SEVEN DAY CYCLIST
CYCLING, BUT NOT USUALLY RACING
LATEST UPDATE: MAY 30th
The Cycling Bible
by Chris Sidwells
Published by Adventure Books (Vertebrate), March 2023
Reviewed by Michael Stenning
The Cycling Bible is described as “a comprehensive guide to help you get the most out of cycling. Extensively illustrated and packed full of action photos, this collates the knowledge you will need to train for the technical, physical and mental aspects of cycling training.” While there’s a definite bias towards competitive riding, it has a very inclusive, encouraging tone and opening chapters discuss the joys of riding, in much wider, everyday contexts.
From the outset, it’s a very gentle journey but Sidwells gets the balance right in terms of tone and style. It’s also very easy for this genre of book to feel very formulaic but he manages to avoid these two pitfalls with refreshing finesse.
The opening chapter discusses the significance of cycling as a means of personal freedom, utility and pleasure, referring to the pronounced resurgence during the pandemic.
He discusses different kins of machines from cargo and e-bikes through to road, gravel and cyclo-cross. Tourers, track and mountain bikes (and their sub genres) also get a mention. Tandems and recumbents don’t but then, while it’s easy to whine about their omission but they are also very specialist equipment and personally, not genres I’d recommend for newbies (cost, sophistication and storage being three cases in point).
Photos are more inclusive of ages and gender-older riders and women are prevalent throughout, without feeling tokenistic, or otherwise for effect.
Chapters follow sequentially discussing clothing accessories, luggage, workshop equipment/tooling- all with the same accessible, conversational tone. The same goes for training and nutrition. Getting the balance between overviews and getting too bogged down with tech stuff (which runs the risk of confusing and alienating) is another nuance which for the most part, he nails very well.
The river of technology runs too fast to recommend, or name specifics, especially in the digital age where obsolescence is blisteringly quick. That said; I was slightly disappointed by his overlooking of dynamos when discussing lighting. Likewise, I can see why he doesn’t discuss fixed gear builds (aside from a brief mention of track racing) since these are something of a niche.
An acquired taste that riders tend to adopt having served apprenticeships on geared bikes. However, the benefits in terms of cadence, strength and general finesse’ are long established. Then of course, there’s the simplicity, which is particularly welcome through the winter months. I would say this though, being a road-fixed devotee since my early teens. Continuing in this tone tone, Sidwells suggests that gravel and bikepacking grew from touring and the off-road limitations of traditional machines. For me, it evolved from cyclo-cross and mountain bybiking, but we can agree it’s great fun.
Like most books of this genre, he discusses the importance of bike fit. Photos add further clarity to the textual explanations- setting up and adjusting cleats properly being vital when comfort, safety and knee health are concerned. Again, the worth of professional bike fitting isn’t called into question but he shows these things can be achieved successfully, without specialist equipment, from home.
He doesn’t shy away from the benefits of indoor training-on the turbo and of course, other disciplines, such as weights to build strength and counteract some potential bone density issues associated with cycling purists.
Not something restricted to female riders in mid-life. On the flip side, he’s quick to recognise indoor training can be a very solitary activity. Sidwells doesn’t overlook the importance of learning to ride in groups. This includes chain gangs, social club rides and the language/non-verbal cues used to communicate different situations- cars, potholes and other potential hazards.
Regardless of whether you’re looking to compete, or just enjoy riding with others.
In some respects, Sidewells tends to be steering the reader toward racing of some discipline or other and its clear this is a passion of his. Tempering this and true to his opening paragraph, he doesn’t gloss over the delights of bike packing and other “for the sheer fun of it” solo escapes either.
There is also the obligatory, closing chapter discussing maintenance. Emphasis upon maintenance, checking and washing bike(s) to adjusting derailleurs, brakes, contact points etc, rather than repairs.
Punctures are covered, although we’re talking tubed, rather than tubeless which may date the book and in terms of maintenance, braking boils down to side pulls, with no illustrations of cantilevers or discs. Again, a little odd, given the discussion of gravel, cyclo cross and adventure builds in earlier chapters.
It wouldn’t fire my imagination and passion in the same fashion as Richard Ballantine’s iconic books which turned my head 37 years ago. Indeed, Ballantine’s later books also featured an equal balance of gender, race and age and the maintenance/repairs sections were also more comprehensive.
Nonetheless, there’s still a lot to like about Chris Sidwells’ style and tone. One that won’t patronise new or would be riders and will still interest those with plenty of miles in their legs. while less comprehensive than some, it is less formulaic than others and is easy to dip in and out of.
Verdict: Not quite the bible for me. Nonetheless, an inclusive and well written introduction to cycling.
REVIEW PUBLISHED APRIL 2023
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