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Books every cyclist should have on their shelves

Few activities have as vast a range of literature as cycling. There are books on the bikes themselves, in all their variety; books on where to ride; on riding technique; on the great — and not so great — races; on cyclesport’s heroes and villains; and much more. Here are our picks for the books every cyclist should have in his or her collection.

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Along the Iron Curtain Trail by Tim Moore — £8.99

The Cyclist who went out in the cold.jpg

In his latest tale of throwing himself in the deep end on an epic cycling journey, Tim Moore brings his much-loved wry humour to a trek along the Iron Curtain on a £50 shopping bike. The one-liners and the horror stories come thick and fast.

Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance by Lennard Zinn — £21.14

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Zinn-and-the-art-of-road-bike-maintenance.jpg

The main reason to buy Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance is that it's likely to be the most up-to-date, the most comprehensive and the most thorough maintenance manual available for road bikes, and is a worthy successor to previous editions. I am a great fan of the detailed line drawings that are used to such good effect here (perhaps because I used Richard's Bicycle Book in my formative years, which has a similar style); they make any task so much easier to explain and understand.

Read our review of Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance

The Cycling Anthology Volumes 1-6, edited by Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie

The Cycling Anthology Volume 6.jpg

The Cycling Anthology Volume 6.jpg

​If you're even casually interested in cyclesport, all six editions of this series of collections from the world's best cycling writers deserve a place on your bookshelf. As we said of volume one:

"The Cycling Anthology is professional pro cycling journalism for grownups. There are no lazy clichés, egotistical pretences to any inner circles; no soundbites or gossip presented as fact for the cheap thrill of basking in all the retweets. 14 of the world's best writers on cycling and David Millar (who apparently knows a fair bit about cycling...) have offered up 15 gems."

That standard continues right through the series to volume six, in which editors Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie maintain their record of contributing to every volume so far. Three writers appear for the first time including Felix Lowe who writes the Blazin' Saddles blogs for Eurosport, and recently won 'Blogger of the year' at the Cycling Media Awards. Another new entry is Robert Millar, who is becoming as well known for his writing as his cycling. Finally there is a LeMond, but not the one that you might expect: Kathy LeMond 'writes about what it was like to support her husband during some of his bleakest days'.

Read our review of The Cycling Anthology Volume one
Read our review of The Cycling Anthology Volume two
Read our review of The Cycling Anthology Volume three
Read our review of The Cycling Anthology Volume five
Read our review of The Cycling Anthology Volume six

Triumphs and Turbulence: My Autobiography by Chris Boardman — £7.94

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BoardmanTriumphsandTurbulence.jpg

Chris Boardman has been making headlines for over 30 years, and in that time he has been the subject of numerous articles and interviews. As a result, some of what you read in Triumphs & Turbulence may be familiar – but here you get the full story, told in typical Boardman style with his usual dry humour.

Read our review of Triumphs and Turbulence: My Autobiography by Chris Boardman

Gironimo!: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy by Tim Moore — £6.99

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Tim Moore is a glutton for punishment. That's the only conclusion you can reach from the journey at the heart of this book. Moore set out to follow the route of an edition of the Tour of Italy that 90% of the starters didn't complete, and to do it on the rebuilt remains of a 1914 bike, wooden rims and all. Fortunately, Moore is a very funny glutton for punishment; Gironimo! will have you laughing out loud.

Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs by Michael Blann — £23.76

Mountains Epic Cycling Climbs Courtesy Thames and Hudson.jpg

Mountains Epic Cycling Climbs Courtesy Thames and Hudson.jpg

'Coffee table book' can have negative overtones, but Michael Blann reclaims it with this 'luxury' (his own word) coffee table collection. To qualify, a book usually needs to include lots of large high quality pictures, and in that respect Mountains delivers. Some coffee table books give the genre a bad name by offering little else, with no reading material of any substance – and that is where Mountains sets itself apart, with several well-known professional cyclists contributing short essays to the book.

Read our review of Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs by Michael Blann

Roads Were Not Built For Cars by Carlton Reid — £20.08

Roads Were Not Built For Cars.jpg

Roads Were Not Built For Cars.jpg

"Get off the road!". That angry order some motorists shout at cyclists ought to become the longer, but historically more accurate: "Hey cyclists, thanks for the roads and the cars!" Carlton Reid's Roads Were Not Built For Cars sets out to demonstrate how cyclists led the charge for better roads, and it does so in a very readable and thorough manner.

Not only were roads not built for cars, they were not built for bikes either. Pedestrians were the first to take advantage of the pre-set routes, along with four-legged horse power. However, Reid argues that it is a motoring-centric view that roads are just for transport, and that in the past they have been seen as a public space for other uses. We still see glimpses of that today when roads are closed for sporting events, or when royalty give us an excuse for a street party.

