Recommended reading when you can't bike ride

Recommended reading when you can't bike ride

It's certainly not an aerobic workout, but when I can't ride, I read about biking.

Here are three books I recommend as stocking stuffers for yourself or like-minded others. Each covers biking from a unique angle, appealing to different tastes. But don't just take my word. Read the personal take-aways of other cyclists I've included for each book.

'Just Ride'

In his 2012 book “Just Ride,” Grant Petersen offers comprehensive and sometimes irreverent advice to rookie riders. The glib writing style, narrow page format and short but numerous - 89! - sections promote speed reading, covering everything from “Suiting Up” to “Safety” to his “Velosophy.”

Petersen claims no special expertise, just 40-plus years riding. Much advice is helpful, however, given that he founded Rivendell Bicycle Works, customizing lugged steel frame bikes in Walnut Creek, California.

For neophytes noodling about purchasing gear and garments, Petersen faults the racing community for overcomplicating things. To enjoy biking's simple pleasure, think like an “Unracer.” As for gears, eight are plenty for most terrain. As for wardrobe, Petersen argues that loose fitting clothes ventilate better and yield more comfort. Unless you are a racer or “mega-miler,” anything in your closet can be a cycling garment. Dress for the weather and comfort, not to fulfill some racer fantasy.

Cycling Santa has plenty of biking books for holiday gifts. Courtesy of Bob Voors

Karim Mouzannar, three years road cycling around New York City, admits to newbie-hood. He notes, “'Just Ride' triggered my curiosity to dive into cycling. I loved how it covers everything about bikes, some advice based on evidence - how frame geometry affects the ride - and some on personal experience. I really liked how he writes about the joy of cycling and cruising versus racing.”

About helmets, he differs strongly from Petersen. “I don't agree that wearing a helmet makes you less cautious and more prone to mistakes. The risk of falling or getting hit by a car is too high. For me, not wearing a helmet is not an option.”

'The World's Fastest Man'

In “The World's Fastest Man,” a 2019 biography of Marshall “Major” Taylor, Washington Post reporter Michael Kranish chronicles America's first Black sports hero. The 1890s and early 1900s saw Taylor dominate track racing in the U.S., Europe and Australia when bicycle racing surged as a national sport.

Kranish masterfully recounts Taylor's exploits, as well as his misery and mistreatment amid pervasive Jim Crow racism. At 18, Taylor entered his first six-day endurance race at Madison Square Garden, just months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” was constitutional.

Banked curve racing is terrifying enough at 40-plus mph. As the lone Black athlete, Taylor braved the attacks of racist racers conspiring to cause career-ending crashes. Kranish conveys Taylor's determination to excel despite the sheer terror he experienced, making this book hard to put down.

For history buffs craving a great competitive story, this book fills many gaps about American life before baseball and automobiles reigned supreme, and before Jack Johnson, early 1900s Black boxing champion and former bike racer, made heavyweight history.

Professional educator and avid cyclist Dr. Brenda Dixon is advocacy manager and board member of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago.

“This is the best narration of Taylor's life that I've ever read!” she states. “I've read almost all of them, including his autobiography. With his literary skills and writing style, I loved how Kranish brilliantly told Major Taylor's story while educating readers about the historically significant national events in that era.”

'Coast to Coast on a Tandem'

Whether or not cross-country biking is on your bucket list, the 2017 book “Coast to Coast on a Tandem” is worth reading. Married authors Peter and Tracy Flucke, founders of WE BIKE, a Green Bay biking/walking consultancy, rode the northern tier route in 2014 from Bellingham, Washington, to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Taking 72 days, their tale of a self-supported odyssey started slowly but quickly gained momentum.

Cross-country cyclist Pat Brummet enters Grand Teton National Park on her 2014 trek across the U.S. Courtesy of Pat Brummet

The Fluckes alternate writing their impressions of each day. Up front with the best view, Peter dodges hazards, keeps them upright and applies the brakes. Stoker Tracy navigates from behind, consulting Adventure Cycling Association maps, and records their adventure via video and photos. Each perspective differs, but, like pro tandem riders, together they balance each other.

Breathtaking sights, eccentric fellow travelers and numerous microbreweries - plenty here, but what I relished most was reading about adversity: Riding in God-awful weather, snailing up mountain passes, inhaling suddenly as tanker trucks hurtled by.

They deserve credit for unveiling the strains the trip placed on them. Like couples wallpapering a tiny bathroom, tandem riders require a solid marriage. Luckily, they had one, managing personally fraught situations and letting the reader peek in on their private distress. Their candor was poignant.

Pat Brummet, a Bike Palatine Club member, attests to the determination needed for a cross-country trek, having biked roughly the same route in 2014 as the Fluckes, then in 2015, the central route and, in 2017, the southern. Her riding has raised $90,000-plus for the American Cancer Society, honoring friends and family survivors, victims and supporters.

Brummet notes, “Initially I was disappointed - focus was on facts, not on what they were experiencing within themselves. That changed the more I read. Just because you love riding does not guarantee a finish. Desire must be strong. They addressed that.

“Ultimately, when you cycle cross-country, facing unanticipated challenges, how you react and grow from them determines if you will reach your goal. The Fluckes shared their challenges very candidly.”

Cycling shorts

Polish “bikepacker” Jarek Ciosek from Schaumburg will share photos, preparation and route planning tips during a free Ride Illinois webinar at 7 p.m. Dec. 15. Check Ride Illinois' website for details and to register.

Join the ride. Reach Ralph Banasiak at

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