Stocking fillers: books

Lauren Purdy's picture

Stocking fillers: books

Still looking for the ideal cycling Christmas present that won't break the bank? Look no further, Cycling UK's got you covered for books - the perfect stocking filler for the cyclist in your life

With just a few days left until Christmas day, you've still got time to nip down to your local book shop and support them in what has been the most difficult year. Here are our top picks for books released in 2020 from staff and members alike.

Need for the Bike

Paul Fournel, Pursuit Books. £9.99

This book aims to encapsulate our delightful passion – and does just that, covering everything from the author’s first memories of riding a bike to being inspired by the professional peloton. It’s a personal account of Fournel’s life of cycling, with tales including: a love-hate relationship with Ventoux; his first 100km ride aged ten when he became a ‘real’ cyclist; and several vivid descriptions of when it all goes wrong, whether being hit by a car door or descending too fast to retain control.

Almost all the short tales will be identifiable to any cycling enthusiast. Of particular note is the passage on the joy of riding with friends, where his evocative description of being part of a group rings true. It’s well written and easy to read; the author’s background as a poet comes out in his prose. It’s been well translated from the original French, so much so you would be hardpressed to pick out any misinterpretation. While chapters on rouleurs and barouders touch on a personal love of professional cycling, the elements of bike-nerdiness within the writing are well balanced with storytelling in such a way that anyone can enjoy this book. Nik Hart

Small-Wheeled Pedal Machines

Julian Edgar, Veloce Publishing. £14.99

This is different from most cycling books in that it focuses on bicycles of a type that would only warrant a few pages elsewhere: small-wheelers. It also starts will the bold premise that these bicycles are “a better way of cycling”. The advantages and disadvantages of small wheels are covered in pragmatic, non-technical terms – although inevitably some of these are mildly controversial. The history of the small-wheeled bicycle is covered accurately and concisely. As much as, if not more, space is given to non-folding machines. Recumbent tricycles have their own chapter.

The chapters on commuting and touring contain much information that is applicable to any type of bicycle, and this also serves as a useful reminder of the versatility of small-wheelers. Julian also looks at restoration, with a detailed look at rebuilding a Series 1 Moulton to make a capable and competitive machine for those not looking to buy new. For those thinking about a small-wheeled bicycle – for commuting, for ease of transportation, for the comfort of suspension – this book is a good starting point for learning more about them. Dan Farrell

The Hub of the Universe

Tony Hadland & Alan Clarke, Pinkerton Press. £47 inc P&P (£43.50 for V-CC members)

This is not a coffee table book; it’s a bible of all things Sturmey Archer, a company famous for over a century for its internal hub gearing. First published in 1987, The Hub of the Universe charts the company’s history and documents the products it produced. The book plunges headfirst into a comprehensive narrative of the workings of internal hub gearing, the journey of the company itself, and the advancement into further product lines, notably drum brakes, coaster brakes, and gear shifters. 

As an antidote to the at times technical aspect of the text, there are over 400 superb images, many in colour. They range from advertising to fantastic exploded diagrams of internal gearing. If you’re an aficionado of cycling history, have an interest in hub gearing, a passion for mechanical engineering, or simply want to increase your knowledge of a British cycling institution that revolutionised the cycle industry, read this book. At over £40 posted, even if you’re eligible for the Veteran- Cycle Club discount, this isn’t cheap. But it’s physically well put together (it’s a sturdy hardback) and, in terms of the content on this specific subject, it is unparalleled. Ross Adams

Fifty Miles Wide

Julian Sayarer, Arcadia Books. £9.99

Fifty miles wide is not an account that brings to life the physical contours of Israel and Palestine. Instead it delves into the author’s experiences of the mental scars that have torn through the land and shaped the people he encounters. The conflict and its repercussions on the people living in the Holy Land are the focus, the riding almost incidental. It’s the stops between checkpoints, deserts, towns, and cities that the book dwells on.The bicycle does have its place. Like in any cycling travelogue, it is the key granting entry to places and discussions that other forms of transport would render impossible, and as the reader you benefit from this view and the author’s insight. 