Read our review of Roads Were Not Built For Cars by Carlton Reid

Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World's Fastest Cyclists by Michael Hutchinson — £8.83

Faster

Faster

Michael 'Dr Hutch' Hutchinson has been one of Britain's most successful time trial riders for the last several years. He's also an amusing, intelligent and analytical writer and in 'Faster' he addresses his own obsession with speed on the bike, examining the ways a rider can improve, and demolishing myths. As our reviewer Dan Kenyon said: "Hutchinson deals with realities not beliefs. It's a list of the incredible diversity of variables that may or may not affect performance and a discussion of how difficult it is to say that what works for one athlete will work for another."

Read our review of Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World's Fastest Cyclists by Michael Hutchinson

The Hour by Michael Hutchinson — £8.83

The Hour.jpg

The Hour.jpg

With all the recent high-tech attacks on the Hour Record, this account of Dr Hutch's old-fashioned attempt on the record is an insight into how much things have changed since the mid-2000s, as well as being laugh-out-loud funny.

Spoiler alert: he didn't break the record, run then under the UCI's 'athlete's hour' rules which hobbled riders with 1960s technology, but this book pulls literary and comic success from the jaws of sporting failure.

Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage — £8.83

Rough Ride

Before he became a thorn in the side of cycling's governing body and egregious cheats, Paul Kimmage was a domestique for the RMO and Fagor teams in Europe, eventually quitting in disgust at his inability to compete against riders who used performance-enhancing drugs.

Published in 1990, Rough Ride mostly deals with Kimmage's struggle to adapt to the pace of life as a European pro, but it's the sections on doping that caught widespread attention.

Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro by Phil Gaimon — £12.99

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Phil Gaimon.jpg

We tried to get our fitness expert Dave Smith to choose a book on training and cycling fitness, but there aren't any he felt he could wholeheartedly recommend.

Until Dave gets round to writing The Big Book Of Going Faster On A Bike, he says: "Anyone who wants to race should read Phil Gaimon 'How to be a pro cyclist on $10 a day'. If I had to choose one, that would be it."

Gaimon became a pro rider almost by accident, discovering he had talent after starting riding just to get around, and eventually ending up with a berth at Garmin-Sharp. His story is told with self-deprecating wit, warmth and blunt honesty.

City Cycling by Richard Ballantine — £2.40

City Cycling

City Cycling

No selection of cycling books would be complete without some incarnation of Richard Ballantine's seminal Bicycle Book. This 2009 guide to urban survival was the spiritual successor to Ballantine's original paperback, which morphed into various coffee table books in the 1990s.

Ballantine tackles cycling from the vantage point of city riding and breaks the book into five different sections. Each flows effortlessly into each other, and doesn’t feel tired or repetitive despite having a very familiar format thanks to his conversational, authoritative and engaging delivery.

Read our review of City Cycling by Richard Ballantine

Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France by Richard Moore — £9.98

Badger

Badger

The 1986 Tour de France was supposed to see five-time winner Bernard Hinault hand over the leadership of his La Vie Claire team to rising star Greg LeMond, and to help LeMond win his first Tour. It was to be payback for LeMond's loyal support the previous year.

But instead of supporting LeMond, Hinault went on the attack, claiming he was attempting to wear down LeMond's rivals, but looking a lot like he was going for his sixth Tour victory. What was really going on?

It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels by Robert Penn — £9.98

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Its_All_About_The_Bike_Robert_Penn.jpg

If the shiny bits we all ogle, weigh and covet are affectionately termed the generic bike porn, this book is the equivalent of Delta of Venus: erotica for the cycling fan. It's an account of Penn's search for the perfect bits for his perfect bike, but the joy of the way he has written this is that it's not just techie stuff for technoweenies.

Penn's paean to steel and the dying breed of custom frame builders is sung to a Brian Rourke frame. Reynolds and Brooks get their due, so too DT and Royce. A trip to Italy takes in those entertaining chaps at Cinelli as well as the somewhat more straightlaced guys at Campagnolo, and he even manages a quick digression down Repack way en route to picking up some extremely recherché wheels from Gravy in Fairfax, California. Well, why not? If opportunity knocks, let it in.

It's all approachably written, the right mix of enough info without being overpowering, and it zips along happily like a comfortable steel-framed bike powered by the right pair of legs.

Read our review of It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels by Robert Penn

Tour de France: The Official 100th Race Anniversary Edition by Serge Laget et al — £30.00

Tour de France 100th.jpg

Tour de France 100th.jpg

Every cycling library should have a history of the Tour de France, and this 352-page slab that covers the race's first 100 editions is the definitive official record. Authored by Tour historian Serge Laget among others, it covers the races from the Tour's early years as a tool in a newspaper circulation battle, through the heroic era of the 1950s to the helicopter-televised modern Tour of triumphs and scandals.

