Christmas Books Special


Jack Thurston is joined by a galaxy of stars from the world of cycling literature to pick over the cream of this year’s crop of bike books. Nominating their cycling book of the year are Feargal McKay, Ned Boulting, Herbie Sykes, Daniel Friebe, Tom Southam, Richard Moore, Max Leonard and Emma O’Reilly. Guy Andrews, founding editor of Rouleur magazine, is on hand with his crystal ball to look at what cycling books we might expect in 2015 and years to come.

Image credit: Sharkey / Flickr – Creative Commons

High on a Mountain Top

Since the very earliest years of the bicycle, adventurous cyclists have been unable to resist the allure of the mountains – the challenge of riding up and the thrill of freewheeling down the other side. Mountains are also the crucible of many of the most dramatic moments in professional bike racing. Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding, the authors of Mountain Higher: Europe’s Extreme, Undiscovered and Unforgettable Cycle Climbs join host Jack Thurston to talk about the quest for ever more exhilarating climbs and breathtakingly beautiful places. I

In a podcast-only extra, Bill Chidley reports back from the Annual General Meeting of the London Cycling Campaign, where important details of the Space For Cycling campaign were agreed.

Photo credit: Pete Goding

Cakes and Ale

“And sometimes the road was only a lane, with thick hawthorn hedges, and the green elms overhung it on either side so that when you looked up there was only a strip of blue sky between. And as you rode along in the warm, keen air you had a sensation that the world was standing still and life would last for ever. Although you were pedalling with such energy you had a delicious feeling of laziness. You were quite happy when no one spoke, and if one of the party from sheer high spirits suddenly put on speed and shot ahead it was a joke that everyone laughed at and for a few minutes you pedalled as hard as you could. And we chaffed one another innocently and giggled at our own humour. Now and then one would pass cottages with little gardens in front of them and in the gardens were hollyhocks and tiger lilies; and a little way from the road were farmhouses, with their spacious barns and oasthouses; and one would pass through hopfields with the ripening hops hanging in garlands. The public houses were friendly and informal, hardly more important than cottages, and on the porches often honeysuckle would be growing. The names they bore were usual and familiar: the Jolly Sailor, the Merry Ploughman, the Crown and Anchor, the Red Lion.”

From Cakes and Ale (1930) by W. Somerset Maugham.

Image from Lost Lanes, 36 Glorious Bike Rides in Southern England.

Podcast special: Reading Le Tour de France

1979 - Peugeot - Tour de France

It’s just a few days until the start of the hundredth edition of the world’s greatest bike race, the Tour de France. Book publishers have taken this historic milestone as their cue to commission and produce an enormous quantity of books about the race, its history and legend.

To help sort the wheat from the chaff is Feargal McKay, a man who’s read more books about professional bike racing than there are hairpin bends in the Pyrenees. As the resident book reviewer at the Podium Cafe website, Feargal Mckay has built a reputation for outstanding book reviews that are both thorough and thought provoking.

The books discussed are as follows:

Tour de France: The Official 100th Race Anniversary Edition by Françoise Laget, Gilles Montgermont, Serge Laget & Philippe Cazaban. Publisher: Quercus.

Tour de France 100 by Richard Moore. Publisher: Bloomsbury Sport.

Mapping Le Tour de France: 100 Tour de France race route maps by Ellis Bacon. Publisher: Collins.

Mountain High: Europe’s 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs by Daniel Friebe. Publisher: Quercus.

French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore. Publisher: Yellow Jersey.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. Publisher: Corgi.

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh. Publisher: Simon & Schuster.

Bad to the Bone by James Waddington. Publisher: Dedalus.

Consumed by Jonathan Budds. Self-published.

The Sweat of the Gods: Myths and Legends of Bicycle Racing by Benjo Maso. Publisher: Mousehold Press.

The Tour de France A Cultural History by Christopher S. Thompson. Publisher: University of California Press.

Het feest van list en bedrog by Herman Chevrolet. Publisher: De Arbeiderspers.

Issue 2 of the Bicycle Reader

Somewhat later than planned, the second issue of the Bicycle Reader is out, and available for Kindle, Kobo and other ebook readers. It can be read on Apple and Android tablets and phones using the free Kindle app.

Apart from the excellent writing and the breadth of subject, the best thing about the Bicycle Reader? It costs less than a cup of coffee, just £1.53 in the UK and $2.31 in the USA and elsewhere.

