Tuesday 25 November 2008

Revealed: Dark Secrets of a Growing Cult!

"Roadie:" A Book Review

Depending on where you live, the amateur racing season is drawing to a close but there must be a lot of people wondering about the irresistible lure that takes their loved ones out on the open road, oblivious to all else. As I turned the pages of Jamie Smith’s entertaining book, Roadie, it slowly dawned on me just how strange the increasingly-popular pastime of bicycle racing must appear to outsiders. Mr. Smith provides a capsule description of a bike race, which indicates the tone of the book and its essential truthfulness:

A bike race is like a chess game, a boxing match and a stampede disguised as a sport, encompassed by a life-style, and surrounded by a community on a never-ending road trip to the brink of bankruptcy.

Offhand, this does not sound like the kind of summary that would necessarily attract newcomers to a sport, but this is precisely the intent of this book. Mr. Smith, an experienced cyclist and race announcer, decided to write it to explain bike racing to friends, colleagues and families of cyclists—people to whom this sport, which has stature in Europe, is an alien and exotic transplant in North America. He has succeeded with his light and amusing style and his ability to convey the joy of the sport with an unblinking eye. Has anybody else ever written about how roadies wear out their shorts without noticing it? They do.

The life-style of a road cyclist is so peculiar that it is worth the one-quarter of the book that Mr. Smith (a fellow blogger) devotes to it. The fact that the average roadie owns eight bicycles—Mr. Smith does too—is apparently something unusual to non-racers. Besides our obvious obsession over equipment, the author touches on the other idiosyncrasies of cyclists, such as our unwillingness to move very much when off the bike. The truism of “never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down and never, ever walk” is actually good advice to help in the recuperation process but must seem strange to people who think that athletes should be, well, more athletic.

Getting into the riding itself training rides, outdoors and indoors, are discussed. The need to put in the mileage, typically 100-400 per week, is unquestionable but not always easy to explain to family members or acquaintances who would consider this a significant drive, let alone riding it. Perhaps if non-cyclists appreciated what goes into all this training they might be a little more inclined to leave some space for that cyclist they see when they are out driving on the road.

The chapter on tactics is very clear and should be helpful to neophytes but it is followed by a chapter on that very real and very unpleasant aspect of cycling: crashes, although Mr. Smith does say that he wishes he could ignore it. The fact is that if you are a racer sooner or later you are going to be involved in a crash. Improving your odds comes about through experience and upgrading your skills but it still happens to professionals. At least he speaks plainly so people are aware of this real risk.

Races are categorized into criteriums, road races, time trials and stage races, with a chapter devoted to each and not failing to note that there is not much in the way of money for any. Taking my favourite—time trialling—as an example, the account of what it is to ride one and what it looks like to a spectator (pretty undramatic) is very accurate. The author even mentions that fact that you need additional special costly equipment, which just makes it all that much more attractive. Here is an excerpt on time trials:

Once under way, a racer only needs to ride fast and avoid crashing into things. That may sound simple, but the one thing that makes the time trial such an intriguing event is the one thing that heightens the danger: concentration. A rider who is so sharply focused on riding can become blind to the most obvious things. For example, curves in the road.

Ahem, guilty.

So does this book meet its goals? It certainly would entertain any experienced cyclist, the kind of person who sits together with other roadies in a café after a ride and earnestly discusses tire brands, but would it be good to buy for a friend or family member curious about this bike racing thing? There is no question that in its breezy yet comprehensive way it will be able to keep the interest of someone new to the sport strong enough after 206 pages to watch a bike race and get something out of it, and, just possibly, become a convert and go for that first of eight bicycles themselves. Recommended.

It would be remiss not to mention the charming illustrations by Jef Mallett, who, unlike fellow-artist Toulouse-Lautrec, knows what a bicycle chain actually looks like. His work adds greatly to the liveliness and accessibility of this book.

“Roadie—the Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer”
by Jamie Smith, VeloPress 2008, illustrations by Jef Mallett
256 pp.
ISBN-10: 1934030171
ISBN-13: 978-1934030172
Suggested Price: $21.95 (but cheaper you-know-where)


Groover said...

Added to the Christmas Wish-List! :-)

Sprocketboy said...

Of course, there is the danger that all of us roadies will buy the book to enjoy laughing at ourselves instead of giving it to non-racing cyclists as an explanation for what we do (and admittedly so they can laugh at us too).

Anonymous said...

TRUE... I just read your comment to Groover... I think that's the case. We, as cyclists, may pick it up before it even has achance to end up in our stocking as a gift.

Jamie Smith said...

Hey! I'm sure I speak for Jef when I say thanks for the glowing review! I just hope that this book makes life easier for Roadies everywhere.
And you're right! Jef's artwork really completes the project!

Will said...

My racing career mainly consists of crossing the line while people are cllearing up to go home

Nice review

Lily on the Road said...

Maybe us "wannabe" roadies would enjoy it...so, it is on my wish list too!

We runners' put ourselves over the brink buying all the gadgets, latest fashions and of course shoes, however, none so costly as your bikes, etc...


Sprocketboy said...

I recall a now-defunct website for bike racers where a poll question was "How many bikes do you own?" and one person answered: "Only eleven, but I will get more!"