8 amazing cycling books that will inspire you to head out on your bike
From in-depth biographies to gear-head geek-outs, these saddlebag-worthy tomes will leave you wanting to keep your wheels spinning even during the darkest and wettest months.
Whether it’s a nail-biting account of a hard-won victory, an intimate account of personal triumph or decades-long battles against physics, every cyclist has their own story to tell. And if you need any more proof, you just have to head over to your Strava feed.
As all two-wheel fans know, the next best thing to actually riding your bike is thinking, talking and dreaming about cycling. So we thought we’d put together this list of the best cycling books that are worthy of a spot in your saddlebag. Save them for when the rain stops play, or break one out as a reward at the top of that monstrous hill. Either way, each will inspire you, and some might just take your breath away, too.
1. This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring
Raised in a religious cult, Juliana Buhring escaped as a young adult and went on to do (in her own words) “quasi-missionary” work distributing food and medicine in civil war-torn Kampala, Uganda. By night, she performed as a go-go dancer to pay the bills. Things got even darker when her soulmate was killed in a crocodile attack. Deciding she had to pull herself out of the darkness, Buhring set her sights on becoming the fastest woman ever to circumnavigate the world by bike, something she achieved in 2012 with little money and no sponsorship. This inspiring book is the story of 18,000 miles, 152 days, four continents, 19 countries, 29 punctures, six big mountains, one desert, one cyclone and a Guinness World Record – a journey that catapulted Buhring to the upper echelons of ultra-distance cycling, where she continues to break down barriers.
2. The Cycling Jersey: Craftsmanship, Speed and Style by Oliver Knight
Aside from the bikes themselves, the jersey – maillot or maglia – has become the most iconic symbol of cycling's history, its proud teams and preeminent riders, and most recently its fashion. Today, iconic jerseys are collector's items and even featured in collections from the likes of Sir Paul Smith. Want a passionately-compiled ode to the colourful beauty of the humble cycling shirt? Then this is the book for you. Naturally, there are many, many glossy pictures of some of the best jerseys in history, with interviews and related articles on just how and why they came about, and why some are so innovative. A must for fans of style both vintage and contemporary.
3. Sunday in Hell: Behind the Lens of the Greatest Cycling Film of All Time by William Fotheringham
Fotheringham’s book explores the making of the 1976 film Sunday In Hell, which in turn explores that year’s gruelling Paris-Roubaix Classic, described as 273 kilometres of torment across the bone-crunching pavé of northern France. The film is widely regarded as the best film ever made about professional cycling, exploring the sheer mania and will to succeed demonstrated by those who compete at the very top of their sport. Here, Fotheringham has tracked down the surviving players, with interviews from cyclists Ole Ritter, Francesco Moser, and the film’s director Jørgen Leth. A fantastic exploration of a true piece of cycling history.
4. Mind is the Ride by Jet McDonald
Jet McDonald’s philosophical approach to cycling owes a lot to Robert Pirsig’s Buddhist classic Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But while Pirsig is interested in the motorbike as a metaphor for life and the values we have, McDonald’s book focuses on a 4,000-mile bicycle ride from Bristol to India and back again. McDonald frames the journey from West to East as an imaginary journey around the parts of the bike itself, gradually building the bike in your mind, while exploring the history of philosophy as he goes. There are some big ideas here – exactly the sort of thing to keep you occupied on a long weekend ride (although India might be a bit far for most).
5. The Road Book Cycling Almanack by Ned Boulting and Cillian Kelly
If knowledge is power, then purchasing a copy of this book is the road cyclists’ ultimate power move. Now in its second edition, this tome makes it possible to hold in your hands a statistical summary of the 2019 professional cycling season. Jam-packed with colourful and helpful infographics, and essays from a range of authors on various competitions, this coffee table essential is full of information to help you plan your attack on a range of races across the globe, be that the women’s World Tour or Premier Calendar events.
6. What Goes Around: A London Cycle Courier’s Story by Emily Chappell
Published in 2011, this memoir harkens back to a (relatively) simpler time in Emily Chappell’s life. That is, before she became an ultra-distance athlete, and the first woman to finish the 2016 Transcontinental Race. If the idea of carting documents around London seems slight in comparison, think again. Here Chappell breaks down the community spirit of the courier network, and the despair that sometimes comes with cold winters and London traffic. What’s most interesting, however, is how she weaves in her own career with a history of the courier industry from the late 1980s onwards.
7. To Make Riders Faster by Anna Dopico
In To Make Riders Faster, Anna Dopico covers the history of Cervélo, the Canadian manufacturer of racing and track bicycles founded in 1995. She traces the company’s road from independent business to its eventual sale, charting the highs and lows of building one of the world’s best bike companies along the way. You don’t have to be a fan of the brand to read it, either. Anyone with an interest in business or innovation (Cervélo uses computational fluid dynamics and wind tunnel testing at a range of facilities, including San Diego Air and Space Technology Centre) would find it a fascinating read. The real kick, however, comes from seeing how founders Phil White and Gerard Vroomen established themselves as innovators in the cycling industry in less than a decade.
8. Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France by Richard Moore
These 300 pages serve as a dual biography of French favourite Bernard Hinault and the American upstart Greg LeMond, before delving into the drama that played out as the younger LeMond and the older Hinault battled for supremacy on the roads of the 1986 Tour de France. Despite riding on the same team, the competition between the two men was fierce, even with Hinault promising to ride his final tour in support of the younger rider. Here, Moore interviews the men and women who were there at the time, giving an unparalleled insight into the nature of competition and the outcome of this epic battle.