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Reviews of books about distance cycling, touring, training and the bicycle industry

Cyclocross: Training and Technique, by Simon Burney

Cyclocross: Training and Technique

Cyclocross: Training and Technique

When I hear the word cyclocross my mind immediately conjures up a picture of a cyclist, covered with mud from head to toe, throwing their bike up on their shoulder climbing a hill that mountain goats wouldn’t attempt. Cyclocross races usually take place in the fall and winter over a course that includes pavement, off-road trails, hills, man-made obstacles and mud. Cyclocross has been around for over 100 years an is usually associated with countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and France, but is growing in popularity here in the states. The folks at VeloPress recently sent me a copy of Cyclocross: Training and Technique (third edition), by Simon Burney, and if you are even slightly interested in cyclocross you need to get a copy of this book. In fact, even if you have no desire to participate in a cyclocross race you might find this book useful—especially if you enjoy riding year-round in inclement weather.

Cyclocross: Training and Technique starts by giving a brief history of cyclocross races, and then explains the equipment necessary to compete. Cyclocross bikes look a lot like regular road bikes, but allow for fatter tires so they can have better grip on the ground and greater clearance on the forks so mud won’t build up as quickly. The book also covers the basics of training, along with a section on the techniques and tactics of cyclocross racing. Near the end of the book there is a chapter on how to stay healthy—avoiding viruses, proper treatment of injuries, nutrition, hydration and recovery.

I mentioned earlier that you don’t have to be a racer to benefit from this book. The chapter on Techniques and Tactics will benefit anyone who rides in bad conditions—mud, sand, snow, rain, ice and over rocks and roots. I ride all year long and in all weather conditions, but every once in a while something will surprise me. A few weeks ago I was riding in the snow on an off-road trail and had to dismount because a busy beaver had cut down two trees and they fell directly over my trail! The trees were too big to bunny-hop over, so I had to pick up my bike by the down tube and climb over them—something any cyclocross racer wouldn’t have given a second thought about doing.

trees cut down by angry beaver

A couple of trees cut down by a beaver!

Cyclocross: Training and Technique, by Simon Burney, is published by VeloPress and retails for $19, but you can find it on Amazon.com for around $12. This paperback book is well illustrated with photographs throughout and has 230 pages.

 
15 Comments

Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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The RealAge Makeover by Michael F. Roizen, M.D.

The RealAge Makeover by Michael F. Roizen, M.D.

The RealAge Makeover

I am a 53-year-old distance cyclist and, according to the doctor at my last complete physical, my overall health is listed as “excellent” (i.e., I have perfect blood pressure, a low heart rate, a decent cholesterol level and all that other good stuff they look for in your blood test). Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Twelve years ago I was morbidly obese and was being treated for problems with my lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys and a host of other conditions. In fact, twelve years ago my regular doctor told me that the way I was going I probably wouldn’t be alive in another five years! Surprisingly, he didn’t even make a single suggestion about how I could turn things around. Therefore, I decided to change my diet, start an exercise program and get in shape. I took up cycling, weight lifting and kayaking. My efforts paid off and I dropped 50 pounds rather quickly. I also read a lot of books on healthy living and somewhere along the way I found The RealAge Makeover by Dr. Michael Roizen and it changed my life! If you are looking for some guidance in changing your overall health then I would suggest, in the strongest words possible, that you pick up a copy of this book and carefully read every word.

The full title of the book, The RealAge Makeover: Take Years off Your Looks and Add Them to Your Life, is rather long, but it sums things up quite well. This book not only tells you how to look younger, but how to feel younger as well. You will learn how to reverse arterial aging, boost your immune system, reduce stress, and increase your energy levels. The major premise of this book (as well as a few others that Roizen has authored) is that “70 percent of how long and how well you live is in your hands.”

