the complete book of long distance cycling

long-distance-cyclingI have a subscription to Bicycling magazine. Think of me what you will. In any event, they called me one day not long ago to let me know that they would be mailing me what they considered the best book ever written on the topic of long distance riding. I could review it free-of-charge for thirty days. If I liked it, I could pay for it in three or four easy installments; if I didn’t like it, I could send it back. A week or two later, the book arrived in my mailbox: Edmund R. Burke and Ed Pavelka, The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills, and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want (Rodale, 2000).

I began reading it immediately, even though I was already in the middle of three other books (not including the reading I’m required to do for my job). This was partly because I wanted to see what the book had to offer in view of my growing interest in touring and the upcoming PALM tour. But it probably had more to do with my wanting to ensure I had time to return it if it proved disappointing.

Although the book is said to be co-authored, I had the distinct impression that Burke did the lion’s share of the writing, but of course I have no way of knowing for certain. Burke’s area of expertise is training and nutrition for cyclists. At the time of publication, he was directing an exercise science program at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Pavelka once served as editor of both Bicycling and Velo News. At the time of publication, he held two world records in ultra-marathon cycling. So, with vitas like these, it isn’t difficult to imagine how the book leans.

My overall sense is that this is the sort of book that likely offers too little for someone who is seriously interested in training to compete, while offering far too much for those who just want to take long Saturday rides or to undertake moderate tours, either supported or on their own. The book is slanted heavily toward athletic and competitive riding. It’s about training and nutrition, lactate thresholds and muscle recovery. It’s about long-distance races, not tours or touring.

To be sure, there’s plenty of good and useful information here. I learned quite a lot. For example, better ways of eating before, during, and after a long ride; tricks to get yourself drinking more water while riding; suggestions for avoiding discomfort, pain, and injury; stretching exercises off and even on the bike; and advice for riding with a group, to list just a few items that stood out to me. With respect to loaded (i.e., self-supported) touring specifically, the authors recommend things like:

  • Train before the tour, not during it
  • Be mentally prepared
  • Practice loading the bike
  • Pack only the essentials and distribute weight evenly
  • Eat well
  • Avoid crunching gears and use the front brake
  • Practice uphill starts

They also offer some terrific advice on how to pack your gear (e.g., heavy and infrequently used items on the bottom, roll clothes and pack inside Ziploc bags, repackage food, et al.). Unfortunately, however, it takes the authors a mere four-and-a-half pages to cover all they have to say about this sort of touring (not counting a page or two here and there on things like “touring bikes” and “panniers”).

I’ve gone on too long already, as is my custom. Suffice it to say, this wasn’t the book for me. It wasn’t what I was expecting, though, by the same token, I wasn’t entirely surprised by what I found either. Aside from the fact that I didn’t enjoy the book personally, I can’t say I’d recommend it even to someone who is interested in this type of riding. It’s a book that seems to lack clarity about its purpose and audience. Pitched as an upper-level seminar, it reads like a freshman intro textbook, and fails to pull off either.

At this point, no one will be surprised to learn that I sent it back. But here’s the good news: I ran the errand to the Post Office on my bicycle.

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