100 Greatest Cycling climbs by Simon Warren — £3.99

100 Greatest Cycling Climbs by Simon Warren

100 Greatest Cycling Climbs by Simon Warren

This super little book gives you a heads up on some of the best climbing to be had in Great Britain. With detailed information on each ascent and an I-Spy style table at the back to check them all off, it's a book that's got a long shelf life.

It's a sterling effort and one made much better by the addition of the table for ticking off the climbs and recording your time. That simple addition makes the book much more than the interesting bathroom reading it could have otherwise been. You get something to aim for, as well as something to read.

Since this first book, Simon Warren has added literally a dozen more, covering British regions in more detail and nipping across to Belgium and France to document the classic ascents of road racing legend.

Read our review of 100 Greatest Cycling climbs by Simon Warren

Ride The Revolution – The Inside Stories From Women In Cycling edited by Suze Clemitson — £14.88

Ride the Revolution

Ride the Revolution

This is a book written entirely by women, mostly about women, but certainly not just for women: the revolution in the title refers to the increasing participation of women in so many aspects of the sport, and this book celebrates that involvement.

Read our review of Ride The Revolution – The Inside Stories From Women In Cycling edited by Suze Clemitson

The Rider by Tim Krabbé — £8.96

bloomsbury-the-rider-12

bloomsbury-the-rider-12

The Guardian's Matt Seaton said of Dutch journalist and novelist Tim Krabbé's fourth novel: "Nothing better is ever likely to be written on the subjective experience of cycle-racing."

The Rider tells the fictionalised story of an edition of the Tour du Mont Aigoual race as his protagonist struggles on the tricky descents, and dispatches his rivals on the climbs. It was the first literary success for a writer whose later novels include The Vanishing and The Cave, and draws convincingly on Krabbé's own experience as a racer.

Art illuminates life; life imitates art. The route of the Tour du Mont Aigoual took on a life of its own as riders followed the loop in the hills of France. In 2003 Krabbé attended a sportive on the route, his racing days long past and in no shape to take part. Inspired by the riders tackling 'his' cols, Krabbé trained hard so he could take part the following year and in the process returned to bike racing.

Put Me Back On My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson by Will Fotheringham — £8.83

Put me back on my bike.jpg

Put me back on my bike.jpg

With rare exceptions, today's elite cyclists are dull drones mouthing meaningless platitudes while dodging WADA. Tom Simpson was very different.

The manner of his death dominates any story about Tom Simpson. He succumbed to heat stroke and cardiac failure on the slopes of Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France. He had amphetamine in his bloodstream.

But what Will Fotheringham finds as he explores Simpson's life is a trailblazer, a huge talent and a true character. Simpson was as much a victim of the woeful state of sport science at the time and the brutal schedule pro racers endured as of his own burning ambition. His story, affectionately told by Fotheringham, is one every cyclist should read, even if they're not very much interested in racing.

Over to you

Is there an essential book we've missed? Let us know in the comments.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

26 comments

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rjfrussell [362 posts] 1 year ago
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Both of David Millar's books are very good.

For something completely different from the racing seen, One Man and His Bike, Mike Carter's account of his ride round the coast of Britain is fantastic.

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michophull [142 posts] 1 year ago
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Nice eclectic selection. I'd also personally recommend:

French Revolutions, and Gironimo by Tim Moore, and...

The Flying Scotsman by Graeme Obree.

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Sven Van Anders [37 posts] 1 year ago
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Both the Tim Moore books mentioned by michophull are indeed excellent, but the most beautifuly crafted book on the subject has to be 'We Were Young and Carefree" by Laurent Fignon. 

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MNgraveur [90 posts] 1 year ago
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Gironimo is wonderful. 

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Polite [6 posts] 1 year ago
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Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp is a great read. If you've cycled up there, albeit at snail's pace like me, you'll devour it.

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esnifador [33 posts] 1 year ago
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Another vote for Tim Moore from me - extremely entertaining and very informative at the same time. I especially found Gironimo interesting as I know far less about the Giro than I do the Tour, so I really did learn a lot.

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MartyMcCann [261 posts] 1 year ago
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Jean Bobet's biography of his brother Louison "Tomorrow We Ride"- brilliantly written and includes one of the most emotive, short sentences to ever finish a book.

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s.wilderness [11 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

As you frequently advocate using your LBS, shouldn't you be consistent, remove the Amazon link, and suggest readers shop at their local bookshop? Many of them will stock these books or get them next day for you.

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Ian Allardyce [62 posts] 1 year ago
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I just finished Land of Second Chances by Tim Lewis. Really great book for the riding but also cultrual info about Rwanda and wider Africa.