According to his biography, Roizen is a professor of medicine and anesthesiology at SUNY Upstate and chair of the Division of Anesthesiology, Critical Care Medicine, and Comprehensive Pain Management at the Cleveland Clinic. If you were a fan of The Oprah Winfrey Show (I was not) you might have seen Roizen on one of her programs—usually along with Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Dr. Michael F. Roizen is also the co-founder of RealAge and chair of the RealAge Scientific Advisory Board. If you go to the RealAge.com Website you can take the RealAge Test, which is a scientific calculation of how young (or old) your body thinks you really are based upon your height, weight, daily exercise, education, stress, friendships, emotional health, the supplements you take, family history and a few other items. I took this around 2003, when I was 43 years old—the test claimed that my “real age” was 65! OUCH! I have taken the test several times since then, and as I have modified my lifestyle I keep getting younger! According to the calendar I am 53 years old, but according to the RealAge Test my “real age” is 43!

One of the things that Roizen keeps going back to is your diet and how it not only impacts your lifespan, but your quality of life as well. I thought a lot about this book a few months ago when my wife and I went back to our hometown and took our parents out for lunch. My mother-in-law is 90 years old and still shovels snow, cuts her own grass and keeps up an amazing garden—and if no one catches her she will get up on the roof to repair her own shingles. In addition, my mother-in-law is not on any medication and the only time in her life she has been in a hospital was over 50 years ago (when my wife was born). On the other hand, my parents are both around 80 and in very poor health—they now spend half of their time sitting in a doctor’s office or in line at the pharmacy waiting for a refill on one of their many prescriptions. While we were eating lunch I saw what I believe to be the major reason for the difference between our parents. My wife and her mother both ordered a simple vegetable platter—as is their custom. My parents both ordered a deep-fried appetizer, a deep-fried main course, and then they ordered desert (yeah, that’s the way I used to eat).

When I bought The RealAge Makeover back in 2002 I paid $25 for the hardback version, but now it is available in paperback for under $7 from Amazon.com. A hardback version is still available for $20, and a Kindle version for $10. By the way, some of the Amazon.com retailers have used copies of the hardback book available for only $4 including postage (they claim the books are in “very good condition”). The first edition of this book was published by HarperCollins in 1999.

Can The RealAge Makeover change your life? Absolutely! Will it? Probably not. I loved this book so much that I have bought at least 20 hardback copies to give as presents to friends and relatives who told me that wanted to “get in shape.” I am sure these people read at least part, or maybe even all, of the book. Unfortunately, I don’t think a single one of the people I gave the book to even attempted to make the needed changes in their life. Knowing what you need to do and actually doing it are two separate issues.

 
39 Comments

Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery by Sage Roundtree

The Athlete's Guide To Recovery by Sage Roundtree

The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery

I am always amazed by cyclists and other endurance athletes who spend thousands of dollars buying the best equipment so they can get a competitive edge in their next race, but then neglect the steps necessary to help them recover faster after the event. A great bike ride doesn’t begin when you put your Lycra on—it actually started the moment finished your last ride. If you would like to improve your athletic performance I would highly recommend you buy a copy of The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery by Sage Roundtree (VeloPress, 2011).

This book is divided into three sections. The first section is rather short and deals with how we measure and define recovery. The second section is the heart of the book and deals with specific recovery techniques, such as nutrition, hydration, supplements, sleep, massage and other recovery aids. The third and final section discusses how to put all the pieces together.

One of the most valuable sections of the book is the one on Nutrition And Hydration (chapter 9). Most athletes have heard of the recovery window (AKA, the glycogen synthesis window). This window is the short period of time after exercise when, if you follow the right steps, your body can quickly absorb nutrients and give a jump-start to your recovery process. Consuming the right amounts of carbohydrates and protein after exercise will replenish your energy stores and help rebuild muscle fiber. I was surprised to find out that “female cyclists responded very differently than male cyclists when they ingested a recovery snack containing protein” after exercise. In addition, if you are a vegetarian you need to pay special attention to your protein intake since plant proteins are not digested the same way as animal proteins.

