The Best Cycling Books: The Desire Selection

Grease for the gears of the mind. Here’s Rouleur’s pick of the best books on cycling covering history, culture, and travel

Riding bikes, writing about cycling, reading about other people who rode bikes. Sadly, the dream of being a cycling journalist often gets gummed up with elements extraneous to these three core tasks. Enough so that it’s still sometimes a treat to spend a few hours idly reading a book. With a vast pile cluttering up our collective shelves, on occasion, we’ve even gone so far so to commission a few books ourselves. Obviously, liking to read is a prerequisite of working here. So from fiction to travelogues via photo-narratives and historical journalism, here’s our current pick of the best books about cycling.

Discover Rouleur's Desire Selection: Our guide to the best kit across cycling

Around the World in 1,000 Days - Fredrika Ek

£30, Shop Rouleur

Pure escapism following in the tyre tracks of Fredrika Ek. Having taken 1,042 days to circumnavigate the world, this lavishly illustrated book is a slow trip around the globe. Something almost every cyclist has considered but few dare attempt, Ek’s relatable tale of an incredible journey is sure to spark off adventures on a smaller scale for its readers. Accompanied by the author’s own photographs, it’s less a detailed journal than a series of impressions of the places she passes through. A perfect atlas to dip in and out of.

Three Weeks, Eight Seconds - Nige Tassell

£20, Shop Rouleur 

The conclusion of perhaps the most famous Tour de France, the final stage of the 1989 race saw Greg LeMond overturn a 50-second deficit to Laurent Fignon. Winning on the Champs Élysées by the eponymous eight seconds, Tassell’s classic account of the race, it remains the smallest margin of victory in the Tour’s history. With insight from LeMond, Pedro Delgado, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Bjarne Riis, Andy Hampsten, and Sean Yates, Tassell’s recreation of the race’s eventful three weeks is a labour of love. Re-issued by Rouleur with an exclusive cover, this edition is one for the collectors.

Black Champions in Cycling - Marlon Moncrieffe

£25, Shop Rapha 

From pioneers like Major Taylor and Maurice Burton to BMX legend and Rouleur cover-star Shanaze Reade, Moncrieffe explores the lives and careers of often-overlooked black cycling champions. From the first non-white rider to race the Tour de France in 1914 to current WorldTour racers like Nicholas Dlamini and Kevin Reza, the book is a collection of stories and interviews from riders past and present. Covering issues including access, diversity, and representation, for the riders included it’s often a tale of success despite opposition.

Alfonsina: Cycling Is My Life - Ilona Kamps

£30, Shop Rouleur

A mildly trippy and impressionistic recreation of the life of Alfonsina Strada, the only woman to have ridden in one of cycling’s three Grand Tours. Sneaking into the 1924 Giro d’Italia by pretending to be a man, despite the uniqueness of her achievement, Alfonsina existed in relative obscurity until a biography appeared in 2004. Taking this as a jumping-off point, photographer Ilona Kamps’ book mixes recreated photos alongside contributions from modern writers. Besides her time at the Giro, Cycling Is My Life illuminates other episodes from Alfonsina’s life alongside imagined conversations with the long-deceased rider.

The Rider - Tim Krabbé

£10, Shop Waterstones

Destined to feature in every list of the best cycling books until the end of time, Tim Krabbé’s evocation of the fictional Tour de Mont Aigoual is almost perfect. Short and impeccably paced, it can be taken in over the same period as the average race, with its cadence matching the lulls and pulses of the unfolding competition. Simultaneously introspective and expansive, the agonies of its protagonist will be familiar to bike racers while providing a window for those that have never pinned on a number. Either way, once you read it, it’s sure to become the lens through which you view every race after.

The Race Against the Stasi - Herbie Sykes

£10, Shop Waterstones 

Rouleur contributor Herbie Sykes tells the story of how East German cyclist Dieter Wiedemann escaped across the iron curtain and what it cost him to do so. Able to fulfil his ambition to race at the Tour de France, his defection nevertheless caused enormous difficulties for those he left behind. More than a cycling biography, this meticulously researched account also recreates the lost world of cycling in the GDR. At its heart a love story, Wiedemann’s tale is one of two people caught in one of the 20th century’s most intractable conflicts. Constructed partly from Wiedemann’s own Stasi file, the looming presence of the East German secret police is never far away in this gripping and beautifully written history.

Queens of Pain - Isabel Best

£25, Shop Rapha 

A companion to Philippe Brunel’s out-of-print photobook Kings of Pain, this version searches out its protagonists neglected female counterparts. Carefully researched and illustrated with an array of vintage photography, it majors on the stories behind each rider. Many having since fallen into obscurity, the book’s 250 pages are dedicated to the riders Best has excavated, often going so far as to visit archives or interview relatives to gain insight into their lives and achievements. Spanning cycling’s earliest days right up to the 1990s, it fills in many gaps in cycling’s history that would otherwise have been blank.

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