It’s clear the author had a clear idea of what he would encounter: oppression of a people, division, and conflict. In part, his travels in both countries confirm his fears, making for a challenging trip, filled with frustration at the hardships and difficulties of others he encountered. Julian’s own difficulties are treated almost trivially in comparison. Don’t take Fifty Miles Wide at face value, though. To paraphrase the author: this book is like food and needs digesting. If you don’t chew it over, you’ll get problems in your guts. Sam Jones

Where There’s a Will

Emily Chappell, Pursuit Books. £14.99/£8.99

Emily Chappell says she got into self-supported endurance racing almost by accident. She signed up to ride the Transcontinental in 2015 basically to see if she could. While this book documents her exploits in that race and others, it is as much about friendship, mental health, and grief as it is about racing bikes. Chappell’s writing is engaging and moving; I read this in just two sittings. Part of what makes it so absorbing is how relatable Chappell is. Even when she’s writing about cycling, she’s also writing about break-ups, periods, snacks, and her family and friends.

She frequently refers to her self-doubt and shyness. No matter how remarkable the achievements, Chappell makes them feel like they are within anyone’s grasp.The section in which Chappell describes her relationship with Mike Hall – two slightly awkward cycling nerds who just get each other – is poignant. And the subsequent description of her coming to terms with his loss is gut-wrenching.This book will appeal to anyone who turns to their bike in times of trouble, and it might inspire a big ride of your own. Emily Ryder

Read an extract of Where There's a Will.

Gears for Queers

Abigail Melton & Lilith Cooper, Sandstone Press. £8.99/£3.39

What does it take to call yourself a cyclist? Or feel like a ‘proper’ tourer? Lilith and Abi ask themselves these questions as they embark on their first tour. As anyone who’s set off with a loaded bike will be aware, behind the smiling photos and fabulous views lurks an array of mechanical mishaps, navigational errors, and questionable detours on terrain your tyres were not designed for. I really enjoyed reading this book. After months of lockdown, it was wonderful to meander round the cycle paths of Western Europe, albeit vicariously.

The personal writing style draws you close to the authors as you experience the emotional ups and downs of their trip. As someone who has been known to try to cram too many miles into my cycle trips, I found it interesting to read about a very different style of tour, with less riding and more time to look around. This is not an heroic tale of overcoming personal barriers on an epic endurance challenge. It’s a frank and honest discussion about acknowledging your own challenges and learning to live with them, whether it’s struggling with mental health, body image, or finding a sense of identity in a rapidly changing world. Sophie Gordon

Signs of Life

Stephen Fabes, Profile Books Ltd. £18.99/£6.49 

Signs of life charts Stephen Fabes’ ambition to ride across the six non-Antarctic continents. It reads like a bucket list, a lifetime’s worth of touring in six years that flies by as you turn the pages. However, Signs of Life isn’t one man’s box-ticking ride around the world. It’s a thoughtful and often amusing insight into the author’s journey, bringing to life the people he encounters with an open and sympathetic eye. The humour, humility, and selfawareness reminded me at times of Eric Newby. Local history, politics and anecdote are woven together, introducing the reader to a world most will never encounter, and I for one felt richer for the experience. 

That’s partly down to Stephen’s unique perspective, coming from his background as an A&E doctor. Signs of Life challenges our views on sickness and health, not just in the furthest reaches of the world but also back here in the  UK. In doing so, it urges us to look beyond the symptoms of physical and societal illness, and to understand their cause. It encourages compassion – a lesson the world seems to have forgotten. It’s hard to believe this is Stephen’s first book; I sincerely hope it’s not his last. Sam Jones

King Alfred's Way route guide

Cycling UK, £14 (free with a Christmas gift membership)

King Alfred’s Way is Cycling UK's newest off-road trail - a 350km circular adventure route around the heart of historic Wessex. Journey through 10,000 years of history, connecting Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, Iron Age hill forts, Farnham Castle, and Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals. The comprehensive route guide is written by archeologist-turned-MTB-writer Guy Kesteven, and will open your eyes to the rich history and archaeology around the route as you explore the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Alfred the Great. It includes the full route mapped on 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey maps, as well as information about facilities along the way and suggested itineraries to help you plan your trip. Any profit will go towards Cycling UK's ongoing work to improve King Alfred's Way and the Great North Trail, and also develop and link up more long distance trails in the UK. 

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