The section of the book on Technological Aids (chapter 13) discusses products like therapeutic ultrasound devices and electrostimulation (E-stim). A few years ago I bought both an ultrasound device and an E-stim unit and they make a world of difference in my recovery time. However, I know of very few cyclists who have invested in these devices—even though they are both cheaper than a good saddle.

If you suffer from muscle pain very often you are going to appreciate the section on Self-Massage (chapter 15). Not only does this chapter explain the importance of foam rollers and beaded sticks, but it shows you how to use them properly. You can buy a foam roller at most sporting good stores for around $30, and if you follow the instructions given in the book you can massage your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and IT bands and you will feel like a new person in just 15 minutes or so.

This paperback book is loaded with charts, graphs and tables (for my fellow visual learners). This book is very well documented and illustrated. There are some chapters that will probably tell you more than you want to know, but I am one of those people who likes to see authors “prove their work.”

Like most amateur cyclists, I’ve never had a coach or fitness instructor and everything I know about muscle recovery had to be learned the hard way. If I could have found a book like this ten years ago it would have saved me from a lot of grief and pain.

The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery is 248 pages long and retails for $19, but Amazon.com sells it for under $13. If I haven’t convinced you yet that you need this book, you can download a free preview of The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery from the VeloPress Website (see link the bottom of that page). The preview is a small PDF booklet that contains the table of contents, preface, and first chapter of the book, along with a few other sections.

 
31 Comments

Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Book Reviews, Sports Nutrition

 

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Weight Training For Cyclists: A Total Body Program For Power And Endurance

Weight Training For Cyclists

Weight Training For Cyclists

The majority of cyclists I meet took up the sport to improve their health. There is no question that cycling will improve your aerobic fitness and endurance, but it will very little for upper body fitness. Even if you have no intention of ever participating in a race you still need to engage in some sort of resistance training to improve your sprinting and climbing, as well as increasing your bone density (cyclists have a tendency to develop low bone density). While there are many good books available on developing a weight training program, there are very few that focus on the special needs of cyclists. The best book I’ve read on this topic is Weight Training For Cyclists: A Total Body Program For Power & Endurance, by Ken Doyle and Eric Schmitz.

Some people mistakenly believe that cycling and weight training do not make good partners—they think that building bulk is counterproductive to the goal most cyclists have of being as light as possible. However, without a strong core you are going to have trouble every time you ride! Strong lower back and abdominal muscles are crucial if you want to ride very long in the drops.

Weight Training For Cyclists starts by explaining the pros and cons of the different types of resistance exercise equipment that are available (free weights, resistance machines, and resistance bands). There are also sections on nutrition, safety, efficiency and how to develop a program based on the type of cycling you engage in. As the book observes, most cyclists are their own trainers and set their own training program.

If one paragraph from the book could summarize the premise of the book it would be this: “The main focus of a weight training program should be the lower-body muscle groups that create the force applied to the pedals. This area of the body, often labeled the ‘power zone,’ consists of the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, lower-back muscles, and abdominals and is the fundamental source of strength and power in cycling.”

There are more than 60 exercises described and illustrated in this book. My only criticism of the book is that it focuses too much on pieces of equipment that most cyclists are not going to have at home (back extension bench, high pulley machine, cable row machine, multihip machine, etc.). However, you can still get a great workout with a weight bench, a pair of dumbbells and a few resistance bands.

Weight Training For Cyclists is a 212 page paperback book and retails for $19. It is available on Amazon.com for $12 (and remember you can get free shipping on orders over $25). This book is published by Velo Press.

 
23 Comments

Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Cycling Home From Siberia by Rob Lilwall

Cycling Home From Siberia by Rob Lilwall

Cycling Home From Siberia

Most “adventure cycling” books tell the story of some brave cyclist as they travel through a foreign county while on summer vacation. Very few cycling adventures start in the dead of winter, and especially not leaving from Magadan, Siberia—one of the coldest inhabited places in the world! Cycling Home From Siberia tells the story of Rob Lilwall’s bike trip from Siberia back to his home in London, England three years later. This 30,000 mile journey took him through some of the most remote places on the globe and allowed him to see the world as few very other people ever will.