Bicycle Reader #2 at

Bicycle Reader #2 at

Bicycle Reader #2 on Kobo

In this issue:

Solitaire is the only game in town for Tim Dawson

Crossing the Caucasus
John Foster Fraser recalls one of the early circumnavigations crossing from Europe to Asia

Cycling is a (very fun) political process
If we ride with élan, cyclists will soon rule the roads, says Patrick Field

Moving On
Christine Peterson reaps dividends from her long-planned investment

Raleigh Recollections
Listeners to The Bike Show share fond reminiscences of cycling lives shaped by Nottingham’s finest

Class and Competition: The Gentrification of Sport Cycling
Cycling can’t unhitch itself from the social pecking order, says Peter Cox

The Pharisees
Only after touring in adversity will you know the real please to be had from a bicycle, according to Kuklos

Anger Management
Paul Lamarra pedals hard to avoid a Glasgow kiss in his home city

The Bicycle Menace
William L. Alden says that the streets are already too choked with cyclists

Fear of Cycling
Dave Horton says that imagined danger deters would-be cyclists

When the chips are down, Jack Thurston prefers not to be alone on the road

Edward Thomas on waterproof cycling gear

A hundred years ago, on Good Friday, 1913, a London-born Welshman, writer and cyclist set out on an Easter cycle tour from Clapham Common to the Quantock Hills in Somerset. Four years later, having enlisted in the British Army to fight in the Great War, he was killed by the shockwaves of one of the last shell explosions in the battle of Arras.

Edward Thomas is best known (and to too many, only known) as a ‘war poet’, but he was also richly observant of nature and the countryside. His work owes much to the time he spent  outdoors, walking or cycling, travelling at the speed of the land. His verse is regarded as among the best in the English language. Former poet laureate Ted Hughes described him as ‘the father of us all’.

Thomas wrote a book about his cycle journey, called In Pursuit of Spring, published just before the outbreak of war.

With all the foul weather we’re having, this seems like an appropriate passage to quote, and reveals something of Thomas’s lighthearted side:

The rain ceased just soon enough not to prove again the vanity of waterproofs. I have, it is true, discovered several which have brought me through a storm dry in parts, but I have also discovered that sellers of waterproofs are among the worst of liars, and that they communicate their vice with their goods. The one certain fact is that nobody makes a garment or suit which will keep a man both dry and comfortable if he is walking in heavy and beating rain. Suits of armour have, of course, been devised to resist rain, but at best they admit it at the neck. The ordinary (and extraordinary) waterproof may keep a man dry from neck to groin, though it is improbable exceedingly that both neck and wrists will escape. As for the legs, the rain gets at the whole of them with the aid of wind and capillary attraction. Whoever wore a coat that kept his knees dry in a beating rain ? I am not speaking of waterproof tubes reaching to the feet. They may be sold, they may even be bought. They may be useful, but not for walking in.

For moderate showers one waterproof is about as good as another. The most advertised have the advantage of being expensive, and conferring distinction otherwise : they are no better, and wear worse, than a thing at two-thirds of the price which is never advertised at all. In such a one I was riding now, and I got wet only at the ankles. It actually kept my knees dry in the heavy rain near Timsbury. But if I had been walking I should have been intolerably hot and embarrassed in this, and very little less so in the lighter, more distinguished, more expensive garment. Supposing that a thorough waterproof exists, so light as to be comfortable in mild weather, it is certain to have the grave disadvantage of being easily tearable, and therefore of barring the wearer from woods. Getting the body wet even in cold weather is delicious, but getting clothes and parts of the body wet, especially about and below the knee, is detestable. Trousers, and still more breeches, when wet through, prove unfriendly to man, and in some degree to boy. If the knees were free and the feet bare, I should think there would be no impediment left to bliss for an active man in shower or storm, except that he would provoke, evoke, and convoke laughter, and ninety-nine out of a hundred would prefer to this all the evils of rain and of waterproofs. It is to save our clothes and to lessen the discomfort of them that a waterproof is added.

At first thought, it is humiliating to realise that we have spent many centuries in this climate and never produced anything to keep us dry and comfortable in rain. But who are we that complain? Not farmers, labourers, and fishermen, but people who spend much time out of doors by choice. We can go indoors when it rains; only, we do not wish to, because so many of the works of rain are good in the skies, on the earth, in the souls of men and also of birds. When youth is over we are not carried away by our happiness so far as to ignore soaked boots and trousers. We like hassocks to kneel on, and on those hassocks we pray for a waterproof. As the prayer is only about a hundred years old – a hundred years ago there were no such beings – it is not surprising that the answer has not arrived from that distant quarter. Real outdoor people have either to do without waterproofs, or what they use would disable us from our pleasures. Naturally, they have done nothing to solve our difficulties. They have not written poetry for us, they have not made waterproofs for us. They do not read our poetry, they do not wear our waterproofs. We must solve the question by complaint and experiment, or by learning to go wet – an increasingly hard lesson for a generation that multiplies conveniences and inconveniences rather faster than it does an honest love of sun, wind, and rain, separately and all together.

You can read the whole book for free at