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Johnny25 [37 posts] 1 year ago
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Some of the cycling books I've read over the past 18 months, which are worth considering:

 

Bernard Hinault and the Fall and Rise of French Cycling.

The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-day Races.

Cycling is My Life - by Tom Simpson.

The Cycling Anthology 1 - 6.

Etape: The untold stories of the Tour de France's defining stages.

Maglia Rosa 2nd edition: Triumph and Tragedy at the Giro D'Italia (Rouleur).

 

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pga [19 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I second Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp - thanks to Richard Williams of The Guardian aledrterd me to this.   Also just finished Need for the Bike by Paul Fournel, an excellent insight into why, for some of us, cycling is a way of life.

For those of you interested in the British road racing adventures abroad  I strongly recommend Dancing Uphill by Francis Holland, the story of Charlie Holland (her Dad),the first English rider in the Tour de France.    Tony Hewson's In Pursuit of Stardom - Les Nomades du Velo Anglais - covers the 1950's adventures of Jock Andrews, Vic Sutton and the author in taking on the top continental stars on their own ground.   Only bad luck and sparse  resources prevented them reaching the very top but they paved the way, together with Brian Robinson and Tony Hoar, for the well funded successes of today.

Other good reads are  -

The Escape Artist - Matt Seaton

Road to Valour - Aili McConnon and Andres McConnon

Reckless - Alasdair Fotheringham

The Rules - Velominati

The Full Cycle - Vin Denson

One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers - Tim Hilton

Full Tilt - Dervla Murphy

There have never been more cycling books in print but alas many are not worth the read.

HAPPY AND SAFE CYCLING + READING

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mingmong [276 posts] 1 year ago
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A shout for Ned's books  1

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dampjumper [17 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Domestique by Charly Wegelius. Gritty, hard, frank account of a pretty thankless industry.

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dampjumper [17 posts] 1 year ago
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Also, Ok it's not a book but still, check out Splinterbike on dvd, documentary on a couple of bike geeks who built a record-breaking bike entirely out of wood. Very funny and a great example of 'never say die' spirit

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PhilRuss [391 posts] 1 year ago
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Tim Hilton's "One More Kilometre And We're In The Showers"---the next best thing to a long  ride on a favourite road-bike.

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stenmeister [342 posts] 1 year ago
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Dave Barter's 'Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder' - a book that many will relate to.

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Obsessive-Compulsive-Cycling-Disorder-Barter/dp/...

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andyp [1495 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

The Escape Artist really should be on here.

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ashfanman [128 posts] 1 year ago
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Surprised that nobody has mentioned The Secret Race by Daniel Coyle and Tyler Hamilton. A gripping and brutally honest account of the Lance Armstrong years.

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simbasagwete [14 posts] 1 year ago
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I'd recommend Charlie Wegelius' book 'Domestique: the real life ups and downs of a tour pro' because everyone else like to write about the min actors but the supporting cast are a huge part of the story. I'd also recommend Tyler Hamilton's book, 'The secret race: inside the hidden world of the tour de france: doping, cover ups and winning at all costs' because we all know the Lance Armstrong story but this is one of the only first-hand accounts of what happened.

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andystorey [25 posts] 1 year ago
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Woldsman [122 posts] 1 year ago
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Some of my favourites:

 

 

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darnac [9 posts] 10 months ago
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Domestique is a superb book; Also David Millar's The Racer. Laurent Fignon's autobiography is also good; try the French edition - it's not too difficult.

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jimbocrimbo [52 posts] 8 months ago
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I echo the big up of Tomorrow We Ride by Jean Bobet

 

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Martin Gatenby [1 post] 8 months ago
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One of my favourites is 'Dog in a Hat' by Jo Parkin - set mostly in Belgium in a world of 'mud and drugs' 

 

I also want to recommend my own book 'Life of Mamils' - Published by Fisher King and avaialble on Amazon

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ConcordeCX [266 posts] 6 months ago
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I add these recommendations to those above:

  • Besoin de vélo, by Paul Fournel. Beautifully written 'fragments of an autobiography on truant roads'
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Richard & Nicholas Crane. Legendary, insane lightweight expedition by two self-deprecating hard men
  • The Discovery of France, Graham Robb. OK, not strictly a cycling book, but the author has cycled every square inch 2.54 centimetres of France, is a Professor of French, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and reveals the country for randonneurs francophiles like nothing else

 

 

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TomBombadil [1 post] 4 months ago
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My favourite is The Rider. It's great to have a work of fiction for a change, this was a big inspiration for The Cyclist's Tale and Other Short Cycling Stories which is available at Amazon  & this web site.   www.thecycliststale.com