Lilwall’s journey began in 2004 and by the time it was over he had cycled through Russia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium and England (I hope I didn’t miss anyone).

During the first leg of his journey Lilwall was accompanied by an old school friend, Al Humphreys, but when they got to Japan they decided to part ways. Lilwall made this journey on a ten-year old steel-framed mountain bike he named Alanis. By the time he loaded the bike up with four panniers, a bar bag, and two canoe bags it weighed 130 pounds! On the second day of their trip the paved roads stopped and they would not see them again for nearly 3,000 more miles. On the fourth day, having traveled less than 300 miles, the snow started to fall and they quickly learned what slipping and sliding on the ice was like—and daytime temperatures of -30C were common. I enjoy riding in such conditions, but only for a few hours at a time! Lilwall and Humphreys seldom had a chance to warm up during this leg of their journey. Lilwall had to stick a glove down his crotch just to keep his private parts warm! To make matters worse, they even got robbed at gunpoint while in Russia.

By the time Lilwall finished the Siberian leg of his journey he had cycled over 3,300 miles, consumed 189 chocolate bars and over 100 packets of instant noodles. When Lilwall finished his trip he had repaired a total of 157 tire punctures (not a record I wish to ever break).

I had thought about writing a very long review for this book, but decided just to give you a glimpse of the first couple of chapters. I always read books with a yellow highlighter at hand so I can mark the sections of a book  I find interesting. However, by the time I finished reading this book I think about a third of the pages had sections highlighted. If you love adventure cycling books this one will not leave you disappointed!

Cycling Home From Siberia is over 400 pages long and once you get started it will be had to put down. This book is published by Howard Books, a division Simon and Schuster. I mention the publisher only because this book is a model for the way adventure cycling books should to be printed. The book has an easy-to-read typeface, numerous photographs and good maps so you won’t feel lost along the way.

The paperback version of Cycling Home From Siberia retails for $15, but you can order it from Amazon.com for $13. This book is also available in a Kindle edition for $12.

 
17 Comments

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Travels With Willie, Adventure Cyclist

Travels With Willie, Adventure Cyclist

Travels With Willie by Willie Weir

I love reading books about those brave souls who travel the world on a bicycle. Most “adventure cycling” books have a similar style, i.e., they trace the route of some cyclist and tell you about the challenges they faced and the beautiful scenery they passed along the way. Travels With Willie, Adventure Cyclist is different—it is a collection of stories by Willie Weir that covers a lifetime of cycling on six continents. This book serves as an inspiration to those timid folks who want to see the world, but don’t want to take any chances.

Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine, and a well-known writer, photographer, and public speaker. Weir has traveled the world in a way that most people would seek to avoid—riding on a bike during the day and sleeping in barns, train stations, police stations, or setting up a tent in the backyard of people he has just met. Weir does not describe himself as an “avid cyclist,” but as “an avid traveler who has discovered that cycling is the best way to see the world.” He encourages people to skip the (usually wasted) years of learning a foreign language and just pick a country, pack your bike, and go! Yes, you probably need to learn how to say “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “How much?,” but most people around the world are willing to help a foreign traveler if you will just give them a chance.

As one who has had the opportunity to travel a good portion of the world, I sincerely appreciate what Weir is trying to do in his book, i.e., to get people to move out of their comfort zone and see the world without the constraints of an itinerary that has been carved into stone. When most Americans travel overseas they seem to see the same sites, eat in the same restaurants, and take the same photographs as everyone else. By traveling the back roads Weir was able to ride his bike to “roadside restaurants that haven’t seen a foreigner in years, to local festivals not listed and recommended in the Lonely Planet, to the shade of a tree shared with local school kids, to a police station or a monastery and a safe place to sleep.”

