Category Archives: Cycling Books

Muck, Sweat & Gears

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Muck, Sweat & Gears is a little book I’d seen on the shelves of my local Waterstones, but always put back after a quick browse. I’m not a big fan of little books filled with trivia which seem to have become quite commonplace these days (e.g. Schott’s Miscellany, dressed up with a veneer of faux-Victorian antiquity and grandeur), and I had no urge to acquire one specifically devoted to Cycling. However, when I saw the same book in my local library, I thought it was worth a shot.

Muck, Sweat & Gears is a collection of facts and trivia about all aspects of cycling – historic inventions, race statistics, biographical facts, and so on. It is organised in no particular order, which makes reading it quite difficult. I suppose you’re meant to dip in and out, but you have no way of knowing what you’re dipping into. It’s like a jumbled encyclopaedia – and utterly hopeless for looking anything up, even if you wanted to. The information itself seems accurate enough, although some quotes and statistics are without attribution and source.

I can’t really summarise the book, since there are no chapters, sections or anything resembling organisation throughout. Each piece of trivia generally takes up less than a page, though some run for a couple, but none of it really links to anything else. On the whole, I didn’t mind the book while I was perusing it (usually on the toilet), but now I come to review it a couple of weeks after I put it back, I can hardly remember anything factual from its pages. It’s a collection of fleeting information – interesting the moment you read it, but gone the next. Personally, I wouldn’t buy it – but it might make a nice token gift for the cyclist in your family when their birthday comes around. It’s got to be better than one of the many general trivia books out there…

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Traffic Free London

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One of several books published by Sustrans, Cycling Traffic Free London promises to offer a selection of rides in the capital, all of which are safe and, mercifully, car-free. When I saw this on my local library shelf, I was excited – the idea of pedalling around London on undiscovered routes appealed to me, and I’ve had good experiences with some of their other books in the same series before.

The book contains a selection of 20 routes, all marked out with proper street mapping. So far, so good. The selection of routes takes in the whole city, so where ever you visit, there will be a route somewhere nearby that you can take advantage of. However, you won’t be going past many of London’s more famous landmarks – and here lies such an ambitious book’s major shortcoming; much of London simply isn’t Traffic Free. Even the new Barclays Cycle Superhighways – while sounding very grandiose – amount to little more than a painted 1m wide blue lane at the edge of otherwise very busy roads. As such, many of the routes in Central London are very limited. One suggested “route” from Waterloo to London Bridge isn’t even 3 miles long – shorter than my daily commute.

The other shortcoming is that some of these “traffic free” routes aren’t that “traffic free” either and, inevitably, you will encounter some areas on most routes where you will be advised to proceed with extreme caution. This isn’t to knock to the book too much; London is one of Europe’s most unfriendly capitals for cycling and this book is playing its part in getting more cyclists onto the capital’s roads – surely a requirement for them to become more acceptable to motorists and other road users. If you already have my previously recommended book, also published by Sustrans, you’ll find a fair amount of duplication in here – some of these London routes appear in “Traffic Free Trails”, which I consider to be much better value overall. However, there are some good inspirational routes here, especially in the outer boroughs of London, and it’s great to see some effort being made to promote London as a cycling destination.

My advice, if you decide to pick a copy up, is to use it for ideas to generate your own routes and then, along with the free maps available from TFL, accept that you’re going to have to deal with some traffic if you want to see the best of London by bicycle.

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My Bible

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My cycling bible is “Traffic Free Cycle Trails” by Nick Cotton, shown above. Weighing in with a colossal 400+ routes all over the country, I think it’s a book that should be on every leisure cyclists shelf. It isn’t particularly expensive (around £14.99 if you pay full price) and gives you great value. Most of the rides it suggests are around 5 – 10 miles long, but the author assumes that you are cycling the route in both directions. Some routes are broken down into multiple rides, such as the famous Tarka Trail in Devon (in three parts here) or the Basingstoke Canal (also in three parts).

Unlike some books I’ve read, these routes are genuinely “traffic free”. At the start of each regional section, there are also notes on mountain bike trails and land owned by the Forestry Commission suitable for taking a bike over.

Perhaps one omission is the use of any OS mapping in the book, meaning that if you’re unsure of the route, you’ll either need to have a map to hand or photocopy the guidebook. Fortunately, having now ridden many routes in the guide, I can report back that most of the trails are very well signposted and I’ve never needed to purchase any additional material.

Use it as a guide to inspire rides, take it with you on holiday – whatever – but this book is a great source of days out, providing an excellent guide to pleasant leisure routes, catering to all ages and abilities.

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