A short review of the latest version of the Cycling Anthology and then a question: why are there so many books about cycling from Britain?
I could just suggest you buy it. If you’ve reached this corner of the web chances are you want to read about pro cycling races so here’s a collection of articles written by professional writers.
Still to whet the appetite, Anthony Tan’s piece on Australian cycling is great and worth reading alone for the tale of Steele Von Hoff and his recumbent HPV race against Jack Bobridge. Klaus Bellon Gaitán – you might know his Cycling Inquisition blog – adopts the “brace brace” position to look at suspicion and Nairo Quintana. Meanwhile I just discovered Richard Moore looked at pro Cycling’s masculine culture after I wrote about the “man’s world” aspect. There’s a lot more so I won’t list the chapters and content but am suggesting its view ranges far beyond Britain. It’s also a handy format, a good travel companion, fits into a pocket and easy to read piece by piece.
Why are there so many British cycling books?
Many of the contributors to the Cycling Anthology are British, it’s edited by two Brits and published in Britain. Indeed there seem to be more British books than every other nation combined.
- A vibrant industry, at least if measured by output, seems to be one factor. The UK is apparently the world’s third largest publisher of books meaning it leads on a per capita basis
- Cycling is also on the up as you’ll know with the Olympic alchemy and riders Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. According to writer Richard Moore a third of the sports books sold are cycling related although presumably this ranges from sport to mechanics to tourism
- Another factor has to be the way cycling lends itself literary endeavour, the same as baseball and cricket which are slow sports where the result can take hours or days to emerge, giving time and space to though, analysis and reflection
- Last and hopefully least is the distorted economic model of publishing. For every Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code there are thousands of titles that don’t sell much. If this is how the market works then publishers have an incentive to publish plenty in the hope that one title takes off, a scattergun model where you fire off lots and hope to hit the jackpot with a few
But the final factor doesn’t explain the shortage of books from other countries. Charly Wegelius has some stories to tell from his time as a domestique and Michael Barry told his selective tale of life on the US Postal bus. But you won’t find much about French or Italian domestiques and gregari and don’t assume this is because European readers know from an early age what riding in service involves. Meanwhile the likes like Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador and Fabian Cancellara have grand trophy cabinets but the slimmest of bookshelves. There is some literature dedicated to cycling in French and Italian but if you want to read The Rider you must find a Dutch original or the excellent English translation.
All this suggests there must be 1001 untold stories from the peloton and many in cycling’s heartlands may find a race passing their front door but there’s little reading material for the dark winter evenings. It varies from place to place though, anecdotally it seems Dutch and Belgians might be able together by more than the French or Italians.
If you want more on this there’s also a tie-in with the Humans Invent podcast where editors Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie discuss the Anthology and discuss their trade.
Note: this copy was sent by Prendas Ciclismo for review a while back but I selfishly kept it for a recent long-haul flight.
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I read the first two anthologies in this series with interest. The writing was consistently strong and subjects of the stories always interested me. The third one is uneven, with several excellent pieces mixed with articles of little interest to me. I felt the piece about the Tasmanian-Aussie cycling rambled and jumped around for too long that I didn’t bother finishing it.
I enjoyed vol 3. Interesting point about the books. As a Brit I want to red about the characters in sport and these are mainly foreign
I suppose it’s always going to be hard marketing a book about, say, Marc Madiot or translating Laurens Ten Dam’s bio for an English-speaking market.
I don’t know how many of you have seen SBS’ Cycling Central here in Australia, but Anthony Tan is often on the show and from my perspective is as dry as a Nan’s chuff.
I find he offers very little comment or value apart from repeating a CyclingNews article or writing a deliberate controversial blog post to incite readers.
His style does get so some but this piece is thoughtful,as it looks at how you bring on riders, build teams and more. Sarcasm free!
The criticism of Anthony Tan is frequent in Oz. In his defence I would say that until recently there has been a dearth of cycling commentators, in print and electronic media, who could translate the feel and tactics of racing into something interesting. I don’t have a problem with Tan but I would agree he is not a natural for TV, perhaps better as a writer. Happily after trying many ex pros in media roles, we now have a growing cadre that can tell a story and appear confident in their new role. Incidentally some of our former women pros can interview and do a story well. On aside note I’d be happier if the cultural cringe would die and P Liggett retired.
Tan is known for hilariuosly long, often quite complacent, question during press conferences at The Tour de France. Often these questions can be answered by a simple “yes”, “no” or “don’t know” (because of the labyrinthian nature of the Q). If you haven’t fallen asleep along the way….
I’m really looking forward to reading it, even put it on my Christmas list along with a couple of other books that look worth a read, not sure I can do much more to give my other half the hint… http://spokeydokeyblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/presents-for-cyclists/
Why so many? Because we’re a nation of chatter-boxes, always providing one has been properly introduced of course, and if we haven’t got anyone to talk to we’ll scribble away like mad things though it profit us not. We’ve been doing it for centuries. Why cycling particularly? At the moment it’s fashionable. Ten, maybe even five years ago you’d have been hard pushed to find more than a couple of cycling related books in a book-shop. Five or ten years from now it’ll probably revert to that. Whereas the No. of books about footie, cricket and even *shudder* the gowf have always vastly out-numbered books about bikes and bike related issues and this looks set to continue. Goodness knows it’s not even as if they’re exciting or interesting games. *sigh*
Enjoyed Marco Pinotti’s The Cycling Professor, as I have the the first two “Anthologies” normally I am a holiday reader, now retired I have the time to read anytime, a happy coincidence with the proliferation of English language material.