Every time I get ready to travel overseas I have well-meaning friends who try to talk me out of going because they heard on the news “that things are getting really dangerous over there” (regardless of where “there” happens to be). Weir offers this bit of sage advice: just ask people this one little question, “Have you been there?” If they haven’t been there then they don’t have a clue about the situation in some other country. I live in the far-north suburbs of Chicago and have never been to a city in the Middle East that was more dangerous than the Windy City. Yes, the world can be a dangerous place, but probably not as dangerous as any big city in America. If you wait till the time is perfect for overseas travel you are never going to go anywhere. In Travels With Willie Weir tells you lessons he has learned from people all over the world—people in Cuba, Colombia, Turkey, Bosnia, Thailand and many places in-between.

My admiration for Weir really increased when he described how he and his wife rode their bikes up to the top of Mt. Nemrut in southeastern Turkey. Mt. Nemrut is a World Heritage site and a monument built by King Antiochus around 50 B.C. (he was a megalomaniac of the highest order). I visited Mt. Nemrut a few years ago with two of my friends, but we ascended the mountain in a small van and it took several hours to make our way to the top. Unbelievably, Weir and his wife rode to the top of the mountain on their bikes and then spent the night there—I truly envy them—not for the pain they endured on the way up, but for them being able to be there the following morning as the sun came up over one of the most fascinating places on earth!

Travels With Willie retails for $15 in the paperback version, and for $10 on the Kindle. While you can order this book from Amazon.com, I would suggest you buy it directly from the author (he offers free shipping for orders within the U.S.). Even if you never take you bike outside of the town you live in, you will learn a lot about the world and maybe this will encourage you to get a Passport and start using it!

 
9 Comments

Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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The Rails-To-Trails Guidebook Series

Rails-To-Trails Guidebook for cyclists

Rails-To-Trails Guidebook

One of my favorite nonprofit organizations is the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. For over 25 years they have been at the forefront of the movement to turn abandoned railroad corridors into multi-use trails for walking, hiking and cycling. There are now over 20,000 miles of converted rail lines scattered across the United States. Some of these trails are only a few miles long, while others, like the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri, seem to go on forever (well, 225 miles to be exact). Finding these trails on your own would be a nightmare! Fortunately, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has published a series of six guidebooks that cover the trails in over 25 states.

The Rails-Trails: Midwest Guidebook covers 113 trails in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Like the other books in this series, this guidebook is loaded with maps! The book is divided into sections by state, and there is a map at the beginning of each section to show you where the trails are located, then another map and description for each trail. Each entry has information about the trailheads, parking, directions, public restrooms, trail length and trail roughness (based on a scale of one to three).

While I have not been able to ride on every trail in this book, I have been on enough of them to draw some general conclusions about the quality of the information provided. As far as I can tell, both the maps and descriptions are excellent! You should have not trouble finding any of the trailheads or a place to park, and all the maps are drawn to scale.

As much as I like this book, I do have major concerns about what is missing, i.e., information that could save your life! Let me explain using the example of the section dealing with the Robert McClory Bike Path in Lake County, Illinois (a trail I’ve used several hundred times). The information about this trail sounds like it was written by the local Chamber of Commerce—it talks about the history of the trail and the beautiful scenery on the southern part of the trail, including the golf courses, woodlands and neighborhood gardens. Unfortunately, it fails to mention that the northern end of this trail runs through one of the highest crime areas in Illinois—it is not uncommon for cyclists to get robbed on this trail (and sometimes beaten as well). It would have also been helpful if they would have mentioned that the locals call this trail The Glass Highway, due to the overabundance of broken glass (mainly from broken beer bottles). Because I live near this trail I still often use it, but only on an old bike with Kevlar belted tires and inner-tubes filled with Slime. On several occasions I’ve met cyclists on this trail who were scared out of their wits and trying to find a different way home.

The Rails-Trails Guidebooks vary in price from $15.95 to $18.95 and are available from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Online Store.

 
 

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