When I saw Cycling's Strangest Tales I thought that it must be Christmas time – not because its arrival was cause for celebration, but because that is the time of year when such books tend to appear. Sometimes publishers hit on a format that is a commercial success (which is more likely if it will appeal to the gift buying public), and then just keep on repeating it.
The Strangest Tales series has covered many other sports, and also some less predictable subjects such as teaching, law, and London – and author Iain Spragg is responsible for several of them. The cycling edition first appeared in 2014, and this is an update. Of the 110 stories, the majority come from this century, with 11 being new to this edition.
The aim is to 'chart the weird and wonderful evolution of the bicycle, the eccentric and controversial characters who have helped pioneer and popularise cycling and the oddest examples of two-wheeled mayhem on the planet'.
When confronted with books like this that have to fit into a series, I am tempted to question whether every item really deserves to be included. This book is not as bad as some other formats, such as the '1001 bikes to dream of riding before you die' (part of the 1001 series), where several of the bikes were clearly present only to make the numbers fit the title.
In this case I would question whether some stories should be classed as 'strange', when they are only really 'of interest'. For example, the fact that Laura Trott fell off her bike a few times when learning to race is surely only included because of the headline-grabbing appeal of 'the diminutive four-time Olympic gold medallist' and not because falling off is anything unusual.
Other stories fit the bill perfectly, being the sort of quirky matters that road.cc also likes to cover – such as the Stairway to Heaven: Spragg gives us the original Trampe 'bicycle lift' in Trondheim, and road.cc the proposed equivalent in Edinburgh.
As you might expect from the name, a book like this is likely to contain several stories that sound improbable, or have been distorted – perhaps we are becoming more distrusting in these days of 'fake news' – but it was always in my mind that any previous mis-reporting by a news source may have been recycled, or new errors introduced.
Take the story of a cyclist in China who was apparently knocked out when hit by a corpse thrown from a passing car: the chapter is called a 'Posthumous Projectile'. The book claims that the cyclist was called Yun Tsui, whereas road.cc (and the rest of 'the internet') claims that was the name of his uncle and the cyclist was actually called Wu Dan.
The result is that I have some doubts as to whether the event happened exactly as described, and even more uncertainty about the names of those involved... In a light-hearted book designed to entertain us, the odd questionable fact or mis-placed story may not really matter, but it should probably not appear in the reference section of your library.
There is always a place for miscellaneous compendiums such as this, which can provide entertaining stories and even answers for pub quizzes, but there are perhaps better options available from more specialist sources – such as Cyclopedia, or Muck, Sweat and Gears.
A collection of quirky stories about cycling that for the most part fit into an existing and successful format
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cycling's Strangest Tales by Iain Spragg
Size tested: Paperback
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
A new title from the bestselling Strangest series – for the cycling obsessed.
Contains 80 entertaining (but bizarre) cycling stories dating back to the invention of the wheel.
The perfect book for any bike nut, whether Brompton fan or speed freak.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Cycling's Strangest tales
Author: Iain Spragg
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's entertaining, but I also question some of the included stories.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
There are some interesting stories, and some that are new to me.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Not every story is strange, and it is possible that not every one is true...
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your score
It is an acceptable attempt at the job, but I'd suggest there are better books available.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding