite cycling book? Let us know in the comments.

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About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

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