I can’t find reference to the “‘brace brace’ position”. What is that?
INRNG read the book on a long haul flight so there is your clue!
Klaus talks about his orthodontic brace hurting as he reads about accusations directed at Quintana. But it is also a warning given to air passengers in the event of emergency landing and Klaus explores what position to adopt in the event of doping suspicions.
Edited by Lionel Birnie and including an article by Anthony Tan?
I think I’d rather stick hot needles in my eyes.
These guys deliver work that is only ever balanced in the sense that it always shows they have a chip on both shoulders. Miraculously both in work, possibly due to the fact that they are troll bait. Get over yourselves.
Sounds like you haven’t read it. Sure some of the pieces are opinionated but the reasoning is explained. Tan’s piece is almost wistful as he describes a development team caught between the pride of seeing guys like Porte go on to better things and the sense of loss that the team can’t keep them on for longer.
Agreed. I really enjoyed the Tan essay. As indeed I do most of Birnie’s work.
I used to find Lionel Birnie frustrating but since listening to the Humans Invent podcast I have really warmed to him. In writing he can come across as intransigent in his views but in discussion with his fellow podcasters he seems more reasoned and reasonable. Anthony Tan still has some way to go before I take to him though.
Just bought vol 3 and it’s a good read though Tan strikes me as being too complacent.
I’ve only heard the “Brace, brace” stuff while shoe-horned into an EasyJet flight, so perhaps this reference is lost on many? As to the British book bonanza, just look at the USA during the BigTex era, same thing happened here with everyone and his brother getting in on the act. I truly believe the ENTIRE UK cycling market will follow pretty closely the USA model – big money during the time UK riders are making news in LeTour followed by slacking off when they are no longer the big thing. As to Italian cycling books, I cry each time I visit a book store there, not because there aren’t enough books but because there are simply too many! Granted, they’re rarely things whipped off about the hero of the day, as the Italian writers seem to prefer to wait until a rider’s career is complete and real opinions can be stated on the whole of that career. Of course these ARE written in Italian and (sadly) few get translated into English, though our friends at Velopress come up with a good one now and then, though again they are rarely concerned with the “flavor-of-the-month”.
Agree with Larry, back when LeMond was racing internationally a few more english translated cycling books made it over to the US to be sold predominately in cycle shops .
With the internet we all have much more access to all cycling publications thank god, and I believe that the UK is seeing the “yellow” bump regionally , and that being the case all of us internationally via Amazon have access to these english speaking titles, which sell through with high numbers to Australia, US and more english speaking cycling fans in Europe. Perhaps the new cycling critical mass. Your blog is a harbinger of that movement “Viva La Inrng”
In Italy there are lots, lots, lots of books about cycling, cycling “secret stories”, cycling narratives, cycling heroes, cycling technique and so on… there used to be also great writers (people who entered or may have entered the history of literature, like Buzzati or the poet Gatto – no relation with the cyclist!) who wrote about the Giro d’Italia or great figures of their times.
Obviously, great champions like Bartali, Coppi or Pantani give matter for more books and for many years (we have really recent books about Bartali, for example), but you can have books about Pambianco, Venturelli, Serse Coppi… these were all written by Marco Pastonesi, a journalist that’s a pretty good writer, too, and who’s especially fond of “gregari”.
We have at least one specialized publishing house, Ediciclo, which has books about climbs, routes, riders, amateur cycling, technique.
The national library system records over 350 titles concerning “cycling”, 60% of which have been written in the last 30 years… and I’ve verified that many titles are missing. During the last five years 65 books entered the national library system, which means that even more were published.
If you consider HOW SMALL is the italian book market (people don’t usually read books in Italian around the world, while British publishers can count on foreign markets: for example, people who didn’t visit an Italian bookstore just ignore the existence of those books, as we can see in this post; moreover, it’s sad buy the majority of Italians just don’t read. Anything. Ever)… well, that’s a lot. You can compare it with the 1000 titles about “cinema”, the whole of cinema… the total books about “sport” are more or less 2300, of which the books about “calcio” are nearly 1800.
In order to find out more about my favourite races (the cobbled classics) I’ve had to rely on excellently-produced Flemish books which, though in Dutch, do at least allow me to practice my language skills…
If you want some in-depth information about nearly never-heard cyclists (as weel as famous champions), look for the books by Maurizio Ricci, the likes of Piccola Agenda Storica dei Ciclisti Professionisti or Milano-Sanremo Storia e Protagonisti or Gli Angeli del Galibier…
“why are there so many books about cycling from Britain?”
Answer: We are simply great and conquers every race.