World Book Day: Cycling Book Review


Today is World Book Day, so why not have a cycling related book review?

Asked “when did you learn to ride a bike?”, I imagine most people will think back to their childhood and a small bike, possibly with balance wheels, and with parents puffing along behind either holding on to the saddle or hoping to be in range if one of the wobbles tempts gravity to bring about a fall.

In my case, once I had got the hang of riding, there was precious little further “learning” other than gradually riding further afield.

It was then an interesting experience to read “The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling”, given to me by a great friend in Florida, as part of our preparation for a planned ride of some hundreds ofkilometres. The book is written by two people with incredible credentials.

Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D., is an expert on training and nutrition for cyclists, having worked with the US national cycling team at the Olympic Training Centre for more than 20 years. He is also an endurance rider himself, and professor and director of the exercise science program at the University of Colorado.

Ed Pavelka was executive editor of the US “Bicycling” magazine for 10 years and of “Velo News” for 8 years. He has written 20 bicycling books and holds two world records in ultra-marathon cycling.

“An Education that took me 30 years to learn. Read it, remember it, ride it.” Lon Haldeman, ultramarathon cycling champion.

Apart from explaining how to build your mileage base efficiently, I found it useful that they discuss how to customise your training, not just to suit your personality, but also to match your physical capabilities. I have long had to recognise that I can’t keep up with people much younger and fitter than I am!

Other sections look into avoidance of injuries and the dangers of overtraining. First thinking that avoiding this danger was a great excuse for not going out on my bike if it was wet or windy, it was apposite that another section is devoted to achieving the mental edge, which would help you to ride further and faster. How often have we seen sports men and women be ahead in an event, only to crumble to more experience competitors, because of that mental toughness? Easier perhaps to recognise in others, but I hadn’t previously really thought of applying it to my own touring rides.

On the injury front, the book quotes James Holmes MD and Ed Pruitt Ed.D. who had treated many leading cyclists for “cyclist’s knee”. The most common injuries (63% of their cases) under this heading were chondromalacia (inflammation to the back of the kneecap), followed by patella tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the lower leg). A further 21% of cyclists with cyclist’s knee suffered from medial knee injuries. Holmes and Pruitt reported that training modifications, exercises, rest, ice and a change in riding position improved the symptoms in 75% of cases, so no drastic action such as surgery was required. “Most knee injuries”, they discovered, “occur in the pre-season and summer, when mileage is high, big gears are being pushed and clothing may not be warm enough for some weather conditions”.

Andy Pruitt’s simple maxim: If you knee hurts in front, raise the saddle. If it hurts in back, lower the saddle.

Ed Pavelka’s time as editor of the US “Bicycling” magazine is put to good use in that he quotes their 10 week programme to get to be able to complete a “century” – a 100 mile ride – and a second 10 week programme to be able to ride a “better century”. Both of these are preceded with notes on training for a 50 mile and then a 100 mile ride. Forthose who are really intent on long distance audax rides, there’s a 16 week programme working up to a 200 mile ride.

There is a very interesting section on nutrition and dehydration, though some points are perhaps more relevant to the climate of some of the warmer states of America, such as the comment that “it’s not uncommon to lose 1 to 2 quarts of fluid via sweating during an hour of riding in hot and humid weather”; I am not enough of a scientist to know how to convert that statement to our cooler and less humid environment.

“To beat the bonk, researchers say, consume 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrate during each 30 minutes you ride.”

So if you see me taking a nibble out of an energy bar rather regularly, I’m just following the advice of experts! This is one of their quick tips:

“you must eat and drink early and often. Never wait till you actually feel the need. For a reminder, get a sports watch that has a countdown timer. Set it for 15 minutes. Each time it beeps, take a big swig from your bottle and nibble some food.”

(Bear in mind this is written for long distance cycling, and not for a 1 hour fast ride, or shorter commute.)

Overall, I found the book an excellent read and well worth the cover price of $19.95 – or £12.08 on Amazon.


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